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In Which Alan And Robin Widen Their Intertubes

In the old days connecting to the internet in our house was a laborious process. You had to put a shovel full of coal into the modem and turn up the heat on the boiler. After a while, when the steam pressure was sufficient to push the electrons down the pipes at just the right speed, you set the semaphore flags to the proper number, listened for the sound of frying bacon as the modem at the other end built up a head of steam, and then (lo and behold!) a connection was made and the world was available to you at 1200 bps. Oh the fun we had!

Over the years, great progress was made in modem technology. The pipes got a bit wider and the steam pressure increased. Ominous rumblings could be heard from the boiler and there were occasional sparks as the electrons found themselves in two places simultaneously. I upgraded to 9600 bps and then 14,400 bps and finally to the almost unheard of rapidity of 56,000 bps.

By now we were using coal at an alarming rate. The sound of steam hissing from the safety valve was a constant background noise. Furthermore, limitations endemic to the technology meant that only one of our many computers could connect to the intertubes at any one time. That in itself wasn't much of a problem since Robin and I tended to be on line at different times. However we both agreed that our connections were now running noticeably more slowly than once they had. Subtle giggling revealed that more and more people all over the world were producing more and more information at an exponentially increasing rate, and so the intertubes were getting very clogged up with junk data. The relevant bits that we were interested in were finding it harder and harder to struggle through the mess that was blocking the pipes. Faced with this, even our super-fast dial up connection found itself unable to cope. It seemed to take forever for me to get my daily lolcat fix, and Robin's genealogical documents could barely squeeze themselves down the gunged up pipes at all.

"We need broadband," declared Robin.

I rang TelstraClear.

"We'll send a technician around to install the modem immediately," said the nice lady. "There's a spare slot at 11.00am a week next Tuesday. Will that do?"

"Haven't you anything earlier than that?"

"No, sorry."

"Then that will do fine."

A week later, two sun tanned TelstraClear technicians arrived. They stared at the hideous mess of cables that dangled and twisted around the room and muttered to each other in Afrikaans.

"Have you been in New Zealand very long?" I asked.

"About 6 months," said the younger of the two. "The electron wells in South Africa were starting to run dry. So we came out here to make a new start." The second one said nothing at all. He only spoke Afrikaans, and he had no idea what I'd said to him.

They went outside and climbed up the telephone pole where they checked the connections and measured voltages. Then they climbed down and dug a huge trench across the lawn. They pulled out all the old, narrow, plastic dial up pipes and replaced them with enormously wide and shiny stainless steel broadband pipes.

"Soon have your data flowing rapidly down those, squire," said the one who spoke English, in tones of deepest satisfaction. Then they went inside and joined the hugely wide pipe to the computer with a modem.

"Where do I put the coal?" I asked.

The technician muttered some Afrikaans to his colleague and they both gave me a pitying glance. "You don't need coal for broadband," said the English speaking one. "They've done away with boilers and steam power. Up to date communication devices like broadband modems use nuclear powered robot hamsters to push the electrons really, really fast down the pipes."

"Gosh," I said, impressed. "That's good news. I wasn't looking forward to shovelling huge amounts of coal. The dust gets everywhere. It makes the cats all gritty. How does this new technology work?"

"There's a cobalt-60 radiation source deep inside the modem," said the technician. "It's housed in the tummy of a robot hamster and it makes the hamster run really, really fast in a treadmill which is joined to an electron pump. The pump shoots the electrons down the broadband pipes at twice the speed of light. If you look out of the window when you are uploading data, you'll see the hideous blue glow of Cerenkov radiation flashing over the grass above those hugely wide pipes we buried in the lawn.

"Don't look too closely though," he continued thoughtfully, "The blue radiation might turn you into a Star Trek special effect. And don't go poking around inside the modem hamster either. The cobalt-60 is likely to give you a severe case of Klingon Forehead."

"What sort of upload and download speeds will I get?" I asked.

"Infinitely fast!" declared the technician. "And if that proves to be too slow, just give us a call and we'll upgrade you to a gerbil. They give you infinity plus one!".

The technicians packed their tools away and left, pleased with a job well done. I tested out the new broadband connection. Bloodyhellitwasfast!

