Saturday, April 01, 2006

Back Again At Last

Wednesday night at 8 the train pulled into Zoo Station, and, like it or not, I was back. I was jet-lagged as could be -- it's much worse coming this direction than going to the States -- so I was very happy to see the dancer, who'd been taking care of my mail in my absence, there to greet me and help with my luggage. I was particularly concerned about the luggage, because one piece had in it my new Mac Mini. I know the thing's well-engineered, but I was scared something would shake loose. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. We had a nice dinner at Honigmond and then said good-night. She was packing for her own trip, to Basel.

Thursday began the biggest string of screw-ups I've seen in a long time. I woke up and started some coffee, since another great thing I'd brought back was a pound of Oaxacan blend coffee from Curra's in Austin. I then plugged in the iBook to get my mail, just to see what was what before I took the momentous step of setting up my new computer and transferring the data. There was an e-mail from someone I'd never heard of with the title "Pass Gefunden." Huh? A scam? I quickly checked my bag and...the leather wallet I use to travel with, containing all my tickets and other documents wasn't there. But some honest person had found it on the tran and had taken it with him. I called, and we agreed to meet in Alexanderplatz at 5. On this one, I have only myself to blame. If I'd had money for a coffee on the train, I would have been alert enough to remember to check.

Speaking of which, the smell of the Curra's coffee was pervading the house. I went into the kitchen to get a cup and...the water had heated, but it was still in the machine. Only a tiny bit had trickled into the coffee-pot. My coffee-maker was dead. Ah, but I was going to Alex later; I could buy another one there. I improvised and soon had hot coffee.

Once buzzed, it was time for me to set up the computer. It's amazing how easy this has become since I last had to do it, painfully transferring files with floppies, taking all day. In just under an hour, everything was where it should be, except... no internet access. I kept getting a message that said "Authentication failed." Now, I'm not a novice, although I'm hardly an expert, so I figured I could beat this. I was wrong. Nothing worked. Frustrated -- and very glad I'd bought Apple Care -- I called the States after I'd returned from Alexanderplatz with my travel wallet and a nice-looking new coffee-maker. One honest young German was now ahead a very good bottle of Languedoc wine.

The Apple Care guy who ran me through the paces was good. We worked hard for an hour trying every possible permutation, and then he called in one of his superiors to see if he'd forgotten anything. "At this point, I think we can say that one of two things is wrong," he said at the end. "Either it's your ISP, or the plug on your computer is damaged somehow." The latter was highly unlikely, and my ISP was...

Deutsche Satankom.

[Parenthetical anecdote. At one point during this hour we were waiting for something to happen, and he said "This isn't the weirdest call I've had this week. The other day this guy called and was like 'My computer's on fire and there's smoke coming out of it!' and I'm like 'Dude! Don't call me, call the fire department!'"]

So, with deadlines looming, no e-mail for several days, and a mounting sense of panic, I went to bed.

Yesterday, I started by calling a friend to see if he had any ideas about what was going on with my access. "I just went to Gravis [Berlin's main Mac dealer] because I wanted a new machine and they talked me out of getting one of those Intel Minis," he said. "They told me 'You can't get on the Internet with one of those.'" What? This sounded insane. But, given that Satankom controls access to the DSL network here, not entirely impossible.

I was beginning to panic after a couple of other phone calls and several trips to the questionable internet cafe down the street. Finally, I induced a friend with good German to call the tech support number. (There used to be an English support number, but it was discontinued in favor of Russian and Turkish. Why they couldn't have all three is beyond me.) Naturally, the tech guys said that it was my fault, that I didn't know how to configure the Mac for access, and they told me to do the exact same things I'd done with the Apple Care guy the night before. Frustrated at having to continue to deal with a customer, they sent a tech checking into my line. He came back and told me I'd been trying to log on with a 7-number password instead of an 8-number one, which was utter baloney: I'd transferred the same information from the old computer which had worked when I'd used it Thursday morning. I patiently re-typed my number, and guess what? I was on.

My analysis of this situation is that there's some kind of change Deutsche Telekom has to make on its DSL lines to make them compatible with Intel Macs, and since they figure that's such a small number of users, they don't bother. Why else would the people at Gravis have said you can't use them to get on the Internet? Clearly I wasn't the first person who'd had this problem.

So, I told myself, I was back again. I'd braved freezing rain on Thursday, dodged now-defrosted hunks of dog poop everywhere, threaded myself through a couple of construction sites (Alexanderplatz is the world's largest mud puddle at the moment), started coming down with yet another cold, and been treated like dirt by Telekom. Surely, though, this chain of disasters had reached its end.


I woke up in the middle of the night, head so full that I realized I had to relocate to the couch so I could sleep sitting up. This happens a couple of times a year, and is no big thing. And as I settled down on the couch-cushion there was a sharpness and then a pop underneath me.

My glasses.


Yes, I'll be posting about SXSW, although not what you might think. I'm still mulling it over, and I'm afraid I've talked about it with a lot of people, which almost always dilutes what I write, or, at any rate, makes it harder to write. I've got some paying work to do this weekend if I haven't missed my deadline, and some loose ends still to tie up around here. But I'm back, and I'm more anxious than ever to get the money together by May 15 so I can start looking for my new apartment in Montpellier.

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