Analects of confusion

Today’s household hint will be on computers. Nearly half my life (almost thirty years) I have been in possession of, or been possessed by one. It began with Apples in the old Idler office; it is true that I approved the purchase. By 1987 they were a “necessity” to get a magazine out. Later they were a necessity to keep any job in journalism. Let us fly over details, in a great leap forward to 4th December 1999, the day my elder Wee Tiny Boy (then age thirteen) finally persuaded me that I must have email, too, and access to something I had heard about, which was called the Internet.

He’d already been “on” them for years. People needing to reach me would send an email to my little boy, he’d print it out and walk it down to my office. Often the delivery was made with a droll remark, such as, “You know, dad, the problem with your generation is that you can’t spell.” (He then explained how “spellcheck” was so irritating that one learnt to spell correctly in order to avoid having misspelt words flagged.)

My first experience of that was in a newspaper column I filed, which mentioned the sayings of a certain ancient Chinese philosopher. In print, it came back to me as, The Analects of Confusion. The subeditor in Ottawa told me he had tried to override that twice, but ultimately the machine won.

In Germany, I read (on the Internet) that a factory robot has murdered a human co-worker. Mistook him for a machine part, or whatever. Ah, progress.

I forgot: even before those Idler Apples, I had brief experience of an IBM “PC.” It was very ugly, and the type on the screen was an eerily backlit putrid green, on an interstellar black ground. I hated it quite a lot. The Apples were at least prettier, but harder for me to comprehend. I wrote a short note on this in the Idler. It was a “gender issue,” or so it seemed to me. The IBM was essentially masculine. It asked you questions to which the answer could be either “yes” or “no.” By contrast, the Apple asked more feminine questions, then responded when you tried to answer with the cybernetic equivalent of “getting warmer” or “getting colder.” You had to have a “relationship” with it.

The thing was “networked,” as well, to a couple of other harmless-looking Apples in the office, that could conspire against you. Fortunately we had a hip young gentleman to deal with them. Eric, as he called himself, came from Montreal, where he was used to trouble, and faced every indication of the world’s impending collapse with an almost obnoxious serenity. He rigged the system to prevent common “user errors.” For instance, if you tried to delete a document, a little rectangle would appear saying, “Do you really want to do that?” You hit “yes,” and got another one: “Do you really, really want to do that?” You hit “yes,” and the final one said: “Well, you can’t.”

I remembered him this week when my laptop informed me that I had had something called an “Adobe crash.” My first thought was, “Where’s Eric?” But then I realized I hadn’t seen him for more than twenty years. No doubt he is now wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.

On further thought, I realized that something wonderful had happened, perhaps the answer to my prayers. Two computer programs had been warring in the innards of my laptop; the bigger had just won. It was now preventing the smaller from functioning. And the smaller program was necessary to play any kind of moving picture. None of those provoking ads would now display, with their soundtracks set to max volume; indeed, nothing that moved on my screen would work, including any kind of video, wanted or not. But nothing that held still was affected. There was a slight downside, in that I could no longer play the latest Chant performances on YouTube, or call up last night’s Bill O’Reilly rant on Fox News. But hey, I have plenty of CDs; and I always knew what Bill was going to say.

Not sure how to advise gentle reader on reproducing this little miracle in his own machine. I think you just pray, informally: “God, these pop-up advertisements are driving me nuts.” And then one of His computer angels comes and fixes it for you. But as I’ve mentioned before in this space, we cannot expect miracles to be reproducible.

I shall take this up with my computer-wizard son when next he calls. I think there’s a million to be made here, marketing a specialized program that nixes anything that moves.