Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Coping with Computers

I like to think of myself as computer literate and I like to believe that I am capable when it comes to the computing end of technology. Therefore, I really wish I knew why every now and then, a computer will just stop working or cease to function in the way that it has for months or years before. I’m not saying this happens to me on a daily basis, but it’s got to the point that I’m never too sure what to expect when I press the on switch.

I’ve probably used a computer every day of my life since I was about 8 for one reason or another. I was introduced to them much earlier than that, but from about that age onwards, we had a trusty IBM 286 sat in the office that would whir and clunk along quite happily as I wrote “epic novels” or played Lemmings. To cut it short, I would say I know a fair amount about computers. Whereas I’m not a programmer, despite my half hearted attempts, I can perform basic technical support and probably know more about computers than the average bear.

With years of computing experience behind me, I therefore know that a computer won’t do anything that you haven’t asked it to do. Of course, this isn’t strictly true in reality, but that is by and large only because you sometimes ask your computer to do something without realizing it. Not reading something through and clicking “Next” a little bit too quickly on a random installation of something relatively minor could request something to be put on to your computer that will set in motion a serious problem later on in your computer’s life cycle, but almost nobody can see these things coming. My own computer has recently started doing some interesting things in that it is slowing down, whirring a little too loudly, and just occasionally freezing up completely. It is admittedly a lot better now that I’ve blown an air duster into it and extracted most of the dust from inside the case, but all the same, I’m dreading what will happen next because last time it got sick like this, it actually caught fire before telling me what the problem was.

Computers are unavoidably part of our everyday life. I know that I for one go to work, sit in front of a computer all day and then come home to sit in front of a computer all evening. It’s not quite as tragic as that, but it’s getting there. Therefore, I want to fully understand the ins and outs, the workings and intricacies and the functioning of the guts and innards of computers. I feel that programming is the modern day equivalent of magic, and I know that if magic existed, I would quickly become a keen student of the subject so I’m never too sure why I’ve never really thrown myself into it with the enthusiasm I clearly have. The only answer to coping with computers has to be to absorb as much information about them as you possibly can. I’m not suggesting that everyone should train to be a software engineer, but with just a little more awareness, you could become much more efficient and it might even serve to bring your blood pressure down a couple of notches if you know why your computer is vomiting digitally.

Additional Notes

Whenever I think back to something that happened when I was a child, I always assume it was around the age of 8, 12, or 16. I don’t know why I’ve chosen those ages, but I always use them when someone asks me how long I’ve been doing something that I’ve been doing for a long time. Maybe I just like multiples of 4. Perhaps this means that 24 is a good age for me to be. Maybe in years to come, I can say “yeah, I’ve been running this blog since I was 24” and be accurate about it…

I recently uncovered a disk with some of my early writing projects on. Considering how young I was when I wrote them, I'm actually incredibly proud of them. Maybe I'll post a few at some point, but I'm sure if I did, I'd instantly regret it. Once you're on the internet, it's incredibly difficult to get yourself off again.

Dust doesn’t really do justice to what was inside my computer case. It looked more like fur. I’m sure I saw the graphics card breathing…

My computer honestly did catch fire at one point. Luckily, I only really needed to replace the motherboard, and it was about due for an overhaul anyway. It was also entirely my fault: I’d put the power pack in upside down (it was the only way it would fit) and this meant that the thing couldn’t ventilate properly. I think I was also trying to over-clock the processor, which can’t have helped. The flame looked like a tiny orange LED from the side. It was only when I saw smoke that I knew something was probably wrong.

Just to offer a quick link, the site Lifehacker has all sorts of useful little tips, downloads and suggestions for getting functionality and efficiency out of your computer. If nothing else, it makes for some fascinating reading as you realize just how versatile a computer can be.

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