Institutional Network Nightmares

I live in a hostel room roughly 10 by 10 (feet, of course). Perhaps the only luxury, by the Indian standards, that I have (apart from the fact that I now have a personal laptop after one and half decades of hard work) is the wireless network that became accessible to me after I bought the laptop less than an year ago. Whatever may be the bandwidth, the fact is that the network is only somewhat better than a dialup line. Even so, I have become dependent on the network because that is my main connection with the world, even the nearby world.

There are other nightmares, but one more has been added. This one is about the disconnected network. You are doing some work where you need access to the network (whether LAN or the Internet), and you find that you are out of the loop. The room, living in which is anyway not very different from (self-imposed?) solitary confinement, becomes a real prison cell.

No, nothing is connected.

Why does the (wireless) network become disconnected? Since I don’t get to talk to many people, and also because till now I have not tried to explore the technical details about wireless networking, I had a great deal of trouble in finding out what was wrong, although I did send some mails to the network administrators. Even now, I am not sure about all the reasons.

The first reason that I found out was that the UPS to which the bridge computer (or whatever it is called) was connected, was faulty and would begin to beep whenever there was a power cut. And since the bridge is placed in a large hall (originally a TV room) that has been turned into a dorm, in which a lot of students live, the students would switch off the bridge to stop that noise (which is really annoying: I mean the noise).

The second reason that I found was that some students in the hostel form a private network (some say for playing games) in such a way that the network (at least on the floor on which I live) becomes inaccessible to others. Why would they do that? I don’t know. A lot of people do a lot of things which harm others unnecessarily. When I try to find the answer, a few words repeatedly come to my mind: insincerity, insensitivity, greed. And also sadism. Sadism again and again.

Now the faulty UPS has been replaced, so the first reason is presumably gone, but the second is still there. The network continues to be unavailable to me for long periods of time. Can anything be done about this? I mean without punishing a few scapegoats and imposing some new set of Draconian rules? I am still trying to figure that out. I usually avoid writing about where, why and how I live, but this problem seems to have a great symbolic significance (TFIC: tongue firmly in cheek). So, if someone can find a solution to this, that solution may be worth studying for solving many other problems.

I have a feeling that technology may have a role to play in the solution, i.e., there may be cure for my latest cause of nightmares (actually, daymares), but it is more likely to come with some help from technology, rather than with help from psychology. Nor sociology. Nor metaphysics. Definitely not from The Law.

Even though the cause, in the first place, is technology itself.

But technology might make the situation infinitely worse too.

Meanwhile, any of you who are relying on me for some work, please note that I have a good excuse (reason? explanation? protestation? apology?).

Gmail Shifting to a New Version of the GUI

My Gmail was behaving in a funny way since at least yesterday. Some times there was a blank page when you clicked on something. Some other times there was a strange looking error message like “Zero Sized Reply” or something. Then the look of the interface was a bit different. Finally, the URL also was looking different: a small one instead of the usual long concatenation of apparently random letters, numbers and symbols.

On asking around and doing some experiments, I realized that Google is shifting to a new version of the Gmail interface. I wish they had given some explicit indication of this, so that I didn’t have to worry about what was happening. The network in my place has been behaving strangely and some other funny things have been happening (e.g., my academic home page suddenly and completely disappeared from the Google index).

This is what the new interface looks like:

The New Gmail GUI

I have not yet tried the new features (if any), except noticing that the GUI looks a bit different.

I have heard that there is a plan to shift to a Yahoo! like interface. Personally, I would prefer a Gmail like interface.