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by: Bernard Teo






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Bernard Teo
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Mon 01 Jan 2007

The Ghost in the Machine

Category : Commentary/poltergeist.txt

I'd better scratch that last advice I gave about Airport Extreme Base Station (AEBS) settings. To recap, to improve the wireless reception that my MacBook Core 2 Duo is getting, I set the AEBS wireless mode to "802.11g Only", which did provide the MacBook with a consistently strong signal.

But the downside is : I found the base station hung up three times in the last three days.

The strange thing is, the base station hung up each time moments after I've closed the MacBook and put aside my work. The first time when I left to attend a funeral wake (eerie!). I was away for three hours, and that's how long our server (which sits behind the base station) was down. Fortunately that happened between three to six in the afternoon (our quietest period in a 24 hour cycle) so maybe not that didn't stop too many people from accessing the things that they want.

Then the next time was, after watching Man United beat Reading on Saturday night, I answered the last of the mail I had still pending, went to sleep, woke up at five (I'm an insomniac) and found the base station hung minutes after I had gone to sleep. I can check, using WebMon, when the last hit on the server had occurred. The site had been down another three hours.

At this point, at five in the morning, I'll admit I was open to any suggestion that a poltergeist had somehow followed me home and was watching my every move.

Then yesterday afternoon, I wrapped up some work for the year and went for a run. You guessed it! Almost two hours later, when I got back, I found the base station hung, almost to the minute I had left the house.

Now, if we have a poltergeist in the house, that must be some Internet TCP/IP-savvy ghost.

Not willing to give in to superstition, I've reset the base station settings to "802.11b/g Compatible" and everything else (channel and multicast rate) to the defaults, to see if we'll get another crash.

But that's, of course, superstition on another level, because I don't at all understand what all these settings do, unlike when I'm debugging my own code and I can find exactly the explanation for why things work the way they do, no matter how seemingly random. "When you believe in things you don't understand, then you suffer", so says Stevie Wonder. But life is lived among varying levels of illusion.

One man's superstition, another man's religion.

The title comes from The Ghost in the Machine by Arthur Koestler, which together with The Act of Creation and The Sleepwalkers, are three great books about the history of technology and the origin of ideas.

And a Happy New Year to all. It is the new year, at last.

Posted at 9:44AM UTC | permalink


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