a more fundamental computational paradigm
Tuesday, December 2 2003
For me, business comes and goes, and when it comes, it can be at a moment's notice. This morning a guy called because his computer wouldn't boot and he convinced me to drop everything to come out immediately. It turned out that he was an older man who had evidently been using personal computers since their origin. Like many senior citizens, he was stuck in his ways about a lot of things, but in this case they were all things from early in the PC revolution. He used Compuserve for his internet access because Compuserve was one of the first widely-available modem services. He also relied on a primitive text-based word processor which only ran in the Windows 98 DOS mode. He'd mastered a whole language of keystrokes and mode changes, and had written his own library of macros, all of which allowed him to do amazing things rapidly without once touching his mouse. This was how he updated his website, which appeared to be devoted to either psychological aspects of sexuality or sexual aspects of psychology. His computer was a relatively new Pentium III model, and it's impressive how responsive those machines are when they're not running a graphics-heavy user experience. In a way I envied this guy's mastery of a more fundamental computational paradigm. After I got his computer working again he showed me various things having nothing whatsoever to do with his computer troubles. It's gratifying to know that one can still be a proud computer geek well into old age. Every now and then his wife looked in, seeming both embarrassed and proud at the same time.
He'd customized his workstation so that the metaphors of the desktop spilled right out into real space as real objects. His phone hung from a pole going up the edge of his monitor. Paper documents could be clipped around the screen to be viewed for easy typing or to supplement the contents of ephemeral digital windows. This guy even had a little electric massager built into the chair, a feature he demonstrated without prodding.
Like most creative people, this guy was something of a packrat. He'd been living in his house for 33 years, and his bookshelves buckled under the weight of many a musty tome. The clutter extended right into the computer. It didn't seem to have any adware on it, but it had such a wealth of installed software that I was concerned about its long-term stability. At one time I too was a software packrat, but I've learned through the years that stability is a much better goal than capability. Sure, it might be nice to have an entire bird guide's worth of animated avian cursors accessible when I hit F9 and right-click on the desktop, but is it worth even one extra reboot a year?
In the evening Gretchen and I watched a DVD of the Eminem movie Eight Mile, which I'd first seen on an international flight. My favorite character in the movie is that dopey semi-deformed white guy in Eminem's posse, the hapless dude who shoots himself in the crotch.
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