with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Trying to Connect to the Internet from a Public Library

After lunch today, I ran Brent back to work and raced to the grocery store to get some much needed food and supplies. After a few days of non-stop unpacking, cleaning, filing, sorting, cleaning, unpacking, filing, sorting…and uncovering a path to walk through in the trailer, and suffering incredible heat and humidity 5% @#%#*% humidity), on the way back from the store I decided to risk the melting ice cream for a quick stop off at the public library just down the road from the campground.

It’s a little place, tucked into the back corner of a horrid strip mall, next to a Dollar General shop, a shop featuring the worst of capitalism products from Taiwan and China for a dollar each, more or less. But they had a bank of computers and free usage…so to speak.

Before I even could turn to look at the computers, a woman ordered me to sign in. I thought she meant sign in to be in the library, but the form said it was for signing in to use the computers. Okay, but the large type across the top of the page, and then duplicated in capital letters across every computer monitor put me off a bit. It seems there was a time limit of 30 minutes to use the computers and they weren’t messing around with that limit. I figured out that 30 minutes was fine and more than my ice cream could handle. After all, I was more worried about Hotmails ridiculous trashing of my junk email box after five days (deleting emails from friends who haven’t been “recognized” by me manually that they are okay and not junk email) than dinking around trying to respond to emails. In a week I’ll should have Internet, so I can wait and respond to anything then. The important people know how to find us.

I sat down and almost immediately was thrown into the computer monitor and keyboard. The chair slammed me forward. What the hell? I leaned back and almost flipped out backwards. What the hell is this? The young woman next to me, appearing to work on some educational project, leaned over. “All the chairs do that here.”

“I guess they are serious about the thirty minute limit, then,” I mumbled. “Don’t want anyone to get too comfortable.”

She grinned and nodded, her teeth white against her pretty dark skin. She didn’t look like a young lady who smiled much, and she hid it quickly, but it was still nice to talk to someone, even if for a few seconds. Wanting a little social contact, the large letters of the 30 minute warning stared at me, so I turned back to the screen.

I typed in my web mail address to pick up email from my web page server. It told me that the page wasn’t found. After several tries, I went to the tech support chat web page for my web page host and got someone on the line. They said they would look into it. Meanwhile, I brought up Hotmail – well, let’s say I tried. A lady with a finger waving in the air popped up onto my screen telling me that “Betsy doesn’t allow access to this site.” I was censored! Trying to get Hotmail? What the hell is going on here? Chairs that don’t chair and Internet access without Hotmail.

I overheard a librarian being very patient with a woman across from me, clearly her first time on the Internet, so I interrupted (thinking of my 30 minute limit already down 5 minutes and counting) and asked her why I couldn’t access Hotmail.

“Oh, we’ve blocked that. But I can get you on with a password.”

So I backed up and she came over and covered the screen with her hand (like I couldn’t read what she typed from the movement of her fingers, poke by poke, on the keyboard) and typed in the password. “But I can only give you ten minutes.”

“Why?”

“Because that is the rule.”

“But I have 30 minutes.”

“Yes, but Hotmail is restricted and you can only have ten minutes.”

“I guess I should be able to get to my email accounts by then.”

“Probably not. These are old machines and the best you can do is get on Hotmail, look at your mail and then your ten minutes are up. You probably can’t even get time to write an email.”

“What?”

“Okay, it starts timing from when I hit enter, not from when you get to Hotmail. Are you ready?” She leaned back clear of the horrid chair from hell. “Go!”

She pressed the Enter key and jumped back. I leapt into the chair, feeling the panic of the 30 minutes now reduced to 10 minutes, and wondering when ipowerweb’s tech support would get back to me about the problems with my web site web mail.

I typed in hotmail.com and waited. Sure enough, Hotmail is so overcoded, and graphics heavy, it took three minutes to get to the login screen. I typed in my first email account and password and it took four minutes to bring the mail up. Horrible.

The chat window for the tech support popped up. The tech asked if the system was behind a firewall. I asked the librarian. She didn’t know what a firewire was. I explained it was a firewall not firewire. She told me that Bill and Melinda Gates donated these computers and she had no idea how to work them. The beginner computer user, an overdressed but lovely senior citizen, explained to the librarian that a firewall was a protector against viruses and invaders. I was stunned. The librarian had to show her where to click what to make whatever web page they were looking at move through the information, and she knew what a firewall was. Amazing. You never know. But the librarian didn’t know. I told the tech I wasn’t sure but probably.