A potentially tricky problem soon became clear to me. The broadband modem was directly connected to one and only one computer. None of the rest of the computers in the house had any idea it was there at all. This was not a satisfactory situation. Robin and I needed to be able to sit in separate rooms with separate computers connected simultaneously to the intertubes so that we could have video conferences with each other. Surely that's the major reason for having broadband in the house? I consulted the yellow pages and rang Geeks On Wheels.

"Hello, Geeks On Wheels. You are speaking with Tina. How can I help you?"

"I think I need a geek," I said. I explained the situation.

"Aha!" said Tina. "We get this situation quite a lot. What you need is a wireless router." She began to sing a song: "The modem bone connects to the wireless bone. The wireless bone connects to the computer bone. Now hear the word of the lord!"

"Sounds good," I said. "You ought to give serious consideration to becoming a professional singer."

"I am a professional singer," said Tina. "I only do this job to earn money."

"Can't you make money as a singer?" I asked.

"No," she said. "The intertube pirates have stolen every penny."

"Damn those fifteen men and their dead man's chest," I sympathised. "Have a bottle of rum. The world will look better."

"I'll get a Geek onto his Wheel and send him round," promised Tina. And she was as good as her word. Not long afterwards, a unicycle wobbled up to my front door and a geek got off and rang the bell.

"Why have you only got one wheel?" I asked him.

"I've just started working with the company," he explained. "I'm their newest geek. I won't get a second wheel until after I install my hundredth wireless router. But I did ninety nine last week and so you are my lucky customer. I'm eager to get started."

He plugged the router in, then he sacrificed a goat and sprinkled the blood on to the antenna. The cats ate the rest of the goat – except for the horns and hoofs of course.

"Abracadabra!" intoned the geek. Then he turned to me with a big smile. "There you are," he said. "It should work perfectly now. Let's get a couple of computers and try it out."

My laptops connected wirelessly with no problems at all and were soon sending data up and down the new ultra-wide pipes with gay abandon. I was thrilled.

"What about the computers downstairs?" I asked the geek. "They don't have wireless cards. How can I attach them to the broadband pipes upstairs?"

"Well, you could drill a hole in the floor and run a cable through it," said the geek.

"Robin suggested that as well," I said. "But I am peculiarly reluctant to do that."

The geek nodded his head sagely. "It's an inelegant solution," he agreed. "And the sawdust is an enormous nuisance. It gets everywhere. It will probably make the robot hamster in your modem sneeze a lot. You wouldn't believe the data corruption that would cause."

"Is there anything else we could do?" I asked.

"Indeed there is," said the geek. "What you need is ethernet over power!"

"Ethernet over power?"

"Ethernet over power," confirmed the geek.

"What's that?"

"It's a device that sends network traffic up and down the power lines. You don't need real network cables at all when you've got ethernet over power."

"Let's do it!" I said.

The geek went out to his unicycle and returned with two small white boxes. He plugged one end of one box into the wireless router and the other end of the box into a power socket. Then we went downstairs and connected the second white box to the hub that joins all my downstairs computers together.

"I'm glad the boxes are white," I said. "I was afraid that they might be black."

"Indeed," agreed the geek. "White is the new black. Black itself is so infra dig."

He turned the white boxes on. Each box had a glowing blue light that flashed morse code messages as data travelled up and down the power lines between the upstairs and downstairs computers.

"What are the flashing blue lights for?" I asked. "Are they perchance holes in the boxes which let out the Cerenkov radiation caused by super-speed electrons zipping infinitely fast between the computers?"

"No," said the geek. "They are just flashing blue lights. They are really more of a fashion statement than a technological one. Although anyone who was a boy scout in their youth and who still remembers their leet morse code skills will be able to read the information that is being sent up and down the wires as the blue lights flash. I suggest that you keep the curtains drawn when you are using the connection. Spies equipped with binoculars may steal your data if you don't."

"Of course," I said, impressed all over again.

The geek began to pack away the boxes that all his gadgets had come in. He handed me a registration card.

"We've got a special offer on this month," he said. "If you register with us we'll send you a free tinfoil hat. That way your data is guaranteed to be safe no matter what the circumstances."

"Sounds good", I said and I filled it in.

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