Data Dieting

Two weeks ago I switched to a policy of rodent repatriation rather than murder, since this seems like a poor time in history to train in hardness towards suffering. And this is my reward for a bleeding heart: the fecking mice chewed through my -life- phone line, depriving me of my blistering 19.2K AOL connections.

Two weeks ago I switched to a policy of rodent repatriation rather than murder, since this seems like a poor time in history to train in hardness towards suffering. And this is my reward for a bleeding heart: the fecking mice chewed through my -life- phone line, depriving me of my blistering 19.2K AOL connections.

I’d never relied on a dial-up connection before I left New York, even though I spent two years working at a dial-up ISP(internet service provider). At home I wrote on a unconnected laptop and up-and-downloaded at work using a WiFi card. Broadband, baby, broadband all the way.

Joining the beep-beep-crackle-beeeep masses has changed my internet habits, especially as I’m also sharing a phone line with homesick rangers and building contractors. Connecting has become an event.

I switched to Mozilla, despite their ugly logo that was poorly-designed for icon size. I switched not because it’s faster, though those who are wise in the ways of browsers claim it is. An eager-beaver browser can’t much improve a connection that never grabs more than 19.2 bits of information per second. But Mozilla has tabbed windows, a feature Internet Explorer lacks. Now I launch a Salon article, for example, and while it’s loading I flick pages two and three open in adjoining tabs. I scan my list of favourite blogs, and pop the updated ones open in another set of tabs. While the daily 90-100 spam emails crawl into my inbox, I zip around the internet like rat on crack, trying to grab everything I might want to read that day before I log off. It’s never enough.

I write emails offline and try to batch up the chatty ones into a weekly session to curb my addiction. It doesn’t work. I’m a reformed instant messenger: now I check my buddy list just to picture old friends at their desks, then disappear before I get an excuse to hog the phone line. (The few times I’ve left it on in the background no one flashed a message anyway. IMing after a long silence has all the friction of a phone call.)

I write these entries offline too, and have always done so. It affects the texture. I eat other peoples’ words like a locust, but I’m not much of a linker. This site is a series of (sometimes cranky) love letters to the people who read it, not a thread in a conversation between bloggers. I’m not connected enough for that conversation, and I write too slowly anyway.

Dial-up breeds idiosyncrasies and complaints. I look for the printer-friendly version of any article I read, to get it on a single page with no heavy sidebar images. I’ll scroll text to the bottom of the sea, but please don’t make me click. I’ve waited twenty or thirty minutes to download photos from the many besotted parents among my friends. (You’re worth it! Your babies are by far the best-looking babies in their age-group.) It needs to become much, much easier to edit all the new digital photos out there–most people I know can’t do it, and they don’t know how to upload them to a website, either.

There are still “designers” who forget alternative text on fancy graphic navigation–come _on_, people! At least if I wait, though I probably won’t, those lazy links will appear eventually. A blind person’s reader software will never get them. And I send special bad ju-ju to those who make fat Flash home pages with no alternatives. On shopping sites, yet! Flash is intrusive and irritating to casual surfers on a slow connection, and I’ve yet to see an exception. Skip. Goddamn. Intro.

In the US no one listens to the complaints of digital peasants. Who cares, cabin girl, you’re not buying from us anyway, and nor are the Vietnamese kids who crowd the internet cafés in Saigon. But the dial-up experience is remarkably similar to the wireless toys I worked on when I last drew pay-cheques. Connecting for data on phones and PDA(Personal Digital Assistants)s still requires patience and crafty information thrift, both from designers and customers. The gadgets are not optimized for freeform data yet, but it’s also because because the connections are as slow as AOL in the woods, if not slower. They will get faster eventually, despite phone company bumbling, but it’s good to have this period of forced simplicity. Scarcity breeds elegance, at least some of the time.

In the meantime, I’ve cobbled together another phone line, and am back digging (information) for victory.

7 thoughts on “Data Dieting”

  1. Hmm. Your mouse troubles keep making me think I should send you this Swedish novel by Mikael Niemi, _Popular Music from Vittula_. In one chapter, the (adolescent boy) narrator is hired to eliminate mice from someone’s summer cottage. The scene ends very badly, and, well, it’s pretty disgusting. It’s a wonderful book, though. If you’d like me to drop one in the mail (I work for the publisher), just e-mail me with an address. Free!

    Best,
    I.

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  2. J, I know this opinion will be neither popular nor profitable, but I’d rather live with mice than bird-killing cats. Or dogs.

    I’ve become an animal-lover late in life, to my surprise, but when it comes to house pets I side with the distrust of Edward Abbey and David Quammen. (Though not to the extent of suggesting all domestic dogs be ground up for supplemental coyote-feed, as Abbey does…)

    Other people’s cats and dogs are all lovely, though, of course.

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  3. This reminds me of when I lived in northern California. No power, and the phone line stretched over bushes and tied to tree limbs, half a mile up the hill from the nearest house with a connection.

    We had a storm and the phone went out, so the lady who’s house I was taking care of suggested I fix it. I walked down the hill until I found this place where there was a break in the line (it was a connection spot on the wire, where a falling branch had pulled the connection apart). So I twisted the connection back together, tie a knot in the wire to keep the tension off the connection, and tie the wire to a new branch.

    I think I vote for cats and dogs — keep the mice on the ball. It’s not like there’s nothing else hunting mice, why not a friend of yours? And it does give the mice some reason to find somewhere else to nibble on the snacks.

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  4. That’s pretty much the power situation here, Gary. But the compensations are brazen snowshoe hares, red squirrels, shrews and even bears that come right up to the porch. I’d hate for a cat to ruin that, and any good hunting cat would. Even the good-for-nothing New York apartment cats probably would, just by reputation.

    The other bearable thing about my mice is that they don’t live in the cabin, as such–there’s too much interesting stuff going on outside, in summer at least. They just…visit. At four am. Loudly.

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  5. You’re right — in NorCal everybody wanted to come inside. Even the birds. I remember one time the sentinal jay decided the cat was gone, and came inside to pick at the carfood dish. He got lost and flew around the room for awhile, and then knocked himself out against the window. I went over to set him outside, picked him up, and just as I got to the door, he woke up and flew away — leaving his tail feathers behind.

    He stopped being the top jay, but still came by every day to check out the cat dish — but the hawks couldn’t get him, because without tailfeathers he bobbed up and down too much.

    Here in upstate New York, if you don’t have a house pet, the squirrels and mice move in. We still get the occasional mouse who manages to dodge the cats all winter — but then they go and die behind the cabinets on you, phew!

    I’m surprised you don’t have squirrels living under your house — out old house had a crawlspace underneath, and the squirrels always thought that was theirs.

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