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Weekend Assignment: Tech Savvy

July 6, 2010

So, here’s this week’s Weekend Assignment:

When you bring home some new piece of technology, do you usually get it up and running with pleasant anticipation and calm confidence, or is there more likely to be much swearing, wailing and gnashing of teeth? What’s the most trouble you’ve had with a new computer, tv, phone or related tech gadget?

Extra Credit: Who do you call in to help, if you get stuck?

Yes, it’s typically with pleasant anticipation and calm confidence.  There is only rarely swearing and gnashing of teeth.  Me and technology, we usually have a thing.  An understanding.  An agreement, if you will.  It does what I ask of it, and I don’t blast it to kingdom come.  It’s been a pretty fruitful working relationship.

In all honesty, though, I love technology, and gadgets.  I don’t make enough money to afford nearly half the technogadgets I’d own if I could.  (Dear Wife and I just got a Wii only this year…)  So, in practical terms, I’m a veritable luddite: no smartphone (Have you seen the data plans on those things!  They’ll eat your wallet!), mostly last-gen game machines, only just bought an HD TV, a Dell laptop with barely enough RAM to run Windows Vista.  It’s like I live in the dark ages, or something, while the rest of the world marches on without me.  And to think, in my undergrad, I Minored in Computer Science.  (I used to write code for fun!  But it’s like a Foreign Language; I used to speak French, too, though no more.  Now, I remember most of the “grammar”, but I’ve forgotten nearly all of the “words”.)

So, the most trouble I ever have with a computer or other gadget correlates strongly with the size of my wallet.  Being unable to afford the beefy scream machines that I crave, I settle instead for what I can afford.  And that means they never have enough power to do what I want with them.  For instance, I started creating a map of my fantasy world (the one for the belated novel that I’ve been on-again, off-again writing since forever [NOTE: you may need to register on the linked forum to see the linked image]) using a program called the GIMP (a free and pretty powerful graphics manipulator)… but I reached a point where my computer just couldn’t handle it and I had to stop…  It would take me an  hour to render even a minor change to the map, and I didn’t have the patience (or time).

As for where I go when things don’t go right?  Well, I take a certain satisfaction from “doing it myself”, so more often than not if I can’t figure it out by tinkering with it directly, I’ll turn to the internet for answers.  I liken using the internet to having the cheat code for a favorite video game.  (And I don’t consider it cheating when you’re playing a single-player game.)  Barring success by asking the internet, I may turn to the professionals, and consider paying them money.  I’ve only ever had to do this a couple of times in my life.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2010 9:16 am

    I like to ‘look it up’ on the web too. And, very occasionally, I will even contact some help person by email. The good thing about email exchanges when you’re being an idiot about something is that you can’t tell from the tone of the person’s voice or the look on their face, that they think you’re an idiot. For all you know, they think you’re a pleasant and clever individual who’s trying their best but got stumped by some faulty feature of the product.

    • July 6, 2010 9:24 am

      Yeah, I’ve used the online help format, too, a couple times.

      And I’m sure they think we’re clever people who just got stumped by some faulty feature of their product 😉

  2. July 6, 2010 12:41 pm

    Computer science major here, so I have a complicated relationship with my hardware. Most of it is really old (10 year old computer – 3 year old laptop), but customized / upgraded / processes stripped to the bare minimum, so it can do what I need it to do. I like the challenge of getting things setup and running, but it also gives me a headache at times. Crashed computers are the ultimate frustration -> especially if my writing’s on there and I haven’t backed it up recently.

    When something goes wrong, I find that I know pretty much the same amount as tech support, which is supremely frustrating. Once I called tech support at work and someone came to my desk. We spent the next 15 minutes googling for a solution.

    And guess who people call when they have a computer problem? LOL

    • July 6, 2010 12:52 pm

      I feel for you. I was only a minor in CS… and yet usually I know more about computers in general than most of the IT guys at work most days. For a while, in my first job out of college, our office didn’t have an IT support person on-site. And so, although my job was as a Business Analyst (you know, doing reports and analysis and financial business-y stuff) I was also the unofficial on-site tech support for when things got really fubarred. I was personally responsible for inocculating all our machines against the SASSER worm back when that was making its awful rounds. (I did that by knowing where to look for the fix, mostly.)

      And yet, here we are – me and technology at a virtual impasse… in which I occassionally upgrade to last year’s tech when I can afford to. Other things are something of a higher priority – and the time and money needed to stay abreast of the latest tech developments are both better spent elsewhere right now…

      …like with and on family… or on writing, etc.

      • July 6, 2010 3:45 pm

        Oh man, that sounds like a headache of a job!

        Personally I find the latest and greatest isn’t necessarily so. The first newest thing probably won’t work as version 2.0. There are advantages to being behind the curve. And yes, speaking of priorities, it’s not the most important thing in the world.

      • July 6, 2010 3:53 pm

        Indeed, that’s true. We study that in B-School. Early-adopters subsidize the advancement of technology by paying more for a less-capable product. By the time it’s mainstream, the kinks have been worked out, the thing works like gold, and MASS-PRODUCTION-BABY means it’s finally cheap, too.

