s Confessions of a Computer Addict

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Further Adventures of a Rogue Journalist

by Nowick Gray, Editor of Alternative Culture Magazine

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Confessions of a computer addict (1996)

Y'see, it's like this. I can't help myself: I go to write a simple article or essay, even a little ditty like this one: twenty minutes, on the topic at hand: "Confessions of a computer addict." And what do I spend twenty minutes doing before writing even the first word? --Trying to get that new macro I made yesterday to work in the template for this document; the one that inserts a hyperlink automatically from the table of contents. I realize I could have also used the built-in macro for tables of contents, but what the hell, I like the challenge of figuring out how to do it in every way possible.

Know the feeling?

It's not enough to have one internet service provider: I need two or three at a time. Four Web browsers now; a half-dozen electronic publishing programs that I haven't even started to learn beyond my basic word processor, which I decided on only after months of critical comparison with its chief competitor (Word Imperfect, as my daughter sagely called it)

Line noise: my prime nemesis. Oh, well, at least I have power: I did that my way, too, installing a twelve-volt charging system off my waterline. That way when the snow storm knocks down half the trees in the forest and the power for the valley, I still chug along merrily; but the phone lines are another matter. This is ancient wiring and switching equipment, and that loud hum has returned. Alas, I can't get the latest roster changes for my favorite baseball team over the Net. I know, it's January after all, but I mean...

This morning I got sidetracked revising budget figures, learning new wrinkles about spreadsheet charts. I spent more than I thought last year, like half my total expenses on computer, phone bills, software....But it's so much fun. I was at it from six a.m. till midnight yesterday, with time out for meals, a bath, a quick ski for exercise, and a brief cuddle with my partner in bed. I had nothing to talk about at suppertime, while she chattered on about the downed phone lines, the unsanded road, the loading of manure. Tomorrow we're going skiing all day. I don't know if I can stand much more of that kind of distraction...

another day...

another week, actually, wasted--oops--invested, on computerizing. It all started with great hopes for completing (that is, starting and completing) a webpage, my first webpage, since I downloaded the easy do-it-yourself HPWiZ from CompuServe, for the Ourworld section...but then I got, well, you know, distracted. See, for some reason (I wasn't getting sound from the CD-ROM programs, Encarta and Dangerous Creatures (which I didn't use much anyway but my daughter did and, you see how it goes...) So I tried the usual readme file methods to no avail (of course) and then took it into my own hands to go the route of reinstalling them, which didn't work; so then I thought I'd try reinstalling the sound card driver software from the floppy that came with my machine. Unfortunately this stuff wasn't what my Win95 system was running, in fact it overwrote the proper CD-ROM audio driver (again: see, I'd done this already and botched my system utterly and had to reinstall Windows95 after deleting the sound card devices entirely, or something, in the fall, but couldn't remember exactly what to do this time). Somehow I got away with it; and in the process of trying to reconstruct my system.ini file, discovered the missing lines controlling the multimedia sound on the CD--but now the music audio didn't seem to work. In due course I discovered that I had a newly installed 16-bit CD-audio player from the floppy, which worked, though it didn't play automatically as the Windows 95 audio player had. Small inconvenience: but (of course) intolerable. I'd already spent several hours the previous week on these problems and wasn't about to quit now.

I finally got through on a direct call (miraculous) to the computer company technical support, and the guy advised me (or rather I advised him, after he tried to tell me it was likely a hardware problem) that my audio driver could only be fixed by yet another reinstall of Windows 95.

Sigh. So this is how I spent my Monday morning. It entailed another several hours, because contrary to the technician's assurances, I had to go through all the installed components again, since now I seemed to be missing some, at random: MS Paint, Wordpad, Hyperterminal, Microsoft Network's Internet support. Oh, great. The previous week I'd lost my Compuserve access by "upgrading" their interface. Now at least I had that back, thanks to a call to their help line. At least, I hoped I still had it. Without my network access I'd be...nobody: just some rural bohunk lost in the sticks: out of it.

Where was I? Oh yes. Do you really want to hear more? I'll make it short: I finally reinstalled the missing components. Next day I was up around five, downloading and browsing more from CompuServe and Internet, and then spending the entire day going through my whole collection of downloads from the past several months: a hundred items backlogged, programs and forum threads, advices and offers, net leads and cautions, advices and admonitions. After all this I felt so intimidated about going ahead with my first web page (except that some advice said clearly, "Just jump in, go for it"), that I quit, exhausted after another full day.

