Juha Saarinen: How to online during lockdown


The latest Auckland lockdown really made it sink in that working from home actually means living at work. And, if you have kids, they’re going to school where you work and live.

Sure, there are people who will take it in their stride. But for most of us, lockdowns make for some heavy lifting and stress for parents juggling work and schooling in a residential environment.

That’s of course assuming you can work and school from home, and are ready to roll.

Did you hold out on that family-sized fibre connection because the Chorus installers would use the wrong colour concrete to cover the ducting through the driveway?

Oh dear; a lockdown is no time to discover that there’s not enough bandwidth to share among home workers and schoolers hanging out in Zoom meeting on a feeble copper or wireless broadband connection.

Not getting an uncapped connection was a mistake too. Chorus’ latest traffic stats show that on Sunday when the lockdown kicked in, some 20 petabytes of data traversed its network.

That’s a colossal amount! Which of you are responsible for the six million hours of streaming high-definition video that Chorus says it comprises? You’re meant to be working and learning.

Online learning has become much smoother in just a year, but as you tote up the bills for kids’ devices (if you can find any as there’s a shortage of IT gear currently), you realise that them being on the right side of the Digital Divide means topping up the mortgage.

Kids have adapted to online learning too, but not quite as you had hoped.

With one eye on the rapidly increasing number of new work emails and Slack notifications you watch the youngest child and realise the reason she looks so happy is YouTube and not the maths site she’s meant to be on.

Meanwhile, the middle child is creatively mis-typing Zoom and Hangouts meeting IDs, having learnt that this buys him digital skiving time. When you painstakingly type in the ID manually and log him on to Google Classroom, you discover that his friends have launched a denial of service attack by posting hundreds and hundreds of short comments to the teacher, creating a scroll-o-rama of epic proportions.

That’s impressive, but nothing compared to the 8-year-old in Britain, who apparently figured out that if you enter the wrong password enough times, you get locked out of your account which has to be reset. It took shoulder-surfing from the parents to work that one out; what an awesome child.

Oldest child is mysteriously enough very keen on online homework, but why does she have so much of it? Hours and hours every day, and what are the indignant demands that she needs Chrome for her “schoolwork bookmarks” in aid of?

Turns out that Chrome was required to install a malware-ish extension for Netflix access, to have late night internet film-watching parties with friends.

Then there’s YouTube, an amazing repository of almost everything, like super interesting historical footage that’s digitised and online instead of rotting in a badly maintained basement somewhere, and my favourite, how to build retaining wall clips.

YouTube also has anti-vaxxer crazies, conspiracy nutters, Pepe the Nazi Frog being served up algorithmically and really annoying, repetitive music. Sadly, that rubbish is much more attractive than historic videos and retaining wall how-tos for younger people.

At that stage, you fire up parental controls on the broadband router to block YouTube. This causes howls of outrage and doesn’t solve anything because Google Classroom needs YouTube so you have to unblock it.

The online teacher’s aide and home sysadmin hats you’re wearing are chafing by the time you get started on your own stuff, wearing noise-cancelling earphones because you can’t hear yourself think otherwise.

On the messaging program, your employer is worried about security when accessing the corporate network. With reason. Companies are juicy targets for ransomware criminals because they have the big money extortionists are after.

Even though your never-updated residential broadband router is almost as insecure as the corporate firewall, and probably joined into a botnet already, your home computers run new-ish software that’s patched regularly.

You’re not the target per se for ransomware, but your computer could be an attack vector if compromised.

For that reason, it’s safer not to click on links in messages or open attachments sent by customers until you’re back in the office where there’s a fancy security solution with a vendor to blame when ransomware gets through and locks up everything.

However, the management have got wise to this and their experts want to send out another router device to isolate your work machine from the home network.

This is perfect, because the chances of the additional router working on your home broadband are zero. Once you plug it in, you’ll be offline for the rest of the lockdown.

Bliss ensues for a few days and kids can go outside to reluctantly enjoy the last of the summer.

In 2021 life comes at you fast with virtual boot kicks to the head, courtesy of the pandemic. Better be ready for it.

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