Sentimental Data   (2016Jan28)

Thursday, January 28, 2016                                              4:25 PM

Went down to Advanced Computer Repair, on Rt. 202 in Somers today with my busted-ass External Hard Drive. This thing is so old it needs to be plugged in—I’ve got two newer ones that run off the USB power—and are smaller, and have at least twice the storage capacity. I used the old one for my CD collection—which is large enough to overflow hard drives—or was, pre-tera-flop. I only used it because it’s so much trouble to rip all my CDs to a new drive. But it stopped working finally—I brought it in to Chris at ACR and said, “It made a clicking noise.” And he said, “Ah! The click of death.” Which I guess means he’s gonna have a hard time recovering the data.

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I would have simply bought a new, better drive and started ripping CDs, but I’m not absolutely positive that none of my proprietary files were also on there. If he can’t do anything with it, I’ll have to re-think how much my doubts are worth before I send it off to a specialty data-retrieval shop—those guys can be pricey. It’s just that I have a morbid fear of losing data—I’ve done so much of it in the early days. I’ve owned a PC since the 1980s—I shudder to think just how many there have been—and how many died with little or partial back-up.

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You can tell I’m old school—the fact that I post most of my recordings to YouTube and most of my writing to WordPress means that I can’t really lose much of my creative output—and there’s always the question of what value that junk actually has, in reality—outside of my ego. Back-ups were important to me for two reasons—first, I was running a business’s systems, so data-loss could have actually killed the company—and secondly, this was all before the internet, when a person’s hard drive held the only existing copy of a person’s files. There was no uploading—no cloud—your data was your responsibility and if your hard drive crashed or your PC caught a virus, you had nothing but your disk back-ups, and later, your CDs.

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That was all long ago—it’s all different now. Now, like most old guys, I ask my son for help when I can’t connect to the printer. And the nature of my data has changed, too—I don’t even do the bills on this thing—Claire does all that on hers, ever since I got brain-fog and had to give up math. All I have to worry about is my photo scans, my piano recordings, and my poetry and other writing—none of which has any dollar value. But I’ve been trying to retain data all my life—even my library, which barely fits in a two-car garage, is only a fraction of the original collection—most of my books were ruined by flooding or mice or mold before I had a proper library—and 90% of my extensive vinyl collection to boot.

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My music cassette collection is gone, my VCR tape collection is gone, my DVD collection is gone—nobody uses that stuff anymore, but I feel the loss of data anyway. I have a pile of short stories and miscellaneous creative writing that I printed out before that particular PC died on me—it’s been twenty years and I’ve yet to type it back into the computer—some of it was pretty good, but I just don’t have the energy. I used to draw a lot, but most of my sketchbooks were lost in the same flooding and mice as my book and record collections—and most of my big drawings were given away—I was always so pleased that someone liked my drawings that I gave them away to anyone who asked for them.

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So after a lifetime of creative effort, I have little to show for it. I used to have an ego—and reason for one—I did grown-up stuff like running a systems department and tutoring mathematics—I did some copyediting and print layouts—I made a salary, I drove a car—it all seems so long ago. Now my big accomplishment is that I should have died from liver cancer in 2004—big whoop. So my data is relatively worthless—I’m just sentimental about it.

[NOTE: Many thanks to NASA for all the pretty pictures.]

The Child is Tech-Support to the Man

Sunday, December 08, 2013                8:01 PM

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Super-Spencer! The grasshopper has become the master! My computer suddenly decided that logging in as myself was a system error—it’s amazing how electronics can find an infinite number of ways to piss a person off—I’ve been at it (electronically) since the Bicentennial and in all those 37 years I’ve seen a lot of computer errors, but this was a new one.

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I messed around with it for a while, but not being able to login as ‘xperdunn’ (the only login with Admin powers) I was stumped as to how to fix it—Spencer came upon the scene and offered to help—what a man, huh? So, I went back to bed and Spencer worked on the problem—late that night, and all the next day, and the next… He forum-ed and he downloaded and he searched the internet—although the problem was a common one, the only people on the ‘login/sys error’ forums were systems managers—so when he finally found a fix, it turned out to be only valid for Win7-Professional, whereas I, like an idiot, had Win7-HomeDeluxe or whatever it’s called.

