27
Feb
10

The Narcoleptic Computer User

My friends, family, and co-workers have often heard me say, “I hate computers“. This attitude, which is merely one aspect of a love-hate relationship of very long standing. The earliest machines, such as my Cromemco boat anchor, were understood to be suitable exclusively for Geeks.

And what (as if you are from an undiscovered culture in New Guinea) is a Geek? A geek is someone who was not merely accepting of the PDP-8 switch panel as a means of entering programs – directly into machine memory in binary form. A Geek is enthralled at having such intimate relations with a technological (albeit sub-sentient) lifeform.

This constitutes my primary defense against claims that I am a Geek. I am, rather frequently, a Geek poseur, a charlatan, a don’t-wanna-be. I am not qualified for Certified Placement in the ranks of Geekhood.

The most profound aspect of my relationship to technology is exemplified by my early experiences with electronics as a hobby. Dad had encouraged my brother, Jack, to try Amateur Radio. Being a ‘Ham‘ fit Jack perfectly. He could exercise his penchant for blather and self-promotion, while engaging his active mind in the technical matters which Hams confronted (and embraced!) in the good-ol’ days.

Dad found radio technology to be most interesting also. He was a person with an extremely wide range of interests. This is exemplified in me. You have noticed, haven’t you? So, of course, I became fascinated by, not just radio gear, but by electronics in general.

Dad would give me drabs of money to supplement the surplus components that Jack acquired from such sources as MARS [Military Affiliate Radio System]. Scrounging was a much more productive means of acquiring components than was Dad’s financing. As a result, I developed a minimalist attitude. In subsequent years, working professionally as an Electronics Engineer, I had a reputation for being able to improve a circuit by removing components. Less, dear friends, can truly be more.

When I encountered a PDP-8, or the estimable and ancient Cromemco Z-80 DOS personal computer, or a digital bathroom scale, or a digital automobile dashboard, I rebelled against technology that was either unnecessarily complicated or insufficiently adapted to use by (non-Geek) Humans.

Even the deeply sophisticated and massively researched personal computer is fool’s technology. We should only approach these creations of a Subservient Master as we would approach a prisoner in Ad-Seg: with full ballistic- and penetrating-weapon armor, and heavy clubs, with a massive excess of force.

The day came again, recently, when the Machine in the Office sensed a lull in my attention. It struck me at my most vulnerable moment.

I have a combination of traits which can conspire to deprive me of sleep. One is a familial tendency toward anxiety. It isn’t always simple worry. Anxiety can also manifest as an insistence on thinking things through completely. That may take time, even at the expense of sleep. Work and play can offer an appropriate distraction, so I may work and play when sleep is needed. There may be no other choice.

Another trait is a mild sleep disturbance. It is a confusion between sleep and waking. A heavy sleep that is interrupted by something which demands attention can immediately transform into utter, dog-tired wakefullness.

That day which came, came after an episode of nearly zero sleep in 36 hours.

The Machine in the Office, the ‘personal’ computer, developed a major hiccup. I was beyond competence. I screwed it up beyond any intentions of the Machine in the Office. I precipitously and irrevocably performed a complete re-install.

Subsequently, after sleep and recuperation, I realized the extent of lost data and the fact that its loss was avoidable. Avoidable, that is, by a rested and halfway-competent person. The Machine had won.

If you need help with that Machine in Your Office, I could probably help you. All you have to do is make sure that I have slept when you call. Just don’t call me a Geek.

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All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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