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"Summer, 1999: Update"

You know, Soapbox #200 is coming up in a few months. That's 200 weeks of Soapboxes. Almost four years of spewing verbiage into a web site. I think that's pretty impressive. How long can I keep it up?

My peers are not keeping up quite so well...

So I'm approximately two weeks into the summer vacation. A couple people actually expressed interest in how things turned out for me with grades and such. Imagine that! I will write a personal response, of course, but an update might be nice, since a lot of things have happened since school ended.

First of all, I was surprised to check the UT web site for my grade report -- I managed two A's and B's. Certainly no glorious achievement by many standards, but I haven't been a straight A student since my elementary school days. Chalk it up to lack of motivation to devote whole evenings every weekday to studying for each class. I did get an A in my second semester of Greek -- of course, it was the one class I studied for three or four hours every night. Language is one of the few areas I'm willing to devote that kind of time to. I got B's in philosophy and marketing.

Most shocking of all, I got an A in parageography, the class I absolutely loathed by the end of the semester. Basically, for our final exam, what we had to do was sit down with a map and booklet full of notes about the world our professor had created in his many years of developing the field of parageography (the study of fantasy worlds), and then come up with stories in response to scenarios the professor set up for us. In short, we were supposed to bullshit our way through this final, most creative bullshit getting the best grade. I guess I did well on the final. I stayed up the whole night, writing a paper for the same class, so after a Vivarin and Coke, and cursing about the class to my roommate, I was downright pissed by the time I got to the final. The professor was late, as usual, pissing me off even more. I got the damn map and I just came up with the craziest shit I could. At that point, I just wanted out. It took a long two hours to complete. That's two hours of bee-essing about some world you have no clue about. Exhausting and grueling. A fellow classmate enjoyed it. Masochist. I think I went on and on about some traveler tumbling down a hill and landing at the gate of Hell, or comparing a poem's backpack full of valuables to a beehive full of honey or something. Yes, I was delirious after staying up that long. At any rate, I got an A. The professor probably got tired of grading all those papers and finals and gave everyone A's. Or he's just one of those professors who gives you an A for a nice try.

So I got home to Dallas, leaving Austin on the last day the dorm was open...meaning no one was left and I was one of the last people to depart. Went out to dinner with my brother and his girlfriend the night before, then with my brother and father for lunch the next day. (ooh, the boy mentions a goings-on in his family...what a rarity!)

Being the loser I am, I wasted no time hooking up my computer to the cable modem beckoning me to use it. And oh yes, BuyComp.com ordered up the goods I needed to turn the computers in the house into sponges of digital information. A recommendation: BuyComp.com is a solid place to order from, IF AND ONLY IF you use their web site to order, and not call them up. In fact, try to use the online shopping carts on web sites as often as possible, unless their product listings don't have information that's specific enough. Most all your problems are going to come when you call up to talk to someone who can barely speak English, or who just realized that a web browser is what Netscape Navigator is, or someone else who will surely bungle up your order. Are there web sites out there that track customers' experiences with different companies' web sites and ordering systems? If so, I'd like to see it. If not, then that's my idea, damnit! An e-commerce Consumer Reports.

I watched the stock market go up and down violently and swiftly, me only being an inexperienced sailor in the storm. One day, I'll brave those storms like a pro, and use them to my advantage. One day.

I called up @Home, the local cable modem provider, after I tried to use their web site to add additional IPs so the computers in the house would have their own identities. The web site's scripting did not work, as the server database was skagged, so I wasn't allowed to add multiple IPs. (I know, I know...what did I just say about online ordering vs. phone? Trust me, it gets better) so I sat on the phone with tech support while they buffeted me about from clueless person to clueless person. They had to do callbacks after every time they purported to fix the problem, and those fixes never worked. Finally, they stopped calling, probably because they were both incompetent and annoyed, and I tried the web site on my own a bit later and it worked. So in short, it took them a whole day to tell me what I already knew -- the server database was having problems. Well no shit! That's what the frigging error message said! Ever feel like you could do someone's job with your eyes closed?

My networking shit arrived the next week and I managed to set up the home network in just a few hours. Pretty good for someone who's been on modems his whole life until now. Only started messing with NICs last semester when my roommate and I linked our computers together (in an impressive splicing of a CAT5 cable and rewiring it into a crossover cable). So the Intel hub plugged into the cable modem and I ran the cables through to each of the computers (and might I add, the lengths of the cables seem to be perfect) and everything worked fine. A few kinks, but no huge problems like I expected to encounter. I even networked the printer.

