L.B.: E-mail MacGyver

Left Behind, pp. 30-32

Ace reporter Buck Williams is desperate to get in touch with his editors from aboard an airliner. He decides to take apart the “in-flight phone embedded in the back of the seat in front of him” and splice it to his laptop’s modem:

… Buck guessed that inside the phone the connection was standard and that if he could somehow get in there without damaging the phone, he could connect his computer’s modem directly to the line. …

All around Buck, people cried, prayed and talked. Flight attendants offered snacks and drinks, but few accepted. Having preferred an aisle seat for a little more legroom, Buck was now glad he was partially hidden near the window. He removed from his computer bag a tiny tool kit he never expected to use, and went to work on the phone.

Disappointed to find no modular connection even inside the housing, he decided to play amateur electrician. These phone lines always have the same color lines, he decided, so he opened his computer and cut the wire leading to the female connector. Inside the phone, he cut the wire and sliced off the protective rubber coating. Sure enough, the four inner wires from both computer and phone looked identical. In a few minutes, he had spliced them together.

I really have no idea whether or not such a jury-rigged contraption would work. I am certain, though, that after all that cutting of wires he won’t be able to put the phone back exactly as he found it, as he promises flight attendant Hattie Durham he will once she spies his technical handiwork.

Hattie accuses him of “vandalizing airline property.” It shows how rattled she is by the mass disappearances that she can come across a passenger with a tool kit and a laptop computer hooked up to the plane with a “mess of wires” and not even think about the possibility of terrorism.

Buck eventually convinces her to allow him the ad hoc dial-up connection. First he charms her by reading her nametag and calling her “Beautiful Hattie.” (In the world of LaHaye and Jenkins, women don’t find that creepy.) Buck then argues that this is an emergency situation, so normal rules don’t apply to him — which is pretty much an abstract of our heroes’ approach to morality throughout the coming pages. Finally, he cuts a deal, agreeing to use his connection to try to reach her family.

Anyway, as I said, I don’t know how plausible Buck’s spliced-together modem arrangement is, but I do find a few things howlingly implausible in the excerpts above:

1. Dozens of passengers have disappeared mysteriously. Nobody knows what happened, where they’ve gone, whether they’re still alive or who might be next. And yet none of the survivors wants a good, stiff drink? I thought all the teetotallers were among those taken.

In fact, one of the passengers with a sharper intellect and curiosity than our narrators or protagonists might have noticed this fact — no one with alcohol in their system was taken. “It’s the alcohol! Look, I had the wine, you had beer, he had scotch … we’re all still safe. That explains it! It explains why all the children were taken! It’s the alcohol, the alcohol will protect you!” Then you can imagine everybody clamoring for a drink to ensure their safety before the next wave of abductions hits. The passengers would insist that the pilot, Rayford Steele, downs a shot of whiskey — just in case.

But of course this doesn’t happen. The characters just keep acting like they’ve read the back cover of the book. They seem to know they’re in a rapture story, that being left behind is a bad thing, and that to win God’s mercy they must begin praying and refraining from drinking and/or dancing.

2. Buck Williams couldn’t get the aisle seat he wanted. Later, on page 72, we read the following exchange between Buck and the woman at the counter of the airline’s club:

“You are a member, aren’t you?”

“Am I a member!”

“Gold or platinum?”

“Lady, I’m, like, a kryptonite member.”

He flashed his card, showing that he was among the top 3 percent of air travelers in the world. If any flight had one seat in the cheapest section, it had to be given to him and upgraded to first class at no charge.

If all that is true, how does he get bumped out of his preferred seat in favor of people like Harold’s apostate wife or an alcoholic businessman?

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  • Keith

    Rayford Steele could splice wires til the Second Coming, he still wouldn’t be able to connect to anything because no dial up provider has an access number that works at 30,000 ft. Now, if he had a bluetooth enabled cellphone and an apple powerbook, he could probably manage a connection as that technology is available today already, just not very widely used. Once again, Lehay and Jenkins get an F in science.

  • Keith

    Now that I think about it, they could have easily gotten around this whole mess by simply having Buck (not Rayford, sorry, got my cardboard heros confused!) have a satalite phone. If he truely is the Worlds greatest journalist or whatever, he would certainly have such a device. Then he could call the office, and we could have a convientient phone diolage/exposition that could bring the reader up to speed. Obviously his editor (assuming he wasn’t raptured) would have reporters in the field faxing, calling, e-mailing and sending carrier pigeons by the bucketful. His office would be a hotbed of information. Granted, it’d be a mixture of fact, theory and speculation, but it’d probably be one of the first places to get a glimpse of the Big Picture. Instead, Buck diddles with wires.

