PACKET RAT

Peer-to-peer e-mail

R. Fink

The Rat, always a connectivity fiend, has been known to suffer withdrawal pains when he hasn't had at least a 56-Kbps connection for several hours.

But a recent addition to the whiskered one's arsenal of digital devices brought his family to the point of staging an intervention.

The gadget in question was the Rat's new BlackBerry two-way e-mail pager from Research in Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Ontario. It lets the addict'er, user'send and receive e-mail through normal mail server accounts via a national pager network. In other words, it's uninterruptible e-mail. And for the Internet-dependent, there's a version with a Web browser.

The cyberrodent's spouse took it as a welcome sign of restraint when he passed up the chunkier Webbable upgrade. But her relief was short-lived. The main reason he couldn't part with his sub-paw-sized BlackBerry was that it had become permanently affixed to his person, except when it was plugged into the cradle near his PC at work.

'If you need to reach me, send an e-mail,' the Rat told his wife one morning.

She raised an eyebrow, 'Exactly how long were you planning on spending in the bathroom?'

Even the Gameboy-hooked ratlings were impressed by their dad's growing thumb calluses and by the fact that he could touch-type on the Chiclet keys without even checking the BlackBerry's display.

Driving obsession

At first, the ratlings rejoiced that Father Rat's eyes were no longer locked on the six-line display at all times. But they found it unsettling that he typed away even while driving them to soccer practice.

At work, everything proceeded as usual, because most people interface with the Rat by e-mail anyhow and also because he occasionally had to put the BlackBerry in the cradle to back it up and synchronize with his Microsoft Outlook calendar and address book. It was only during those brief windows of Berry-lessness that the Rat became accessible to full-bandwidth, person-to-person communications.

On the plus side, the Rat was never late for an appointment'at least not for those scheduled in his electronic calendar. Mrs. Rat began to schedule meals as regularly recurring meetings and found that she could guarantee herself a night out if she merely sent him appointments: 'Play, with Mrs. Rat, Shakespeare Theatre, 8 p.m. Dinner, with Mrs. Rat, Jaleo, 6 p.m.'

Not having the wirebiter's full attention became more and more of an issue with Mrs. Rat when she tried to establish a peer-to-peer connection to impart important news. But when you're participating in a raging flame war on alt.linux while eating dinner, there's just not a lot of bandwidth left over for an actual conversation.

'Dear, there's something I need to tell you.'

'Mrmph,' the Rat's reptilian brain responded.

'Hello? Earth to Rat!' She waved her hands in front of his face. 'Oh, great. He's locked up again.'

Finally, the Rat's better half had an epiphany. To reach him and break the cycle of dependency, she would have to resort to the only surefire channel: e-mail. She went to her kitchen PC and sent this news flash:

From: Mrs. Rat <betterhalf@thepacketrat.com>

To: Mr. Rat <bigcheese@thepacketrat.com>

Subject: I'm pregnant.

The message had the immediate, desired effect. The furry one dropped the BlackBerry into his gazpacho and gave his spouse his full attention.

The whiskered one is currently in Berry detox and will be slowly reintroduced to wireless e-mail under close spousal supervision.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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