loose gravel blues
Friday, January 20 2006
Our uphill neighbor, the one who lives in a green house, called me today because she was having trouble with the wireless network she had tried to set up for her architect son (who works in a tiny cottage about 70 feet away). Just to give you an idea of the generational issues I was working with, the architect son is in his 50s, and his parents have been living in that same green house for over 50 years. Despite all that, though, they seemed to have a good basic grasp of the technologies involved.
All their problems seemed to be the result of some unusual behavior from an Actiontec wireless router that also contained the DSL modem circuitry. One could detect its wireless signal with, say, a laptop, but connecting to it proved impossible. Only after fruitlessly trying to access the Actiontec router's web page did I stumble upon a WEP code printed on its bottom. Evidently this was the access code you had to use and there was no provision for changing it. (I'd tried resetting the Actiontec back to factory settings so I could access its settings, but it refused to be reset.)
But even once the WEP was successfully entered into a laptop, we weren't out of the woods. Now the Actiontec intercepted all web requests and directed them to a page forcing you to enter your Verizon username and password and then, get this, download Verizon's "package" from god-knows-where, installing it in all its bloated uselessness onto your computer. Having a Macintosh was no defense against this intrusion; they had a .dmg file ready to go and you had to install it or you would not be able to connect. No one can say for sure what exactly this package included, but I know in contained MSN's cloying disneyverse and at least one unnecessary "Verizon toolbar" taking up window space in Internet Explorer. I know how to get rid of most of these things, but the average user would be stuck with them for the rest of the life of their computer.
I'd never before seen a router set up to behave like an aggressive trojan horse. It's just one more reason to hate the Verizon brand and all the brutal arrogance and cold-hearted unhelpfulness it represents.
By the way, the Actiontec's trojan scheme was so complicated and malevolent that the computer that actually needed to wirelessly connect to it, the Windows 98 machine outside in a cottage, couldn't muster the necessary components of its operating system. Evidently this scheme only allows computers with modern operating systems to connect. Of course, if the router behaved like a normal router and didn't try to infect every computer on the network with pictures of ecstatic Verizon customers, the Windows 98 machine would have been able to connect just fine.
I took the new Honda hatchback when I went to Stone Ridge on a housecall this afternoon. The weather was warm and intensely springlike and perhaps the pressure of rising sap was affecting my gas pedal as I drove down the Dug Hill Road. At the curve just above the bus turn around I hit a patch of loose gravel (remnant from a recent snow removal operation) and I could feel the car going out of control. I think it was a problem of understeering, though I'm not sure. The car felt like it was rotating clockwise out of the direction I needed to be going. Adding to the complexity of the situation, there was truck stopped in the road directly in front of the bus turnaround, its driver evidently talking to a car parked in the turnaround area itself. This particular car doesn't have antilock brakes, but some how I instinctively knew how to massage what braking action I could out of them. I was certain at first that I was going to careen sideways into the grill of that truck, but somehow the car gradually found some resistance beneath the loose stones. In the end the Honda skidded to a halt about ten feet away from the truck.
The driver in that truck looked like an overweight goth, perhaps in his early 20s. He had black fingernails, which I noticed when he began to applaud, something he did without a trace of irony. "Wow, I guess it's a lucky day for both of us," he said. "Yeah," I agreed. "It's a dangerous road," he said. Then he stopped and asked, "Are you okay?" "I'm fine!" I assured him. And then I drove off, being a little more careful, but not nearly as careful as such a close call should have made me.
Later, on the way back from Stone Ridge, I was driving down Mill Dam Road from 209, past the bumper crop of McMansions on the left and the duck pond at the bottom of the hill. (Dozens of white swans floated leisurely on the water.) Then I saw a middle-aged woman wearing an unpleasant facial expression marching towards one of the nearby houses. Beyond her, on the outside of a fairly treacherous curve in the road, was a young woman standing helplessly behind a car. The car's front grill had assumed a concave shape due to the resistance of a tree.
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