Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I got a new computer for my birthday

I got a new computer for my birthday. Trouble is, it's the same computer I've owned for the past three years.

But it is new in all essential respects. Computers don't have many mechanical parts to wear out, so it doesn't look worn. What's new is the operating system and files – the mind and nervous system of the machine.

That's because the OS became corrupted (for no particular reason that anyone could tell me, it just happens) and I had to contact a service representative (in India I believe) who walked me through the process of un-installing and reinstalling the OS and programs.

In the process I lost years worth of collected documents, all correspondence stored on the computer and several programs I use for my work.

But hey, I got a brand new computer and it works great!

OK, I realize I should continuously back up all my files and documents. I really do remember to do this once in a while. But this time I couldn't do it before scrubbing the machine's memory because Windows wouldn't boot up to let me do it.

The service rep had to coach me to do esoteric things like, “Push the Start button while holding the control button down and repeatedly tapping the F11 key as fast as you can.”

How stupid of me not to have known that!

This sort of thing is so common that computer users don't realize that other industries have a name for the phenomenon.

They call it, “defective products.”

A few years back Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft, crowed in public, "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon".

In response General Motors issued a press release stating: “If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to
buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Apple would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive - but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation" warning light.

7.The airbag system would ask "Are you sure?" before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.”

Remember years ago when pundits warned us that computers were going to be Frankenstein monsters that would dehumanize us and turn us into robots?

Didn't happen – instead what happened was that computers became humanized, and I don't like it one bit!

Back in the Mechanical Age, you flipped a switch, pulled a lever or turned a dial, and something either happened or it didn't. If it didn't, the machine was broken and you fixed it or got rid of it.

Now, if you want your computer to do something you can't rely on the same procedure producing the same result twice. Sometimes you just have to say, “Oh please, please, pretty please do this.”

I want my soulless machines back!


  • At 2:41 PM, Blogger Ted said…

    In all honesty, Microsoft hasn't produced a quality product since Windows 95...But that OS actually worked, so it had to be "upgraded" to make it malfunction.
    With XP, we finally got back ALMOST everything we lost since '98...And so the process is being repeated.

    What can you tell me about Linux?

  • At 4:35 PM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    One likely solution: Buy an Apple!!

    The argument may now commence.

  • At 12:25 PM, Blogger Mark said…

    Windows has some problems, but you have to consider it from a technical perspective. A computer is a tremendously powerful thing; a lot of the crap in Windows is there to protect users from themselves. It's not a difficult thing to keep a Windows machine in excellent condition, but you have to know about what it's doing.

    The one worst part about Windows is its vulnerabilities, and Microsoft has lately gotten pretty good about patching it up. However, in order to remain backwards compatible, it remains possible for faulty applications to circumvent its leaky security model. Most likely, in the normal course of Web use, this is what happened to you. It's not difficult to prevent, but it requires a certain degree of technical knowledge.

    A computer will always do the same thing in the same condition. However, because of the fundamental nature of the machine, its current condition is not always obvious. It's usually easy to diagnose, and also to keep a mental model of its current state - but it requires a certain degree of technical knowledge.

    You write that the technical representative told you to "Push the start button down while holding the control key and press F11 as fast as you can." I understand that this is an amalgam of several instructions you would have been given. He gave you the instructions directly because, for the normal person's case, telling them what to do (open such-and-such a menu, most likely) would have sounded like ancient Greek. So they have to painstakingly describe the steps to do it. Imagine teaching a person to drive by telling them to contract certain leg muscles, because they're unfamiliar with the concept of applying pressure with their foot. It's not hard to do, but it requires a certain degree of technical knowledge.

    It takes extremely well-designed software to stand up to a non-technical user who is (understandably) not interested in learning the rudiments of computing, and no program as old and large as Windows is going to be designed that well. Certainly nothing developed by a team of the size and composition that Microsoft attracts, with as much meddling by marketing.

    Now I'm going to use a car metaphor.

    It's frustrating, sure, but have some sympathy. For a technical user, it's a bit like a novice driver complaining that a standard-transmission car will sometimes run or sometimes stall when you step on the gas. Computing is young enough, still, that A) there isn't really a satisfactory equivalent automatic transmission, and B) most people aren't familiar with the basic paradigms of the technology.

  • At 7:34 PM, Blogger Joseph Sixpack said…

    I'm happy with today's gadgets, in spite of any quirks. I've never had an issue. My previous laptop survived 5 years, to include 2 tours in Iraq, 2 months in the Mohave Desert, other tremendous physical abuse and extreme temperature ranges, but finally it was just too outdated (and I spilled coffee on the keyboard). I have a laptop that I purchased for $500, two years ago, and it is probably the best $500 that I ever spent. I used it for the following, just today...
    - Trade stocks and options
    - Pay bills
    - Move money around to different accounts (brokerage and savings in two different banks)
    - Email family and friends
    - Download podcasts and upload them to my iPod
    - Do research for a paper
    - Order a Father's Day gift
    - Get directions to a place that I will drive to tomorrow
    - Read news from about a dozen different sources

    I did everything above, with my laptop on battery power, while I was eating a sandwich and a bag of pretzels at a sandwich shop about 1 block from the White House, using a broadband connection provided by my Cingular aircard (not wifi). My father does not understand how this is possible. To him, bank transactions are impossible without going to the bank. Stock transactions are impossible without going to (or calling) a broker. Newspapers cannot be read unless you purchase them at the store. Email? Podcast? iPod? What are those?

  • At 8:10 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Actually, my 83-year-old father is the computer nerd in my family. He does things like switch out circuit boards and stuff.

    I love the computer age, I've just got to vent at the damn things occasionally.

    I'm hoping they follow the evolution of cars - about the early 90s cars started getting built that would last a long time without too many of the exasperating characteristics we used to expect of a moderately used one.

    However, they also became impossible for shade-tree mechanics to work on...

  • At 10:59 PM, Blogger Gerry said…

    Computers are so cheap today that I don't even bother to upgrade anymore. They are just commodity objects to me.

    As for Apple, I like their OS, but it's just not necessary to charge so much for pretty, but only marginally better hardware (don't bother flaming me Apple fanboys because I just don't care enough about any of you to reply).


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