The Future, Plus Noodles and Rice

I have to capture this moment, right now, right in the thick of it. Papers and mobile phones are strewn across the floor amid Styrofoam cartons of take-out noodles and jollof rice. Nithiya and Benjamin sit cross-legged, popping batteries out and SIM cards in, powering on, then shaking their heads as yet another batch of phones fails to boot up.

Somehow, word of the test we’re running has gotten out, and a sea of hopeful participants has been pressed up against the glass since before we got here over an hour ago. Navigating the crowd, it was hard not to feel like a Beatle. We’ve got another 30 minutes before we can start letting people in, and I’m desperately trying to transcribe a stack of names and phone numbers into the spreadsheet during those brief intervals that our wifi hotspot will actually connect.

Then, suddenly, there’s a noise from the back staircase and the clamber of a hundred eager footsteps. Someone has discovered that there’s another way into the office, and the crowd has rushed to storm the back door. Astrid, or maybe it was Janet or Diana – somebody – is faster on their feet than I am and gets the metal gate shut in time. After a brief parley, Paul squeezes himself out through its opening and explains, in the patient but firm words of a parent, that trying to mob our little office is not the best way to get included in the test. They hesitate and he improvises: in a minute he’s going to pull out his camera and take a picture – anyone in that picture is automatically disqualified from participating. The crowd retreats and I remind myself: this is why we love Paul. Okay – one of the reasons.
Then I turn back to my spreadsheet and resume typing.

I’m a little dazed, but it’s not too bad, not so much due to jet lag as to my pager going off twice last night. First time was at midnight when our server in the US crashed. We went through the regular fire drill to get it restarted, but a couple of hours later, my pager couldn’t reach its server, felt lonely, and wanted someone to talk to. Sigh – I hate pager duty.
The slight lack of sleep is offset by the adrenaline from the launch. There’s always adrenaline at a launch, stoked by hope and fear. Fear that stuff will go horribly wrong – it always does – and hope that when it does, it’s something you’ve seen before, and know how to handle. There is, unfortunately, some stuff we don’t know how to handle. Still getting intermittent server crashes, including another one this morning on the way in to the aforementioned mob scene. Pager went off while we were northbound on Independence Ave. This one I could handle on my own: rigged my mobile phone to serve as a portable hot spot. Popped open the laptop and set up a VPN so I could connect securely to my desktop machine back in California and from there to the datacenter somewhere in – who knows – Iowa? Kansas? Atlanta? It doesn’t really matter. Daisy chained the connections along, logged  in and gave the server a swift kick to get things going again. Promised myself to dredge through the logs sometime when I wasn’t sitting a moving car halfway around the world. The future, as William Gibson reminds us, is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. These days, I feel like I spend so much time in the future that I’ve forgotten what the present feels like.
And Day Two hasn’t even really started yet.

[Damn – gotta go; the server’s crashed again. Where are those logs…?]

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