If you can’t read this, it didn’t work.

Drat. OK, so the hotel bar is still open, but it’s been a long day and the conference I’ve come to Newcastle for starts at some unreasonable time in the morning. A consequence, one suspects, of shoehorning the previous two-and-a-half-day meetings held at the magnificent Herstmonceaux Castle on the Sussex coast into two days in the Life centre. Previous BIG Events have been marvelously bizarre affairs, pitched somewhere between formal conference and hippy retreat. “The Glastonbury of science conferences,” as once described by Wendy. Quite how the bash will change with the new venue remains to be seen. At the very least, there should be more people from the North.

I’ve been theoretically en route to Newcastle pretty much all day. Of course, this led to my not leaving until about 8pm, for a predictable raft of reasons. One of which was: struggling to persuade my new phone that it really can act like a modem. This is something I’ve been meaning to sort since I got it, but… well… I knew it was going to be a nightmare. Orange tech support were extremely helpful, and happily read me all the settings (no username or password, no authentication, just dial *99#). Didn’t work. Some gossip online suggested dialling *99***3#, the ‘3’ being – no, bear with me – the number of the appropriate settings configuration thingy in the data communication list in the phone’s… something or other. Didn’t work, even after I remembered to pick the third-party Sony Ericsson modem scripts.

Yet more blatherings online suggested updating the phone’s software, which turns out to be an hilariously convoluted and not a little hair-raising process, involving the installation of about eight different drivers on Windows (pray you get them all right before you run out of USB ports… no, really), then the updating of Java (complicated by my install’s Java Update being broken, and it not being obvious from java.sun.com that mere mortals are supposed to download from www.java.com instead. Then, finally, one can attempt to update… at which point Sony Ericsson’s server drops offline for an hour or two.

Keep trying until it stumbles back onto the net, then eight dialogue boxes into the process (check this box, agree to this license, approve that action, check all those things, blah blah blah)… the whole Firefox/AJAX/JavaScript/Java applet/driver shebang collapses in a crashing heap. Several times. Lather, rinse, repeat, until eventually getting past that nonsense to the stage where you hold the phone in a very specific Vulcan death grip while plugging it into the USB cable (an action requiring a minimum of five hands), and the phone… turns on normally, completely unaware that the computer is screaming ‘On no account unplug the phone now, it’ll all go horribly wrong! It’ll never work again! Doom!’

Five minutes of total inactivity later, and one’s hands are starting to cramp. There’s little option but to risk thermonuclear meltdown, or whatever’s supposed to happen and unplug the phone. Then force-quit the application, which of course corrupts something, requiring some more reinstallation and using up another precious USB port. Try again. An hour later, when Sony’s website rises from the dead once more, finally, finally, the Vulcan-death-grip-plug-in-heart-in-mouth-will-it-actually-bloody-work combination… works. Joy! An updated phone.

Try dial-up from the Mac… still doesn’t work. Give up, pack bag, prepare to leave. Halfway out of the door, have sudden brainwave.

Change the dialup phone number from ‘99#’ or ‘99***3#’ to – get this – ‘orangeinternet’. It works. It bloody works. To connect to the dial-up GPRS gateway you have to command the phone to dial the name of the service and somehow, as if by magic, some tiny part of the system squirreled away at some stage knows to turn this into whatever mystical incantation actually dials whatever the number is.

AAARRRRRGHHHHHHH!

The fundamentally tragic aspect of this is that somebody, somewhere, is genuinely proud of themselves for having thought to make it that simple for little old me. Haven’t they read Douglas Adams?

There are few things that could move me to violence; modem configuration is one.

Anyway, so, yes – deep breath – if you can read this, GPRS dial-up is working.

Sadly, there are, as yet, no known photographs of me in my new specs. That’ll have to wait for broadband, which isn’t likely until late on Sunday. In the meantime, I have two conferences to attend, blog, video, and generally make myself a nuisance at.

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