• Otter Views: Computers and Fireworks

    I was advised long ago to omit climatic references in these dispatches, as the weather invariably changes between composition and publication, if not during composition itself. But I’m a slow learner.

    As I start this one on Sunday morning, a warm marine fog cloaks the town. Visibility has diminished to a two-block hemisphere, as if “The Truman Show” had been packed in dry ice.

    It’s an intimate, muffling fog; one that confers a shared goodwill on those it encloses, in somewhat the way a beach bonfire unites those in the flickering circle of its glow. This fog also quells the desire to be elsewhere. As far as the senses can detect, there is no elsewhere.

    It’s also the sort of fog that swallows fireworks shows this time of year. I’ve seen enough of those now to understand that the July pyrotechnics display is a hit-or-miss proposition hereabouts.

    In clear years, you get the vivid, almost shocking clarity of a panoramic photo in a travel agency window. Every spark and starburst blazes against a blue-black sky. Fantastic bouquets of color bathe the upturned faces of rapturous thousands lining the cliffs.

    In fog years, the skyrockets vanish at birth. There follow thudding booms aloft, then brief jellyfish throbs of color pulsing in the grayness. It’s like hearing the Wednesday night African drummers, but with sporadic smears of light added. Some definition is lost.

    Not so the fireworks display I received in this morning’s e-mail. Purportedly the work of the Nagaoka fireworks company, the show is billed in translation as “Fireworks the most beautiful in the Japan.”

    I won’t belabor you with details of this fantastic half-hour spectacle, because you’ve probably seen it on your smart phone. Suffice to say, should fog enshroud this year’s Feast of Lanterns fireworks, Nagaoka could be the go-to backup site.

    I’m still new enough to the computer age to be astonished that a 30-minute, full- color, surround-sound fireworks show can be encrypted in a single e-mail. Thus I gazed in awe as “fireworks the most beautiful” shimmered like the aurora borealis across my laptop’s little screen. It could be a timely finale, because my computer will soon go dark . . . or at least enter a fog zone of perilous uncertainty.

    As the beneficiary of a tech-savvy housemate’s “wi-fi” setup, I have for the past three years enjoyed a carefree cybernetic life. I’d pay him $33 monthly, and he’d keep the digits and pixels crackling through the walls. If a modem or a router burned out, he’d have a replacement unit hooked up within days.

    This fostered in me a lovely but dangerous complacency. I’ve known that if I needed to use my computer, I could just turn it on, and the Internet would be there. It all felt as secure and comfy as lying in well-anchored hammock.

    But that’s ending. Apparently technology is now so advanced that digits and pixels can be transmitted without copper wires, fiber optic cables, modems, “set-top boxes” and other vexing intermediaries.

    “I’ll be cancelling my cable service in mid-July,” my housemate advised several weeks ago. “So that’ll be it for the house wi-fi. You may want to set up your own Internet connection before then.”

    “Huh?” I said.

    “Yeah, I realized I can do it all with my smart phone plan,” he explained. “No sense paying double.”

    Not owning a smart phone myself, I didn’t get it. How can one phone access 1200 TV channels, 10,000 movies-on-demand, a million sound recordings, 24-hour Nascar coverage and the entire “world wide web”? Not to mention phoning, texting, tweeting, twittering, file-sharing and Facebooking? I’ll bet “apps” are involved somehow.

    Anyway, I thanked my housemate for his three years of steadfast internet provision. Then I called AT&T, which has been bombarding our neighborhood with “$19.95 introductory rate” Internet service offers.

    “How long does the introductory rate last?” I inquired.
    “One year,” the lady replied. “Then it goes up to $33 a month.”
    “I can live with that,” I said. “That’s what I pay now.”
    From there, she accelerated through a blizzard of other fees –for line and phone jack installation, for “inside wire protection,” and for various modems, firewalls, routers and black boxes. She ended with a drumroll: the $180 fine I’d pay for terminating service short of a year.

    “Um . . . okay,” I gulped. “But I’ve heard routers and modems tend to burn out. What should I do then?”

    “Oh, just mail them back, and we’ll send you replacements,” she said airily. “You’ll get a $5 adjustment on your bill.”

    We scheduled installation for July 7, so I’m hoping to finish this now (July 6). Then I’ll watch the Japanese fireworks one more time, e-mail farewells to my two brothers, and vanish silently into the fog.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 11, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views

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