28 August 1999
Retail Therapy: Decision Making in the Computer Age
Part 2: Random Brief Downtimes
In which it is understood that with a new keyboard and computer it all feels different, smooth and fast and this is what it was all about--though not really because this was also supposed to be about networking, and for that I still have my share of problems stemming from too many phone line switching relays to and from my rural location but nevertheless I have reached the crux of the home-computer solution, which is to eliminate random brief downtimes. By this I mean the thirty seconds wait for this program to load, the four seconds wait for that program to search and resize its windows, the brief lockup while the graphic frame moves. These downtimes happen when the computer puts me on hold, and like the grocery store or bank lineup, the traffic jam, the halt for road construction delays, the sit in the dentists waiting room, the wait for the others to show up or the performance to start, there is nothing to do then but breathe.
Its worse at the computer, though, because not only am I temporarily disengaged, I am held with my attention fixed upon the idle screen. I cant gaze at the bank calendar or the rack of tabloids, the kids in the back window of the car in front or the flagpersons rumpled vermilion socks. I can reach for a magazine, perhaps, or play a few scales on my flute, but other than that, theres not much to do but gaze out at the trees or practice breathing.
Quick fixes are like gambling: they promise reward with little or no effort; and they rarely succeed. Still, the impulse is to go there unthinkingly, without prior scheduling, planning, setting aside the amount of timeor moneythat I am prepared to lose. The other day I was set to embark on a second day of troubleshooting for my dial-up connection, having spent one full afternoon on it without result. This was hot on the heels of a mornings success configuring my monitor, after a days work on that problem. Burnt out and discouraged, I was nevertheless committed to see this one through.
There was no other choice, really, as I was already in to the tune of $1922. I was ready to call for help. But I didnt do what I intend here to suggest, and what I would counsel anyone else to do before embarking on yet another day at the black hole we call our desktop computer.
I would say what my gambling parents told me to do: take only what you can afford to lose. In my case I was committed and resigned to the task, and that was half the battle. I had lost my naïveté and expectations about Windows 98: I was baptized by crash. And so I had already surrendered, at the start of this second lost day, to the process of discovery, to humility before the fickle god Microsoft. I was ready to call for help.
In this case the runaround was swift and I was up against not an endless loss of time, but the prospect of paying through the nose for any further help. My retailer told me to expect $235 per hour, but that plenty of free help was available online. Online I found there was no free help for me because my software was preinstalled, but the actual pay-per-incident fee of $35 seemed reasonable, for a guaranteed solution. This was a good gamble, because the outlay was inherently limited. I could afford to sink this much more into my investment, if it could save me more days of, in all likelihood, futile work.
Of course the fix (finding and restoring workable registry settings) didnt last for long, because when testing my dialup with every new software installation, I neglected to restart the computer every time. So when, hours later, I felt it prudent to do so, I was up against the same problem with not much clue as to which program had tripped me up. I had to spend yet another full afternoon backtracking on my reinstalls, starting over with the fix solution, calling back when I realized my workable backups were vanishing fast. Other problems came into play. Was it the software I was installing, the direct cable connection settings Id made, or a more mysterious conflict with my video display drivers hardware acceleration setting? Possibly any or all, or something else altogether. Anyway I got it all working again, still with fingers crossed on some of the problematic software. Where does that leave me?
Holding my breath as I type merrily away on my humming new system, on hold no longerat least in the outer sense of what is visibly operating--yet on a deeper level, reserved in my confidence about this part of life. Like relationship, like a gambling system, like anything we know and experience in this transitory existence, all is subject to decay and dissolution, breakdown and entropy. Its the nature of the things: and thats okay, once we surrender to it. In the meantime, we can go ahead, take a deep breath from time to time, and upgrade for all were worth. When it works, when we score a big win or a perfect love or a slick new OS, we can celebrate, and offer our prayer of thanks. Then we can take off into the wilderness, to enjoy the last brilliant weekend of a fleeting mountain summer.
© Nowick Gray
Retail Therapy I: Palm vs. Psion - Of Celerons and Synchronicities