Friday, September 17, 2004

Requiem for email

There was a time when the "experts"at the DCF decided that the only way to get more people to use the department email was to make the systems so slow that it would be excruciatingly painful to access any outside email providers, and additionally to ban the use of any URLs with the mention of 'mail' within. It was even suspected that they were going through our files. The metaphorical criticism below was written at the time. It's been part of my .project file on the EE server ever since, even after we finally got web access in our rooms.

At the time, the department's computer facility had only 300 MHz Celerons running a very unstable RedHat Linux 9.0, and an old version of the Netscape browser (before Firefox came out).

It's 9:30 in the morning and our hero is busy on his terminal, staring emptily and gloomily at a screen, which is staring back equally emptily at him, and even more gloomily. He waves his head from side to side, trying to focus on the monitor, which slowly produces a yellow flower and a blue login prompt after much effort, as if quarrelling with the processor about whether to start RedHot (Donot touch) Linux 8.0. Tired by its relentless effort, it then proceeds to blank the screen a few times while intermittenly showing the login prompt, attempting to discourage the user from going any further. But our hero, filled with a relentless valour, is completely nonplussed. He merely rubs his eyes, yawns, and types in his username and password. Lo and behold, the monitor blanks out again, and reappears only with WindowMaker loaded and done. A clean velvet desktop greets our hero.

Our hero erupts in a flurry of clicks, swashbuckling and neatly moving from menu to menu to lay that final click on Netscape. The menu blinks a few times and then disappears, only to leave behind the cheerful velvet background and a feeling of nothingness. Meanwhile, our hero rests. He talks to his neighbour, another knight drawn upon the same path. They talk of the old free times, of the new evil that has barred their freedom. Soon they turn to feast their eyes on a nearby classmate, who is struggling herself to boot another of those hideous beasts our hero is so determined to conquer. Our hero's friend excuses himself and turns to courteously offer the lady his services, while our hero remains firm in his singleminded devotion on his quest.

At length, the Netscape window flashes before our hero's eyes. Its many eyes gleam and glow. Arrows fly right, left and round. A fireworks display to the right catches our hero's eye. Knowing that touching it will load the slowest website in the world, he avoids contact and carefully types into box in the middle. Alas! Little does our hero know that the doors to communication have been shut by the evil empire; the drawbridge is broken; a moat surrounds our hero. He is trapped! But what is that?? Our hero spots a sign on the wall. It laughs at his misery. Access Denied. Please contact your service provider. A sign follows, but our hero knows that it belongs to no one. Such anonymous insults are characteristic of the cowardly enemy. Desperate, he kills Netscape and summons Opera. He spends that duration thinking out his strategy and alternative routes. Opera appears after a good deal of time, simple yet stylish, ready to help our hero. She leads him straightaway into her own portals, but fumbles on the way and falls headlong into the enemy's abyss. The banners with the insulting signs raise their heads again. Carefully, our hero leads Opera through the right proxy, which he identifies by only its number. He succeeds but finds that it is being carefully secured by evil as a temporary means of communication before his dark reign obscures one and all.

The gate is small and too many are scurrying out, frantically calling out to everyone they know that they must change their identities or be wiped out under the oncoming curtains of darkness. The mad rush has choked the gate and reduced everyone's speeds. Our hero is suffering yet. Inspite of Opera, he is seeing such speeds as 33B/s, speeds which had once haunted him in his nightmares. He remembers the days of his hometown, which inspite of having woebegone dialup, would not choke him like the iron hand of the enemy was now. Frustrated but not yet beyond patience, he waits and waits: Opera will soon load his post and provide him a messenger. His hope is fulfilled in time, and he sets out to write a message to all his beloved ones: I am behind the Iron Curtain now. Hope is vanquished. We are seeking foreign help but not much is forthcoming. Even they can only do so much. The enemy is ruthless. He is punishing the mere mention of the word 'post'. He is keeping all resources in his own mighty arm. Communication has suffered grievously. I am forced in changing my identity. Henceforth, I shall be known as ...

Just as our hero touches the Send button, a loud beep sounds. It is the sound of alarm, of destruction and death of all that had not already been saved. An empty and gloomy screen again stares, but at our hero's flushed and angry face. Alas! Opera is dead. RedHot Linux could not tolerate the slightest touch. The dam of his patience has held so far. But now the water has gone too high. He hits the beast in front of him in its blue elliptical eye. With a last low growl, the beast succumbs and lies dead in front of our hero.

I have a long life ahead, our hero tells himself. Maybe the evil empire shall disintegrate one day, and we shall see the sunlight. He decides to go back to his own castle, and play with the tamed beast there. That one is so much better. I will continue to fight, he thinks, I will use my own beast as a platform to defeat these lumbering thugs here. Maybe a few scrolls of knowledge will help. Maybe an informal organisation with others on the same quest. With a last ray of faint hope in his heart, our hero leaves to ride his steed, Hercules, and return to the confines of his castle to think.

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