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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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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!

Should Not Compute

There’s nothing quite like buying electronics online to beat a guy like me into submission. I like to think that I know a little bit about computers and stereo equipment and the like, seeing as how I use it every day. Also, I like to think that I have some standards for customer service and getting what I pay for. And I like to think that I pay attention to detail, sometimes. When I’m not distracted. Or sleepy. Or it’s morning. Or the weekend. Or winter. Or– what were we talking about again?

Ah, electronics. And my failures in procuring them electronically. Right.

Two recent-ish purchases illustrate my difficulties. The first was a new desktop computer that I bought a few months ago. My old model was past its prime, a relic from 2008 — I know, my god, can you believe it, 2008, had we even grown thumbs by then, for crissakes?!

The old bag of circuits had served me well, but it was more or less shot. A hard drive creaking at the seams with data. An old Windows OS that rebooted itself every ten days or so, seemingly out of spite. Less RAM than a kitchen timer. And not even a fancy kitchen timer, one of those solar-nuclear powered Alton Brown can-opening smoke detector doodads. I mean a plain old crank-it-like-your-grandma’s-TV-dial-smack-it-when-it-buzzes kind of thing.

What I’m saying is, my computer was old.

So I bought a new one. I found this outfit that makes custom jobs, but not the expensive kinds with the custom-painted flames on the sides or Cylon lights on the back or water-cooled processors that crunch petaflops in their down cycles. I wanted a couple of specific things, on a modest budget, and that’s what I ordered.

Plus a flame decal for the side. Because flames are still cool, budget or no.

In the old days, I might have built the computer myself, from parts. I learned a lot of valuable lessons doing that over the years. Lessons like “more pieces to touch means more chances for a clumsy idiot to cut himself” and “where there’s smoke, there’s probably another order from Newegg to make” and “computers are stupid and I hate them”.

So, I bought this baby pre-assembled. When it finally arrived, it was stuffed with foam inside and out. It looked like a toaster in a fat suit. I carefully removed all of the padding and plastic, oohed and aahed at the bits and dongles inside, closed it up and turned it on.


Oh, it hummed a little. And a reassuring blue light glowed in the front to tell me that it was, indeed, sucking electricity out of the wall at fourteen cents a minute or whatever. But nothing showed up on the screen. Zip. Zilch. Blacko.

“The back of my monitor looked like I’d killed a robot and strung its intestines out as a warning to other metal men in the area to keep their CPUs the hell away.”

It took me only five minutes or so of cursing and fiddling to figure out that was because I hadn’t hooked up the monitor. Because I’m kind of dumb.

But it took me fifteen minutes of further cursing and fiddling to realize that I couldn’t hook up the monitor, because the so-last-gen inputs weren’t compatible with the space age outputs on the new machine. Because I’m really kind of dumb, and that’s how I’d ordered it.

Three days, two adapters and lots of cursing later, I finally had the things rigged together. I had some kind of HDMI splitter thing hanging off a DVI adapter, which wrapped around a VGA something-or-other spliced into god-knows-what. The back of my monitor looked like I’d killed a robot and strung its intestines out as a warning to other metal men in the area to keep their CPUs the hell away. Which was pretty close to how I was feeling at that point, but on the bright side, the computer worked. So I spent the next several weeks getting all my shit set back up on it and transferring crap from the old one.

Then, predictably, the monitor blew.

Actually, it didn’t quite blow, exactly. It sort of went on strike. If I turned it off and back on, I could see my desktop for a brief moment, less than a second — and then it winked away to blackness. Just a tease — off, on, hey look, there it-ah shit, it’s gone again. Maybe it was the electronic equivalent of a hunger strike, to protest all the shackles and restraints I’d used to lash it to the computer.

(For the record, I hadn’t bought that monitor online, which is probably why it worked at all. But I did buy it at a place that promised I’d get a rebate on the purchase, if I just printed out the right coupon and sent it in to the manufacturer.

Apparently, enough people are like me — lazy, forgetful, none too bright — that the store even had a place to print the coupon out right there, and a person to help make sure it was exactly the right one. Matched the product codes and everything.

Since all I had left to do was throw the form in an envelope and mail it, I actually did it for once. And six-to-eight weeks later, got a reply back from the manufacturer:

You sent the wrong coupon. We’re not giving you any money. Tough tits, sporto.

I paraphrase. But the gist is there. There’s no way to ‘win’ here. Winning isn’t everything. It isn’t even an anything.)

So last week, I bought a new monitor to replace the winky old one. And I covered all the bases I could think of. I made sure there were computer-holes that would fit the monitor-holes. I bought a cable that connected the two, certain that one wouldn’t come included with the monitor (it didn’t) and that I’d never find the spare cables I probably have lying around (I couldn’t). And, to reduce a bit of desk clutter, I ordered a model with built-in speakers, the better to throw away the fourteen-year-old dingy gray ghetto-blasting cheapos I’ve used since forever. It had to be an upgrade. Music on those things sounded like it was playing through a tube full of Jell-O sunk in twelve feet of water. I haven’t used them for anything but the headphone jack in ages.

A few days ago, the monitor arrived. I unpacked it, set up the stand, plugged it, hooked it up and turned it on.

Naturally, it didn’t work, either. Just that friendly blue light that computer component makers like to put on the front on their products, to tell you that they’re on and running and any lack of functionality you might perceive is probably only in your crazy-person head.

Eventually, I figured out that I had to tell the computer to look for a newfangled hi-def digital monitor buddy, as opposed to that strung-up crippled halfwit it had been talking to for the last three years. You’d think it would have picked up on that automatically, just out of desperation. But no. I had to drag it manually into the 2010s, and introduce machine and monitor more formally.

Once I had a picture, I set about connecting the headphones. I was frankly impressed by the sleek lines of the monitor; you couldn’t really tell there were built-in speakers at all. People had come a long way, I guessed, since the old days of clunk and bulk and big heavy ‘woofers hanging off the sides. In fact, I didn’t see any speaker holes at all on the front.

Also, I didn’t see any speaker holes on the back. Or the base. Or the bottom of the base. Or in the description of the thing on the box.

They sent me the wrong monitor. It doesn’t have speakers. Nor does it have a headphone jack. And since I don’t have ‘phones with a nine-foot cable to reach the back of the computer, I now have a machine I can see again, but no longer hear. It’s like I made funny faces at Helen Keller in a former life or something, and this is her revenge.

I could send the monitor back, of course. But what are the chances that makes things better? The replacement would probably be Mac-only, or explode on the desk, or take away my sense of taste. I’m not risking that. So I’m keeping the mute thing.

It’s annoying the hell out of my wife. With no music to play, I have to sing it myself. Badly out of key, and usually with made-up words. When I want to play a game, I have to make all the shooty noises and zombie splats and sound effects myself. That doesn’t go over big, especially in the wee hours of the morning.

I’ve also taken to screaming “YOU’VE GOT MAIL!” when an email comes in. She’s pointed out that my computer didn’t actually do this before, to which I replied that well, maybe it should have. And if I ever manage to get speakers hooked back up, then by god, it will.

It hasn’t been easy sleeping on the couch all weekend. But what can I tell you? That’s what buying electronics online will do to you. Modern life’s a bitch, yo.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “Should Not Compute”

  1. ema says:

    This was good, the idea of the robot with the sprung intestine was effective. And for some reason I always agree that the highlights are the funniest part. Sorry, now got to go shopping for braised whale breast and a son of a chipboard called MALM :)

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