Saturday, April 4, 2009

My PC Crashed (Again)

An ode to my PC:

I hate my PC. I've had many computers over the years, and often they have found a soft place in my heart. My Apple ][+, bought used, served admirably for years. My XT lasted longer than I could have ever imagined. The super well-run BSD Unix boxes at the University of Waterloo were always a delight to use. Even my VMS workstation which could be a bit cranky, survived for five years without ever being turned off. Most of my Unix workstations went six months or more without issues or reboots. Yes, I've been lucky to be able to work with computers that actually worked for me.

I hate my PC because it's undependable. It's the hardware: cheap crappy stuff that keeps failing. I'd buy better, but I can't tell anymore what is good and what is crap. Possibly because it is all crap now. It's the software: millions upon millions of lines of slipshod, hacked junk so full of potholes that it would take several million lifetimes to patch them. The Microsoft stuff is bad, but the overall industry stuff is worse. It's an endless sea of spaghetti barfed up late in the night. It's the support: anything goes wrong, well too bad, we told you in the disclaimer that we weren't responsible. We'd like to help, we really would, but who really understands these things anymore? It's the product as a whole: the PC and all of those things that go along with it. The hardware, the software, the market, the add-ons, the environment, the culture and all of the services. The whole kitten-kaboodle. PCs started life as the hacker machine, allowing the hacker culture to build up high and mighty around them. You can do anything with these machines, except make them work consistently.

I hate my PC because they over-charged me. Research is expensive, but despite that, computers have spawned a huge number of fortunes. Fabulously rich people. All those millionaires and billionaires strutting around, raving about their successes, writing books and giving advice. That would be OK if my machine actually worked. But given that it doesn't, a fair price would have been a fraction of what I paid, or what they tricked me out of. It isn't for love or for knowledge that they work at building these machines, but for the rights to a big mansion, a fancy car and a huge boat. And to throw it all back in my face, many of them now spend their days giving away all of the 'extra' dough they collected to charities and needy causes, instead of actually making the machines work properly. We didn't get what we paid for.

I hate my PC because it is the gateway to the Internet. That once hallowed sea of massive information is now nothing more than a giant propaganda machine. A medium for cheap hustlers to make a buck. Proof that too much of humanity is irredeemable. Gone are the days of information and knowledge, replaced by cheap tabloids, marketing and gossip. Just another crowd of people hoping to cash in. It has become another form of TV, bent on keeping the masses mollified. A medium to be mastered, it's simply a question of which groups are winning in that endless race to waste your time and take your money.

I hate my PC because it is plagued with infestations. As if bugs weren't bad enough, it now has viruses, trojans and worms galore. Written by misguided kids to generate profits for organized crime or organized business, both eerily similar. One could understand the original phone phreaks and their inherent curiosity to explore technology, but it was bounded by a strong no destruction ethic. These days in the free-for-all online world, the motivations have changed. It is just mean and ugly now; for glory or for profit, it doesn't matter who gets hurt. Whatever good there might have been vanished long ago.

I hate my PC because I fear that some big corporate stooge is going to install one to maintain my back account. The big, super-expensive, slow, honking great mainframe computers that we've relieved on for decades are damn near impossible to change, yet that's probably the reason why I don't have to go rushing into my bank branch each month complaining about missing money from my account. With constant moves to take the retrograde PC operating system -- cobbled together from a long, nasty history of flat foods, micromanagement and insane deadlines -- and jam it down the collective corporate throats, there is an increasing chance that we'll become more dependent, not just on those old run-of-the-mill crappy mainframe computers, but on these newer bottom-of-the-barrel super-crappy PC ones. A bad day, waiting to get worse, for sure. I don't want this crap on my desk, so I certainly don't want it in my bank's fancy air-conditioned machine room, nor anywhere near anything that is even remotely vital to our lives. The dump is my preferred location.

I hate my PC because it is a metaphor for what has happened to our society. We have become overly complex; well over the top. And yet underneath, we are increasingly dysfunctional. We're on a steady downward tumble, selling our soles for cheap disposable bobbles. Filling our basements with dusty junk. Foolish victims of a society run amok, no longer grounded in the things that matter. We create stupid rules, and then pile them up on top of each other, so high that they collapse of their own weight. What decades ago started as a movement to fix the world, fell down to simply changing it, gradually for the worse. Now everybody wants to leave their mark, even if it is just graffiti. And we have no way of unfixing it after they're done. The status quo might not have been great, but our present technologically sophisticated, flashy, but all around fragile existence, like our cheap crappy bloated PCs is constantly just one wetware virus away from us having to hit the reboot button and lose all of our data. Again.

I hate my PC because of what it is not. It is not the tool to save the world, nor is it the answer to mankind's problems. It doesn't automate stuff or make our lives better. Instead it disconnects us from what really matters and lures us with a shiny yet false promise. Over the years, each machine I used has become more sophisticated and faster following Moore's law, yet the later ones, one after another have followed an anti-law as well. Each one gets crappier than the last; each one gets more undependable. Each one is more vulnerable to spammers, virus writers and marketers. Each one descends a little farther down that slope, giving me only the barest sense of stupid improvement by flashing some more pretty spinning 3D graphics on my screen. Each one strengthens my disappointment. Each machine, now slowly eats away at our collective sanity.

Most of all, I hate my PC because it displaces what should have been there on my desk. A machine that works, one that I trust and one that improves my world. Now, instead of making my life easier, I find some new crisis there every three to six months, be it another dead piece of hardware, a bad software bug or a full-blown virus/trojan attack. And when it's not a major crisis, it is still continually wining about some useless upgrade, or that the net is unavailable again, or it is just being dog slow. I cannot trust this thing, it simply disappoints me whenever it gets the chance. Instead of helping me make sense of the world around me, I find a sea of messy disconnected data, that is hopelessly inconsistent, and incoherent. Showing me that while there might actually be answers, today is not my day. Instead of giving me more luxury time to explore the world around me, it chains me to my chair and forces me to endless install, restall, destall or just stall my life trying to find some temporary combination of crappy software, bad utilities and irritating sites that will momentarily make some minor life improvement, before, once again sending me back into the breach to fix yet another stupid but entirely avoidable and moronic issue with these cursed machines. All I want is a real computer, one that works. One that I can trust.

I hate my PC.