It was December 25, Christmas Day, and here I was sitting in front of my computer at work. Two days earlier I had sent out a dozen or so on-line Christmas Cards via Moravian Translations. Now, however, I was busy writing the Christmas edition of my on-line personal journal, in which I inform my North American friends about my adventures (or lack thereof) in the Golden City. Today I was creating links to the Prague Post´s Holiday Edition (why should I spend the time to write about Czech Christmas traditions when the Post has already done it for me?), creating a thank-you page for all my presents, and finishing some short articles that reviewed my experiences here in Prague--grafamon stuff. Still, that´s what the folks back home want to read about ("Is the toilet paper terribly rough? What´s the food like?" etc.).
While I was busy writing, PowWow (a chat program with limited audio sending/receiving capabilities) informed me that my sister wanted to establish a connection. However, whenever I tried to connect, her server back in Ohio cancelled the connection. She and I tried several times to no avail, leaving messages on each other´s PowWow answering machine like, "Are you there? What´s going on?" Finally, I asked her to try to use Intel´s Internet Phone (a more sophisticated Internet communication program using Intel´s ProShare technology). I stared at the little phone interface waiting for it to ring. . . . Nothing. . . . Then NetWare informed me that I had a message from my sister. She had e-mailed me stating that she couldn´t call me with the Internet Phone. Hmm! Well, I then took charge by making sure that I was registered with the Hello Phone Directory and then by looking up my sister in that same registry. After I found her name in the on-line phone book, I simply clicked the "call" hyperlink.
The phone rang for half a minute or longer (longer than a Superbowl commercial which is the length an American´s attention span), but finally I heard a squeal of feedback combined with my sister´s voice saying, "Hello, are you there?" We starting chatting for several minutes, but the feedback was awfully annoying. Finally, I suggested that we both reconfigure our microphone inputs at a lower level. In order to do this, we had to disconnect, exit the program, and start the configuration wizard. As soon as I was satisfied that the feedback should be decreased, I rang her up again. There was still a little feedback, but by playing around with the speaker/microphone locations on both ends, we were able to set-up a satisfying connection (I´m not sure what she did, but I simply turned my speaker around and moved my microphone far away from the speakers).
It had been over three months, since I had talked to anybody back in North America; therefore, it was a real joy to talk to my nephew and nieces, my sister and brother-in-law, and my parents (who arrived at my sister´s house shortly after I called). Kylee, my 2-year-old niece, wished me "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" with a voice much plainer and understandable than when I last heard her talk. My 9-year-old nephew Justin only wanted to talk about his virtual pet (a Tamagochi)--"My Tamagochi is 2-years-old. My Tamagochi grew a bump on his head. My Tamagochi just pooped!" Despite the lack of aural content, hearing his voice again was extremely pleasant also.
The Internet Phone worked fine except for a few quirks. I´m assuming that my sister´s computer doesn´t have a full-duplex sound card, because the people on the other end informed me that they had to hold the spacebar down when they talked. All I had to do was talk (no button pushing, just talking). Also, the program dropped several seconds of transmission every now and then. This was very evident when they were singing Christmas carols to me since there were "holes of silence" in the songs. The last problem with the technology is that the connection seems to break down after 50 minutes or so. Around this time, my family would not be able to hear me, but I could still hear them. This problem was easily fixed by hanging up and redialling.
However, none of these minor problems could spoil the love and the spirit of Christmas that traveled through fiber optics cables, satellite transmissions, etc. to connect me with my family across the Atlantic Ocean. I heard my sister´s dog barking, my nephew and nieces playing, and my family singing. I didn´t really hear anything "new" that I hadn´t read about in the various e-mail messages that I´ve received from them. What I heard was the my father´s voice cracking as he said the final "Good-bye." Transmission problems or feedback did not cause this cracking; my father´s love and tears forced his voice to snap and pop. When it comes to emotional moments like that, e-mail fails satisfy the longing in one´s heart.