Frozen Intertubes

Last week was cold, very cold. I took the standard precautions for my water pipes, leaving a dripping faucet overnight. Who knew, though, that those weren’t the only pipes that could freeze?

Wednesday night, as the temperature dropped, my Internet connection slowed down to an unbearable crawl. The next morning, I had no connection at all. After some trouble-shooting over the phone with Comcast, they scheduled someone to visit us on Saturday.

Mid-day on Thursday, the connection came back. I assumed that Comcast had fixed a line into the neighborhood, that all would be well. End of story.

‘Twasn’t to be. Thursday night, we lost our connection again. Friday morning, it came back.

Friday night, we lost our connection. Saturday morning, it came back.

At this point, I had a theory: packets were freezing in my intertubes. “That’s impossible,” I then told myself. “The Internet can’t just freeze like that.” Nonetheless, it fit the evidence, so I needed a reasonable explanation of how it might happen.

Here’s what I came up with: there’s a bad connection somewhere. Small bits of metal might be contracting and pulling apart from each other, making this connection even worse. When it gets cold enough, the metal contracts enough that I lose my connection entirely.

Saturday evening, the Comcast technician came. I explained what was happening, and he was just as surprised as I. He started at my modem and started looking at connections heading out of the house. After reaching the last connection in the crawl space, he saw that it might have been corroded. He replaced the hardware there, and my connection has worked since then.

Of course, it’s also been 30 degrees warmer since then, so I’m not certain that the problem happened there. But I have an Internet connection, so I’m happy. We’ll see what happens next time the temperature drops below 0.

Update (2009-01-30): Nope, not that connection. Looks like it must be one outside the house. Another Comcast technician came yesterday, but he didn’t want to haul his ladder all the way up our driveway. We’ll have to wait until this weekend to see if we can get Internet access after sunset.

Update (2009-02-01): Somebody from Comcast willing to climb a ladder finally made it out this weekend. Looks like a squirrel ate our cable line, letting water in, which was freezing at night.

700,000,000,000 Is a Very Big Number

I’ve no desire to get into the consequences/benefits of the recent financial industry bailout/rescue on this blog. Yes, I have opinions about it, but the opinions of a librarian and web developer with formal training in neither economics nor politics matter little in this discussion.

What I do have to say, though, is that $700,000,000,000 is a lot of money. So much so that I don’t know how much money it is. I think of money in terms of things/services I can exchange it for, as it really has no other use (unless you burn it to heat your home). I know what $1 will get me: a few bananas, or perhaps a used book. With $100, I could buy a couple of weeks of groceries or pay for a visit to the doctor.

Beyond that, money starts getting a little more abstract. I don’t need 4 years worth of groceries at once, so I can’t imagine spending $10,000 to buy those groceries. At that level, I can’t think of money in terms of groceries any more; I have to move on to larger, more expensive items, like a car, or a marimba, or a house.

And that’s where my concept of money starts to break down. A million dollars is about the most that I can conceive of; anything more than that is too abstract. The sun is 93,000,000 miles away. How many times will I have to drive to work before I drive 93,000,000 miles? It will take me about 25,000 years, it looks like. A billion is a meainingless an unfathomable number; you might as well say “a lot”. 700 billion is just “a lot more”. What’s the difference?

I certainly don’t know, and I doubt anyone dealing with our economic woes does, either. We’re just throwing big numbers around hoping that they’re big enough that people say, “Oh, that’s a really big number! It must be important!” If everyone believes the number is big enough, faith in the credit markets will be restored, and home prices will increase 40% a year forevermore.

Orthophemism : Word of the Day

the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt
dysphemism (or cacophemism)
the substitution of a harsh, disparaging, or unpleasant expression for a more neutral one
the use of a neutral expression to mean exactly what it says

Some examples of orthophemisms from recent #code4lib conversations:

It’s time for the afternoon banana.

They’re burning the popcorn early today.

I held her Grammy.

The Code4Lib Journal, Issue 2

The Code4Lib Journal published its second issue today. Much thanks to all the editors and authors, especially Eric Lease Morgan, coordinating editor this time around.

It’s been exciting, these last few months, watching the Journal really get going. We’ve had a large number of impressive submissions for this and future issues, a good amount of word-of-mouth advertising, and nearly 15,000 visitors to the site since the launch of the first issue.

I still haven’t gotten around to blogging about many of the hacks we’ve made to WordPress to make all this happened, nor have I created all the plugins that I need to create to ease our workflow and enhance our presentation. Eventually…