Monday, January 11, 2016

New Year Rant.

I have started the new year raging against technology. Think of King Lear on the blasted heath and transfer that to a small study in Edinburgh with Storm Frank doing its worst, and you get the picture.

My attitude to the machines that work for me is in general cordial, anthropomorphic, even. We have had cars called Tabitha (a skittish Ford Anglia) and Arthur (a rather sober family saloon); our Android tablet is predictably called Marvin and my old computer was dear Jemima. She got tired after about ten years but she ploughed on, solid and predictable, if increasingly slow, long after my family told me she should be scrapped. Eventually the slowness became standstill and I was forced, reluctantly to say goodbye.

Her replacment insists on doing all sorts of things that I can perfectly well do for myself, many of which I don't want done at all – and why anyone should design a system where it takes three stages for switching off instead of one is beyond me. However, I have got used to that and will even admit that there are some features that are better.

However, over the last bit I have had a spectacular proof of  the malevolence of inanimate objects. I am trapped in an abusive relationship here; if I had to give a name to my computer it would be Beelzebub.

It lulled me into a sense of false security, with everything nice as pie. Then suddenly it decided to obliterate half the chapter I had just written. I tried everything, but it was gone – not in the back-up file, not anywhere. I called in my tech guru who checked the whole thing, couldn't find the missing work, couldn't find anything wrong. I ran off hard copy, saved in two places, saved to a stick and sent copies to my husband and deleted the file, deciding it was corrupt.

It was fine for a bit, though it left me with a neurotic twitch about saving everything. I close, open up again and check, and if  everything is all right I close it again.  Then I started working on revisions. I worked for a whole morning, saved to my various places, checked and closed – fine.  Next day, all revisions had gone. All of them.

I'm scared to copy the file on to another machine in case it infects that as well. I'm working exclusively from a stick, removing it from the machine after I've saved, and so far so good. Once I've finished the present book, I'll strip everything back and hope that eliminates the problem. If it doesn't, it's a new machine and I will take pleasure in finding a sledge hammer and smashing Beelzebub into tiny fragments. Then I'll jump on them.

And you think that's the end of my rant against technology? Huh! Try booking a ticket on Virgin trains. It asks me to log in with a password. Why, for heaven's sake? I'm not wanting to withdraw money from a Swiss bank account, I want to buy a return ticket to London.

I can't remember my password. To be honest, I can't remember whether I have an 'account' or not. So I click 'register' instead. I type in my email, and a password; first I'm told that my password won't do. It has to be at least eight characters long and include at least one number, one upper case letter and one lower case letter. The one I'd typed in had just that, but apparently it still didn't like it. Then another message came up; this email is in use for another account, so I can't register a new one.

So I go back to log-in, confess in shame that I've forgotten my password and wait until they send me a code that MI5 would have been proud of. I enter it, then they tell me my credit card details are wrong. They aren't.

Eventually, on my knees and whimpering, I persuade them to accept a debit card and the precious ticket is mine, hedged about with security, just in case a total stranger should enter my email address – common knowledge – and try to buy a ticket under my name with their own money.

Of course, I'm glad I don't have to go out into Storm Frank to buy my ticket at the station. Of course I'm glad I don't have to write everything in longhand and type it up with duplicating paper and Snopak to hand. But every so often, I've just had enough. Me and King Lear.

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