Sunday, November 3, 2013


He storms into my office and I take off my headphones. "What's wrong?"

"The damn thing won't work, that's what! Can you come and look at it?"

Of course I can. I walk the twenty feet from my computer to his, where it sits in the next room. It's a sleek new beauty with a huge flat screen and all the bells and whistles. There is no blue screen of death, so I know whatever's wrong isn't fatal.

"What were you doing?"

He takes that personally, as though I've accused him of something like maybe pouring hot coffee into the CD-ROM drive, or having an online affair with Pamela Anderson. "Nothing! Not a damn thing; it just froze up."

I hit Control/Alt/Delete and the Task Manager pops up. I see that the IE browser is open at least twelve times and resource use is at 100%. "Were you trying to get online?"

"Yeah, but it wouldn't go!"

"So, how many times did you click on the IE browser icon?"

He folds his arms and stares at me. He has no idea what an icon is. I've explained to him a hundred times that a computer is like a small child. You give it a direction and let it do what it's told. If you tell it over and over again - if you bully it - it will give up in frustration. It would have a tantrum if it could, but instead it just stops working.

I shut the machine down through the Task Manager, restart it, flush the DNS cache, clean the registry, update the safety software and run a sweep. It's fine. Everything works perfectly, which always makes him mad. He is, I'm sure, convinced that his computer and I have some sort of illicit relationship going on wherein it stops working on purpose so I can come in and be a show-off. Neener. Neener. Neener.

He, in the meantime, has stomped off in a huff to the next room where he works on some reloading parts he's been restoring. He doesn't care why his computer works, or why it doesn't. He has no interest in learning how to take care of it. He just expects it to do whatever he wants it to do, when he wants it to do it, and at the speed of light.

He is an utterly brilliant man. He knows more about the earth than anyone I've ever known. His knowledge of geography, geology, and ecology is astounding. When he reads something, he enjoys almost total recall -forever, as far as I can tell. Yet he is mystified, stupefied, terrified by computers, and when it comes to them, we are complete opposites.

Computers are a joy to me. I love to build them, tweak them, master them. To him they are scary metal monsters; to me, they are knowledge at my fingertips, entertainment at the touch of a button, and a boon to my profession, allowing me to conduct most of my writing business electronically. They were the future, decades ago, and now their basic technology is part of the past.

"Your machine's fixed," I tell him.

"What was wrong with it?"

"Nothing," I say, smiling, telling him what he knew all along. "Just operator error."

Man, that pisses him off.