When the Cord Is Cut

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As you may have heard, areas of San Francisco's South Bay and coast lost their landline, cell phone, and Internet connectivity because an individual or individuals unknown deliberately sliced four fiber optic cables in San Jose, California. This action (currently termed "vandalism"), in addition to unplugging over 50,000 area residents, caused many businesses to shut down and threatened lives because 911 services were out for the better part of the day.

This was a serious business, and my hope is that whoever thought this one up will spend the most productive years of a lifetime in a cramped jail cell mulling over the consequences of their decision. AT&T is posting a US$250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s). In a tight economy I can't think of a more worthwhile way to make a buck.

Now, let's talk about me (because, as my family and friends routinely remind me, it's always about me).

I was among those affected and it was an enlightening experience. I'm accustomed to power outages given that a single drop of moisture touching a power line after the first day of spring is enough to short out the works in my neighborhood. However, I have a couple of uninterruptible power supplies that keep my Internet connection alive and a MacBook Pro with an always-charged battery. If necessary I can keep the wheels turning for a couple of hours. And if push comes to shove, I can drive to where I can receive a cell signal and work from my iPhone.

But this was different. I had no Internet access. I couldn't call the office to alert my boss that I was off the grid. And my iPhone was no good with its constant No Service heading regardless of where I drove. I was completely unplugged.

After drying the tears from the realization that Twitter, e-mail, and Web-surfing were off the day's menu, I resolved to carry on with a long-term project. Yet even there I was thwarted.

The iLife suite is part of this project and I needed to update the version of iLife on my laptop--it still had iLife '08. What better time to do it? The problem is that when you first launch iPhoto '09, it wants to connect to Apple's servers and get information on your location to configure Places properly. It politely asked if it could, I replied "No," and a spinning beachball resulted.

After about five minutes this resolved itself, but when it did, the shared iPhoto library from my Mac Pro was nowhere to be seen. Thinking this was an issue with the iPhoto Sharing preference, I attempted to access it, only to be greeted by the previous beachball's cousin. At this point, iPhoto become completely unresponsive. A Force Quit and trashing of preferences brought iPhoto back to its original first-used state. But it also behaved exactly as it had before, beachballs and all.

On my Mac Pro, I checked Software Update's Installed Updates area and, sure enough, iPhoto was now at 8.0.2 and an iLife Support 9.0.2 update had also been issued. Fair enough: all I need to do is install the update on the laptop and....

Oh. Yeah. No Internet. Damn.

Resolved:When installing an important update, in Software Update select the update you want to archive, choose Update -> Install and Keep Package. Should you need that update, you'll find it in your Downloads folder.

Fine, I'll leave this for another time. For this same project I need to set up Boxee to share media on a Mac mini I'm configuring as a media center. I launch Boxee and--damn again--it won't launch fully because it needs to connect to the mothership via the Internet.

Okay. Maybe there's some information on the outage so I'll have a clue when I can get back to work. I'll just tune into one of the Bay Area news stations via my Sonos Multi-Room Music System (because AM radio reception in my valley is miserable) and... right, no streaming audio from the Internet.

And then the dull light finally came on. Increasingly we depend on the Internet for information, entertainment, and conducting business. Much as we tout the benefits of the cloud, when that cloud dissipates, you've got nothing but blue skies and a slashed connection to the rest of the world.

While I appreciate this event providing me with an excuse to walk away from technology and enjoy a pleasant chat with a neighbor about poison-oak control and Buster Keaton, I hope something a little more positive comes from it. The notion, for example, that maybe having this kind of dependance with no backup when some lunatic decides to take a pair of bolt cutters to our information lifeline isn't such a hot idea.

This story, "When the Cord Is Cut" was originally published by Macworld.

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