|June 5, 2000
Mario André Chandler
As I followed UAB Professor James McClintock, Ph.D., and his superb team on their recent WOW.UAB.EDU endeavor to Antarctica, I could not help but anticipate the unique challenges that I would encounter when the spotlight would be shining on my face—in the land of La Mancha. Spain could not be more different from Antarctica for very obvious reasons: One is a vast, frozen, continental expanse at the bottom of the planet--a world whose color, diversity and activity are not always easy to identify. The other, a sun-drenched peninsula about the size of Texas teeming with blinding and brilliant color, and an unimaginable human and geographical diversity—a beauty that drew many outside communities to its bosom, convincing them to adopt the land as their own.
I do not suggest that one could fairly compare the qualities of two places that are as incomparable as penguins and well…olives, but the WOW experience in these two unique lands, Antarctica and Spain, has revealed some ironic issues that are worth sharing.
The WOW viewers may not be aware of the inherent difficulties that can accompany establishing a direct international “cyber correspondence” between the United States and sites abroad. This is not to say that our viewers should be particularly concerned with our technical headaches, but being aware of them will hopefully make our journeys all the more real.
As you may recall, the Antarctica team sent back a steady flow of insightful journals and stunning photos. Every time I logged on to the project, I marveled at the team’s ability to communicate with UAB so frequently and so rapidly. While I marveled at the extent to which the Antarctica researchers were “plugged in,” I must confess I became somewhat anxious about my being in the driver’s seat in Spain.
My challenge and the source of my anxiety: How will I send my journals and images to UAB in a sufficiently timely fashion so that you, the WOW viewers, will able to follow my research as closely as possible?
Knowing Spain as I have come to know it, I anticipated months ago that my own cyber correspondence from the Iberian Peninsula would have some difficulties. My hunch was correct.
From Antarctica, we learned that the team used the latest in satellite technology in order to communicate with UAB. Therefore, searching for a rare, if not non-existent Internet service like, let’s say, AOL “Antarctica On Line,” (my pun), was never a necessity.
The reality in Spain, despite having a fairly decent Internet backbone, is more complex. I will explain. First off, in my field, the humanities, resources for research are not as abundant as in other disciplines. Going to Spain with a satellite link was never a remote option for me…too costly. My next option was to attempt to establish Internet service from within Spain. While the country has abundant Internet service providers, they are costly and rigid contract commitments precluded my ability to establish service with any of them.
I don’t give up easily. Next option. Some U.S. Internet service providers are going international. How about using a U.S. service provider in Spain? My fervent, pre-departure research concluded that a few providers looked promising, but with each potential lead, a dead end. One frequent problem with this option was that the few US providers that do offer service in Spain have limited access numbers and areas. In other words, I could have service in Madrid, for example, but not in the other cities that I will be visiting.
Eventually, however, the resourceful technicians at WOW! managed to locate an Internet service provider that had access numbers to most of the cities on my list. Lamentably, when I arrived at my first destination, Valladolid, I tried to connect, but unsuccessfully. The access numbers did not work. I’m somewhat disappointed because I wanted to be able to make contact with UAB immediately. I will continue to be optimistic that the other access numbers will work in future destinations.
In addition to this enormous technical nightmare, there are other smaller, but no less significant issues to be raised in the event that I manage to secure Internet service in other cities. Will my laptop’s modem be compatible with Spain’s phone lines? Most importantly, will my budget hostels priced especially for humanities professors on a shoestring even have a phone in the room from which to connect?
Who would have imagined that Antarctica would be so close to UAB and Spain, so far? Therein lies the irony, friends.
But as determined as I am to share my work with you, rest assured, I will do my best to communicate with you. My correspondence may be delayed and staggered, but I vow to touch base with you as often as I can.
I’m sure you’re asking, “How did Professor Chandler send us these first few messages?”
My answer: Writers in a bind learn very quickly to use many tools and techniques at their disposal. In Spain, Cybercafés abound and if all else fails, I’ve seen a few FedEx boxes along the way.