Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Modern Life is Rubbish

Posted by Andy Hockley on 21 July, 2008

Recently the interphone in our building was replaced. I’m not entirely sure what the word in English is for interphone despite my native speaker status, since I’ve never lived anywhere in an English speaking country that needed one, but in case it’s not interphone, I’m talking about the system through which a visitor to someone in a block of flats rings up to that flat, so that the resident can talk to them, make sure that they are the kind of visitor they want to have, and then press a button to open the door on the ground floor. You know what I’m on about, right?

Anyway, for well over a year now we’ve gone without one, since the old one had broken and nobody had thought to get it repaired. Or something. The ways of living in a block of flats are a bit incomprehensible to me – we have someone who is “responsible” for our building, whose role seems to be to pop round once a month to read the water meter. We also pay a monthly “common expenses” fee, which I assume covers things like repairs to the bits of the building which are not the individual flats, and for the salary of the cleaning woman who cleans the place on occasion. But aside from that I’m not sure how things work exactly. If the lift breaks down, for example, who does one call to get it sorted? I have no clue. For a year, in fact there was a window missing between the ground and the first floor (I think someone had nicked it – really). Obviously if you live in a climate with a winter as cold as this one, that’s quite a serious problem.

So, the interphone was buggered, and the door was just open to anyone. This wasn’t really a problem, except when you walk downstairs in the morning and find yourself struggling to negotiate a drunk lying on the landing, but this was a very rare occurrence. But recently, there was sudden activity, and one days some blokes came round and installed a new handset/button system in our flat (and, I assume, in everybody else’s too). A few weeks later, they showed up again (not sure what they were doing in the intervening time period, but there you go) and installed a new box thingy and lock down at ground level. Then a week or so after that, the whole thing went live and the system was finally in place.

It’s all very fancy – it works, for a start, which is a definite improvement on the previous system. It also has a codepad which means that one doesn’t actually have a key to get in and out of the building one just types in ones code, and voila, the door opens. There are one or two little quibbles – like the fact that the ringing inside the flat is very loud, and it wakes everyone up. As we live in flat number 1, that is the one that the postman rings in the morning to get in and give everyone their mail. Obviously this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that we have kids and its the summer holiday and they really don’t need to be waking up at half past seven. So, anyway, now one of my nightly rituals is to turn it off, so that our phone doesn’t ring at all in the morning until I turn it back on again.

The big flaw with the new system was revealed last Friday though. As we trundled home from work we noticed that the people who work in the shop in the next building were all sitting outside (perhaps enjoying the sun, we mused). When we arrived at our building though it became clear what was going on. There was a powercut. All the buildings in the block were out. And of course we don’t have a key, we just have a code to type on a keypad which (you might have guessed) runs on electricity. So there was no way into the building…

Well, this is not entirely true, because we just called (via mobile phone) a neighbour to come downstairs and open the door for us, which we then jammed open for whoever came next. This is one of those modern-technology-saves-the-day-when-modern- technology-has-failed-you moments. There must be a word for that, since it seems like much of the world is relying on it to be the answer to global warming in some massive world-ending game of chicken (well, let’s not bother trying to step back from the brink, somebody’s bound to invent something soon which can reverse global warming sooner or later, so we can keep on polluting to our hearts’ content)

Oh for the days of the simple key which you insert into a lock and turn.

Posted in technology | 3 Comments »

When there in’t a ‘net

Posted by Andy Hockley on 21 June, 2007

Occasionally the Internet goes off in Csíkszereda. Today is one of those days. I suspect there are places in town that have it, because these days there is more than one provider – when I first arrived here we just had Astral and that was it, so if their server went down, we lost the Internet across the whole town – this was fairly common during thunderstorms and blizzards. Today there are no thunderstorms (yet anyway, there might be one later), and certainly no blizzards (since we are in the middle of a roasting hot June), but the server seems to be down and has cut off large swathes of the town. [Obviously by the time you read this, the Internet has come back, since until that happens I can’t actually post it anyway.]

Now I am old enough to remember a time when there was no such thing as the Internet, and doing stuff didn’t involve being online. Now obviously there are things I could be doing which don’t entail being connected to the world wide web, but I can’t remember what they are. I have gone through my list of things to do and done all of the things that I can feasibly do offline, and am now waiting to go back online in order to finish them off. Some things I can’t even get started on since they necessitate me working in a place which is (I believe) actually located on a server in London. It is quite astonishing the pace at which the world has changed.

I remember when I first encountered the Internet…

[Screen goes wibbly wobbly, music effects suggest going back in time, screen clears to reveal people in unfashionable haircuts, living in a time before the invasion of Iraq, before the 11th of September 2001, to a day when Sheffield Wednesday were in the top division, when the most up to date platform was Windows 3.1, and to before the election of Tony Blair, when he was seen as someone who would be good.]

I was living on the island of Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia. I often think it’s quite odd that I was living somewhere so remote when the Internet appeared to me, but then again it is a tool which is at its best when you live somewhere remote. Like a small island in the Pacific or a small town 700m up in the Carpathians. My new boss, had (just before my arrival) signed up for something called “Compuserve” (remember them?) and through a dial up modem we could call the US and get emails. The connection was slow (I think it was 14.4kbps) and the cost of the call was such that only emails were worth bothering with. If somebody sent you one with pictures in, it took ages to get. Someone sent him that early dancing baby video thing and it must have taken over an hour to get it. Mind you, at the time, it did seem worth it – I mean it was a sort of computer generated baby, which danced. Stuff didn’t get much better than that.

One of the guys who worked for FSM Telecom was really enthused by the possibilities of this Internet stuff and how it could radically change life on an island which got three planes a week landing and every now and then a ship full of food. So he started working on it big time and soon set up the country’s own Internet server and connected it to the rest of the world by means of a massive great satellite dish set up outside the Telecom HQ. I was one of the first people in the country to get connected as he asked for 10 or so volunteers to test the whole thing out. I had the classic email address andy (at) mail.fm – those were the days. (By the way that last.fm domain? Now you now where it comes from)

So all of a sudden we were connected to the world. I could do things like finding out football scores in England, or chat to people I’d never met about nothing in particular. You know the really useful stuff that has made the Internet what it is today. I even, towards the end of my stay, kept a blog before the term blog had even been invented, complaining about the fact that I was laid up with a broken leg, unable to watch the World Cup in France because it wasn’t on TV there. (The real value of the net back then in that place came when Amazon started and suddenly you could browse and order books)

Those were the days. Now everybody and her uncle is on the Internet with their myspace pages and their youtube clips, and I am now bringing up the rear, trying desperately to understand what the point of “web 2.0” is (and indeed why it is called Web 2.0 at all). I used to be hip you know. On the cutting edge of the web. Now I’m just struggling to keep up. I don’t even download music, let alone entire films or episodes of the Sopranos. Anyway, I think I’ll go out for a coffee. I believe one can do that in the real world, and you don’t even need a Second Life avatar to do it for you.

Posted in technology | 1 Comment »