15 August 2009

I can't believe I did not know that...

This is going to be one of those "remember when?" stories. (If you are younger than 30, you probably will not remember when.) So... remember when the old black screen/white chunky Courier font text computers became... WINDOWS? And all of a sudden, Disney's Wonderful World of Color exploded onto the screen? That was back in my Madrid days, and I was lucky enough to be working in a publishing company that not only got these creatures when they were hot on the market, but provided us with classes to learn how to use them.

One Friday evening, when all of the rats had left the sinking ship, I decided it was Playtime. First stop: Paintbrush. Totally worthy of a modern art exhibition, right?

Then it was time to change the desktop color (a nasty hospital green) and maybe fonts and background colors. Because.... how cool would it be to have, say, a navy blue background with white text?

So I entered the Domain of the Control Panel God and started messing around. I was immensely proud of myself for figuring this out since it was not something they taught us in the course. Also because in the early days of Windows, I was still a bit dyslexic using the mouse, El Ratón.

Monday morning came and I was ready to open up a file and start typing in crisp white letters on a navy background. Except... the background was still white. And... nothing appeared when I started typing! I tried everything I could, but this was still early days for word processing software, and I also still had a lot to learn. Panic was beginning to set in. I would have to call for help.

"Help" meant getting one of the two on site computer geeks to fix it. It was a crap shoot which one would come around, and the difference between the two was like cheese and chalk. The Nice Computer Geek was nicknamed "El Valium" because no matter how convoluted the problem was, he remained smiling, unflappable, and almost seemed to congratulate you for not screwing up worse. The Evil Computer Geek was your worst nightmare. We did not have a nickname for him, but the words "Juan Is Coming To Fix Your Computer" struck terror in the hearts of even the male staff.

So you just know which one showed up at the scene of the crime. After a few intense minutes of tapping keys and zipping in and out of windows I did not even know existed, he announced, "It is fixed." Silent pause. "Um, what was wrong with it?" I bravely ventured.

Juan the Evil One explained that the navy background I thought I had set for text documents only applied to the desktop design colors. It was not possible (in those days) to set the background inside a text document to navy, all I could do was change the text color. And since I had chosen white, typing white text on a white background made it appear as if I was typing without any text appearing. Ahem. Juan the Evil One then announced that he was punishing me for a whole month by restoring the default colors on the desktop and "locking it" so that I would not be able to get into the configuration. I was mortified. And also very depressed at the thought of a whole month of looking at that nasty hospital green color.

A month later, El Valium stopped by the department, and I rushed him over to my desk to remove the virtual lock from my configuration. When I told him what Juan the Evil One had done, he smiled his usual smile and said some of the truest words ever spoken in the field of modern technology: "Computers only do what you tell them to do." Those words have echoed in my mind countless times over the last few decades. And while it is true that computers can have a lot of their own glitches, 90% of the time, the wrong result is the result of the wrong command given, or, in computer jargon, a PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair).

The point of all of this was actually meant to be a brief illustration of the fact that I have a very severe case of OTD, Obsessive Tinkering Disorder. I am capable of spending hours fiddling with format options. If there is a way to get a square peg ino a round hole, I will find it or gnash my teeth trying. Which is why, in my camino accidentado, accident-prone journey of testing stuff out, I often have these wonderful moments of computer epiphany: "So that's how you get the footer text to appear on alternate pages!" And so on.

My students, who think Boomers are computer clueless (instead of recognizing the fact that for every computer clueless Boomer, there is another one who invented the software they are using), were always in awe of little things I would point out to them. Such as the fact that if you want to type Spanish punctuation (¿Qué?), you can add a virtual Spanish keyboard to your computer instead of having to use ALT + 130 or whatever the cumbersome code is. They were actually wide-eyed with admiration one day when I pointed out that if you click "cached" on a Google search result, it would produce the text with all of the search words highlighted in color. Oh Frabjous Day!

So imagine my complete disbelief yesterday when I was using the little pop-up computer calculator and discovered, after years of "clicking" on each number painstakingly, that I could KEY IN THE NUMBERS ON THE CALCULATOR DIRECTLY FROM THE KEYBOARD. (Admittedly, I rarely used the little pop-up calculator for that very reason unless nothing else was available.)

Still. Can you believe I did not know that??!!

Ever had a tech epiphany after years of doing something the hard way?


P.S. Not having posted in over a month, I can see that this blog is not going to return to the days of once-a-week posting. That said, it does feel good to put something up. Kind of like taking a shower and getting dressed after you've been schlepping around in your jammies all morning.