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Now, I’d spent years as a systems manager and I knew how lonely and desperate the search for solutions to new errors can be—the worst ones had me searching and trying and banging my head against the wall for days. At some point, I’d lose the ability to think about anything else; I’d lie awake and try to make sense of the kaleidoscope of pieces of information, trying to determine what was pertinent and what was noise.

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And here’s the weirdest part: when I finally found a fix and got the whole system up and running again, I’d have gone so deeply into unfamiliar territory that I wasn’t quite sure exactly how I’d fixed it. Strange, right? But that’s what happens. If the problem recurred, I’d almost have to start from scratch to fix the thing—the only ‘easy’ error-fixes were the ones that happened so often I became familiar with the fix.

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And, while I was a little concerned about not knowing exactly how to fix something I’d just fixed, I was still a long way from the rest of that office, the people that just hung out and waited for the Geek to fix the computer. Those folks could be a mixed bag—some resented me not fixing something instantly, some were very grateful that I had finally restored the computer, and some didn’t care one way or the other. More importantly, none of them had the slightest idea what torture a new error can be—there’s no guarantee that I’d find an answer (although, somehow, I always did). It was impossible to take a break from an error problem since it kept everyone else sitting around waiting for me to do my job—if I sat around, even a few minutes—I’d get the stink-eye from management, i.e. ‘how dare I?’

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I taught Spencer a lot about computer fixes—he was interested, so I’d walk him through what I was doing—even before he was out of grade school. We used to get phone calls from grateful parents of play-date friends—they’d say, ‘We’ve been trying everything to fix our PC and your son just pressed a few buttons and fixed the whole thing.’ It made me ridiculously proud of him—I could barely contain myself.

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But now that my brain is on permanent vacation, I can’t deal with such things like I used to. And to have my boy find a real killer error’s fix for me—I just can’t tell you how happy I am. And I’m pretty happy about having my computer back, too.

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The Oscars in the Era of Digital Entertainment

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“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline –an excellent read in its way, a real page-turner–I just finished reading it at 3am earlier this morning—I’ve slept most of the intervening time, but my eyes won’t focus today. See—that’s the difference between age and fatigue—fatigue is something that fades quickly, whereas the limitations of age are more holistic—don’t read an entire book in one day (I was surprised I still could.) if you want to use your eyes for something the next day, and maybe the day after.

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Also, the book is set in the near future, but concerns the nineteen-eighties in an OCD-‘Best of the 80s’-treasure-hunt that is central to the tale. I started in the mid-nineteen-seventies (pre-PC, pre-Windows, pre-WWW) with mini-computers—new sensations in the small-business world, particularly the easily computerized industries—insurance, real estate, mailing lists (yes, this was before e-mail and its evil twin, spam, too). But they were still using up an entire room—an air-conditioned room, too.

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The micro-computers that started showing up a few years later are now known as PCs—and the first way to hook them together was a Local-Area-Network, or LAN. The first modems had misshapen foam cradles which held the old phones’ receivers and worked by analog audio beeps and chirps. My first PC had a two-megabyte internal hard-drive—it couldn’t hold a single hi-res JPEG by today’s standards.

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Back then, everything was B&W, just letters and numbers, logic and calculations. When I first saw Windows 2.0 I asked what the point of it was—I was told it made it easier for people to use a computer. I replied that people who didn’t understand how to use a computer weren’t going to have any more luck with a GUI (Graphics User Interface—aka ‘Windows’—except for Macs). What I failed to realize was the pressure digital-era literacy would force on us all—suddenly typists needed to learn Word Perfect and bookkeepers had to learn Lotus 1-2-3 (early spreadsheet software).

