Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Minds immeasurably superior to our own*

My computer at home has been a bit tired (and fundamentally unable to handle anything with sound) lately and a friend had recently upgraded and had a "perfectly good" machine lying around unused. In the way of these things, my need and his surplus thought there might be a mutually beneficial arrangement in this situation.

One thing led to another with very little haggling (ie. none at all) and shortly after that brief discussion (meaning roughly 3 weeks) one hot afternoon on a crest of South street in downtown Ippy you could have seen us do the quick box-shuffle from one car t'other and the deed was done.

Or was it?

Quite quickly after that (about a week and a half) I (my defacto brother-in-law) tried to set it up, but it wouldn't go. All the frackin cables had to be replugged into the old tower and the corpse re-animated with a Dr Frankenstein-esque jolt of near lethal voltage (to the machine - not me). Cue manic cackling laughter from Rumi who dressed as Igor for this particular exercise. That cat is scary enough without hamming up the crazed laboratory side-kick feel, but I digress.

I tell my friend that it won't start, but I act clever and say "it won't boot up". See how already I have made an effort to speak the language?

Also, having been the idiot in the village for long enough to have all the badges, I have written down the error code and there it is "Insert boot disk."

"Ah," Says my friend sagely.

I wait, confident that this pause represents the process where the technical brain runs through a complex diagnostic decision tree.

"It's possible that the power cable to the hard drive is loose." Says my friend.

"Ah." I say and pause, allowing us both a moment to consider the wide-ranging implications of this possibility.

"How would you feel about opening up the machine and just checking the cable is in place?"

That sounds reasonable, I think to myself.

"It's pretty straightforward" he goes on, "Here's a diagram of what you'd have to do."

"Well ok then, I think I can manage that." I agree. It's been a long time since I last went under the hood of a machine, and frankly I was pretty heavily coached back then. I'm momentarily excited about the prospect of being a tiny bit handy. I know not to mention this to my defacto brother-in-law or he'll be all over this like stink on a blanket and I won't get a look-in.

"By the way," says my friend as an afterthought, "don't, whatever you do, don't plug the cable in the wrong way around. You'll totally break the whole thing. Really. Don't."

WTF?! There's important cables that can be placed the wrong way around with catastrophic consequences?! What is with that?! I'm used to the outside of these boxes - where, not content with making everything as simple as a toddler's kindergarten shape toy, pretty little colours are used as well to match pointy bits with holey bits. In this way the pre-verbal/reptilian parts of the brain can handle plugging machines into monitors and pointers and keyboards. This has to be the most damming indictment of lowest-common-denominator product development ever, except that it works. People too dumb to put 3 cables into the right slots get to run a powerful machine and use it to advance their Command & Conquer scores, or in the case of my dad, meet avatars from around the world and whipped by them at poker. But I digress.

The pretty matching colours and the one-way-only-into-this-hole design disappears on the insides. Apparently, once you take that phillip's head screwdriver to the casing, you're saying "I'm up from some hardware adventure, I'm grounded (geddit?!) and cool headed. I'm gunna pimp my drive" (oh, I'm killing myself!!) or you better have a handy schematic to take in. Just in case you read ahead and didn't look at it before, take a look at this now. Clear and simple. Beautiful almost. Elegant in the lines and the brevity of direction. I was ready to not fuck it up, and off comes the lid.

Shame then that the insides of the machine actually look somewhat more complicated. That is to say that they look exactly like the insides of a fantastically scary bomb and there's wires everywhere. Take a look for yourself. I'm not even that willing to put my hand in there let alone wiggle anything around. There could be a croc lurking just under the surface of that tangled mess of cables to grab at me and pull me under by my glasses cord, twisting, turning and tumbling until I drown in the confusion of RIDICULOUSLY USELESS FRACKING DRAWINGS.

And there we have it. A classic case of communication gone somehow very wrong. I'm sure in his mind it is completely that simple. All that other stuff in there is not central to the problem and so can be ignored.

Maybe each of us have this ability for something, and we are equally obtuse to others when we think we're being as simple as it is possible to be. It's just that for most of us, we don't find what our genius clarity is about, or if we do, it might be something like the capacity to visualise the internal pressures and counter thrusts of a dam wall. Not called upon so often in general interactions. Computers, in their still nascent form admittedly, are in our homes, our jobs, our recreational spaces. People who can visualise clearly how to make them go by prodding hardware or writing code are still our magicians and everybody wants to know one.

Just don't ask your wizard to give you a spell you can do yourself, it's not as easy as they make it look.

* I totally love that opening to War of the Worlds. Also, this post is based on real events, however some aspects may have been modified or heightened for raconteurial purposes. Michael Strelan's name has not in any way been changed or modified to protect his identity or dignity. There is no right of reply. No correspondence will be entered into, although I probably will read comments, and counter-blogs, but let's not go there. You said I could use this. C'mon man, it's freakin gold!


Michael said...

so does it work or what?

J9 said...

Dunno, had to bake a cake. Will do the cable-swap with the corpse again tonight.

Julian said...

Now, you have me worried about myself.

What does it mean when you look at the photo of horrible complexity and rather than covering in fear, you immediately ask yourself "So why isn't that CD-ROM drive plugged in?"

(I am not even sure it is a CD-ROM drive - the drive second from the top. It is a bit big to be your hard-drive, so I doubt it is causing your "boot disk" issue.)

Good luck in your quest; it does feel good when you get it working through your own endeavours.

J9 said...

Hi, I'll have to hand over to Michael to identify the mystery drive. BTW, just for fun there's also a floppy drive in there that you can't see that's unattached - to add some extra frisson to the adventure.
I've been given some great instructions on going to the BIOS and doing a physical check on the power issue, so I haven't given up yet, but certainly baking the cake was a lot more straightforward and had immediate results.

J9 said...

Oh, and Julian? It's because you're one of them that you don't feel that way! Der!!

Michael said...

Top to bottom...

- Dual Layer DVDRW 16x
- 52x cd rom (doesn't even burn, whats the good of it!)
- floppy drive for teh lulz

Julian said...

"It's because you're one of them that you don't feel that way"

That's exactly what I was worried about.

I don't want to be one of those people who scrutinised and studied the internals of computers, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.