Clippings: Defeated by computers yet again
I may have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with computers. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact that for seven years I worked for a magazine called PC Week, and before that I covered the information technology industry for the Boston Business Journal. In that work I uncovered information on these electronic beasties and exposed their vulnerabilities; perhaps now computers seek to turn the tables and expose mine.
I think almost everybody eventually feels that their computers are conspiring against them. Computers use an alien logic that is beyond even the most rigorous and exacting Vulcan to drive us to bang our heads against the wall in frustration while performing a task that would seem simple in the analog world — finding an old email, formatting a text document, reading an entire page without having to close a pop-up advertising the latest and greatest spam filter.
The other day I found that the power cord to our Mac at home was mangled and it wouldn’t go into the little slot into which I was trying to force it. Poke, poke, poke — it just wouldn’t go. I went to my wife’s studio, borrowed her needle-nosed pliers and used them to hurriedly work the little metal piece back into a more-or-less round shape that would slide into the slot. I bent, I curved, I smoothed, I bent some more — all to no avail. Rats! Someone in the house just had to listen to Spotify on the computer without a power cord, and pretty quickly the battery was drained, leaving a tired silver brick on the kitchen table.
I tapped a colleague for his expertise in all things Apple to help bring the computer back to life. He happily handed over not one, but two PowerBook electric cords and his wife’s old PowerBook, to boot. Here, if these cords don’t work then try this computer, he said; she doesn’t use it anymore, got a bright new shiny machine. I found a third power cord lying around the office and brought the trio home. I quickly discovered why the one cord was abandoned in the office: The flexible part near the end that plugs into the computer had been flexed so many times that the little wires inside had partially broken so that I had to twist it into just the right position — and hold it there — so that the juice would flow. Holding it in precisely the right position proved to be so challenging — off by a fraction of a millimeter and it wouldn’t work — that I couldn’t manage to power up my old Mac.
The last thing my friend told me was that his cords may not actually work, and he was right about the first one — no matter how I twisted it (both fluidly and in increasingly violent fits and starts), no matter how I cajoled it with impressive feats of body english, no matter how I chastised it with bawdy and eventually obscene language — it just would not send electricity to my computer. (I’m tempted here to compare a recalcitrant electronic device to a recalcitrant child; it doesn’t matter how sweetly or how sternly you tell them to do what you want them to do, they’ll just do what they want regardless — but, honestly, I have more success with a child.)
The final cord did slide right into the slot and the little green light on the nub that showed power was running immediately lit up. Success! And then it blinked off to orange, meaning, I think, that it was now only on standby.I twisted the little sucker and the green light was restored … only to lose its will 10 seconds later and flip back to a resigned shade of orange. I twisted the cord in its slot and the electricity returned. I hit the “on” button and heard a soft, wonderful whirring noise. I picked up the Mac and took it around the table to a more comfortable seat; the light went out and the whirring ceased. I checked the cord (still there!), pushed it in again and gave it an authoritative twist, saw the right light, hit the power button, and welcomed back the whir. Which soon enough was silenced. Figuring that the cord needed to sit completely undisturbed, I tried setting the Mac on the cord while I powered up, but there was always some slight bump or jostle that drove us back to square one.
So I took the Mac and the last cord to the living room and set it on a table in the corner, tucked the cord under as I set the computer down, gingerly twisted the cord end and saw the light go — BING! — green. I held my hands up like a rodeo cowboy who had just finished a calf-roping competition and backed away. The light stayed green. Ha! I decided to leave it awhile to let the battery get a good long drink of electricity. Couple hours later I thought I’d take a look, but saw that the light was still green and I just let it be. Awoke in the middle of the night and went out to get a glass of water — the green glow across the darkened living room transfixed me. Next morning I jumped out of bed, strode out to my trusty old PowerBook with its powerfully glowing green light, popped the power button and heard the same soft whirring noise; but I noticed that it was too soft. The device made a noise, but it never really chugged into high gear and the screen never lit. I was beginning to think it was well and truly useless.
So I brought it here into the office, where it currently is working diligently to keep a considerable mountain of papers from flying off my desk. It’s performing beautifully.
When I measure it all up, I consider myself quite lucky. My career covering information technology was kind of a fluke, actually. Years ago I was hired by the Boston Business Journal to cover health care, but when I showed up the first day the boss switched me to the high-tech beat. I wonder what kind of emotional baggage I’d be carrying around now if I actually had covered health care all those years; would probably be worried more about mysterious ailments in my body than those in my computer.
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