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I spent my late teens and early twenties learning computer-literacy and computer maintenance systems that vanished practically overnight, sometime around 1985, and was replaced with home-video games that killed the arcade industry, the WWW, which killed the LAN and WAN industries, and MS Office Suites, CorelDraw Graphics Suites, and Roxio Audio-Visual Suites (and their Mac equivalents)—all of which killed the individual programmer-maven job market. Hot-shot coders were supplanted by Nintendo, Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Facebook, I-Phones and other industrial-sized app- and mega-app-creators.

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So the 1980s digital watershed as experienced by the writer (I’m assuming) came around the time I was losing the ability to indulge in childish things without embarrassment. For instance, Matthew Broderick, a central figure in the book, is much younger than I am—and I won’t get into how depressing it is to see him graying with age in the present day. Yes, boys and girls, if you live long enough, even the sci-fi makes you feel old.

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By 1980, I was in my mid-twenties—this made me a generation older than the oldest man in the book. So, I’m reading a sci-fi thriller set in the near future and all I feel is ‘old’—that’s just so wrong. But enough of my whining… let’s discuss.

Society used to imply a fixed point of geography—but no more. The way I see it, any place or time that has fixed morals applicable only to that place or time, is a ‘society’. For instance, Commuter Traffic is its own society—indeed, commuting has at least three societies—the drivers, the bus and train-takers, and the walkers.

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Walking the sidewalks of mid-town Manhattan during the morning rush seems very cattle-like, especially to the people in its grip. But it actually requires a very heads-up approach—you need to watch the whole 360 degrees around you, your pace should be brisk but not breakneck, and the only real crime is to behave as if it weren’t rush hour, when personal stopping and going and distraction won’t impact the entire flow of the press of people all around such an out-of-place fool.

Walking is usually the last step in the journey. And there are many who go by subway—but in my relative inexperience, I leave its description to someone more inured to its ways. Nevertheless I have spent years on both of the other circuits, ‘driving in’—and ‘taking the train’.

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Taking the Saw Mill River Parkway into Manhattan’s West Side Highway is not for the faint of heart. Its lanes were designed for the days when it was truly a scenic parkway—and for cars which topped out at, maybe, 30 mph. It’s modern reality is a cross between Disney World’s Space Mountain and the Grand Prix—hurtling cubes of steel, inches apart, doing 60, 65—and some of them are in a bigger hurry than the rest—these restless souls try to pass other cars as they go and will push their driving skills to the limit. This forces anyone in the lane beside them to be just as razor-sharp in controlling a vehicle that may not have the road-hugging quality of a BMW.

Taking the Harlem-Hudson line into Grand Central has had many changes since my day—the locomotives were diesel, there was always at least one smoking car and the night-time commuter trains had a bar car, which was an automatic smoker. The seats were upholstered but badly sprung—and larger. But some things remain the same—the etiquette of boarding as a group, of sitting beside a stranger (don’t read their paper—get your own!)

And the strange race for pole-position when debarking at Grand Central. This took planning. Firstly, one had to rise when the train had neared its platform, and move towards the doorway. If you weren’t first in the doorway, there was no way you would have a chance to sprint towards the exit ramp with the other contenders. The choice of when to rise was a personal one—some rose quite early and simply stood in the doorway for a good ten minutes, others waited until the last minute and relied strongly on line-cutting bravado. Once the train stopped, there were maybe fifty yards of empty platform which the prepared passenger sprinted across, hoping to avoid the human condensation that made that exit a twenty minute delay for those who took their time getting off the train.

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This was the most cattle-car moment of any commute—people actually touched each other while we crowd-shuffled towards the open terminal beyond the platform gate. This was a world-class pot-luck situation—the people who crushed against one could be very attractive or quite repellent, even odiferous. There was no logic to the Brownian motion of the crowd—you couldn’t position yourself to mash against someone of your own choosing.

Eye contact, personal space, split-second go/no-go choices made at traffic-lit corners or when spotting an unmarked traffic cop car in the work-ward rally—all these and more were self-imposed by the natural human reactions to the different intimacies of rush-hour mass motion. And, not surprisingly, all these societies have a night-time, complimentary society, with different rules respecting the fact that everyone is in an even bigger hurry to get home than they were to get to work that morning, but with the luxury that no one got fired for getting home late.

