Angry Computer Gods

Switching Internet providers can be hell.

June was a bad month in my little world. My troubles were not serious, but they were as many as the leaves on a green bay tree. It began when I plunged into a landscape of frustration and despair, which is where you go if you try to dump AOL. I have yet to emerge.

An alternative explanation for what's gone on is that Satan came in and mentioned that things seemed to be humming along too nicely for me. And then God bade Satan test his servant Renée, with the help of Cox Communications, Apple and UPS.

Many of us hate AOL, and for a multitude of good reasons. There are the involuntary molasses-in-January updates; seven or eight clicks required to attach a simple document; the agonizing wait for your mail until every last pixel of today's Tiger Woods photo has loaded; messages often interrupted, alas, by pop-ups flogging fool-proof protection from pop-ups; and the general Stalin-meets-Disney air of the whole enterprise.

I'd been grousing about AOL and longing for broadband for maybe two years when they busted me for spamming, twice, and I decided to dump their sorry Internet access service. I should have taken a tranquilizer then.

I got nabbed for distributing weekly meeting minutes via e-mail to the members of a local humanitarian organization. I've been doing it for a long time over the Net, but one day in April, moments after I hit "send," I got a message from AOL saying that my service had been terminated. I'd violated the "Terms of Service agreement." (My theory is that the list had topped a built-in limit of 200 addresses.) Before they'd forgive me, I had to confess, read stern documents and put x's in boxes committing myself to good behavior.

So I broke the address list in two and kept on criminally distributing minutes for a few more weeks, until I apparently sent out both batches within too short a time, setting off the spam alarm again. This time, I had to plead with some guy--I suspect in Madras or Bombay--to reclaim my right to e-mail. After agreeing to various stipulations, I was once again allowed to be part of the nurturing community that is AOL. I was by now permanently enraged and desperate to stop sending the company my money, but not before I'd informed them in detail of all the ways they suck. I have yet to enjoy this happiness.

First, I contacted Earthlink. No hookup available on our street. So I called Cox and entered The Big Hall of Mirrors. Yes, we can hook you up--no problem! And network your Dell and your iMac! Maybe wirelessly! Wait just a sec while I transfer you to someone in Sales/Tech/Scheduling!

That first time, I was cut off. So I started over on what was to become a painfully familiar procedure: dialing, entering my phone number, the last four numbers of my husband's Social Security number, then punching through a couple layers of voicemail menu before being parked on hold.

This happened many, many times as one rep after another tried to 1) get us on the installation schedule, 2) figure out what kind of cable installation/modem/ network we really needed, 3) gently break the news that Cox was not installing networks anymore (this developed sometime during the weeks of calling), 4) transfer us successfully to someone who would know, 5) reschedule us and 6) leave us messages without ever giving a department or extension. I also made one trip to the Cox building, a jaunt that coincided precisely with our last good rain. Trust me: You cannot get there from here.

Everyone was kind; everyone was confused and it went on--I am not exaggerating--for weeks.

Finally, though, Terry T. showed up right when he said he would, ran the new split in about 10 minutes and urged us to call him on his cell if we had any trouble at all. (Go, Terry!) It was like a miracle: The only Cox-like thing about it was a call from another Cox installer as Terry was just finishing up saying he'd be here in a few minutes. After only three or four more calls to Cox about the account password--hey, that was nothing--it worked.

Then I got serious about the intricacies of wireless hardware and software. Did you know that to install OS X ($129) on a Mac running 8-point-anything--and you need to have OS X to use your AirPort wireless hub ($199)--you first have to install more memory ($59.95) and OS 9 and its iterations, but, watch out, there's a trick? Apple no longer sells OS 9! I didn't get it, either, even after several visits to Simutek, the Apple dealers on Fort Lowell Road. (There was some mention of an upgrade to 9.2.2 available with purchase of OS X for $19.95, but that turned out to be available only if you already had OS 9. See?)

The guy at Apple's 800-number, however, was kind enough to direct me to an online software scalper who shipped me an OS 9 CD right away for only $149.

Could it be that they want you to give up and drop a couple thou for a new machine? Nahh.

This went on concurrently with the saga of the WiFi cards (about $70 apiece) for the Dell and, what the hey, for my son's laptop. I didn't realize immediately that the Dell also needed a PCI-to-PCMCIA slot adapter which I ordered about three weeks ago from some sweet boys in Lake Oswego, Ore., for $59.95 plus shipping. However, it now seems that UPS has lost the thing and would rather not discuss it. So, since I'd still like to share a file in my lifetime, I gave up and ordered another adapter yesterday. (Promised overnight--but still not here. Odd ... ) The Dell has been lying on its side on the floor waiting for surgery so long that it's started to look normal.

All in all, it's been a challenging and valuable learning experience, but I am cautiously hopeful that Satan and his many colleagues in the computer industry are almost finished with me.

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