Oh Why!

Learning about computers is long, arduous and, often, not very rewarding. There was an old saying ‘RTFM’ – which was a polite way of suggesting one reads the instructions before asking questions. I cannot code – and have little wish to learn – but I did not want to be wholly ruled by machines other people had designed. It was as if I were being forced to think along someone else’s rules. The double hash in internet addresses for example, was just something the original writer thought up, it has no other value.

So I read and learned how to install an OS, how to modify it to better suit my character, how to plug the holes in Windows and secure what I could. I even learned  a little about web design and all-in-all found out after ten years I didn’t know anything.

But many of my friends know even less so they ask me to sort out their problems. Let me tell you, in our civilised world, nothing is more daunting or boring than sitting in front of someone else’s computer and sorting out a problem they could sort out but for the fact they won’t RTFM. You forget everything you know. You worry about destroying their data. And quietly you wish the computer would just die and leave you alone.

The Dead Hard Drive

Every age brings with it, its own vocabulary. From the new inventions to the ‘lingo’ of the youth the forms have been different but the character has been the same. When tea was first introduced it created tea houses which became haunts of the intellectuals, artists and working men depending on where they were, and gave England the closest it has ever come to the café life of the French.

During wars whole new songs, new weapons and terrible battles enter the language and as each generation grows so the language mutates and some of the words stay, many leave. But you can create an entire society by recalling its language. Something beloved of script writers because the language gives them the erroneous right to say their work is ‘authentic’.

The computer age is no different though it is fun to see the common words of typesetting and printing become mainstream and almost everyone now knows to what leading, kerning and fonts refer. But also we now have a new use for virus and a new bug bear. The lost data. The dead piece of electronics that happens to contain so much of our lives and all of our precious memories, along with irreplaceable internet jokes.

I have just recovered the data for a friend from one such drive. It’s a little like coaxing a fire from damp paper and of course so evocative of the beginning of the end of the twentieth and beginning of twenty first centuries.

There’s Always Something

I am formatting, upgrading and installing an OS on my friend’s computer which has lain idle for a few years and no matter how well I planned in advance, there is always something that stops the whole process being a smooth one. Whether it is compatibility issues or DLLs that don’t quite work with the processor and need a ‘fix’, each segment of the procedure needs me to think around a problem. It doesn’t help me to wonder when all this will become standardized or when hardware and software will truly be universally interchangeable if at all, but it does lead me to reflect that in our creations we have followed the path of nature.

Everything has and ‘up’ side and a ‘down’ side, whilst things work they bring along with their promise the  need to repair, upgrade, look for better more efficient ways of doing the same thing, and in general show us that ‘there is always something’ to make problems. That is how nature works on  every scale. I know it is just another way of saying nothing is perfect but the truth is perfection doesn’t exist, not at any rate the human conception of perfect.

Which is why after three days I am almost but not quite there.

And God Made Computers Possible

Though I am beginning to ask myself why. There always seems to be something I should be doing to this machine besides actually working. Whether it is updating drivers to make my hardware care about my software; or updating my software because what was sold to me to begin with was not quite right or whether it is updating my Operating System which was sold with a hundred faults.

And I find myself  hoping that one day I will have a HAL because even a psychotic computer would be an improvement on a locked, crashed, slow, add infected burnt out modern pc. And this is all from binary code feeding through electronics. I fear for my grandchildren (if I ever have any) and what the brilliant minds of this generation will invent to improve their working lives.

It is wonderful when these things work.  It is awful when they don’t and you spend a whole day trying trying to find out why, and if it is not some thirteen year old who put a virus on your computer that got into the Bios it is a conflict between your cherished software package that actually helps you, and the sturdy, most robust Operating System ever without which there is DOS.

In a way it reminds me of nature. Take away the most insignificant insect you can find, and guaranteed you will discover after six months it was vital for keeping down aphids, or its dung helped keep spores thriving that killed off honey bee viruses. My whole career rests on code I do not understand and suddenly cannot live without.

It is so much easier to make a cup of tea.

Late Is A Speed Of Its Own

Today I am writing in the evening instead of the early morning. This is because yesterday afternoon I was the recipient of a present of a newish computer, 64 bit dual core. I spent the evening putting in my disc drives and finding out one was not recognised, and dual booting to Linux so I can learn the open source world. I was surprisingly unworried by the few little things that went wrong because I have come to the point that as long as all my work is fully backed up, nothing can harm me.

And although I am late toady I have noted an increase in speed here and also losses for some of the software will not work in the 64 bit environment. But now as I sit here connected to the Internet with all drives working, today’s e-mails all read,  and all work backed-up and ready I can take full measure of the speed improvement and maybe not worry so much about the computer stalling.

I can also pass on the gift as mine with its hard drive all ready with an installed OS will be going to someone who needs it. I will try not to be late again!

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