22 March 2013

Le Technologie en Paradise



Somebody (Jesus? Moses? Mohammed? Al Gore?) said you can not have everything. If that is true, it means that if you want sun, warm seas, palm trees, gentle breezes, scantily clad women, it is unreasonable to expect high-tech amenities as well.

It was not that long ago that a St. Barths homeowner had to beg France Telecom for a telephone line. Island infrastructure was challenged, and there were a limited number of lines available. Now, of course, everyone has a cell phone and the only reason to have a hard-wired telephone line here is so you can hook it up to a fax machine – a device still utilized on the island but not so much anymore.

Living in St. Barth’s has become a high-tech scrum. There is no cable TV,  just satellite. And because the satellites were not shot into space with Barthian viewers in mind, they are close to our horizon and highly susceptible to rain squalls, flying fish, Humpback whale spouts,  and – in our case, stray branches from the bougainvillea bushes that surround our two satellite dishes  (yes, we have two of them, and they are huge, because when I installed them I was told it was necessary to have two very large dishes if I wanted HD reception.  Who doesn’t want HD reception? Only later did we learn that HD reception would be available on the island in about 2019.)

Now, to the alternate communcation connection device: the computer. On our early visits here, I would borrow an office laptop and use my telephone for dial-up service. Surely you remember dial-up? You would strike a key and wait for ten or fifteen seconds for a character to appear on your computer screen. By the time you completed a three line email to the office, not only was your beach day shot, you received a France Telecom bill for 857,609,866.75 French francs, (175 U.S. dollars.)

But eight years ago I acquired that new-fangled technology: broadband.  Yes!

 I visited France Telecom to subscribe to what they referred to as ADSL and some weeks later an FT tech arrived, told me my telephone line was capable of receiving an ADSL signal and he attached some gadgets to the telephone receptacle and I plugged his wire in to my newly acquired IBM laptop.
Frustration ensued. There simply was no way I could communicate with the mothership Paul, Weiss. The firm’s security walls effectively rebuffed my pathetic ADSL signal and only after weeks of driving the patient Paul Weiss technicians crazy, did I firmly establish without doubt the problem was at my end and not in NY.  After several nonproductive visits from the France Telecom technicians, I called in Jessica, a lovely young woman from Boston here on extended vacation. Jessica walked in to my home-office took one look at my new FT router, shook her head and said “ I can’t believe they are still distributing those things. They are defective. FT knows they are defective but, being a French nationalized entity, they must exhaust existing inventory before they can resupply, so they keep distributing the non-functioning routers to their customers!” Ahh, how French. How Caribbean.

But we Americans are not immune to this disease. Last week a message came across my computer screen from Hewlett-Packard, whose printers I use here and in NY. It said that HP had detected that an upgrade was available for my HP printer that would improve my service. Did I want it? It will take only a few seconds to download.  Who could resist?  I checked "Yes."  When next I went to print something, I found the printer had stopped working altogether. But the HP gods were good to me. My screen showed why: a message from HP. Simple enough: "Your libexpatw.dll file is missing.  Download it now." How? They did not tell.

 Why? Because HP has no fucking idea how to download that file, that’s why. When I went on the web to research the problem, I found dozens of libexpatw.dll refugees, all from HP printer owners who had suffered the same fate: they downloaded an HP upgrade that made their HP printers inoperable. 

So I wrote a letter to Ms. Whitman, the president of HP. As it happens, HP has some problems these days, and Ms. Whitman is apparently in such hot water, that if you ask Google for her email address you immediately find an HP website that not only supplies her address, but solicits you to tell her what you think of HP’s products. Now there was an offer I could not refuse.  Within 24 hours, I received a telephone call from a “case manager” to whom my problem had been “escalated.” 

When I told Alice my sad story, she rejected any notion that HP was at fault. The fact that my device stopped working immediately after I accepted an HP download indicated to her only that there was a defect in my computer.  As to all the other people on the web who had precisely the same problem with HP upgrades, they too had infected computers. She did have one piece of advice to give me, something called a ”system restore” which takes my computer back to where it was on the day before I accepted the HP upgrade.  If that did not work she said I would have to download the contents of my hard drive to some other device, delete my operating system, then reinstall the Windows 7,  (presumably from a disc I received years ago when I bought the computer—a disc, if I possessed it at all, was maybe in a sock drawer at some unknown location.) After that, I could re-install all the stuff I stripped from the hard drive. I thanked her for the advice and told her that before I did all that, I would junk my computer and all three of my HP printers as well.

My case HP manager concluded our session by telling me, in effect, that this was all my fault: “Because,” she said, “you should not have downloaded the HP upgrade. We advise against downloading HP upgrades. Our view is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Leave well enough alone.”

I was taken aback. I said “But that’s not what the HP message said. The HP message said the upgrade would make my service better, not worse. It said nothing about the fact that it might disable my printer”. She sighed, “Yeah, I know.”   I sighed back, “Well, now I know too.”

The moral of this story is simple: come on down, but bring only your bathing suit. Leave of your electronics behind. Between the French technicians and the American hardware producers, your beach-time will be unreasonably curtailed.

A bientot.

N.B.  “System Restore” worked. The HP upgrade has been digitally disembodied. Now I can print.  But I don’t want to.

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