Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

Love Letter to a Dying Computer

Dearest Computer,
Well, here we are.  I know all this processing is a strain, but I’d like to say this while I still can.  If you need to turn off before I’m done, I’ll understand.
Gosh, how does one begin conversations like this?  I guess the best way is to start fondly at the beginning.  Remember when I brought you home that October evening in 2004?  Five years seems at once so long ago and so recent.  Whoever returned you to Best Buy didn’t know what they were missing with such a high-quality machine.  You were at the height of your game back then – 60GB hard drive!  24x CD burner (I had been limping along at 4x)!  17.1″ widescreen with DVD capability!  3 hours battery life!  And so portable!  I couldn’t wait to take you out to a coffee shop.
Sure, things were a bit awkward at first.  There was the issue of my desktop computer, which had been a good companion ever since we had wiped Windows ME from it and installed XP.  I spent more time and trouble than I should have, getting you two to talk to each other and transfer my files.  There were times when I thought I would just lose everything.  But from the first, Computer, you were supportive and patient as I installed new drivers and software.  I’m especially glad you got along with my printer – I know it hasn’t been all there either of late, but it’s going to miss you too, you know.
And then we took our first big trip abroad!  I admit I was worried about plugging you in the first time, hoping the foreign voltage wouldn’t overwhelm you.  But you adapted very well, and pretty soon (after adjusting my default paper size to A4) it was like you had been practically built in England.  I know I didn’t take you as many places as I could have – I tended to be possessive, not letting strangers try to pick you up while I wasn’t looking.  But we wrote some good papers together … and more than a few bad ones!  Remember when we stayed up practically all night writing that Tudor history response?
You were also good about keeping me connected to my friends back home … we spent more than a few hours E-mailing, chatting, talking on Skype.  And I’ll never forget how you helped me organize all my photos, especially after my purse (including camera) was stolen a month before we went home.  Thank goodness I had left you safely at home, Computer.  I don’t know what I would have done if you had been taken that day.
When we got back to the States, you re-acclimated faster than I did, and got right to work on that summer research project.  I’ll admit I wasn’t always the most motivated, but you were there whether we were watching those “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” clips for academic or purely entertainment purposes.  We barely pulled through before having to start the next project in the fall!
But oh, Computer, how many happy hours we spent in the library together, at our little hideaway on the 5th floor.  I even kept a second power cord there for you, remember?  You might have suffered a bit with all the book dust about, but even so, you never failed to have the right music to keep me going.  And I don’t think I ever told you how much appreciated you being faithful through those critical times.  More than once I heard the lament of someone whose computer had refused to work, had crashed at a critical moment, had failed to remember a really important paper.  Maybe it was luck, but I’d like to think our relationship was more stable that of the average student.  Here we are five years later, after all.
And like any college campus, disease was rampant.  I know, I know, we should have used better virus protection, but I guess I was just a young and reckless user.  Lately I’ve been feeling guilty about that … I should have given you access to Windows Update more often, I know, and maybe that mass-download was too little, too late.  And maybe what we’re going through now is somehow the first signs of an infection long ago … but I’d like to think that maybe what’s happening now is just the way of things, the natural lifespan of even the best technology.
(You’ve been doing well the last couple days, by the way.  I’ve really enjoyed being able to spend more time with you.)
Then – exciting times – we moved to Chicago!  I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with how you adapted to that ridiculous Comcast software, despite how difficult it was being.  And how you held your own against all those shiny new Dells and Macbooks and tiny only-good-for-notetaking machines with which people seemed enamored.  Sure, you weren’t really well-suited to the classroom, but I was able to get you up to speed once I got home.  <CRASH>
Are you okay?  Comfortable?
…. And you certainly put up with a lot from me that year!  French translations, Wikipedia page archives, not to mention pages and pages of semi-coherent notes about the Leaning Virgin of Albert… somtimes I’m surprised we made it through with a thesis and a half-hard-drive of free memory.  And still, you always pulled me through.
