I’ve been using computers for quite a few years now, but I remain doggedly a layman, with very basic computer skills and a wariness of sticking my fingers into the mechanics of operating systems etc. Everyone I know who understands computers seem to seamlessly switch to what to me is a foreign language when they start talking about the workings of said machines. Sometimes, when I look on Google to try to sort a small problem I have, the solution might as well be written in Swahili for all the sense it makes to me. The assumption these days tends to be that one has a reasonable understanding of how computer systems work, and the terminology used. Whereas I don’t really have a clue how they work – it’s just a magic box to me, that can do some amazing things. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a technophobe – I just find the whole thing about computing rather daunting; I always have. It’s that thing when I first started out (and still to a degree now) where I would daringly attempt to delve a little deeper into the engine bay, and a window would pop up, asking me if I really do want to make this change, because if I do, what was there originally will quite likely be gone forever. And it might not work properly afterwards.
And it was always worded in a way to intimidate, in the way a teacher would say to his pupil “Are you sure you want to do this? Think hard before you reply”, with the underlying threat of something decidedly nasty happening if you go ahead.
I’ve become somewhat more blasé in latter years as I’ve become more familiar, but I still regularly get stopped in my tracks by one of those “You can do it, but you might regret it…” messages.
When I lived in Corfu, I had a young local lad called Manolis who did all my computer stuff. He was a lovely guy, and really knew his stuff when it came to computers (in fact he built this tower unit I’m using at the moment, about eight years ago); but he was the most appallingly unreliable person to deal with. He wouldn’t bother to answer texts, and he wouldn’t answer the phone. I suspect he spent all his free time internet gaming, and gave that priority over everything else. However, when he could be frogmarched to my computer, he always managed to fix whatever the problem was, be it a hardware issue or a software issue. I had a real go at him about his indolence once, and he did improve a bit after that, but not a great deal. Had I not liked and trusted him on a personal level, I would have found someone else.
As an aside, he used to smoke ‘Prince’ cigarettes, a couple of packs a day, but a couple of years ago switched to vaping, and became a bit of an enthusiastic expert on mods and stuff, and got a job in a small, independent vape shop. Amazingly, when I left Corfu, he’d been working there for more than a year – by far the longest he’d lasted in a job to date (I’ve known him since he was 18, and he’s now 32). I think a couple of months was about his usual period of tenure in a job before he was either sacked for his lack of reliability, or left out of boredom.
As of yet, I haven’t found anyone here in Patras to be my on-call computer doctor. I’ve had a few problems, but small ones that with the help of Google I’ve been able to resolve. However, a couple of days ago my monitor turned a monochromatic (almost) blue/green colour, and no amount of fiddling with settings or Googling helped. Well, I’d bought it ten years ago, so I figured I’d had a reasonable run out of it. So I bit the bullet and went out and bought the cheapest reasonable monitor I could find. The old one was an AOC 22″, which had cost me (then) a tad over €200. So I looked for something around the same size that would fit comfortably where the original had been. That, apart from price, was my only criterion really, because I assumed that it would be higher spec than the old one anyway, technology having moved on considerably in the intervening decade. So having had a little shufti at the websites of the big stores in town, we trotted off to our local Media-Markt (everything from washing machines to ovens to cameras to refrigerators to computers – you know the sort of place) and bought a Samsung 24″ for €129, which I thought was quite a reasonable price. It hasn’t got all the bells and whistles, but I don’t need those anyway. I don’t do gaming, so have no need for ultra-fast response times, or ultra-high resolution. It looks as if the extra 2″ (22″ to 24″) is all in the width, with the height staying pretty much the same as the old one. Which meant that my desktop wallpaper no longer extended to the edge of the screen, but left me with a black strip either side. Bugger. After plugging it in, I spent a happy hour or so trying to get the new monitor to behave, during which time it threw its toys out the pram a couple of times and shifted all my desktop icons to the left side of the screen and jumbled them all up, and then decided to be lop-sided so I couldn’t access the scroll bar or anything else on the right, but had a black strip on the left. After much cussing, I managed to sort it out by dint of going into the graphics card settings and moving it across to a central position. I then sorted my icons out so they were where I wanted them.
Finally! Success! Apart from the desktop wallpaper issue, it was all hunky-dory, and everything fitted as it should. The icons had been put back where they belonged and I was feeling quite pleased with myself.
And then the power in our area went off.
Fuck fuck fucketty fuck. And that, you see is the other problem I have to address, only I’m a bit skint at the moment. My UPS (battery back-up) died a couple of months ago, and there always seems to be something more in need of my limited funds than a UPS. So of course, the computer went off with the power. Without my having saved many of the settings.
Back to square one.
I couldn’t be bothered to fartarse around with it last night, so today when I got back from the workshop, I had to do it all again. This time, it was pretty quick, though, as I knew what I had to do. And to address the desktop wallpaper issue (I was using a photo I took while in in Laos last year), I cropped the top and bottom of the photo to change its ratio, and that sorted out the black bands at the side. Whew! Need your computer sorting out? I’m your man! Bloody expert, me!
But my computer, cutting-edge though it was when Manolis first put it together, is now old and cranky, and definitely creaking a bit when asked to undertake any tasks involving newer software that assumes, of course, that one is working on a brand new, state-of-the-art, superfast computer. So I’m going to have to start saving my pennies for a replacement, because I know that one day, probably not too far away, my computer is just going to say “That’s it. I’m done.” and expire on me. I had thought to just replace a couple of bits, like the motherboard and chipset, but an acquaintance from the other side of the globe who knows much more about these things than I do told me that if I did that, I’d have to re-install everything, including the OS, which kinda makes my eyes glaze over. Yes, I know I’d have to do that with a completely new computer too, but that somehow seems less complicated and more justifiable. Anyhow, the bottom line is what I am able to afford, with so many things clamouring for my financial attention, so what I decide on eventually will be based entirely on cost.
All of which reminds me of my first encounter with computers. I was still at school – around 1964 maybe – and there was great excitement in the physics department because a local firm were upgrading their computer system, and had offered our school the old one as a gift. So in came the builders who demolished a wall between two classrooms so this wonder of modern technology could be accommodated.
It was huge, and was almost too big for the extended classroom. Banks of tall green metal cabinets, full of lights (I’m not sure, but I think they were valves) and chattering relays, and a console that was the size of a very large desk. As far as I know, this behemoth could do less than the pocket scientific calculator I bought twenty years ago, but at the time it seemed pretty wondrous. Not that I ever got to play with it – I was persona non grata as far as the physics masters were concerned due to my tendency to make up my own experiments during lessons, most of which were designed to have some sort of explosive or otherwise destructive result. But it’s interesting to look back at that machine and see how far we have advanced in that relatively short time. That thing needed a floor space of about 60 m² and probably weighed at least a couple of tons, whereas the smartphone I use today, small and light enough to put in my pocket, pisses all over it in terms of computing power. Pretty amazing stuff.
Anyway, I’m now monitored up and it’s working fine. I actually wrote most of this post a couple of days ago, so I’ve had a bit of time to assess the new screen. It’s far superior to the old one, in that it’s clearer, cleaner, and the colours are much better – crisper. The old screen seemed to have a slightly sepia tint to it, which dulled the colours. In all, I feel it was €129 well spent. I’d been mooting a new monitor for some time now, but with having one that worked, albeit with limitations, I couldn’t justify spending the money. So in a way, the old one giving up the ghost did me a favour.