Do you know where your towel is?

The links to panic case studies that I included in my previous post are fascinating, and I encourage you to read them, even if they are long. The two from “” were written by Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, a guy who specializes in human-computer interaction. The cell-phone-sunrise one illustrates the very affecting level of panic that is often induced in the users of electronic contraptions. If this sort of thing can happen to people who are extraordinarily tech-savvy, imagine how your average end-user feels?

I’m not an average end user. I did top-tier tech support back in the Windows dial-up days when “work-flows” didn’t exist – I sat under my call-center desk with my eyes closed and my head firmly jammed into a corner to keep it from exploding, and I could tell what was wrong with a modem by the sound of it. I’ve worked in a NOC, troubleshooting big circuits and token-ring networks. I physically built part of the Internet (granted, a really small part). I work on the Internet, I socialize on the Internet, I watch TV on the Net. My laptop is never out of reach – I used to sleep with the wretched thing when I was on 24/7 call for a very unstable network. I’ve provided hands-on and remote/phone Windows tech support to my family and friends for an unthinkable array of problems. I’ve built my own computers and set up my own LAN and VoIP phone. I think one can safely say I’m generally quite comfortable with computers and Internet technology. I am relating these details to set up what follows…

Check out what happened few months ago one workday evening when I opened my laptop – the one I’m typing on right now, that I’ve had for a long time – and the Internets failed to work. My first reaction was “Eh, my cable barfed, it happens…” so I went to reboot the cable modem. It came back up fine. I rebooted the WAP and the laptop just in case, and tried again. Nothing. “Hm,” says I, “I wonder if something upstream from me is broken?” So I dug out the other laptop and fired it up. It connected just fine. “Uh-oh, ” said my inner voice “This Is Bad! BAD!!”

…and that is when the panic set in. I distinctly remember the feeling of an icy wash sweeping over my body, followed by a hot flash. I was sweating, my breathing was short, and my hands had a fine tremor. Now, this was patently absurd. I had another, functional laptop! But that wasn’t relevant to me right then: THIS one didn’t work!! I opened up a command window, used ipconfig to flush everything. Nothing – and no new IP assigned, either. Oh, what was happening?! I even used my other laptop to download the latest wireless card driver for this laptop, stuck it on a thumb drive, and updated the driver. Nothing. It obviously was my laptop at fault and not my network…but guess what I did next?

(to be continued…)

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