He wanted to blame that, but I asked him what could possibly be on my web mail page that would be stopped by a firewall? That’s odd. It’s just a security web page. I should be able to access it from any computer in the world. That’s the entire purpose of web mail – to be able to pick up your email as you travel, no matter where you are.

I checked my Hotmail page and found it was still loading. Damn. The minutes were clicking like a crushing ball tapping the side of a building to check its aim before smashing into the wall. It usually takes me about 5 minutes at the most, often less, to check my three Hotmail accounts manually through the Hotmail web page. But I’ve been running on high speed cable Internet. Still, these were Gateway computers and not “that” old.

Finally I got the Hotmail page and checked for junk email. No friends, but it clearly had been emptied within the past day or so. Oh, well. Sorry to all of those who might have been in there! Curse out Hotmail for this ridiculous 5 day limit.

I signed out and it took another two minutes to get the second Hotmail account to come up. Meanwhile, the tech support guy told me that something must be blocking my 8087 and 8088 ports. He told me that I had to open those ports and wanted to give me directions on how to do that. Well, I told him, that would be fine except that I’m on a public library computer and the last thing they need is for me to go foraging around in their Control Panel and doing battle with their firewall, if they have one, which they don’t know. And they whole purpose of running such a public network is to keep people like me out of the system so I can mess with it and open up ports they might not want open, if they knew what a port was other than something a boat visits.

Screwed.

I flipped back to Hotmail and the page was still loading. Time was a pounding.

I said bye to the tech and decided to at least check what was going on with my friends in Israel. I typed in www.debka.com and waited as it slammed and smashed against the computer and through the Internet to finally load onto the screen. Hotmail finally finished loading and I saw an important message regarding our stuff being shipped from Israel to the states. I hit reply, waited again for the page to load, finished reading Debka to find out that Hamas has publicly announced that peace negotiations can co-exist with violence and that is perfectly fine for them to keep killing Israelis and everyone in their way. I typed four words in response to the email and the ten minutes was up and Hotmail was lost to me.

I still had a few minutes left of my thirty, but with no access to email in any logical way, why bother.

I stopped by the desk to ask for a library card and information on regional and local library events and I also asked why there was a limit on Hotmail of only ten minutes.

“To protect the children.”

Huh? “How does restricting and limiting access to an email service protect the children?”

“It protects them from child molesters and solicitations.”

“But I’m not a child.”

“We don’t want people viewing porn online.”

“But I’m not a child and I’m not viewing porn online. What does porn have to do with Hotmail?”

“My brother lives in Florida and he tells me that when he visits the libraries there, he can walk down the aisle of computers and see people looking at naked women all the time.”

“What does porn have to do with Hotmail.”

“Don’t you want us protecting our children from that?”

“But what does viewing porn have to do with Hotmail?”

“We want to protect our children from the evil doers who look at naked women and molest children. You should want us to do that, too.”

Okay, I knew when to give up, but the mythology that every child is looking for porn online, and that every one is looking for porn online is a myth. Besides, a little healthy viewing of naked people should be allowed, as far as I’m concerned, not that I’d say that to her. The more we hide nakedness and sexually, the more people want what they can’t have. The more accustomed people are to sex and nakedness, the less they pay attention to it. Honestly, America, loosen up.

Sure there are bad people out there doing bad things to everyone, including children. Protecting them is fine but let’s get some control here. The people we need to worry about already have access to the children and they aren’t on the computer with them. They are living in their neighborhoods, working around them, and very likely, related to them. Come on.

Anyway, to all of those eager to hear from me, I tried. I seriously tried. I’ll be online in a week or less and will be wearing out my fingers trying to chat back to all of you.

And if you are a volunteer or on the board of your local library, please tell them to loosen up and at least let adults make adult decisions about what they do during their ridiculous 30 minutes. There has to be some way to find a happy medium so a traveling stranger can stop in at a public library and check their email without running into time limits, filters, fire walls, and narrow minded religious folks.
Mobile, Alabama

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