Technologically challenged

Defending blunders of the computer illiterate
By T Martin (as Escritor X)

I’m writing technology articles for NorFilly Magazine out the online publication’s desperation to incorporate this topic into its monthly scheme. Flat out, I am NOT the person to be writing technical articles on new or old technology!

While I won’t accept the post of “Technology Editor”, I succumbed to this task to help move the magazine along into its second quarter. I just wonder how long before NorFilly rescinds this offer. Fortunately, they only know me as the gadget man; otherwise, they’d repeal their request almost immediately.

This article should enlighten them, and maybe I won’t be writing tech features after this month. I should probably take a minute to tell the my real technology story in hope that this is one less feature I’ll have to write in the future.

A little history
My start in technology began with the family computer in the late 1980’s. The computer had fascinated me, and I was up long after I was supposed to be in bed one night. While fiddling with different settings and those beloved MS-DOS commands, the computer crashed and burned. The thing wouldn’t reboot or play any games or anything. I hurriedly made my way to bed.

Next day, everyone wanted to know why the computer stopped working, and there was no point in trying to duck the facts because they all knew I was the last one toying with it. Truthfully, I was the ONLY one that toyed with it; the others actually made use of it. I tried to justify my doings by saying that the computer was old and on the blink anyway. It was bound to go sometime. I was really trying to worm my way out of this mishap.

My father was wise to this, and he gave me an ultimatum. I won’t disclose the details of the said ultimatum, but let it suffice to say that it took me two weeks to recover the computer and I wasn’t disowned after all. I tinkered around, in a nice way, with computers every since.

Then came the business card. What a riot! I became a card-carrying “computer consultant” which got me into trouble. Someone offered me a job in computers. I took the job, and was introduced to a “crash course in computer maintenance and networking”, the operative word being “crash.”

One of the nifty things to which I was introduced was a portable hard drive that powered off of the keyboard port of the older Apple computers. I was impressed. I got happy. I got playful. And the little “pocket drive” stopped working. My boss didn’t seem particularly angry, but he never let me live it down. Actually, I think the drive had internal errors, but he occasionally reminds me about the drive as if it were my fault. I justify that, too: “Look, it was old technology. That was the only way I could force progress in this department!”

I almost didn’t have any excuse for manhandling one item, though. I was trying to remove an Ethernet transceiver from an Apple LaserWriter printer once, when I heard an unwelcome “snap” from behind the printer. That transceiver was what kept the printer on the network, and here it was – in several pieces – on the table behind the printer. There was no fixing this, the last transceiver we had in the building. Even more harrowing was the fact that these boxes were getting harder and harder to find.

But I thought about the situation, into how tight a space the printer’s user had been forced, and how the slightest movement was bound to break the connection anyway. I don’t know; I came up with something that got me off the hook again. I wasn’t afraid to admit a mistake, but that whole “you break it, you buy it” thing had me shaking. I was working on less than 1/5 a teacher’s salary!

On the home front
As time moved on, I eventually bought my first computer, a Dell with Windows 98. It was the most modern computer in our household at the time, but it was obsolete in three months anyway. That’s when I developed the policy never to buy – or build – brand new. I’d always stay a step behind the latest, just to ensure that what I had in my office had already passed the rigor tests. That’s my excuse anyway.

When I built my first PC, the thing gave me trouble from the start. I could never figure out whether there was some hardware conflict or a software glitch, but as I used both Windows ME and Windows 2000 Professional on it, I endured thousands of blue-screens.

At first, my thinking was that the system wasn’t getting enough air. I had installed a hundred fans on the thing, pardon my hyperbole, but it still frequented crashville. My theory was supported by the fact that the computer worked almost perfectly in the Winter, but only started getting weird when warm weather set in. Eventually, I had to rule that out, though.

By the time I was ready to try to build a home network, I had already built a second, and then a third, tower. My current systems, dubbed the twin towers, have worked together on my four-computer network for almost two years now. From time to time, however, someone at work brings up that first experience of building my own power-hungry system.

The first computer I had built was a disaster, for sure. Several times, I had become so frustrated with the system and memory errors that I would try to reinstall the system as a safety measure. That always made the computer worse, and since I rarely consulted manuals, I was stuck. Others would tell me to call tech support. The problem was that I WAS tech support, and not living up to the definition very well.

Finally, I would perform what has become my trademark solution to computer problems, no matter how small: nuke the drive. It’s my standard response to everything: nuke the drive, just to be sure.

That means losing every bit of information on the drive. That means reconstituting the drive afterwards. That means digging up those CD-ROM’s and floppy disks again to reinstall programs. That means that you should have had a solid backup system in place all along. These are the words you never want to hear, but they are the ones I use more now than any other terms relating to technology.

When NorFilly dropped this in my lap, they related some problem they had with an article of mine they wanted to publish in February. It wouldn’t upload. There was some error when trying to copy that file to the server. They had tried everything, even creating a new file, and then copying and pasting my work into it. Nothing worked.

I told them it didn’t sound complicated at all. It was probably some small, insignificant oversight on their part. But, better nuke the drive… just to be sure, I told them.