Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Computer Karma

I happen to have what I like to call good computer karma. I've always had it. When I was growing up it was rare for people to have computers in their homes or even in their classrooms, but when I had a reason to run into one it always responded well to me. I took a little programming class in Jr High, BASIC or something along those lines, where we learned to make our text flash and all other sorts of extremely useful things (the kind of things that anyone under 40 can do these days). Remember, the internet hadn't been invented yet, Al Gore was still doing other things at the time. Anyway. I made it into high school with the standard computer skills, word processing, little flashy programs, the usual, and didn't think much of it.

Then I went to college. My first year of work study I tried to be all academic and landed a job as a research assistant for this guy who was writing something about immigration patterns in California history. It was so boring. I had to go to the giant library at my university and actually look things up, and photocopy them, and whatnot. I quickly decided it wasn't suited to my personality (no one to torture, after all) so I decided to get a more social job and somehow ended up selling computers on campus. This was much more like it.

Selling computers is, as we all know, the gateway into a life of geekdom. I really didn't expect it. I was a psychology major, after all, learning how to unfuck people's minds. But sometimes life surprises us and I ended up falling in love.

No, really I didn't, what happened was that I went from selling computers to fixing them to suddenly getting hired by a friend of a friend to change out this old antiquated Apple network in the Deans office and set up Exchange and SQL Servers on a Windows domain. This was in, like, 1995 or so. How did this happen? computers loved me. Seriously, I have no better explanation. I didn't know what the hell I was doing but no matter what I did, it worked. They worked. The computers...I would just touch them and POOF! They worked. I would wave my arm and bat my eyelashes and I could write ASP pages or SQL queries or clone desktops or repair any kind of hardware or software issues. It was bizarre. It was like the first time I ever gave a guy a handjob in high school, and all I could think was look what I can make this thing do? So many tricks! So easy! Playing with computers felt almost exactly like that, and computers seemed to respond to me much like the teenage boys of my youth did - which is to say, they did whatever I wanted. Soon I had minions and my own army of servers and desktop computers (this is what they looked like in the 90s, remember?).

Years passed, and I kept doing weirder and weirder things. I left that one job and decided I wanted to focus on databases, because data gets me hot. I love it. I won't bore you with any technical details but a while ago I decided to go into management and I have lots of servers in lots of different hosted locations around the world, and I still get to play with technology but my staff or my vendors do all the hands on work. But still my computer karma works for me. If something naughty happens, anywhere, I'm still the person who figures it out or gets the network engineer to check his stupid load balancer rules or whatever. Anyway. It's a thing and I love it.

But - and this is a big but - there's a price.

Every once in a while all that karma comes full circle and everything stops working. Within a 20 foot radius of me, when the karma goes down, so do most electronic devices. This happens once or twice a year but it is completely shitty when it does. A prime example of this is my work laptop - this is what it did last week:

It turned into a demon and tried to eat me. Actually it got suspiciously slow, and trust me when I say this, I KNOW when there is something wrong with my laptop. It was acting like it was very busy working on something and didn't have time for my silly demands for email or project plans. I tried all the basic crap and then, like a good little management type who isn't supposed to waste time, called in my laptop fixy guy. I handed him my laptop and network password and said 'it's slow, something's wrong', which while it is not the most helpful description was 100% accurate. He took it and started running diagnostics. An hour later he came in and timidly told me it was fine. I wasn't buying it, so I told him to look harder. Guess what? I had a virus - this nasty thing that was going around the office a month ago and which he swore he had removed. But no. The virus was sitting there, randomly eating my cycles and driving me batty. So he went to go remove it and then what happened? Hard drive died. He replaced that and handed it back to me proudly at the end of the day, all fixed and happy. I took it home, blissfully trusting that this was the end of the trouble.

I woke up the next morning and the wireless was jacked. Each and every application which needed a connection to the internet would start disconnecting after 15 minutes. Again, I performed the basics like resetting my cable modem and wireless router, removing and re-adding the profile, etc. No joy. Irritated, I switched to my home laptop and stuck the work laptop under the couch so it could think about what it did wrong. Meanwhile, my staff could tell I was really over this whole thing so they started building me a desktop computer for work to use while we figured everything out.

The next morning I handed my laptop back to the laptop fixy guy and told him not to give it back to me until all was well. He brought it back to me a short while later and said he updated my network card drivers. I nodded dubiously and set it up in the naughty corner, and noticed that I had 137 very important windows updates to run. I grumped at him that he was supposed to do that after the hard drive replacement, he said something panicky and nonsensical and fled my office. Guess what? It started making this weird noise and the fan wouldn't stop fanning. He ran more diags and called Dell and said they needed to replace the system board and heat sink. He then twitched and apologized that he didn't have a new one on hand to give me.

I know, I know, that was a really long and probably boring story and doesn't prove anything about computer karma. BUT WAIT. Here's some additional background: This laptop - yes, you heard me, THIS one - I've had for 9 months. The one before it lasted a year. I went through 2 hard drives on that one, and the system board also started to get wiggy. The one before that also lasted slightly less than a year. Laptop hard drives are crappy and definitely have longevity issues but no one in my company chews through them like I do. I did manage to keep one laptop for a few years once with only 1 drive replacement, but all my other ones have had multiple, horrible issues. And we switch manufacturors every few years as well, so it's not like it's always Dell. And I don't get the low end models either. Usually once one of my laptops starts to futz out - right around the 9 to 11 month mark - the laptop group just gives in and gives me a new one, since the issues don't seem to stop with the drive replacement, but we were just purchased and are renegotiating our vendor discounts and we haven't ordered any new ones lately.

So, that night the Dell guy didn't show (of course) and I left my laptop at work so they could get it in the morning. I came home and my apartment complex gate wouldn't open to my magnetic thingy, my housekeeper had somehow managed to lock me out of the garage, and my iPhone crashed twice.

Sometimes in bad karma weeks street lamps start to blow out and traffic lights stay on red for 37 minutes. It's frustrating.

But you know what? 99% of the time the computers of the world love me and things pretty much go my way, so if the price for that is that every once in a while all the electronics lose their collective shit, I'm ok with it.

PS: I have my laptop back again. I used it a little and it seems OK but it still won't take the VERY IMPORTANT Windows updates so we will see.

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