Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The thing about computers

by Rick Blechta

I read Aline’s post yesterday, and contrary to what she said about my anticipated response, I  felt only sympathy.

Computers remain a mystery to those of us who grew up in an age where these mystical machines filled whole rooms and the biggest job of a programmer was to produce punch cards, those mysterious things that told computers what they were supposed to do.

We now have mobile phones that can do everything those room-size computers did back in the Dark Ages. Think about that for a moment. Technology has advanced to the point that you can slip a formerly room-size machine into your pants pocket, and contrary to making out those very abstract punch cards, my 4-year-old grandson can operate our modern devices. More about this later.*

The thing we oldsters can’t seem to get through our antiquated skulls is that computers have been and always will be Very Complicated Machines. I’ve actually seen the computer code needed to operate (what we call) a simple word processing program. Suffice it to say, it is voluminous, and to the non-programmer, completely impenetrable. Seriously, do not even contemplate trying to understand how your computer program does what it does.

Most of the time our amazing machines cooperate and run splendidly, but like any complicated piece of machinery, things do break down over time.

During the course of my work life I’ve had to learn a number of complicated programs, things that can do really amazing things. There are music scoring programs (3 of those so far), music recording programs (2), graphic design programs (3), photography (1 — thank the Lord!), web design (2), word processing (4). Literally, the instruction manuals for these take up over a metre of shelf space in my office.

Being a musician, one thing that’s been pounded into my head is that you must understand your instrument. In the computer sense, that’s the software you’re using (plus how to do various things on the computer itself). Did I spend a lot of time learning all these programs? You bet! Far too many hours gone forever but it has been of benefit.

Most people don’t  bother to reallylearn more than the bare minimum needed to operate their software. Some don’t even bother doing that. They just learn by the seat of their pants.

Blechta’s Computer Rule #1: Spend time learning your software. Like, actually read the manual first. Don’t use it as a tool to bail yourself out. It pays off in the long run. Oh, and those tutorials actually can help!

The next thing to understand is that because computers are so complicated, there are many more opportunities for them to break down. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. With that in mind, you need to take steps to protect yourself and all your hard work. If it’s a good idea to run maintenance programs on a regular basis — do it! Don’t put it off, don’t ignore it. Your computer will eventually bite you in the patootie. Count on it! (And usually at exactly the wrong time.)

Your hard drive is the heart of your machine. Think of it as your memory. What happens if you lose your memory? You’re in real trouble. Plan on your hard drive breaking down. It. Will. Happen. How do you get out of this conundrum? Back up your files regularly. You cannot be too careful about this. Offsite back-up is the best. If you, say, back-up to a hard drive you bought that sits right next to your computer, what will you do if your house burns down, or somebody robs your house while you’re out? Bet you all the computer gear will disappear. If you have offsite back-up, all you need is to download files to your new computer or hard drive, and away you go. If you’re paranoid like me, you have both a spare hard drive and offsite back-up.

Blechta’s Computer Rule #2: Always plan for the worst when it comes to computers. They will break down and you must have offsite storage or you will lose your work — or risk having to pay thousands of dollars to get it back.

Because computers are complicated, unless you’re a heavy-duty, experienced technician, you’re probably going to be stumped on how to fix it. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate a working relationship with a good and reliable computer technician. Believe me, they can be life savers. At the very least, ask around and see if you have friends or relations who Know About Computers. They can often get you out of a tight spot, and direct you to further resources if they cannot help with your problem. And don’t discount those far younger than you. *Twelve-year-old computer genius’s do exist — and one might live just down the street from you.

Blechta’s Computer Rule #3: Know where to get help before you need it.

So go forth and work with your computers in happiness and contentment — and may your hard drives never fail!


Eileen Goudge said...

I rely on the Geek Squad. I signed up for the 3 year plan which comes to about $100 per year. For that I get full service anytime of the day or night. Remote sessions in the comfort of my own home, or I can drop my computer off at any Best Buy. They run regular maintenance checks with just a phone call. They’re lifesavers.

Rick Blechta said...

Good to know! Thanks for the tip, Eileen.