  • Jesurgislac

    Heh. But MacGyver would have been Raptured!
    (Surely? The man was a hotbed of virtue…)

  • Wednesday White

    Keith: the first LB book was written before Bluetooth was a going concern, though, wasn’t it? One thing that struck me as the books went along was that communications tech was gradually retconned in.
    Poorly, though. Later in the series, a website will be described as some bizarre combination of file swarming and pirate radio.

  • drieux just drieux

    Volks, let us PLEASE put our thinking caps back on. The ISP’s dial up lines do not know what is on the other end of the phone call. Dial Up Services do NOT care – they simply do the required exchange of tones to make sure that they are syncing at the appropriate baud – then move on to which ever ‘login sequence’ follows from having acquired a phy layer connection between the two points. So YES, presuming that WaldoTheWombat can convert a n inflight phone into a two wire pass through service, then yes, one gets dial tone, one makes the connection and ZippyThePinHead the phy layer connect is tone to tone, and Varoom those great and glorious days of 300 baud technologies save the day. The Really Freaky Part of course is the mondo triplicate game of using two of those phone line sets
    and mondo advanced majik to make them deal with reality as IF they were a real T1 line with the appropriate framing and all – now that WOULD be a major religious moment. I mean its a bear and a half still just to get the Freaks to make sure that they keep the appropriate framing on four pieces of wire as it is.
    And NO, MacGyver was a Spawn of Satan – I mean look at his hair cut, it just screams,
    Hello, I am the proto-type of MetroSexuality bent upon the destruction of your White Christian America in ways that only a National Policy of “No Hetro Left Behind” can ever counter.
    So folks, learn to cope with the Evil Liberal Media MeatPuppets.

  • Keith

    Grant it, Bluetooth is too new but satalite phones have been around since the late eighties. My point is, there are easier, quicker and more dramatic ways to move the story along and Lehay and Jenkins seem to have ignored all of them in favor of wonky science and bad plotting.

  • drieux just drieux

    ‘Wonky Science” and “bad plotting” is a problem in what Way?
    It would be distinguishable from the current national policy agenda How?

  • Jon H

    MacGyver – isn’t he Canadian?
    No Canadian would be raptured. Not a chance.

  • Jesurgislac

    No, MacGyver was born in Minnesota and lived in California. (And I know this how? Don’t ask.) Gotta agree with whoever said he was Spawn of Satan because of his hair. (Hmmm – that should mean that Colonel O’Neill from the Stargate Project would be Raptured, no?)

  • Scott Cattanach

    Thanks for the LB review fix. :-)

  • Keith

    Point to Drieux.

  • Al Franken

    wtf is driex anyway??? It better not be French…

  • libertas

    drieux is exactly right,
    The ISP’s modem banks don’t give a crap where you are calling from, as long as you can get a decent enough connection to get the tones through, so our cardboard cutout hero would likely to make a connection if he could physically get the rig together.
    But! This idea of opening up the phone and tracing out the wires and splicing it together….hah!
    The phone in that seat in front of you is a digital phone, not an analog phone. Anyone who has tried to plug their modem into a digital phone jack at their office knows that this is a no go. So, our bonehead cardboard cutout hero can hack the phone until the cows come home, it’s never gonna work.
    The little jacks that you see on the phones these days are emulating an analog connection, but converting it to digital so it can go over the plane’s phone system.

  • crasspastor

    A magical Jesus Device would have done the trick.

