Big Dance misses a step when you see it on computer

March 18, 2006|By ROB KASPER

The idea of watching the NCAA men's basketball tournament on my office computer seemed too good to be true. In my case it was. Instead of March Madness, my online experience was closer to March sadness.

Yesterday, for example, as I logged into cbs.sportsline.com's free video broadcast of the Bucknell-Arkansas game, I was greeted as a "VIP," a long-standing college basketball junkie and veteran user of this site. But at tip-off time, all I could call up on my computer were commercials and a black screen. It took me half an hour to get a picture, and then it was jerky and laced with gaps in the action. Later, when I was slow to respond to a message asking if I was still interested in the game, I got bounced offline and couldn't get back in.

A day earlier I also had bad luck. I was pretending to be working at my desk while discreetly watching the Webcast of the Boston College and University of the Pacific game, one of the tourney's tightest contests. When the game went into overtime, my computer stream went dry. Messages about "buffering" and "trying to reconnect" appeared on the screen, but no basketball.

I was reduced to following the action an old-fashioned way, abandoning all pretense of productivity and planting myself in front of a TV set in the sports department.

Eventually the game popped back up on my computer. Then I made another discovery. The computer action lagged behind the television action by a minute or two. This is a significant amount of time in a basketball game.

This changed my perception of my social status. I had thought that watching games on a computer would mark me as a cutting-edge type. But because I was getting stale action, I was decidedly trailing edge.

When I did get a picture on my computer, the images were murky. The players looked like they were underwater, especially when I went to full-screen view. Occasionally the players would go into a herky-jerky mode. They jumped across the screen like those images of the astronauts repairing the space shuttle. But those astronauts' images were beamed from deep space; the Arkansas-Bucknell game was transmitted from Dallas.

The sound was also sporadic. Listening to games on the computer was like trying to listen to the broadcast of an Orioles game in Kansas. Voices faded in and out.

One feature that worked well was the "boss button." One click of this button transformed the images on my computer screen from a frivolous basketball game to a business-looking spreadsheet, whatever that is. Because my screen was mostly showing nothing, the boss button was more an amusement for me than a tool of deception.

In a feeble effort to understand why my computer images were so crummy, I queried office IT-types. They said something about "server overload" and "bandwidth" and "heavy traffic on the circuits." This is a foreign language to me, but their explanations seemed to boil down to two possibilities. The pipeline carrying the games was clogged either by lots of diligent employees working very hard on their computers or by a slew of slackers like me trying to amuse themselves by downloading bandwidth-eating basketball contests.

My problems occurred when I tried to watch the games in the office in the middle of a workday. When I logged in at home, at 8 o'clock at night, I had smooth sailing.

This led me to a low-tech explanation of why I had so much trouble watching basketball games on the office computer. It is sinful, and the Big Man, that great Calvinistic CEO in the sky, was sending a message to me and other slackers to get back to work.

Thursday after getting dissed by the office computer, I reverted to a familiar behavior pattern. I went to a bar, The Brewer's Art, got a beverage and watched the basketball games on a television set.

The TV was tiny, a mere 5-inch screen that Scott the bartender had placed at the end of the bar. As the Winthrop-Tennessee game got tight, all the guys sitting at the bar peered into the set. When a Tennessee guard, a mere spec on the screen, drilled a jumper to win the game, a great collective holler rang out.

That, you can bet your bandwidth, is the way b-ball is supposed to be watched.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

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