These societies have a geographical ‘location’ (if an unsupervised racetrack can be called a location) but they come into being for a few hours in the morning and again at night, each time fading away almost as soon as it peaks, barring delays and bad weather. The ‘train stuck in a blizzard’ has a society, too—which only comes sporadically and can skip whole years at times.

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Talking on the phone is a society—or, again, several societies, based on context. A phone conference, a sales call, a relative calling to gab, a friend calling with an invitation—each one has its own little head-dance and body language. And we could hardly leave out Facebook or the internet in general, when cataloguing the many sub-societies we join and quit all through our days.

These were my musings on Society this morning after I read the New York Times Art Section article reviewing the Oscars and the reviews others gave it, particularly PC groups that disapproved of the irreverence and insensitivity of the jokes and songs—and of Seth McFarlane, personally. The Times article pointed out the discrepancy between the Academy’s need to bring in ratings, especially from the younger demographic (call it the “Family Guy”-factor) and to appear sensitive to the community-watchdog groups that have been attacking “Family Guy” since its premiere in 1999.

Seth McFarlane is a media juggernaut with three (yes,3!) TV series now in operation: [Family Guy (1999–2002, 2005–now), “American Dad!” (2005–now), “The Cleveland Show” (2009–now)]. His ‘tastelessness’ finds favor with a younger audience because it embraces (as far as a TV show can) the new Internet society—which has few editors and even less censors. This younger entertainment society accepts the crassness as ‘bold honesty’ of a sort (which dawned, IMHO, upon the Seinfeld episode when Jerry, et.al. all repeat the phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” until the defensiveness of PC-speak becomes its own post-modern joke/attitude).

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PC-abandonment is the new humor in this society—if it makes old people like me wince, it’s funny. And television, in many ways, is still bound hand and foot by wincing old people. These dinosaur-people miss the point—we joke because we love—and we love ourselves—even our bigoted, foul-mouthed selves. And we won’t pussy-foot around about it anymore. Any old geezer that can’t let go of the militancy that served human rights so well in the twentieth century can’t help but be scandalized by our new-minted idols, like Seth, who are comfortable making a joke about Lincoln being shot in the head without being suspected of hidden racism or some twisted fundamentalism.

I would like to join in—but I’m too old and set in my ways to reinvent myself as an aging hipster—besides, comedy was never my strong suit… But my point is this: we have two major societal paradigms that are at something of a disconnect—Network TV and the World Wide Web. I can’t get in the spirit of it—for me, half the fun of a show is watching it when it’s aired. The feel of live TV—even scheduled, recorded, first-run TV shows—is lost for me whenever I have to find the show on the cable-box’s VOD menu—but my son watches all his ‘TV’ online, using our Netflix account. And I grew up admiring martyrs to the cause of civil and gender rights—I’ll never be able to speak lightly of those momentous changes that informed my lifespan.20130226XD-Googl-RPO_004(SMcFarlane)

I can handle Seth McFarlane, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Matt Groenig—all the new-wave, internet-capable entertainers, but my laughs are a little repressed by the sheer effrontery of their attitudes. When I was a boy I wondered why it was so hard for my parents to see my point—now I understand—by their standards, I didn’t have a point. I wasn’t seeing everything through their experiences, I was seeing everything as new and without emotional context. And now I’m trapped in my memories of what our children see as ‘history’, if they notice it at all. Paperless, wireless, unconventional families, uncensored entertainment, the disintegration of traditional religious institutions’ power to shape people and events, access to everything—information, encyclopediae, maps and navigators, definitions, language translations, 24-hour news cycles—all the things that have remade what was once my stable little spot on the Earth—our children take them as givens—the same way we took drinking from our lawn hoses for granted (back when people still felt safe drinking from ground wells).

So, in the end, Seth McFarlane did a great job hosting the Oscars—he also did a terrible job—it depends on your age.

Ben Affleck