Monday, April 24, 2017

Techno Babble 2017

Depending on how you look at it, you could truthfully say that I grew up on the leading edge of the Computer Era…or the tail end of the Pre-Digital Dark Ages. In addition to the fact that a whole lot of technology was brand new at that time, in the household of my childhood, we weren’t exactly what you’d call “trailblazers”, either. For example, for years my mother—bless her little pea pickin’ heart—utterly refused to allow the purchase of a microwave…her rationale being “I don’t need that--I can cook things just fine without it!”

(She did eventually embrace the kitchen convenience…although without any hard evidence to back this up, I would still state with reasonable certainty that the bulk of the times she used it went towards warming her endless cups of Lipton. The REST of us, however, jumped right the heck on that speedy-food-prep-bandwagon with gusto…)

Oh, and we were also probably the last house on the block to own that newfangled piece of entertainment equipment known as: the VCR. (And if don’t know what that is, you’re probably too young to be reading this—but go ahead and Google it if you like. Speaking of which--us oldtimers? We had to wait until regular business hours, get a ride from our parents, go to the freakin’ LIBRARY, and find a book…using the card catalog, mind you (Oh, just ask Siri what that is!)…to figure these things out. Aaahhh, how far we’ve come (thank goodness)!

Anyway, getting around to my actual, you know, “point”: I was in High School before they started offering classes on how to work those crazy things called computers. Yep, I took a “programming” elective in which I “learned” (this being a verrry relative term, in my case) how to write code…using Basic language. (And since I’m sensing your unspoken question, the answer is, “No, it’s not a relevant tool anymore in the Modern World.”) Here’s an example, lifted from Wikipedia, since—having barely mastered it the first time--there’s no way on God’s green earth I could remember how to do it all these years later:
10 INPUT "What is your name: "; U$
20 PRINT "Hello "; U$
30 INPUT "How many stars do you want: "; N
40 S$ = ""
50 FOR I = 1 TO N
60 S$ = S$ + "*"
90 INPUT "Do you want more stars? "; A$
100 IF LEN(A$) = 0 THEN GOTO 90
110 A$ = LEFT$(A$, 1)
120 IF A$ = "Y" OR A$ = "y" THEN GOTO 30
130 PRINT "Goodbye "; U$
140 END
The result would run as:
What is your name: Mike
Hello Mike
How many stars do you want: 7
Do you want more stars? yes
How many stars do you want: 3
Do you want more stars? no
Goodbye Mike

Looks fairly simple, yeah? (And inane, of course, but whatever…) But trust me when I tell you that I spent H-O-U-R-S of my teenage life trying to get the most rudimentary program to do what I wanted it to, because if you forgot one stinkin’ comma, or placed one character in the wrong order, the machine would just sit there sticking its tongue out and laughing at you derisively before saying, “Nyah, nyah, nice try, sucker!” Okay, I may be making that part up, but I’m not exaggerating how obnoxiously picky the syntax was, or how discouragingly infrequently I got it right.

But when the magic happened, you’d get your message, like the one above, or in the more advanced stages, text shaped into a picture, such as a Christmas tree comprised of symbols (produced on a dot-matrix printer…snicker. You know what to do--look it up!). Soooo not worth the effort, by the way—the only reason I can imagine that I even took the course is that it….sounded like…fun? Or—much more likely--maybe an easy A to pad the old GPA? Who knows what my silly adolescent girl brain was thinking…

Naturally, we didn’t have a computer at home (see previous allusion to “early aversion to technology among elders”) so when I had homework that was required to be typed, I used an actual typewriter…and LOTS of correction tape…and probably sweat and tears mixed in, because MAN was that a royal pain in the patootie! Even when I went off to college, I had to rely on the school’s PCs or later, a roommate who brought her own (huge, heavy) model. I can’t pinpoint the exact date, but I believe it was sometime in the early 2000s (gulp! That sounds weird even to me!) that Husband and I bought our own desktop version—made by Gateway (now owned by Acer—yes, I just Googled it!)

Then, finally…at long last…ye ultra-modern laptop came into existence….and everywhere students…and even technology-embracing adults…rejoiced. Although I didn’t feel I strictly NEEDED one until a couple of years ago, once I finally broke down and joined the Laptop Generation I must say I have greatly enjoyed being able to stay up-to-date while on-the-go. (Not that my phone doesn’t keep me connected, obviously, but I’m not about to go so far as to create entire blogposts…with my thumbs…on a 6-inch screen. I think it’s safe to say--no matter how much I love my handheld communicator--that will NEVER happen…)

And then the day came…as it inevitably must…when the firstborn required his own device for his High School assignments (which incidentally did NOT include becoming proficient in BASIC, thank heavens…). Somewhere along the line—I don’t have any idea how it happened, really—I got saddled with the role of Team WestEnders Tech Support. (Seriously? Reaaalllly not sure I’m qualified in any way for this dubious honor, but maybe I lost a round of “1-2-3 Not It!” that’s escaping my memory?) Therefore it fell to me to research and select a first computer for Derek.

