Monday was puttering along like it will. I had scheduled that Mary Worth post and was almost at the point in my workday where I’d read enough of The AV Club to do a solid hour of staring helplessly at my code. But my MacBook had enough. “No,” it declared, “it is not time for a critical reappraisal of that Next Generation episode where Captain Picard becomes a twelve-year-old boy. The critics have been right about this episode all along and we do not need to read it as sly self-satire.”
“But wait,” I protested, “Those things have the best comments about how the AV Club isn’t any good anymore!”
“Goodbye,” it said, and the video glitched out. First it split the video into little shuffled strips. Then it went to this brown background with a less-brown circular background, like the carpet at a respectable-enough hotel from 1978. The computer shop up the block identified the problem in minutes: my computer was broken. Also nobody makes the parts for it anymore anymore. But they gave me a number at Apple to call to see if they might have any. Apple blushed and explained how they were so embarrassed by their old work like that and they wished I wouldn’t talk about it, they could do so much better now.
So while waiting for the new computer’s delivery I have to do something, computer-wise. I can’t just wander around the house reading my books and holding my love and prying open the window that’s painted shut and fixing the basement stair that’s going to completely collapse and probably kill someone someday. Fortunately for computer-based mishaps like this I have a backup.
It’s my older Mac, a PowerBook G4, that I kept for emergencies like this and because I can’t throw away stuff without an elaborate, weeks-long ritual of apology to the thing. I remember it being sleek and speedy when I got it in 2006. I was wrong. What did we know from design back then? The computer is about the size of a 1988 Chevrolet Celebrity. To set it on my table required the help of a pilot boat and a team of four people wielding containerized-cargo cranes.
It’s an ancient computer, dating back to the days before we even had binary code. Internally it represents numbers as a series of zeroes and four-fifths. It looks at the modern Internet the same way my father looks on when he’s having such a good time at this noisy restaurant that he won’t spoil dinner by admitting he forgot to turn his hearing aid on. It sits there, smiling, nodding with engagement, making the right amount of eye contact, and then I click a link on Twitter and it searches for “writing” on Yahoo. Then I hit command-V and it pastes what I copied, like, eight copies ago, last night. It’s nice having time together. I just want to hug it.
The worst hassle of all this is having to pay for a new computer. But also the worst hassle of all this has been that my emergency backup computer has really mushy shift keys that work about one-fifth of the time, so I look like I’m typing everything into a search engine. But also the other worst worst hassle of all this has been telling friends about it. I have a lot of friends who love building computers and don’t see why anyone doesn’t.
I know why I don’t. I like computers that you plug in and do stuff with. My friends who build their computers never get to do stuff with it. They’re always reporting, like, “my new graphics card is incompatible with the hard drive interruptor” and “so the optical drive cables demanded the motherboard take a side and now they’ve moved to opposite corners and are spitting on each other” and “the PCI slot teamed up with irredentist Wallachian rebels to call in tactical air strikes”. But they’re always confident they’re one round of peace talks away from the best computer ever, and they’re eager to help me out.
“We could totally build something fantastic,” they’ll say. “Not on one of those awful socket 1150s either! We’ll do it on an 1151 or I bet I can hook us up with an 1151.8!”
“I live in Lansing, Michigan, and you’re in Romania,” I answer so I don’t explicitly say I think they’re making up tech specs.
“Have you ever seen the framerates on an overclocked BrixxVideo video card? And channel that through the Heisenberg compensator matrix and you can full half duplex your quads on the composite Lumpex!”
I think this sounds like when audiophiles insist they get a better sound out of their system by using green marker on their audio cables.
“I got a friend who can get you this prototype computer case that isn’t even plastic or metal. This is for high-performance enclosing of stuff! It’s the concept of containerization as manifested in a substance that must never be looked at directly with unshielded eyes.”
I feel loved by this attention, yes. But what I’m looking for most in a computer right now is a shift key that works. Also, if you know somebody who’d be willing to give me like one computer’s worth of money in exchange for whatever it is I do, could you hook us up? Or fix copy-paste so it works. Thanks kindly.