The Colgate Scene ON-LINE


www.grabois.online

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New technology made it possible for Colgate to experiment with a live broadcast on the World Wide Web

by Jeffrey O’Connell ’95

On March 4, Colgate reached out across the Internet, and with the help of some of the latest-and-greatest technologies, created a very personal event out of a bunch of wires and a stream of ones and zeros.

I received the flier about a week before the broadcast — correction — webcast: "President Grabois will be conducting Colgate’s first-ever online broadcast — and you can be there, via the World Wide Web . . ."

"Oh, boy," I thought, "I hope this one works."

Logging on
The latest-and-greatest technologies are not foreign to me; these days they seem to scroll across my monitor at 1,000 words a minute.

I think I’ve just become skeptical about new toys — not that I don’t like to play with them; it’s just that you need a healthy dose of patience when your playground is the Internet.

But when the Swinging Gates performing the alma mater started blaring from my computer speakers after a just few taps at the keyboard and a couple clicks of the mouse, I admit, I was floored.

"How cool is that?" I bragged to my office mate. She was clearly impressed, but as an alumna of a Patriot League rival she refused to give me the satisfaction. ;)

Satisfied that all the equipment was set up properly and a connection had been established, I sat back in my chair and waited for the show to start.

Everything was working great: the Thirteen followed the Gates with their own rendition of the alma mater; the screen blipped every once in a while, I guess to make sure I was paying attention, and I was loose and ready for the show.

"Now it’s my pleasure to introduce this evening’s featured speaker, Colgate’s 13th president, Neil Grabois," began James Leach, Director of Communications. "Jim, thank you very much. I didn’t know I was the ‘featured’ speaker, I thought I was the only speaker," joked the President. Amazing! What welcome voices!

Honestly, I’m not one for presidential speeches, state of the college stuff, etc. I tend to find them mildly repetitive, but I was all ears for this one. It was like that first evening on campus when we crowded into the Chapel, sitting in the window bays, hanging from the rafters as it became clear that we were now part of something larger than ourselves. I was consumed by the excitement as a flood of images poured through my mind.

And then silence. And more silence. The network was dead. A bunch of people must have logged on to the presentation because suddenly not a single byte was getting through to my desktop. "What a tease!" I cried.

 

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A handful of local alumni were invited to Persson Hall to be the "studio audience" for President Neil Grabois' experimental broadcast via the World Wide Web.
Wire tangles
The typical user’s reaction to network problems is to stare blankly at the screen and think "Hey, the server must be broken," or something like that. As a techie wanna-be, I refuse to be a hostage to the wires. I was determined to track down the traffic jam and find a way around the problem — not to mention, I was now truly eager to hear the President’s talk.

I telnet’ed here, ran a traceroute there, ping’ed the servers, checked the Internet Weather Report for outages <URL:http://www.internetweather.com/>, jumped onto my trusty Macintosh, and even clicked directly to the presentation via the Alumni Seminars home page. (I knew that wouldn’t make a difference, but I was getting desperate!)

Nothing brought the sound back. The connection was down for fifteen frustrating minutes. But, as will happen in cyberspace, all was not lost . . .

As suddenly as the server had stopped responding, the connection kick-started itself. A few sound-filled bits starting trickling through: ". . . Gorbachev . . . varsity athletics . . . renovating the student center . . ." I started to get little teasers of conversation. I can’t really say what finally fixed it, but soon the audio stream was back at full strength.

For the next 30 min-utes I sat with little interruption contently catching up on all the Colgate gossip as the President offered an uplifting portrait of the college, including news of the overwhelming success of the capital campaign and the status of recent and future facility renovation projects.

Obviously, the talk’s technical side didn’t go entirely as planned for everyone. In addition to the mentioned network problems, I was neither able to log into the message board to ask a question of President Grabois, nor was I able to view the simulcasted slide show. The event archive, including the questions that were asked, the slide presentation, and the full audio playback of the session, is free of these problems, though, and can be reached via the Colgate Web site at http://offices.colgate.edu/alumni/.

The effort must be applauded as a great first step. Consider the future possibilities that are now open to us.

For example, if we webcast home football games, no one would need to drive 8,000 miles just to stand around the designated tailgate area freezing their pants off! ;)

Seriously, though, imagine sporting events webcast with not just audio, but full-motion streaming video. "Live from Starr Rink in beautiful Hamilton, NY . . ." What if the various lectures we all wish we had attended more of were not just broadcast once, but archived so we could listen to them in the middle of the night if need be? How about listening to WRCU again or catching a set from a cool new campus band? The possibilities are limited only by the creativity of the community.

Conclusion
Three years ago, I began working with the Internet because I believed in its ability to extend and to create communities for people in a high-tech world. It has never been as apparent to me how powerful a tool it really can be than that night listening to President Grabois speaking from a seminar room in Persson Hall.

As I sat in my office, listening to audio flow from my terminal, alone, watching the headlights speeding up 6th Avenue, I felt closer to Colgate than I have since I left. I felt a renewed connection to the College, to the Chenango Valley, and to all the people I had shared such wonderful times with.