I went camping with my family a couple of weeks ago. True to form for an ironic universe, the day before I left, I received a hard copy of a book manuscript to review, with final edits due my last day on the beach.
I finished everything but a sixty-page chapter before we left. I knew that final chapter would only take a couple of hours, and I knew that I could actually review the hardcopy on the trip… and if I could get web access, I could type my findings and then mail them in one quick shot. Sure, that would take a couple of hours out of my previous vacation time, but we’d meet the book deadlines and everything would be good.
That was my assumption, anyway.
I deliberately did not take my laptop on this vacation. My brother took his, so I used it to type my notes. He has a data plan on his phone, so I asked him to connect it to the laptop and connect to the Internet; he’s done it before. It’s not speedy, but he’s done his work occasionally that way.
I launched two applications. One was Firefox, so I could log into the O’Reilly Zimbra site. I had the production editor’s e-mail address in a message, so all I needed to do was to get that and send a message to her and the book’s author. I also launched a terminal window so I could ssh into my personal account.
Twelve minutes later, I’d read half of my personal mail. At that point, the Zimbra login screen finally finished loading, and I logged in.
Ten minutes after that, I’d responded to a couple of messages, and was halfway through mailing list traffic in my personal folder. My Zimbra inbox was still loading. (I had maybe 40 messages in my inbox.)
My family wanted to go out for breakfast, so I packed up the laptop and the phone and took it along for a ride. Someone else drive. Eight minutes later, I was finally able to start a new message, copy and paste the text of my edits into the window (having composed them offline). Two seconds after hitting “Send”, the mail was gone, and I’d accomplished what I wanted to do.
Now it’s true that my brother’s data plan supports dial-up speeds, but there’s no reason it should take half an hour to be able to send a single e-mail. Maybe I’m not on an airplane, but sometimes you oughtn’t rely on ultra-fast access absolutely everywhere.
If I still had ssh access to my work mail, the whole process would have taken four minutes, at the most. I realize this is an abnormal circumstance, but a technology that takes eight times as long to do a simple operation has to have several orders of magnitude of improvements over the existing technology. I’m not sure that’s the case here.