Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Great Internet Blackout of 2015

During 3rd period my Newshour video went out within about a minute.  I glanced at the screen with a frown because it had been fine for two classes and figured that maybe the page just needed refreshing.  But a second glance made its way to the lower left section of the screen to my Dropbox icon, and it was no longer connected.  That was a sign that the Internet was totally down.  The wireless was down and the wired was down, since I always plug in just in case the wireless gets wonky.
This year I’m more online than ever and today was a perfect example of that.  It included the Newshour summary, a clip of an interview the Edward Lawson from the Kolender vs. Lawson court case, and the use of Poll Everywhere to conduct a pre-assessment survey.  Whelp.  That doesn’t seem to be happening.  I adjusted my plan on the fly and reverted back to the days of no Internet.  I actually reviewed the current situation with the Kentucky clerk and her actions (or lack of) regarding gay marriage and then brought up a Power Point that dealt with qualifications of a state.  The period went just fine.  It as hardly off the rails in terms of pacing or scheduling and the students went along as if everything was hunky-dory.
But my Dropbox icon remained empty and the Internet was flat down at the end of the period as well.  This was unusual.  Our district has learned that down Internet in the age of demanding teachers to use it is a bad thing so outages usually last a very short period of time.  It was now 45 minutes and I needed to plan for a day with no Net.  Poll Everywhere was a huge part of 4th Period so I moved assignments around and used some shtick to fill in the holes.  It was going to work only now I was curious about what was up.  Then a couple of students piped up;
“Cell phones don’t even work.  Teacher X said that it was a massive cyber-attack!  The Internet is down across the country and Europe!  And stoplights are out all over town!”
I frowned.  I checked my cell phone and sure enough it didn’t work.  But this didn’t sound right.  Even if national networks were down that shouldn’t have anything to do with stoplights.  And this is Ukiah, not Fort Bliss.  We are important to just about nothing in the world except for our own myopic sensitivities.  I joked about the whole issue using the Zombie Apocalypse as an example and went about the day.  Then Ms. Coach Brown (now an admin at my school) came in and confidentially told me what was being bantered about.  The Internet was down everywhere.  There were no phones.  All admin had radios so emergencies went through them.  Rumors abounded about a 9/11 style cyber-attack.  AT&T was down.  Comcast was down.  Verizon was totally sporadic.  But T-Mobile was fine.  Apparently most of Europe was totally Internet dead.  Stop lights were out in town.  I told my wife that the situation sounded bizarre and that more than likely there was a localized problem.  She asked me if I would go out to the car at lunch and listen to the radio to make sure.  Good idea. 
I told the kids about the stop lights and to be careful, then the bell rang and I wandered out to the car and turned on KCBS out of San Francisco.  News was sports, weather, and traffic on the 8s.  Turned to KGO.  Some wonk was furious about, hell I can’t even remember but it had nothing to do about the Internet.  KNBR was talking about the Giants woes.  I flipped about and hit KCBS again at the bottom of the hour and the top story was the Kentucky court clerk and the contempt of court charge.  Nope, this was not a large scale event. 
I went back and told Ms. Admin that there was nothing at all on any news, and that something was being overblown.  But the damage was already done.  Parents were beginning to pull their kids out of the elementary schools due to the lack of communication.  Banks were starting to get lines at doors because ATMs and computers were down.  Stores wouldn’t take credit cards.  It was getting a tad bit nuts. 
5th Period was actually full and my new adjusted lesson went off without so much as a hiccup.  Students said that it was true that stores were not taking credit cards but stop lights were working and everything seemed to be fairly normal.  I went home a tad bit early to check the news on TV and found nothing at all about an event.  When 3:30 p.m. rolled around 4G data started to trickle in about a construction accident south of Ukiah, and that the accident shut down the system in Humbolt, Mendocino, and part of Lake county.  The rumor mill was bad today.  It was not Armageddon.  Cell and Internet was out the rest of the night with sporadic data coverage on 4G.  I sent out a Remind text telling students that the online reading would be adjusted to fit class tomorrow.
It was vandalism.  AT&T put out a statement saying that a reward was offered for a group that cut the lines looking for copper, an activity that is much more prevalent that people might think.  In 2010 my wife and I came upon a fire in Riverside Park in January where someone had literally just started to burn through rubber tubing to get at some copper wiring.  The fire department said it was actually more and more common.  Sad.
I’ve now been in class through 9/11, the Iraq War, Katrina, the 2005 floods, the Japanese tsunami and Fukushima, the 2008 Mendocino Lightening Complex wildfires, and a variety of local police actions that were quite scary.  But as a teacher my number one job should not be to inform the students, it should be to calm the students down and get them to understand that all is going to be ok.  And before you pop off with “what if it isn’t ok”, 99% of the time the problem is false panic and not a crisis.  What’s nice about being Social Studies teachers is that we are not programed to be experts on one thing or be dependent on one source.  We want multiple sources, multiple perspectives, and a rational step back into what the sources are really saying.  The Internet was down.  But it was only two counties.  A few stoplights were out.  But that was because of street construction on a main thoroughfare on the east side of town.  The information was incomplete, people guessed, and much of the day was wondering if ISIS had executed a cyberhack on Facebook that automatically programed people to vote for Kanye or Donald Trump’s toupee.  We have a greater responsibility when things go astray to make sure kids are all right.  Let’s make sure we don’t forget that.   
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