It’s been a quiet week in Colombo…

August 2, 1996

Howdy folks. Although I wasn’t able this week to spend a little time in my hometown away from my hometown, Colombo, Sri Lanka, I did hear about some excitement at City Hall there where they’ve installed their first elevator. Needless to say, I felt bad about some of the disparaging remarks I’ve made about elevators in the past. Let me set the record straight, though: for all the bad things I’ve said, I really have nothing against elevators, and might even count some of them as close friends. Every morning in the elevator in my building I see the little warning sign that says, "In case of emergency, use the stairs." Not only is this helpful information, it reminds me that one of these days I should find out where the stairs are. And who hasn’t, as a guest in a hotel, been tempted to press every single button before getting off in the lobby full of tired, sweaty tourists? The elevator I ride every morning always rattles a little bit when it’s going up, and I’m hoping that, one of these days, I’ll get someone who’s claustrophobic in there and, as soon as the rattling starts, I’ll grab the walls and scream, "We’re all gonna die!!!" Here is what generally frightens me about elevators: people with names like Joe Billy and Bubba are responsible for repairing them. By themselves, most elevators will do just fine, but you know these guys–they can’t resist the urge to tinker. And sometimes they have to do it while you’re in the elevator. If you’ve ever been in an elevator that’s stuck, you know that thirty seconds is like thirty minutes. Once a friend of mine got stuck in an elevator for an hour–I don’t want to imagine what that was like. He used the emergency phone to call Security for help after fifteen minutes, and waited. About a day and a half went by. He called again, and got the same operator he’d talked to before. She apologized profusely and said, "I forgot all about YOU!" It’s a lucky thing he was trapped in a small metal room.

Enjoy this week’s offering–another story about someone making technology work for them.


KABINDA, ZAIRE–In a move IBM offices are hailing as a major step in the company’s ongoing worldwide telecommunications revolution, M’wana Ndeti, a member of Zaire’s Bantu tribe, used an IBM global uplink network modem yesterday to crush a nut.

Ndeti, who spent 20 minutes trying to open the nut by hand, easily cracked it open by smashing it repeatedly with the powerful modem.

"I could not crush the nut by myself," said the 47-year-old Ndeti, who added the savory nut to a thick, peanut-based soup minutes later. "With IBM’s help, I was able to break it." Ndeti discovered the nut-breaking, 28.8 V.34 modem yesterday, when IBM was shooting a commercial in his southwestern Zaire village. During a break in shooting, which shows African villagers eagerly teleconferencing via computer with Japanese schoolchildren, Ndeti snuck onto the set and took the modem, which he believed would serve well as a "smashing" utensil.

IBM officials were not surprised the longtime computer giant was able to provide Ndeti with practical solutions to his everyday problems. "Our telecommunications systems offer people all over the world global networking solutions that fit their specific needs," said Herbert Ross, IBM’s director of marketing. "Whether you’re a nun cloistered in an Italian abbey or an Aborigine in Australia’s Great Sandy Desert, IBM has the ideas to get you where you want to go today."

According to Ndeti, of the modem’s many powerful features, most impressive was its hard plastic casing, which easily sustained several minutes of vigorous pounding against a large stone. "I put the nut on a rock, and I hit it with the modem," Ndeti said. "The modem did not break. It is a good modem."

Ndeti was so impressed with the modem that he purchased a new, state-of-the-art IBM workstation, complete with a PowerPC 601 microprocessor, a quad-speed internal CD-ROM drive and three 16-bit ethernet networking connectors. The tribesman has already made good use of the computer system, fashioning a gazelle trap out of its wires, a boat anchor out of the monitor and a crude but effective weapon from its mouse.

"This is a good computer," said Ndeti, carving up a just-captured gazelle with the computer’s flat, sharp internal processing device. "I am using every part of it. I will cook this gazelle on the keyboard." Hours later, Ndeti capped off his delicious gazelle dinner by smoking the computer’s 200-page owner’s manual.

IBM spokespeople praised Ndeti’s choice of computers. "We are pleased that the Bantu people are turning to IBM for their business needs," said company CEO William Allaire. "From Kansas City to Kinshasa, IBM is bringing the world closer together. Our cutting-edge technology is truly creating a global village."

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