Here Comes the Sun

In which The Author has more technical problems

I made several fruitless attempts, spread over a two-hour window, to get online in Aberdare Library this morning and afternoon.
Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that, of course. The ongoing piss-poor wifi provision in what should be the one place where it is available in this technophobic town is a regular bone of contention for me. Just a couple of weeks ago, I emailed my local councillors within Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC to bring the problem to their attention. So far, only one of the three has had the courtesy to reply. Kudos to Cllr. Ann Crimmings of Aberdare West for taking the time to look into the situation. (Mind you, given the local population’s three-tier technical hierarchy, which I’ve discussed in I Want to Believe and elsewhere, it’s quite possible that the other two have yet to check their emails.)
When I first mentioned the lack of signal to Steven G., he told me that he’d already rebooted the server once this morning, about half an hour before I arrived. It hadn’t done any good, evidently, as the network steadfastly resisted all my attempts to log on. Steven vanished into the main office and returned a few minutes later, looking even more harassed than usual.
‘They’ve done something, so it should work in a few minutes,’ he told me. (Do you see how lightly the technical terms trip off his tongue?)
Anyway, I waited five minutes or so, tried connecting again, and didn’t even get the login screen which you need to negotiate first. By now Steven had gone for his lunch, and Judith was sitting at the desk. I decided that I wouldn’t mention the problem to her. I’d already earned a place in her bad books on my way into the building.
As part of the ongoing de-accessioning process in Rhondda Cynon Taf (see A Turn-out For the Books), the library service has decided to sell off pretty much its entire stock of CDs and DVDs. They were stacked up on trestle tables in the recess by the main doors, and Judith and Aled were standing nearby while a couple of people browsed.
‘Aye aye?’ I said casually, ‘the closing down sale’s started, has it?’ Judith gave me a sour sideways glance, and I followed it up with, ‘Oh, sorry – that was in rather poor taste, wasn’t it?’
Actually, Aberdare Library should be fairly safe from the first wave of public service cuts which RCTCBC are planning. For now, anyway. The same can’t be said for the smaller branches (see A Further Turn-out For the Books), hence the ongoing stock clearance.
[A digression: Martin H. and I had a closer look through the sale tables when we were leaving a couple of hours later. It occurred to us that we must be part of the first generation of humans who have lived through an entire wave of technology, right from its inception to its virtual obsolescence. We can still remember the birth of CDs in the early- to mid-1980s. We saw TV presenters rolling them across the studio carpets, and even smearing jam on the playing surfaces, to demonstrate their resilience in the face of adversity. (Little did we know that the smallest speck of fluff or partial fingerprint would fuck things up badly.) Now, just about three decades on, we’re seeing their slow death, as downloads and online listening replace the physical object altogether.
In Snap, Crackle and Pop I wrote a long piece about vinyl records, and the altogether different experience involved in the acquisition of music in those days. It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that my own vinyl collection is pretty much redundant following the failure of my stereo system. Just over a week ago, to thank me for being there (almost) at the start of the whole story, Andy Tillison very kindly sent me a zip file containing Gold, Frankincense and Disk Drive’s newly-reissued debut LP Where Do We Draw The Line? (see Our Friends in the North.) I haven’t been able to listen to it since the technical breakdown.
Ironically, Andy had had to remaster the tracks from another surviving vinyl LP and encode them digitally to get them out to a new audience. It’s not quite gone full circle, but it’s still well over 180º from where we started.]
Anyway, I gave up trying to access the Library’s wifi and tried using the MyFi instead. For some reason, I got a signal, but once again it failed to connect. I know my thirty day data allowance is due to run out (in fact, I’m pretty sure it expired yesterday), but I couldn’t even access the website to buy more data. Fed up, I decided to resort to Twentieth Century technology instead, and spent quite a while looking through the Aberdare Leader microfilm archives.
I thought I’d find a piece in there from late February or early March 1982, when Dad resigned from the local council. I found a brief item from the Western Mail, but although I scoured the news pages right from the January snowfall to the Easter school photos, I drew a blank. Maybe I’ll try again in another twenty years or so, when the ongoing process of digitisation and online cataloguing reaches the 1980s.
Martin came in, so we decided to repair to the Prince for a glass of Coke and to warm ourselves by the fire. While we were there, the BBC News Channel showed a picture of a large solar flare. It might have been CGI, or it might have been actual data gathered from a space probe somewhere in the cosmic gloom. (The sound was off, so we had no way of knowing.) But it reminded me of something which Billy, another of Aberdare’s legion of technophobes, keeps bringing up when he’s had a few pints.
Nigel Calder wrote a book a good few years ago called The Manic Sun. I haven’t read it, but Billy has, so he’s given me (and anyone else who’ll listen) the gist of it. In a nutshell, Mr Calder’s book predicts massive solar flare activity which will play havoc with the Earth’s weather and telecommunications systems. I picked up something similar last week on a couple of websites. Apparently some scientists think that the Sun’s magnetic field is due to flip over any time now.
We’re certainly going through a period of extreme weather at the moment – the first wave of aid has just reached the more remote areas of the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan made its devastating landfall just under a fortnight ago. There was also a huge volcanic eruption in Indonesia soon afterwards. In the words of Private Eye magazine – are they possibly related? I think we should be told…
Anyway, I gave up trying to top up the MyFi while I was listening to the evening news. I listened to I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and then came to the pub to use their wifi. I’ve checked my emails, checked Facebook, and (most importantly) I haven’t missed a day of NaBloPoMo. It was a close-run thing. I might not bother topping up this fortnight after all, and come here to use the wifi instead. It’s a lot warmer than my house, for one thing.
However, there might be even more unanticipated consequences of all this solar activity. John Finnemore was the fourth member of the Clue panel in their opening shows recorded at Weston-super-Mare. Hitherto, Mr Finnemore’s radio outings (as writer and/or performer) have epitomized the sort of unfunny ‘new comedy’ which I outlined in No Laughing Matter.
Tonight, things were very different. First, he made me laugh out loud several times, especially during his first attempt at Mornington Crescent, where he really threw himself into the nonsensical spirit of the game. Even better, he proved himself to be the new champion of Pick Up Song, finishing within much less than a gnat’s crotchet of the original record.
Has the manic sun re-engineered Mr Finnemore’s cerebral cortex and somehow made him capable of great comedy moments? Or has it just fried my brain? Watch this space…