So many connections, so little time

How many internet transactions do you need to read a web page?

One? Sometimes. Maybe. But certainly not always, and I suspect we’re tending towards more connections per page rather than fewer.

You see it at the bottom of your browser screen (unless you have a very fast connection), as various addresses show up while the Firefox circle or IE flag keeps moving. If you’d asked, I would have said this blog requires one connection–or that’s what I would have said yesterday. That’s not quite right. There’s another connection for that little search box in the corner–and probably one connection for each of the book covers at the bottom of the page.

I’m more acutely aware of this today because, well, I was becoming disconnected. Started for my wife last night–couldn’t get to Gmail, then could get to Gmail, then…. Or maybe for me yesterday afternoon, when for a while I could never get current Gmail to finish loading, so had to drop back to old-style Gmail.

This morning, it was much worse. PLN wasn’t there (and that’s my workplace)–but the Citrix Outlook session was. Gmail wasn’t there. Then Gmail was there. Then PLN was there, but Walt at Random and LISNews weren’t… and so it went.

I assumed a DNS problem, but in any case called AT&T (my DSL provider) when it didn’t get better–I couldn’t contact them via email, because that site wouldn’t come up. They tried a few things. I thought the situation was improving (although it would still take two or three tries to connect to some sites), so I said I’d call back if it continued.

It got worse after a while, and I did call back. (Yes, I’d unplugged the modem/router/wifi box and plugged it back in; yes, I’d done a flushdns and renew via ipconfig; yes, I’d flushed Firefox’ caches; yes, we’d checked that IE was having similar problems.)

That got me to Level 2 tech support, where the technician started directly testing my line–and eventually, with my permission, took control of the modem/router itself. Turns out it wasn’t a DNS problem. The three-year-old combined modem/router/wifi box was failing on about one of four pings, which means it was failing on about one of four internet connection attempts. Which would be ugly but livable for a day or two…if sites didn’t involve so many “silent connections.”

The tech noted that they expect modems to last an average of one or two years. That surprised me, but it’s true that the 2Wire combined modem/router/wifi box was, shall we say, not of apparent gemlike quality. (OK, other AT&T technicians had previously hinted that this long-since-replaced model was, well, a piece of junk. But the price was right: $50 with a $50 rebate.)

AT&T’s estore offered the replacement model–a whole lot more contemporary–for $79, plus $23 overnight shipping, plus tax (AT&T has physical nexuses EVERYWHERE), and I’d have it Friday. Or $13.95 shipping and I’d have it Monday. Ugh. But, as the tech had noted, Best Buy also sells the AT&T-specific 2Wire combo. And there’s a Best Buy nearby.

Turned out to be an easy choice. Best Buy wants $89 plus tax, and had the unit in stock. I figure I saved $13 and 1.5 days of hassle and nearly-useless internet. Since I make my living running a wiki, nearly-useless internet access is not a good thing. Paid the price, brought it home, read the instructions, wrote down the SSID and (carefully) the WEP key, plugged it in…

Fifteen minutes to open the box, replace the unit (I already had all the line filters from the old unit), connect to AT&T and validate the new SSID. Fifteen minutes on my wife’s notebook–well, maybe less than that–to identify the network and enter the WEP key and assure that the network and internet access were both working. (She could get mediocre access from other networks, probably including the citywide outdoor Google wifi, but this was the strongest signal.) All remarkably smooth, considering. (Now I should probably go check that the unit isn’t broadcasting the network name–but since it’s WEP-enabled, and we don’t use a lot of shared folders, it’s not critical…I don’t think.) Heck, I suppose I could have gone and worked outside, relying on Google connectivity, but I’d rather not.

And now there’s one less writing day before ALA…but I’m back to making all those “silent connections” without thinking about them.

Except that I’m likely to be subconsciously aware just how many connections really are involved in a typical web page.

One Response to “So many connections, so little time”

  1. Anna Creech says:

    These little connections are what makes Web 2.0 do it’s thing, and what will make the next big thing work even more seamlessly. We’d be stuck in the dark ages without them, which is where the dial-up users are currently residing.

    How can we live in a world where phone companies are providing fiber optic lines for some and sub-standard old-school wires for others? How can we not DO SOMETHING about this disparity?