My favourite humbug phrase is “The Internet is down”. It’s a phrase people use, but it winds me up. Somebody walks in and says “The Internet is down” or “The Internet isn’t working”. I ask you? Like 3 billion nodes, millions of switches/hubs/routers, thousands of undersea cables. They’re broken? I can see it may come across as tetchy when I say “No. It is not. The Internet is fine. I think what you mean is that our connection to it may be down/broken.

The Internet’s down

It happened twice this week, while at BETT. The first time was on Tuesday night, when I was walking back from Olympia to the hotel. I phoned home to say goodnight to my kids – and my eldest said it - “Dad, the Internet isn’t working”. Give me a gold star, because I resisted the temptation to correct her. Instead I had to talk her through counting green lights on the wireless router, and then I had to ask her to crawl under the desk and find the mains plug to reset it. Over 5 years with Zen Internet, this has only happened twice, and the first time was when a BT Exchange burnt down, so it’s the kind of problem I can live with – I switch on/off every 30 months is pretty good.

The second time was a little more serious, and a lot less professional.

The Internet’s down at BETT

On the first day of the BETT Show we were having a great time. The stand was packed with people. The Surface at BETT was drawing crowds. Jonathan Bishop of Broadclyst Primary School was having a wonderful chat with one of his pupils at school via video conference, and another in a hospital who was still being included in teaching and learning via a video link. And suddenly something went wrong. The video conference died, and for the life of us, the techies couldn’t solve it.

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, was due onto the stand shortly, and was going to join in the video conference, and have a chat with the pupils. It would have been a nice moment. And that is when Gordon whispered in my ear “The Internet’s down”. This time I wasn’t even focused enough to correct the statement, instead I just asked “Can you fix it?”. (Following my previous logic, I can now see that it wasn’t reasonable for me to ask Gordon to “fix the Internet”)

It turned out that the Internet service provider at BETT, to all of the stands, had switched over their Internet provider mid-way through the morning, and suddenly all of the server gateways had changed. Everybody we spoke with had the same problem – their Internet connection suddenly died. It took us about half an hour to get everything reactived, and a little longer for the video conferencing as new IP addresses were configured.

imageLots of kerfuffle followed, and the end result was that the Internet connection simply wasn’t stable enough to let us video conference reliably. And sadly the children down at Broadclyst school didn’t get the chance to talk with Jim Knight (and they’d shined their shoes specially). Instead, Jim had a hands-on demonstration of the Surface using Finquistics, which you can see on the Teachers TV website.


The moral of the story?

  1. If you’re providing a communication service, proper change management means making changes when there’s lowest risk of causing disruption, not highest.
    Change your service the day before BETT, or even better during the Practical Caravanning Show! Just like schools make big system changes during the holidays and weekends. Not during Period 2 on a Monday morning…
  2. If you’re running a stand at a show, always have Plan B (and Plan C) ready, because something outside of your control will mean you need it.