Adventures in Writing: Part 2 of 20?

Take 20 words chosen at random. Put them in a bowl. Draw one, and write something about it.

Simple? Maybe not.

To so-called “normal” people (you know who you are), a handshake is a pair of right (or sometimes left) hands briefly clasped together, possibly moving up and down, in a gesture of friendship, greeting or finalizing some sort of deal.

The practice developed, as I understand it, back in more primitive times when two individuals advanced toward each other and mutually showed that they were not bearing weapons by offering an open hand. Naturally, they still needed to be wary of anyone approaching with one hand outstretched while the other was concealed behind his or her back.

So much for normal people. As a longtime computer geek, I also see the “handshake” as something completely different — the ofttimes frustrating and frequently fruitless process of getting two different electronic entities to play nice with each other. (Curse you, Play Station 3!)

At no time in digital history was this exercise more audibly obvious than when attempting to connect to the internet via telephone modem. For those who don’t go back as far as the days of steam-powered computers, it went something like this:

beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! beep! (Hello, this is Mr. Micron [pet name for my longtime computer companion]. Anybody there?)

whirrrrr! whirrrr! (Yeah? This is AOL. What do you want?)

warble, burble (I would like to access the internet through this telephone number, if that’s OK with you.)

gimble! vorpal! snicker-snack! (Let me check your credentials. Hmm. Looks like you’re on the list. I’ll try to connect you. Hold on.)

wheeeeeeee! ding! ding! ding! ding! hissssss! hisssss! (Thanks. I’ll wait.)

honk! honk! (Standby) hisssssssss! (Well that speed is no good) Hissssssssssssssssssss!(Nope, that one won’t work, either.) HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!! (Thaaat’s never gonna happen) stutter, stutter, hissss! (Looks like we’ll need to settle for this one. Does that work for you?)

klaatu barada nikto (Sure. I’m just grateful to be connected at any speed. Thank you so much.) 

waffle, baffle, zibble, zonk, bloof! (OK. You’re good to go. As always, remember that you may be disconnected without warning at any time, especially if you are cluttering up this phone line with an all-day download of the latest IE upgrade. Understood, Micron?)

bibbidi, bobbidi, boo. (Understood, AOL. Thanks again.)

Buzzzzzzz! (handshake completed)

I believe the whole handshaking process still takes place today whenever two devices need to connect. It’s just accomplished in the background, more speedily and efficiently — except when it’s not.

I last used the term when we had a cable guy come to the house because we were unable to get the box to connect to a new HD television set. I was aware that these devices, before they could hook up, had to reassure each other that they would never, ever consider, even for a microsecond, illegally copying intellectual property; but that assurance wasn’t happening.

It seems like they’re not completing their handshake,” I helpfully volunteered to the technician.

The look he gave me began as a blank stare and finished with the one that said: “I guess this geezer is off his meds.” He made a non-committal noise and proceeded to replace the box.

As he left, neither of us extended a hand to seal the deal.