After much diligent online investigation and comparison, I thought he’d do fine—for a starter machine, mind you—with an uncomplicated, inexpensive Chromebook. Since its entire purpose would be to manage schoolwork, this type would presumably do everything he demanded of it (critically important)…for not a whole lot of…ahem….”initial investment” (strongly…preferred…).
As expected, while Derek didn’t necessarily subject it to super-intensive tasks (composing and editing, web searching, completing online homework…with boatloads of ESPN videos in between), he did put in a sizeable number of hours using it. And it worked beautifully…for about a year. Then one day it suddenly had a hissy fit and refused to acknowledge Derek’s login attempts, causing him to have to call Customer Service and be walked through resetting the hard drive. Oh…kay. However, after its stern professional talking-to, it seemed to revert back to good behavior, so we breathed a tentative sigh of relief.

That is, until just a couple of months later (as in “last week”), when Derek opened the lid one day and got a message that the operating system was… compromised…and wanted some sort of nebulous “Recovery Program” implemented. Ay yi yi. As the aforementioned Tech Fairy By Default in the house, I inherited the burden of assisting…to the best of my…limited ability…with the repair. This involved accessing the website shown on the screen (thanks for that much, anyway) and following the detailed, multi-step instructions for conjuring the…I don’t know, let’s call it “mystical healing app” to which they referred.

I dutifully tried to complete the task: download program, check; unpack files, check; verify content, check…but the whole stupid process kept getting stuck at the “writing to flash drive” stage. After running through it twice, with different memory sticks each time, I was struck by a brainstorm—perhaps the family’s 5-year old Dell on which I was working was standing in the way of progress. So I switched to my own newer, faster, more powerful laptop, and voila--SUCCESS!

Buuuut…not so fast. Even with the fresh new fix-it supposedly ready to run, the *&%$# Chromebook rejected our ministrations. “Nope,” it told us in emphatically, “This has been a colossal waste of time and effort, and you’ve failed,  miserably, so you’d better just concede defeat…and contact an actual Computer Authority who might, if you’re lucky, be able to help you. Or not--we don’t really care. So long, losers.” (The last part was definitely implied…or I might just have been super-frustrated and pretty pissed off by that point. Right, that’s the one…)

Siiiiighhhhh. Well, I’m nothing if not totally pig-headed, so I embarked on a Live Chat with Asus right at that very moment (because what else was I going to do—go to bed? Pfffttt…sleep is for the weak! Yep, probably should have stepped back and let it go, but nooooo, that’s just not my style…). I won’t bore you with the details—as I was, during the exchange—but the upshot ended up being “Send it to us, and we’ll happily fix it for you…but since it’s out of warranty, we’ll charge you to do so.”

Gee…thanks? So let me see if I have this straight: you want me to scrounge up my own container and protective materials, drive the package someplace to have it shipped, PAY the postage myself, wait for it to get to California, wait for it to be repaired (for a fee), and wait for it to be sent back (also on MY DIME), with no guarantee about how much longer the thing will even continue to function, given its recent…defiant episodes. Wow…that all sounds…amazing…but hold on for a second while I decide how I feel about your proposal. Okay, I’ve got it: you must be OUT of your EVERLOVING MIND, Tech Support Person!

Instead, I immediately went to the InterWebs to seek divine guidance…or, you know, a local computer repair company that might be capable of beating a recalcitrant Chromebook into submission….or what have you. The results of my search turned up two recurring themes: 1) “We don’t work on Chromebooks,” or 2) “Sure, no problem! That’ll be [insert a figure that amounts to roughly half the original cost of the device].”

Having uncovered that disheartening information, I felt the time had come to change the course of our studies, as it were, to focus on…a replacement. Clearly, NOT another Chromebook—that machine had ONE JOB, which was to last until Derek graduated from High School, and it thoroughly let us down….so it’s officially FIRED. Nope, this time he gets a Windows gadget, with enough juice to serve him until he needs a seriously kick-butt computer for college…at which point this one will become Riley’s homework helper.

As for me? After I post this (from my laptop), I’m going to make some hot chocolate (in the microwave), and take a looooong sabbatical from my secondary IT job around here. For at least the next several computer-or-other-technology glitches, I’m sending the complainant straight to HUSBAND! Aaannnnd, I’m OUT!

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