Connection Lost (iii)

Instead he did what he always did when left alone in his office: he pretended to work on his thesis. Very few grad students, in his experience, actually got work done while sitting at their desk. Real work was done in your room at 2AM, or on the T heading to first class, or sitting at the bar on a Tuesday afternoon while drinking through your second Sammy Pumpkin. Sitting at his desk, knowing that a student – or worse – could come barging in at any moment, served to distract Alan worse than a Twi’lek lapdance.

One nice thing about being a comp-sci researcher was that it was easy to look busy. All you had to do was find some technical-looking web page that updated regularly, and then stare at it. This ancient and venerable tradition was referred to as ‘watching das Blinkenlights.’ And if for whatever reason you nodded off, you could always claim that you were waiting for code to compile – a handy second line of defense.*

Alan put his feet up on his desk and ran a simple script of his own creating. It showed price fluxuations for uptime on various undersea fiber-optic cables. It was fascinating, important, and had nothing at all to do with his research. After a few minutes he changed to a tracking of domain-name registry expirations, then a live map of Wikipedia edits by physical location, and then a visualization of slashfic protagonists by popularity (Snape still winning by a nose).

By then he was almost able to pay attention to what was on the screen in front of him. Moving into territory which approached almost actually being related to his thesis, Alan settled in for a good long stare at a graphical display of total bandwidth usage per GeoIP.

The background was a map of the United States the color of the night sky. It was strung across with stars. Each represented a cluster of internet use; the more internets, the brighter the star. New York, Los Angeles, D-FW all twinkled with business-doing and WoW-playing and cat-captioning galore. Even humble Boston gave a bit of glitter. But that wasn’t all. There were sparkles in the Maine woods, in the Nevada desert, on the high Montana plains and in the hills of West Virginia. There were even faintest glows from out at sea.

It was comforting for Alan to know that, no matter where he might go, someone was connected – just as it never failed to make him sit and wonder at the idea of being somewhere, in some cool desert or misty hills, where there was no internet at all.


* But this had to be done sparingly, for it could lead to terrible things like professors asking to look at your code; critiquing your code; finding out you really don’t know how to write a goddamn program… or worse, finding out that you do, and then they’ll never let you graduate.

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~ by davekov on 29 October 2011.

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