Richard Swainson's Chinese-made modem fails on the day of his Beijing broadside
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110914129/-

2019-03-01 16:23:06

OPINION: It happened about 6.30pm on Saturday.

It had not been a particularly busy trading day. A laptop open, the shop's computer to its immediate right, email and Facebook at the ready, the rental system primed for action. Suddenly, everything stopped.

We've had internet dropouts before. A building of a certain age, a location up stairs. With a room full of DVDs – film titles that date back to 1903 – the 21st century is more occasional visitor than permanent resident.

I fell back on computer science 101 – turn things off, turn them on again, to no avail.

Time to get down on all fours and examine the modem. All connections appeared snug and tight. With difficulty, the power button was found and pressed a couple of times – the classic "reboot", but still no improvement.

I peered at the new "ultra fast fibre" connection box. It's a recent acquisition, installed after a number of false starts, some pedantic form-filling and an initial appraisal that fell short of requirements. Could it be at fault?

Three lights flickered, two yellow, one red. Goodness knows what that meant.

For the first time I noticed a brand name at the bottom of the appliance. Usually, such labels mean nothing to me, but this one had been much in the news of late. H-U-A-W-E-I. Huawei! My god, despite the express advice of the Government Communications Security Bureau and the dire warnings of all branches of the United States government – even the ones not currently talking to their president – my place of business had been infiltrated by the heathen Chinese.

Some context is in order. For about four hours before the internet ceased working at Auteur House, a Hamilton enclave of DVD rental-ship, my humble opinions about the People's Republic of China had unexpectedly been put before the nation and – by extension – the world.

A piece written in good if slightly tongue-in-cheek faith about tensions between the Ardern-Peters administration and the totalitarian state we trade with most had been elevated beyond its worth, briefly becoming the lead story on Stuff.

Could these two things be related? First, quoting the concerns of the GCSB and Uncle Sam, I had cast aspersions on Huawei, suggesting they were a front for Chinese spying. Second, a box supplied by that same company had ceased working.

Had the powers-that-be in Beijing read my article? Had they made a carefully considered decision to sever my internet connection, thus silencing the voice of dissent? Was I now on their s... list? If so, what next? Harassment? The besmirching of character? Break-ins? Burglary? Fiddling with my car brakes? If they mess with the Morris Minor my wife will kill them.

A few deep breaths were in order. Best not assume the mantle of Anne-Marie Brady martyrdom prematurely. She did her doctorate on Chinese dirty tricks. I did my doctorate on Vietnam war movies. She's on the international conference circuit, lecturing about Chinese "soft power" and the way China has cultivated relationships with New Zealand's main political parties. I write quirky stories about local history and review films. There can be no comparison.

Before leaping to further, ill-founded conclusions, I decided to seek professional advice. Negotiating the Vodafone helpline options with atypical patience, I was connected with an even-tempered operator. Well trained in the art of dealing with luddites and technophobes, she went through a checklist. Which lights were flashing? What colour were they?

When I mentioned the red light on the Huawei box there was a knowing gasp from the other end of the line. Apparently, this was the tell-tale sign that all was not well, justifying a Chorus call out. Of course, the faults workers were in another department completely, so my new friend could not tell me when they might arrive to fix the problem. Still, confirmation there was a problem was something in itself.

With laudable efficiency, Chorus turned up early on a Sunday morning. Firsthand investigation revealed the issue to be an external one. Someone had destroyed a vital piece of equipment at street level. By the beginning of trading on Monday repairs were made. Normal transmission resumed.

Why, I wonder, did this vandal do his or her dirty work in full daylight, at the risk of being caught? Why did he or she do it all? In all likelihood they weren't following instructions from Beijing. But if I should perish in a car accident in the next couple of weeks could you please check the brakes?

Richard Swainson is a Stuff columnist based in Waikato.

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