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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

The Tech God Two-Step

Today was a quintessential Monday. I arrived at work to find our group’s main server offline, and proceeded throughout the day to discover that it was unresponsive, unrebootable, and unrelentingly fubar’ed. Could be a fried motherboard, or a frazzled power supply. Could be something else. Could be karma. Could be time to update my resume. Don’t know.

I spent most of my afternoon rocking back and forth under my desk, trying to convince myself in turn that it hadn’t actually happened, that someone else would fix it, or that no one would notice and come looking for me.

I alternated these fruitless wishings by moaning softly and making vague stabby gestures at the hordes of people who did, in fact, come to look for me. Because it had happened. And no one else was going to fix it.

“I spent most of my afternoon rocking back and forth under my desk, trying to convince myself in turn that it hadn’t actually happened, that someone else would fix it, or that no one would notice and come looking for me.”

With that drama sucking the life from me today, this seems as good a time as any to share with you a piece I wrote a while back for an essay collection project that now — two-plus years later — seems destined never to see the light of day. It’s about another time — one of the many, many other times — when a computer has smacked me around and digitally pantsed my psyche. Because that’s what they do.

This tale also features the ‘Tech Gods’, who you may notice sound and behave an awful lot like the Computer Gods who made an appearance a couple of weeks ago, and the BlogGods introduced in the very first post here on the site. There’s a good reason for that.

(It’s inbreeding. Where these gods find the time to ‘intermingle’ all the damned time, I have no idea. You’d think omnipotence would come with the ability to keep it in your pants once in a while. But no.

Horny little bastards, the deities. All of ’em.)

So without further ado, here’s an homage to the Tech Gods, and all of the computers in their purview. Can this please be considered enough of a ‘holy offering’ to have one of the fricking things work as expected, for once?

No? I figured as much. It’s more cross-wired cables and exploding hard drives for me tomorrow, then. Outstanding. Meanwhile, enjoy:

The Tech God Two-Step

I’m not what you’d call ‘technically inclined’.

Oh, I’m not entirely without electronical skills, mind you. I can operate a toaster, barely. I successfully withdrew cash from an ATM machine once. And my digital wristwatch hasn’t electrocuted, singed or throttled me yet, though I have had a few close calls. Also, the battery has been dead for the last three years, so at this point it’s really more of a shiny Casio-brand man bracelet.

I am, however, eternally optimistic, which is why I decided recently to tempt the wrath of the Tech Gods by buying a new PC one component at a time and assembling it myself. I’d heard that setting up a machine this way can save some cash. And I figured I could put together a computer with just the features I wanted, without all of the buggy bloatware, dysfunctional doodads and complimentary crocheted keyboard cozies you get in those overpriced ‘superstore’ models.

Also, it seemed like a good test for my blossoming technical skills. I’ve seen a couple of those ‘Borg’ episodes on Star Trek, and skimmed a few of the pretty pictures in Popular Mechanics. How hard could it be, really?

(Yes, I hear you laughing. So did my wife.

For that matter, so did the toaster. Where’s the digital love?)

The first phase of my computorial odyssey was buying the components, and if I do say so myself, things started out swimmingly. I may not know a transistor from a Taiwanese teabag or an ampere from a watt-chamacallit, but I can read a spec sheet and choose a set of computer bits that will jigsaw together, more or less, without requiring the use of a claw hammer or a jar of Elmer’s Glue to make them stay put. On component ordering day, the Tech Gods were smiling on me. They said:

‘Dumdum no buy hard drive from Apple IIc, or ‘RAM’ made by Dodge. Maybe hope for him yet.’

A week later, and the packages poured in. I got the latest in whizbang video cards; it was practically spilling polygons out the box when I opened it. The CPU showed up in a fancy case with a big dangly metal thing called a ‘heat sink’. Looked more like some kind of kinky codpiece from the movie Tron to me, but I didn’t judge. And still there was more — a mobo, and sound card, and RAM. (Oh, my!)

