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Friday, January 19, 2007

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

Computer crash? Nah,
the magic leaked out

I am a self-admitted Luddite. The Luddites were English textile workers who protested the increasing use of machinery to make textiles in the early 1800s - often by attacking the factories and destroying the machines within.

The Luddites did not want to lose their jobs, and technology was their enemy.

Two hundred years later I feel a strong connection to these visionary folks who, in their gut of guts, understood just how evil technology really is.

Technology is evil.

I am sure of this.

You know the tale about Adam and Eve and the apple?

The apple was a metaphor for technology, folks.

And the apple was evil.

Unfortunately for us, the Luddites lost their battle with the machines and here we are today, slaves to so-called smart machines called computers, and ipods, and Wi’s, and Strawberries, and goodness knows what else. Maybe we will invent a time machine soon, and we can send a robot back in time to help the Luddites defeat the machines at the very beginning and prevent this terrible corruption of the earth.

Oh, I would miss some things that machines and the industrial revolution have placed at our fingertips.

Toilette paper for one.

Toothbrushes too.

Until then, toilette paper may be in good supply, but sanity is sure to be a rare resource as long as more and more of us make our living in close contact with a computer or other evil device.

I have been working intimately with computers since 1991 - back when computers were the technological equivalent a dinosaur.

I thought they were the devil then. How naďve I was - those old boxes were just the beginning.

But, I started learning about them. I learned the difference between hard ware and software, hard drives and floppy disks, memory and RAM.

And, I learned to troubleshoot them a little, just out of self-defense.

But, often, after rebooting, re-installing, replacing this and that, and sacrificing a live chicken to the great god Gates, the darn thing still will not work.

At that point, I explain to my less computer savvy comrades the problem in techno speak - I say, “The magic has all leaked out and we need some more.”

This usually awes my colleagues, and I whisk the evil box away to “get some more magic.”

I then send it to the magic place via UPS or Fed Ex (the magic leaked out of every computer I ever sent via the postal service - probably through the great big dent in the computer where they dropped it).

Later it comes back, complete with more magic, and taadaaah, it works.

Now, admittedly, my colleagues do not always buy my explanation. “There is no such thing as magic,” they say.

They want to know if the RAM was fried, or the hard disk seized up, or the power supply died.

They want an explanation that does not involve dead chickens and “Shaazaam!”

So, the other day, I spent three hours on the phone with technical support trying to fix a computer that had a psychotic personality. Its behavior was inexplicable. One day, it was your bestest friend. The next, it was the devil incarnate.

The dead chicken and voodoo doll on the desk must have worked because when I called technical support, I actually got to speak with a polite guy who did not act like he would be executed if he did not get me off his phone in two minutes.

Three hours later he said, “I’ll send you a box and you can send it back.”

“What do you think is wrong with it?” I asked innocently.

“No telling really. Sounds like you need a new logic board, but I could not begin to tell you why?”

“What goes wrong with logic boards,” I asked.

“You know, I quit asking those kind of questions years ago,” the technician said. “It could be anything - including things we just don’t know about.”

“Huh,” I said, trying to sound intelligent.

“Well, a few years back, I found out that if the there is a strong solar flare while the chip that runs your computer is being manufactured, the particles emitted by the flare can actually disrupt the chip. Often the chips will run fine for a while, and then inexplicably stop functioning reliably. All we can do is replace the chip.”

“How do you KNOW?” I asked.

“We don’t, we just replace the chip and see if it works,” the technician said.

I was dumbfounded.

It was as though I had climbed the highest mountain in the Himalayas to ask some robed guru about the secret to a happy life only to hear the lyrics of a Tom T. Hall song - “Son it’s faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money.”

(Not that Tom’s advice is bad mind you, I’ve pursued all four most of my life - well, three since I got married).

But still, after climbing the mountain you expect a bit more.

“Doesn’t somebody examine the bad chip?”

“Nah. It’s not worth the time and they probably couldn’t figure it out anyway. It’s just a bunch of electrons in a certain order. If the order gets out of whack, it doesn’t work.”

“And a solar flare can do all that?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. Solar flares. Solar winds too. The particles punched down to earth by solar winds can damage chips that were just fine. Ever have a computer that worked just find simply stop working?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said starring at the blood and feather spattered machine on my desk.

“I figured the magic all leaked out,” I said.

“That’s about as good an explanation as any,” he said. “No, here’s your return number…”

After I hung up I sat there for a while, contemplating the dead chicken, the dead computer, and the concept of invisible particles from space bombarding my microchips and transforming them from friend to foe.

I knew then that the Luddites had been right. One day we will recognize their greatness and praise their insight.

They KNEW.

Until, then, I’m going to start wrapping my computer in tinfoil.

Maybe my head too.

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