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Mitch… Disconnected

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So you are one of the world’s most hyper-connected individuals, known for having the Internet at your disposal 24/7.  You are scheduled to work with a customer overseas on their connected system via live link, and you have dozens of other things that you usually do / plan to do / want to do during your five day stay in Montreal… and you realize too late that you forgot all of your computers at home.  What do you do?

In my last article, Disconnecting Mitch, I outlined how it happened.  That was the situation – I was halfway from Toronto (Oakville) to Montreal when the realization hit me, and I was scrambling to figure out how I was going to manage.  The initial reason I had pulled off the road was to send an e-mail, but that was easy enough to do from my smartphone.  The rest was going to be challenging. 

As you probably suspect I don’t simply use my computer in one place… I carry it with me, and pull it out in places such as cafés (as is the case right now).  I also had my Kobo e-reader in my messenger bag, so I was not only disconnected, I was missing my books as well.

My first thought was to call Theresa and ask her to ship it to me overnight.  I couldn’t imagine how much that would cost, but it would not be nearly as much as losing two days of work.  However I knew that Theresa was in meetings all day, and to ask her to drop everything to run home, get my computer, run to FedEx, and ship it would have been asking a lot… not to mention the fact that it still would not help me with that evening’s meeting.  Okay, that was not a viable option.

I had to think.  I would be staying at my parents’ place in Montreal… not helpful; my mother does have a laptop, but it was in Florida with her for the winter.  My father had previously discussed buying a computer or tablet for himself, but not very seriously, and anyways that would not happen in time for my 8:00pm meeting.  He had one at his office of course, but I am reasonably sure it was a desktop, and there was no way I would ask him to bring it home with him.  I still have friends in Montreal, many of whom would gladly let me use their computers.  However I would need it for 6-7 hours overnight, and unless they were going to let me take it back to my parents’ place with me that would be a real imposition.

Of course I immediately posted my predicament on Facebook… for some reason that is where nut jobs turn to complain when they do something stupid these days, so why should this nut job be any different?  I wrote that I had forgotten my system at home, and did any of my Montreal peeps have a system they could loan me for my stay?  I did not hold out hope for this – for the simple reason that I have never seen anything posted to Facebook actually solve a problem.  It turns out, as it happens, that one friend did see it and offer to help… only it was on the week-end, well pas the required date.

I took a step back and examined the situation.  What exactly did I need a computer for during my stay in Montreal?  I would say that first and foremost my computer is usually for e-mail, Twitter, blogging, and the like… but I could live without blogging for a few days (I know I know, you had already noticed that), and I could use my phone for e-mail and Twitter (along with Facebook, sporadic web surfing, and even reading on my Kobo reader).  The main reason I needed a computer was for those collaborative web meetings I would have with Tokyo.  Of course I might want to do a little writing while I was there…

…It occurred to me that I didn’t really need any software on the computer, I only needed to have a computer running Windows.  It would not have to be big and powerful, it did not have to have 8 GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD or the latest Intel CPU… it needed to run Windows, period.

Naughty thoughts started racing through my head.  It occurred to me that in this day and age a lot of stores have very liberal return policies.  I felt dirty and dishonest… was I really the type of person to go into a store to buy an item knowing I was planning on returning it four days later?  I really didn’t want to… but what choice did I have?

I was going to write that I planned to compromise.  I was going to write that I was going to buy a system at one of the big box stores, and if it was everything that I wanted I would either keep it, or sell it, or whatever.  In short, I was going to lie.  The truth is that I knew as I stood at the electronics counter at Wal-Mart that my tenure of ownership of the Acer laptop that I was buying would not outlast many cricket matches.  I asked the clerk about several features of the computer that she could not possibly have known (does this model include Windows 8.1 U1, which was not yet publicly available), and was the touch screen capacitive (the screen was not a touch screen), and was the USB port LPT-compatible (really? c’mon!)).  After three or four ‘Uhhhh…’ answers I simply said ‘I’ll tell you what… just let me know what the return policy is, and if it doesn’t do everything I need I will bring it back.’  I paid for it (No, I don’t think I will need the extended warranty coverage…) and headed back to my parents’ place.

The 17” monster was reasonably light, but that was irrelevant, as it was to be a stationary desktop for the next few days.  I didn’t have an external mouse for it, and as it did not have a touch screen I knew I would be stuck with the dreaded track pad all week-end.  No matter, it was better than not having it at all.  I installed Skype and LiveMeeting (one of which proved ineffective due to bandwidth limitations), and that was it… for the first time that I could ever recall I bought a computer and did not apply patches, I did not download Windows Essentials, I didn’t even install anti-malware. 

For any site on the Internet that I would authenticate to (e-mail, etc…) I used InPrivate Browsing.  For everything else I honestly did not care if it tracked my cookies or my browsing patterns.  It wasn’t a very comfortable experience – I hated the computer, missed my touch screen, mouse, and everything else I love about my own devices – but I was able to do everything that I needed to do… if not everything that I might have wanted to do.  It did not come with me to cafés… in fact, when I left the house I did so with empty hands.  My friend Jessica, with whom I had dinner and then coffee Saturday evening, commented that it was refreshing to see me without a device.  Of course I had my phone…  but that was about it.

Sunday morning I repacked the computer into the original box, made sure I had the original receipt, and trudged back to Wal-Mart.  I was relieved that there was no line at the Customer Service counter, and the young lady who assisted me asked if I was going to try to find another computer, or if I just wanted my refund.  I told her I was going to hold off, so if she could just refund my credit card I would appreciate it.  After checking that all of the pieces were what they were supposed to be and that there was no physical damage she did just that, and wished me well.  I thanked her, and commended Wal-Mart for the hassle-free experience.

I felt bad that I had taken advantage of the major retailer, and decided that before leaving I would at least spend a few dollars there.  I bought a pack of green-apple licorice and a case of water for the ride home, and that was it… I headed out, poorer by one computer and richer by about $500 and some licorice than I had been.  My work with my customer in Tokyo had been a success, and I was able to focus on my drive back to Oakville.

When I got home I was greeted at the door by two rambunctious dogs who always miss me, whether I am gone for an hour or a month.  Past the dogs I got to spend a couple of hours with my sons.  It was great to be home.  However once they were in bed, I secreted down to my office and pulled out my Surface Pro 2.  It was not only because I had a meeting – I did.  However after five long days without my technology, it was nice to be reunited with a device I called my own.

Am I a geek?  You bet I am!

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