What's the big deal, you're thinking? Well, you just don't understand what it is to harness the power of digital and pump it into your computer after using shitty modems to try to use the Internet. Now that I have cable, it's like my grasp on the Internet is much stronger. I can pull down more information faster and find what I'm looking for more efficiently. Once you pass a certain point of using the 'Net, speed and efficiency become the most important things. You know where to look, but it just depends on your connection to give you the right information in a timely fashion. Being able to grab files of all sorts while trolling the Web in multiple windows, all without any slowdown, is a grand increase in freedom. It's something only a computer geek can appreciate properly.

I've put up FTP servers, HTTP servers, and ShoutCast servers (to broadcast my MP3s over the 'Net to anyone who wants to listen). That sort of activity is useless on a modem. No throughput. I've played some Quake 2 Capture the Flag with a sub-100ms ping. The improvement is disgustingly obvious. I don't have to dial and hang up the modem 20 times before I get a 56k connect. You just boot up and you're online. No more damn ICQ security errors. You can pull the ethernet cable out and put it back in and you don't get disconnected from IRC or MUDs or anything. That's just cool.

As you can tell, I'm enjoying it. Just imagine...what I can accomplish with this kind of bandwidth is leagues above what I could do before. My fingers extend the tendrils of my online presence even further and wider into and around the Internet. One day, my own customizable, scripted software agents will search for shreds of information on all types of servers on the 'Net for anything I'm interested in, and it will piece them together to develop emergent patterns or trends worth noticing. They will also constantly search for antidotes to bring back and ingest into my computer's system to protect itself from hostile rogue agents. They will do what I do now, only infinitely times faster. "Portals" like Yahoo! and Netscape Netcenter will fail because of software agents. You pick the agent you want to use, whether it's independently or commercially created, and you code or script the Hell out of it. It will do exactly what you want it to do, schedule exactly what you want it to schedule, block or unlock whole worlds from or to you. It will require a fat bandwidth pipe. What we have now is nothing compared to the future. Yet I obsess on such a small thing as cable access.

It's because the future is more tangible to me now. A powerful computer capable of multi-tasking is nothing if its online throughput is as small as a modem's. You're essentially strangling your system. But with a fast pipe, it allows your computer, and your mind, to work on more complex levels and process more information in less time. There's a strong link between what the computer can do and what the mind can do. They work together. Human thought is another kind of bandwidth, along with a computer's and a connection's. They work hand-in-hand.

But anyway... So I got that cable all set up, to use fewer words. I finally started working the other day after a mini-break that refused to let me out. Working on one web site, getting turned down for another. Yep. I lost a potential client because he found someone else who would do it for less money. Ouch. I was that person probably a year or two ago. What this means is that I need to work more on selling myself. I'm terrible at it. My mentality has always been that it's a waste of time trying to get other people to take you seriously -- the keepers are the ones who come to you first. Selling oneself bites, especially to people who refuse to believe anything except the almighty dollar.

Even as a web site designer, I have to say that most web sites are useless and overvalued. Most web site designers charge a fortune for shitty design work, poor UI structure, buggy HTML markup, cheap gimmicks, and no experience. Most web site owners just want a URL they can give to their clients and friends. Never mind the fact that sites like Amazon.com invest probably millions of dollars into their web sites. Never mind that those sites actually DO generate business and keep old customers. Never mind that what makes a site good is not its presence, but instead the convenience it adds to the customer's experience of getting the product or service. Having a web site just to have one is so two years ago. We're past that now. Web sites have to have content, and good products/services too. Media sites (TV, movies, radio) make interesting web sites because they translate well online -- businesses with less entertaining goods make less interesting sites. Those businesses need to concentrate on developing sites with added features like account management or oft-updated statistics or that sort of thing. Web design is full of hacks.

I registered for summer school next week. I start on Tuesday and my classes are in the late evening. Works out great for me. I'm just taking those stupid state-required courses that I don't want to take during the school semesters. I figure this will work out better than taking a class in the early morning, so I can stay up and work during my prime productive hours without worrying too much about getting enough sleep for the next day.

I miss Anna. I don't really have anything poetic or poignant to say about the subject. It's just an empty sort of absence that I feel. We talk daily, still, but our separate lives are not facilitating anything right now. I just miss her. I miss not having doubts.

As it is, my heart atrophies from disuse. Fortunately, with age, I am learning to remain calm and to control mood swings, and to use my head to get me where I want to be. But it can only take me so far. Somewhere along the line, Descartes would have had to venture outside himself, and towards another, as we all eventually have to.

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