Thursday, January 09, 2014

Net trouble

My Internet connection went on the fritz yet again last night, which pissed me off. This is the second time in two weeks that this has happened, and this morning the outage prevented me from tutoring my goddaughter in French (we talk via Skype). My brother suggested that I either go somewhere with a Wi-Fi connection or just Skype with my goddaughter on my cell phone. I rejected both options: Skyping at the local Starbucks would mean paying ten bucks for an overpriced drink and a slice of cake (Starve-bucks!); Skyping from campus (where there's free Wi-Fi) would have meant a 15-minute walk in below-freezing cold this morning; Skyping via cell phone would have been a pain in the ass.

Late this morning, I called the Internet "after-service" line. "After-service," abbreviated "A/S" in Korea, is a Konglish term that refers to any help that might be needed after the purchase of a product (like a computer) or a service (like an Internet connection). Think: customer service. The lady on the A/S line told me that a technician would be sent out within two hours. It was actually closer to a three-hour wait, but the same guy who had visited me months ago came today. He didn't know how to do a diagnostic on a Mac, so I had to guide him through the System Preferences screen. In the end, he ran a quick diagnostic with hand-held electronics, and... suddenly the problem was fixed. We both noticed that, according to my SysPrefs screen, the Mac had indeed been connected to the Internet the entire time, but for some reason, before the guy ran his diagnostic, my browser had been unable to display any websites at all, in any of its many open tabs. With nothing else to do, the guy left.

It was a relief to have everything back online again, but because neither the tech guy nor I have any damn clue as to why the service went out (the tech guy says it couldn't have been a server problem; I'd have to agree, based on what happened), there's a chance the problem might happen again. If only the guy had known more about Macs, he'd have been able to give me some insight into what was going on.

UPDATE: Right in the middle of writing the above paragraph, the service fritzed out again. Incensed, I texted the A/S tech guy and asked him to come back tomorrow. Then, as the Brits say, I had a brain wave: I hit the "restart" button. Sure enough, my hunch proved correct: after restarting itself, my computer was fine. The A/S guy called, and I told him he wouldn't need to come back tomorrow. So what happened?

Here's my theory. My Mac came to me as a birthday present in 2009. Back then, it was quick and limber, a beauty to behold. These days, almost five years and many gigabytes of stored data later, my Mac is now rather slow. Multitasking is difficult for it, and on certain days, the Mac slows almost to a stop. It feels as if something were building up inside the machine, gumming it up like a viscous resin in the gears. But with a single restart, I can flush that resin out, and the Mac works a bit faster... until it gums up again. So it could be that last night's service out(r)age was a function of that selfsame gumming-up process, only this time the slowdown affected more than just processing speed: it also affected connectivity.

I know little to nothing about how computers actually work; I can only go with my intuition. Why do computers slow down after a few years' use? I'm going to guess that, whatever the technical answer to that question is, that's probably also the answer to why I lost the Net twice in such a short span of time. If this problem pops up again, I'll know what to do: if my browser can't connect to the Net, but my System Network settings announce that my Ethernet connection is active, I'll just hit "Restart." De-gumming.


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