        By the time I get a smart-phone, it’ll be because it’s affordable.

        And no, the job didn’t suck that much – actually it was pretty good. It felt good to be the guy who’s in control of the situation and who knows what’s going on. And I did a lot of good work, in general, in that job.

        Ahh, nostalgia.

    • July 6, 2010 9:24 pm

      And you also need to take a course in Indian English for tech support calls. Erg. lol

      • July 7, 2010 8:42 am

        That’s a problem that’s hurt a lot of the companies who’ve offshored their tech support, vis-a-vis their customer service ratings, at least. Although as I understand it, a lot of effort has been made to help people answering US customer support lines to modify their accents to something more comprehensible to their customers… Though I can’t vouch for this since I very rarely call tech support, if possible…

  3. July 6, 2010 9:21 pm

    I’m a little behind too. I still don’t have an HD, and don’t plan on getting one. It’s too ‘spensive. And since I don’t watch TV, and movies rarely, it would be sorta a waste of $. (Let’s hear it for my 13″ screen and YouTube!)

    But I’m fairly well-versed in Computerish.

    I’ve heard of the Gimp, but for storysketching, I usually use a pencil and paper…old fashioned, I know…maybe you’ve heard of it? lol 😀

    • July 7, 2010 8:34 am

      Oh, I’m pretty familiar with analog devices like pencil & paper. I even use them occassionally 😉

      Seriously, I did and do use pencil for drawing – esepcially for character sketches and creature designs. (Although, admittedly, I do relatively little of that these days, just for time’s sake. I can’t say I’ve done a full-on character sketch or creature sketch in a couple years, now.) Originally, I did all my mapping (as a particular kind of fantasy nerd/writer/left-brained thinker, I do all my own fantasy maps) by hand with pencil as well.

      But I found pencil-sketched maps lacked something that I wanted in my maps: the ability to have a single whole-world view combined with the ability to accurately zoom-in to regional locations. That’s when I happened across the idea of using a computer graphics program to do up these maps. It was a great idea… my computer just couldn’t handle it. And so that map sits, unfinished as yet, waiting for me to get my hands on a hefty, beefy scream machine to finish it off. I mean… it’ll take me a only a few hours work to finish it if my computer could handle it, but could take me ten or twenty times as long otherwise.

  4. Lua permalink
    July 7, 2010 4:19 am

    Oh boy! Reading this post and the comments, I truly feel like I live in the dark ages 🙂
    See, the thing is- technology and I, we have this love & hate relationship. I want to understand it and I’m trying to communicate but sometime all the changes and the little gadgets and the ‘do you know what you can do with this thing’ informations are a bit too overwhelming.
    I’m the girl who’s always on the phone asking for help to “make this damn thing work” 🙂

    • July 7, 2010 8:44 am

      Don’t worry about it: that’s the more normal reaction to technology, unless you’re particularly young. Most people love the stuff, but can’t always figure it out. That’s one factor that’s driving Apple’s popularity these days: their products are apparently very easy to use.

      • July 7, 2010 1:35 pm

        Apple products are very very very very easy to use. And they look pretty to boot. 🙂 I used iWeb to make and I was very happy with the result. They’ve got a lot of geniuses behind their products, and, were the world a big facebook, they deserve a Like.

        Ha ha.

      • July 7, 2010 1:46 pm

        That’s the word I heard.

        On the other hand, I personally don’t like the amount of control they encourage their users to cede over to Apple. More specifically… I’m not a big fan of the way iTunes and Quicktime get their grubby claws all over your system and leave their fingerprints everywhere and eat the crap out of your system resources. But that’s a very personal decision… One thing’s for sure: you gotta give them mad props for some outstanding industrial design and UI design.

  5. July 7, 2010 11:36 am

    Oh boy! Reading this post and the comments, I truly feel like I live in the dark ages See, the thing is- technology and I, we have this love & hate relationship. I want to understand it and I’m trying to communicate but sometime all the changes and the little gadgets and the ‘do you know what you can do with this thing’ informations are a bit too overwhelming.I’m the girl who’s always on the phone asking for help to “make this damn thing work”

  6. July 15, 2010 2:49 am

    Waiting an hour for my computer to perform a single task would drive me mad! That said, Firefox regularly freezes or crashes on me, so I’m not all that much better off than you are.

    My own fantasy map (drawn by someone for me 30+ years ago, before most of the underlying novels were written) is hopelessly outdated. I’m looking to redo it using a cartography program. Unless GIMP has a nice variety of pre-drawn map elements, I don’t think it would serve my purpose.

    • July 15, 2010 9:08 am

      No, GIMP is really more useful if you have built-in artistic skill (and the patience to learn the program). It’s designed for image manipulation, not map generation. That said, it does have a built-in random “earthlike map generator” as a macro… but it’s only useful if you don’t care about the shape of the world.

      It is pretty powerful, if you want a very artistic sensibility about your maps (take a look at the linked site, Cartographer’s Guild, and check out some of the work by user RobA, who I know largely uses GIMP). One low-cost (but not free) alternative that’s easy to use and focused on making maps is Pro Fantasy’s Campaign Cartographer, if you want to check that out.

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