I uncrated my goodies on the kitchen table and prepared for the assembly. First, the proper tools: A good screwdriver. A static-discharging wrist doohickey. Plenty of Band-Aids. A fire extinguisher. And a cordless phone nearby, with Poison Control on the speed dial. You can never be too careful, when there’s delicate equipment and a doofus like me involved.

Also, I grabbed a claw hammer and a jar of Elmer’s Glue. Just in case. The Tech Gods texted chuckles to each other on their smartphones.

Fully prepared, I tucked into my task on a lazy Saturday morning. I had the whole weekend blocked off, with nothing to distract me for two full days. Even the phones were unplugged — except the one in the kitchen with the Mr. Yuk sticker, of course. Safety first.

That was in October. By Thanksgiving, I felt I was making real progress, as evidenced by the fact that I’d run out of Band-Aids, hadn’t broken anything completely in half, and had only used the claw hammer once. On the anti-static strap. It just wouldn’t stay out of my way; I’m pretty sure it was in cahoots with the wristwatch.

By mid-December, the assembly was complete. The motherboard bone was connected to the CPU bone, the CPU bone was connected to the dangly Tron codpiece bone, the video and sound cards were nestled snugly in their slots, the RAM was in the RAM-hole, the speakers plugged into the speaker cave, and the monitor cable was firmly nailed and sealed with glue into some crevasse or other on the back of the case. Everything in its place. With a swell of pride surely matching Edison or the Wright brothers or possibly Dr. Frankenstein, I plugged the beast in, pushed the power switch and…

Nothing. Not a circuit was whirring, not even the mouse. From their Segways on high, the Tech Gods mocked me:

‘Foolish mortal. You actually believe labels on motherboard wiring diagram? What you think this is? Computer kindergarten?’

Days passed. Wires were unplugged, replugged, and unplugged again. Christmas neared. Wires were switched up, crossed over, and tested anew. Christmas sped by, and the claw hammer was fingered ominously. Finally, wires were yanked out, jumbled up, jammed into random holes, and the power switch punched.

A low, steady hum enamated from the case as the computer booted up. Those Tech Gods are a twisted bunch of bastards.

Seconds later, the low hum rose to a raw shrieking crescendo, a sound much like fingernails being scraped on a blackboard — assuming the person attached to the fingernails was also being fed through a wood chipper at the time. I desperately jabbed at the power switch, concerned as much for my delicate eardrums as for the machinery. Again, the Tech Gods jeered:

‘You know, that what happen when you no use thermal grease on heat sink. Maybe you should hire professional for this. Or trained orangutan. Big improvement.’

Thermal grease? I don’t remember any thermal grease coming with that heat sink.

I did wonder why Amazon was shipping a tube of hair gel with computer parts, though. I just figured they wanted their nerdier customers to look fabulous in their cubicles and parents’ basements.

Luckily, I had a bit of the gunk left that I’d been saving for a hot anniversary dinner. So I took the machine apart yet again, applied the goo to the proper surfaces, triple-checked the stupid wires, reassembled the damned thing, and powered up.

Again, the low hum. Only this time, it didn’t climax in an unearthly rhinoceros-giving-birth-in-a-wind-tunnel roar. It simply hummed. And then beeped once, and spat out onto the monitor screen:

INSERT BOOT DISK AND PRESS ANY KEY

Oh, hallelujah. I sacrificed a Palm Pilot to the Tech Gods in a show of thanks.

Not that I’m completely ‘finished’ here, exactly. I don’t actually have a boot disk, as it turns out.

But I figure all I have to do now is buy one of those, convince the box to boot from CD, install an operating system, configure preferences, patch it, update it, add software, set up a firewall, lock down any open ports, create a backup disk, set a system password and hook it up to our wireless network, and I’ll be all set. I can do that by summer, maybe fall of next year max. How hard could it be, really?

Right. Already, I hear the Tech Gods:

‘Oh, silly human. We just wait til you finish, then we corrupt a driver or two. Fun for eons! Muah hah ha!!’

That’s it. I give up on this newfangled tech stuff. Just drop a typewriter on my desk and choke me with the Casio. I’m cooked.

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