  • Josh Brandt

    …he took apart his laptop? Have you ever taken apart a laptop?
    I’ve repaired laptops and worked on laptops dating from nice modern G4 PowerBooks back to scary ancient 386 nightmare machines, and I have never seen one that you could just kinda take apart without a LOT of trouble. They aren’t designed to be worked on, really– at the most, you take out a board and throw it away and put in a new one.
    Plus, I have never seen a system with an actual wire between the phone jack (for the modem) and the modem itself. Usually they’re built into the motherboard or on a little board that plugs into the motherboard, and they ALWAYS have the jack directly attached. Why? Space is at a premium. Wire takes up space. Therefore, you don’t use wires, you just hook the little circuit board directly to the jack and hook the jack directly to the inside of the case.
    Even if some manufacturer were fool enough to run a wire between the internal modem and the modem’s phone jack, that wire would need to be so teensy that nobody without tiny tiny jeweller’s tools would be able to deal with it. Imagine wires the size of a few hairs, and trying to strip those.
    The idea that he’d be able to just kinda open his laptop, find the wires, and start splicing is ludicrous. If nothing else, he wouldn’t have space in an airplane– he’d need a decent sized workbench, or he’d lose parts. Plus, he’d end up having to take the bottom off of his laptop, which means turning it over and messing with _that_. And then he’s supposed to be using this jury-rigged mess to actually dial out?
    And he’s supposed to do this without losing pieces, losing screws, injuring himself, or breaking something delicate, all while in a tiny airline seat in an airplane with no actual pilot, with all the vagaries of bumpy air and even slight turbulence? When working on some of the stuff I work on (mostly large servers, these days– I’ve moved up in the world), I hold my breath to make sure I don’t drop things or bend things or lose screws inside machines. How’s he supposed to do this with a laptop and have something that actually still works when he’s done with it?
    The authors obviously didn’t even bother to do a bit of research on this, even to the point of figuring out that nobody gets to bring toolkits– even tiny ones– onto airplanes these days.

  • colin roald

    He was among the top 3 percent of air travelers in the world.
    Something about that makes me laugh. Dr EvilThe top 3 percent of air travellers in the world!/Dr Evil
    There are more than a hundred people on the average big jet, which means that at least a couple of them are probably bigger travel studs than Mr Kryptonite Member. Take that, fussy airline club receptionist lady!

  • Informis

    Everyone I know who has laptop with a modem in it carries around a plain old household phone cable in their briefcase, so they can hook up to any old household phone jack. It stands to reason that Captain Cardboard, Champion of Logic would have one of these cables with him.
    So, setting aside for a moment the connectivity issues with the in-seat phone, why did he have to take apart his laptop to get at those wires?? Plug cable in, snip cable, strip wires. Done.

  • Interview With Jerry Jenkins

    For those of you who are fans of the left behind series (snicker), or have been following Slacktivist’s excellent ongoing review of the first book, here’s something I think you will enjoy – The Door Magazine’s “interview” with Left Behind…

  • none

    for completeness, I’d have to add: IBM laptops circa 1996 had easy access to the internals — you were able to lift the keyboard up and get at a number of things inside. A regular pocket screwdriver would allow you to lift the shielding covering most everything else.
    But you’re right about the jack being directly soldered to the board.
    As for satellite phones… were handheld satellite phones available in 1995, and even if they were, would a journalist necessarily have one? My guess is he would at best have had a more bulky suitcase-sized model, which would have been in the cargo hold.

  • A Texan in Maryland

    What happened to this excellent series you’ve been posting, Slacktivist? Did you finally get fed-up with the book?

  • church sign messages…

    I’ve often wondered just what the purpose is of those tacky messages that go on church signs. This page really jogged my thinking on those signs. The signs range from “chuckle/guffaw/belly laugh worthy” all the way to downright assinine.
    My unders…

  • none

    What I question is the upgrade theory they present.
    If even one seat is available on the flight in the cheapest section, he gets on it and it gets upgraded to first class…
    How would one go about explaining that to a first class passenger who has to get booted back to Coach? “I’m sorry, I know you paid more for your seat and we do value your business, but we just HAVE to give YOUR seat to this other guy. Well, no he didn’t pay for it… Well, no, if he was a good traveller he would have booked a real seat on a real flight instead of stealing yours. But *she whispers* he’s a Kryptonite Member. So grab your damn bags and get moving!”
    I think NOT.

  • Pan Walker

    um, even if he was able to find a wire going to his modem port, when he cut it open, it would be TWO (2) WIRES, not four. Four wires is standard as they are needed for 2 lines. A computer modem only uses one line, so it only uses half the wires. TWO WIRES would be found. Not Four. Just more nitpicking.

  • Anastasia

    Wait… If the in-flight phone isn’t dialing out so people can call their loved ones and check on them, how the hell is it going to work with a modem? If the phones are all out, then it goes to reason that as dial-up connections use the same lines, they’re going to be out too.
    So even if Buck managed to connect his laptop in such a bizarre way, he would have gotten a message on his screen saying, “no dial tone.”