My apologies if my title has brought you here under a misapprehension as to its subject-matter. It has been that kind of day. “Virgin” is Virgin Media, supplier of telecommunications services which generally work, albeit not at the speeds advertised. “Screws up” is what my head usually says when things do not go to plan, but which my typing fingers translate as “ruins” or “fouls up”; nothing short of the original expression will do for today. A “webinar” is a live or recorded conversation between two or more people, intended for broadcast to a potentially wide audience on some improving subject. “Nearly” implies that I made it by the skin of my teeth.
I was due to moderate a webinar this afternoon with a couple of people from US law firms. Although the theory was that I just had to open and close it, do the introductions and say the formal bits, in practice one prepares for these things, so that an hour of broadcast is backed by masses of emails, notes and arrangements to allow a useful contribution to the discussion. I am quite conscientious about setting all this up, using anything up to four screens to give me all my references to hand plus paper as a backup, testing the lines, turning off anything noisy and so on – everything necessary to provide a calm and efficient environment.
About 30 minutes short of start-time, the broadband line-speed starts to drop. That’s not ideal, but OK, just use the internet for the pictures and do the talking over the phone. Then the whole lot falls silent – no internet, no land-lines, not even 3G iPad data over Vodafone, which leads me to conclude that Vodafone data is carried by Virgin for part of its route. I’m left with BlackBerry email and phone.
My wife phones Virgin; she knows that, however calm I am about most things, I generally end up screaming with incoherent rage at call centres, especially Virgin’s – at the time-wasting recording of some badly-spoken fool telling you all sorts of crap you don’t need to know, and the endless button-pushing and loops through multiple options before you end up with someone whose skill-set does not include either the comprehension or the speaking of anything resembling English.
I sit unplugging and rebooting and considering my options, which did not include not doing the webinar. The minutes tick by. I hear Mary Ann say “I don’t care what you call me, just answer my question” – valuable time being lost, it transpires, as the delightful fellow tries to establish whether he should address her as “Mrs Dale” or “Mary”. The upshot is the news that the whole system is down and that an engineer hopes to have it fixed as early as 9.00pm tonight.
A call to the college at which Mary Ann works, to see if I could borrow or hire a room, establishes only that their phones are down as well. I try ringing the UK webinar number on my BlackBerry – get through in one, but am thwarted by the discovery that my BB renders the # symbol as “Q” so that the system did not recognize my user access code. I try ringing the US number – it appears that my BB’s recent overhaul has cancelled my international calls permissions setting.
In the nick of time, the organisers get through on my mobile and patch me in to the system. One last glitch – the mobile is nearly out of battery, with an hour’s talking ahead of me. It charges on a very short lead out of the back of my Mac’s screen. I pull the whole thing forward so that the cable just reaches and, with my head on one side so that I could hold the phone to my ear, and with my nose pressed against a 27 inch screen, I hear an apparently relaxed voice say “Hello, and welcome to this webinar. This is Chris Dale of the UK-based eDisclosure Information Project. I have with me….”
I was lucky in my speakers, who found themselves clicking the slides whilst I tried to guess where they had got to so that I could interject the relevant comments and questions expected of a moderator. One last problem – in all the excitement, I did not note our start time. These things have to run for exactly an hour; I could not see the messages saying how long we had to go and it would sound a bit odd to have to ask. I guessed about right, over-running by a couple of minutes.
Shortly after we finished, the lights came back up on my router.