But I couldn't wait long. I was awake at 2 a.m., ready to go surfing again: prime time for me because I have to pay long distance charges. By the main morning time, I was ready for the tutorials for a new baseball program, and so put in a solid three or four hours on these before taking the afternoon off to make tofu, bread, chocolate cake and tapioca: my main domestic responsibilities for the week. I was on cooking, and these would go a long way in the preparation of quick meals. The next day I buckled down to some real cleanup, because my hard drive, all 540 megabytes which looked so ample when installed a mere four months ago, was full. Many zipfiles and visits to the recycling bin later, I had a cool 100 megabytes back ready to fill; and proceeded to start filling them with my old floppy data disks for an earlier version of the baseball program.

Today, alas, I had to spend with my daughter: homeschooling and going for a long walk in the sunshiney spring snow. On the way home, of course, we stopped by a neighbors so I could grab a quick copy of the old Windows 3.1 file, Calendar.exe, which one of my new downloads required for one of its accessory functions; and while lasagne noodles boiled I installed it and discovered next that I needed (yes, needed, by now you know the meaning of that word) also a file called Cardfile.exe, so I guess when I go back as I told Rosemary I would to try to scope out her printing problem (no installed fonts...?) I'll get that one too. And now, a good lasagne dinner under my belt, I couldn't wait to come crying (or is it crowing) to you about my obsession, my addiction, my love and my life, more again to do now to investigate find-functions and drivespace and performance tips...

20 May 1996

So today was another one of those days...

How did it start? I can hardly remember, through the fog of shutdowns and macros and workarounds and error messages and... I know I did accomplish something today...oh yes, it was the selected list of software I've used. It came to around forty items, and counting. That's the short list, the final cut. It's mostly fine-tuning, at this point. You know, like spending three hours on macros that might shave milliseconds off of occasionally used multiple commands. Just for the fun of it.

It's the challenge, right? Like turning to an external macro recorder to get around the limitation in Word macros, because they don't record actions in dialog boxes. Unfortunately it took me an hour or so to twig on that particular lesson (I'd already learned it months ago, as I recalled later, but inconveniently forgot in the meantime). But I and my little helper Recorder.exe from Windows 3.1 solved the puzzle finally. The other bugaboo in the macro dept. (besides a mysterious tendency for the new but useless toolbar icons to resist all efforts at deletion) was the apparent inability of the Word find command (though I'd designed a particularly elegant random number generator-and-finder macro around it) to recognize list numbers. Oh well. Put that into the support /complaint file.

Over supper while trying to explain it all to my gamely listening spouse, we lapsed into a discussion about the relative implications of the terms "limitation" and "shortcoming" as applied to one's software (and one's own skills in dealing with it). I felt fine about my experience, figuring out some of the challenges and overcoming some if not all of them: the ones I couldn't get around, I blamed on the "shortcomings" of the software. My own shortcoming is reflected more in the fact that I never did get around to those novel revisions I'd meant to do today. Far more interesting it was, to track down all the Net locations and prices of the utilities I've installed recently; to juggle with the table settings on my homepage, which maddeningly resisted my efforts to push them into logical shapes; to tackle at long last (but with unsatisfying results) that elusive "transparent .gif" dilemma; and through it all to try to determine the causes of the conflicts between SmartBoard and Word, Recorder and WordPad, RegClean and VB40032.dll, and CleanSweep's Install Monitor and Windows 95 Explorer--any of which was enough to crash my system--temporarily--and force me outdoors for a breath of air or to the sink for a glass of water.

Sigh. Another day gone. A few steps of understanding taken further into the world of computer logic. Is there such a thing, in reality, or is it, like Plato's ideal forms, a figment of our shadowy philosophy about how things should be, once fully exposed to the light of day? In the meantime, more clouds, more rain. And a subtle sunset showing through.

© Nowick Gray


journal online


Many of the essays appearing here are collected in convenient e-book format (pdf). Coming Home: Nature and Me and Other Essays is available now for free download.

Right-click to save to your computer: nature.pdf

Rule Reversals (January 2003)

Telling it Like it Is (January 2003)

White Rabbit (February 2002)

On Novelty (February 2002)

An Open Letter to the Democratic Party after September 11 (December 2001)

Psychoactive Sacramentals: Essays on Entheogens and Religion (book review) (November 2001)

Forest Storm (September 2001)

Feminism, Poetic Myth, and Alternative Culture - An Homage to The White Goddess (July 2000)

Quests for Identity and Other Addictions (May 2000)

Wheel of Fortune (April 2000)

Great Writers and Street Poets (February 2000)

Upgrade for Speed Because Time is Running Out? (August 1999)

Retail Therapy: Decision Making in the Computer Age (August 1999)

Retail Therapy2: Random Brief Downtimes (August 1999)

Farouche Speaks (April 1999)

NetGlut: Notes from a cleansing fast (February 1998)

To Unix and Back Alive (January 1997)

Webness (November 1996)

Surfing Again (November 1996)

Bananas in British Columbia (May 1996)

Confessions of a computer addict (May 1996)

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