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Editor’s Memo

I’m beaten

WHAT do you do when technology becomes your worst nightmare? The Internet has become our daily mode of communication but when it is not working, it raises your blood pressure to n

ear cardiac-arrest levels.

In a country where mail literally operates at a snail’s pace, the Internet has become a crucial resource. Frankly speaking, Zimpost has simply priced itself out of the market. Can you imagine paying over $50 000 to post a Christmas card to the United States, or worse still, $6 900 to post a local letter that takes a week to be delivered to a Harare address? I also do not trust the soldiers sorting mail.

The inefficiency at Zimpost’s sibling Tel*One is blamed for a number of our Internet woes. There is little bandwidth available and as a result the gateway out of Zimbabwe is as congested as Beitbridge border post.

There is even more pain for the user who has to pay a fortune to get connected. Those who browse the Net regularly have in the past two months been receiving shocking telephone bills — for a poor service.

We have become slaves of poor technology and we tend to accept it as normal. What would we do without the Internet or mobile phones? But the technology has become a source of pain of late, especially if I have to try more than 10 times to get connected to another 091 number.

Econet admits to “some congestion” in the CBD but its customer service department has no idea when it will all end.

When will the “upgrades” end? Have they started? We have become accustomed to that soporific voice bringing the bad news: “The number you have dialled is not reachable. Please try again later.”

The Internet is always on the blink. After several minutes you encounter the message: “The requested URL could not be retrieved.”

Then there is the cryptic and elaborate apology when you cannot download your e-mail: “Receiving reported error (0x8004210A): The operation timed out waiting for a response from the receiving (POP) server. If you continue to receive this message, contact your server administrator or Internet service provider (ISP).”

At the ISP, a machine answers you. You have been put in a long queue together with other complainants. When someone at the end of the line finally picks up the receiver, the customer care operators recite a model mantra. It’s either there is “an upgrade of the system”, or “there is a fault on the dedicated line”, or “the gateway out of Zimbabwe is overwhelmed because there is bandwidth scarcity”.

Simply translated, all this means that the Internet is not working. It got worse for us this week when those trying to log on to our website were greeted with the message: “Account for domain www.theindependent.co.zw has been suspended.”

Readers were not amused and some feared the worst. “Have you not paid your ISP?” “Has the government shut you down?”

We also wanted to know what the problem was because no one had the courtesy to pick up the phone to explain prior to our loud protestations just as Econet has not advertised its current difficulties.

The answer came on Tuesday from the ISP hosting our site.

“As you may be aware, your website has temporarily been suspended since Monday, December 13 2004. This has been caused by a maintenance problem with the hosting company in the United States from whom we contract our international hosting services. We have been in constant communication with them, but they are struggling to get their systems up,” the message said.

“We want to assure you that we are very much concerned about this situation and are looking at alternative hosting solutions as this is not the first time this has happened with our overseas supplier.”

What was the US company up to?

“We are currently vacuuming our entire control panel Hsphere for maintenance and database optimisation. The process may take some time to be completed…Your patience and understanding would be appreciated in this matter,” it explained.

What? Your vacuum cleaner is not just used for your dirty lounge carpet. Those who wanted to know why we were down: someone was vacuuming an Hsphere panel. I am beaten.

In the past two months a number of our on-line readers here and abroad have raised concern with slow download speed on our website.

Readers have also demanded that we install a search engine and provide an archive for back copies.

The Zimbabwe Independent website is very close to my heart having been responsible for updating it weekly for more than three years. Although our on-line edition is largely a free service to our readers, we are working on providing an even better service. We should soon be giving our on-line readers the choice to access the locally hosted site or the mirror site, which is hosted outside the country. This should give readers an alternative if either of them is down or is being “vacuumed”.

We are also hoping to upgrade and update our archives and install a search engine.

More importantly, we strive to ensure that on-line readers in Zimbabwe access the site when they walk into their offices on Friday mornings. There are also plans in the near future to update the site mid-week to keep track of developments here and across our borders.

Teldah Mawarire, who has largely taken over that task of updating and administering the site, has promised she will deliver.

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