Back in berserkly Berkeley for six weeks of reading and writing at the Center for Studies in Higher Education, one of my favourite places.The sun ricochets off the white stone of Wheeler Hall (Dealer Hall in David Lodge's novel Changing Places). The computer provided for me clunks on and I slip in my disk. My 3,000 words on Jeremy Bentham and the foundation of University College London were due in last week for the catalogue for the exhibition to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth, and, at the last moment, my computer at home refused to print. Never mind, the confident international scholar creates a disk and brings it to California to be printed out and faxed back to London. The printer works here, but the American paper is slightly smaller, and the last line of my neat footnotes on every page prints over itself and is unreadable.
Susan, the nice helpful secretary at the centre, suggests making the top and bottom margins smaller. It is the work of seconds to alter the settings and to print. But in those seconds the computer refigures my text, bringing forward a line of text on each page to ensure that the last line of the footnotes will still not print properly. A passing scholar suggests using a hard return two lines up on each page, but I can no longer translate the text back into the British page-worth. Another passing scholar suggests making the footnotes into endnotes. Why had I not thought of that? But it cannot be done by the machine; even Susan cannot figure out how to do it. I have to type out all the footnotes again as endnotes, leave in the scrambled footnotes and send an apologetic fax to the Bentham project before driving across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. The moment you come out of the tunnel on Yerba Buena Island and see the struts of the bridge towering above you is exhilarating, but it is hard being an international scholar.
An international scholar needs his email, and I assumed it would be easy to hook into my UCL email address from Berkeley. But I do not know my pop account server address, or my SMTP address for Eudora, so I have to fax Nazneen, the efficient secretary of my department in London, to ask her.
Susan gets an email from Simon, the nice helpful computer man in my department in London, giving me the pop account server address and the SMTP address. They do not work.
Simon emails Susan with amended pop server and SMTP addresses for me. They link me into the UCL system but it refuses to recognise my password. Nina, dynamic visiting English sociologist with a neighbouring office, is beginning to find it funny. Now I can send email, apparently from my London address, but I cannot receive it. So I email Simon.
Simon emails Susan to say I must be sure not to have "caps lock" on when I type in my password. He obviously thinks I am a complete incompetent, I email him saying he must do something.
No reply from Simon. I fax Nazneen, asking her to find out why.
Simon emails Susan to say that he was in Kew yesterday. He has spoken to the computer people and claims he is "assured that the apparent failure of your password is an epiphenomenon of another situation arising from the choice of servers for external traffic". Nina thinks this is very funny. So does Susan. I email Simon to get the UCL computer people to change my password.
Simon emails Susan saying he has persuaded the computer people to give me a new password, and he gives it. It is still rejected.
Old and new passwords still fail to be recognised, but Nina notices among the print-outs of the emails that Simon is firstname.lastname@example.org as well as email@example.com, and that I am sometimes firstname.lastname@example.org. as well as the email@example.com that I normally use. We alter the pop server address and bingo! A two-week accumulation of email messages tumbles out.
My daughter rings from London to ask why I have not replied to her emails, and I giggle. I am off to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada to explore mining towns of the 1860s and 1870s, but drive over to the city first to have another fix of the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Richmond Bridge. It is hard being an international scholar. International communication is so difficult.
NEGLEY HARTE Senior lecturer in economic history at University College London, and public orator of the University of London.