I had a computer malfunction last week, a not so subtle reminder that we live – and die – by a variety of computing devices that occasionally simply go kaput.
When a hard drive dies, it sounds like a giant mastodon breathing its last. It’s an awful, crunching, grinding, harsh process. HCF (halt and catch fire), hard drive.
It used to be automobiles in our society. We’d spend a weekend working to make sure our automobiles could get us safely to work.
We’d let loose with a myriad of not-safe-for-work words, get greasy and filthy, burn our hands and groan as we loosened that one bolt that just wouldn’t budge, damn it.
Now, our cars are as reliable as the horses they replaced, but we have a new master: computers. Something we can’t live or work without.
Our IT person calls me a power user and I used to think it was a compliment, but now I think I’m the computer equivalent of the hot rodder who tries to make his bare bones Chevy Impala with three on the tree, no a/c and only an AM radio burn rubber all the way down Hemphill Street to my job at Texas Steel.
At least if my car broke down today, I could call Uber or Lyft and get to work. When my computer headed to that great server in the sky, there wasn’t much to do but log on to another computer in the office.
That computer worked fine until it decided it didn’t want to be connected to the network any longer and I was left adrift, lost in the land of the old personal computer. I had plenty of power to write and edit, but no network to play on.
Now, I’m back up with a solid state hard drive that makes no noise – before my previous hard drive died it sounded like a microwave constantly popping popcorn – and it works like a charm. Maybe we’ve entered the computing era of a reliable Volvo or Honda.
Back in the old days of computers – back in the 1980s and ’90s – we used to replace parts often, like the shade tree mechanics of the automotive era. A power supply, a network card? They were made to be replaced, right? Now, they’re vastly more reliable.
I recall the company I was working with bought me a hotshot laptop in around 1997. It was light, fast and – slick and black – it was one of the coolest looking computers then on the market. Since I did a lot of traveling, I could work easily on an airplane with it.
It was, however, slightly off brand, so it had a few quirks. You had to punch a few odd buttons to get the screen to work, among other things. But I loved it.
Then one day, it froze up, right as I was working on a big story. Of course.
I called our usually reliable IT department to no avail. Everything we tried failed. I knew the company that made the laptop, so I called them. They got some top designers on it. Nada.
Finally, I got flown to New York to visit with our IT department. I had some computer show to cover as well, but we really wanted this hot shot computer to work. Several smart fellas from the IT department tried. Nothing. They began talking about getting me a new computer. I knew I’d get some beige, low-power castoff. I wanted my hot rod, Hemi-powered laptop, damn it.
The IT people then saw a guy walking down the hall. One of them said, “Hey, let’s ask Jim.”
Jim came in, asked a few questions, said “hmm,” a few times. “Oh yeah,” he said and walked out of the room. He came back with a paper clip. He stuck the paper clip in a barely visible hole in the computer. Like Lazarus rising from the dead, the computer whirred to life and Windows began its reboot.
I was back in business, my hot-rod laptop and I were off to the races. With a paper clip in my pocket just in case.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.