Remember when we sat out on the Midway and picked up a rogue wireless signal on that bench by the train tracks?  Your visual display probably wasn’t happy in the sunlight (not to mention your sensitivity to pollen), but sometimes a little risk is good for you, I suppose.
When I started working that summer, I realized that was really the longest we’d been separated on a daily basis.  I hope you didn’t resent it.  Sure, there was a computer at work, but it was strictly professional – I didn’t even have administrative access.  You still seem a little sore on this point, so I just want to say, all we did was read resumes, and occasionally browse sites like Politico.com.  And any pictures I saved were forwarded right home to you.  In any case, it was a Dell desktop with an insecure power cord, not my type at all.
And when I was home, we still spent some quality time together, watching the Daily Show online, ordering from the Something Store (BFF bracelet! haha), planning those weekend trips.  You kept me connected to the world, especially when the weather was bad or when I was feeling low.  You were so good at that.
I’ll admit – and maybe this coincided with returning to the more hectic pace of the city – I noticed you slowing down a few months ago.  Taking longer to load web pages.  Not quite able to handle too many tabs at a time.  Never enough to crash your whole system, but….  Was it Firefox?  Was I too pushy with open-source software?  I know Firefox is a new program and demanding on your resources.  If that’s what’s made you upset all these months, I’m sorry.  Yes, I’ll admit, occasionally I had thoughts about my next computer, what it would be and what we would do.  But as your browser history could attest, I never went further than idle thoughts.
Remembering the decline is still hard for me.  It seemed to come out of nowhere in March – I took you into the living room, it was like you were having an amnesia episode, perpetually restarting, unable to recognize where or what you were.  That’s when your mortality really hit me, Computer.  For a moment I was afraid you’d never wake up again.  Once you settled back on the desk, however, you were fine (for the time being).  I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with you – the unfortunate impatience the young have for the elderly.  After all, you were supposed to be portable!  I’d already resigned myself to dealing with your hyper-shortened battery life, since you stay plugged in most of the time anyway.  I tried to be careful where I set you down, how warm or cold you were, not fiddling with your wireless card button.  But once you started having those memory lapses, I couldn’t pretend anymore.
You seemed to go downhill so quickly in the past couple weeks.  It hurt that I couldn’t rely on you anymore, especially so soon before we would be heading to school again.  Is this what set you off, the thought of leaving the Midwest?  You haven’t traveled for a while.  Were you feeling as though you wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other east-coast computers?  I can understand where you’re coming from, I suppose.  I think you would have been fine.  But you always knew your own processor.
… I’m glad you’re not angry about the reformat.  I was really torn that day, whether to risk everything with a clean slate, or let you hobble along with all those programs intact.  Looking back, I know it was probably an unnecessary risk to put you through, and I’m sorry things didn’t turn out better.  I’m glad at least we were able to copy everything important before you forgot it all.  The worst part was the false hope we had as you finished reinstalling XP without a hitch – I can’t even describe the sinking feeling I had when I saw that awful blue screen in the middle of restoring one of your drivers.  Sure, we went through the motions and got you functional again (after all, aren’t you accessing the Internet right now?) but we both knew it was almost time.  You might have enjoyed running a few more of the old programs, but I thought it would be best for both of us if you just focused on the essentials.
I didn’t have the heart to shop online for a new computer with you, so I spared you that, at least.  If it makes you feel better, I’m getting another HP Pavilion … but for all its capability and trendy look, I still like your classy black-and-silver lines best.  I almost got a Dell that reminded me of you, but it wouldn’t have be the same.  Certainly it wouldn’t have the memories we have.  You know, in spite of everything, I still trust you.
I’ll be honest, Computer.  Dad thinks we might be able to fix you with another reformat and maybe a quick hardware replacement, but I can’t say I’m hopeful.  In any case, I care about you too much to put you through more trauma, with so little chance of real success.  Maybe it’s just your time.  I don’t need to have you calculate what Moore’s Law has to say about you.  Don’t listen to the hype about obselecense, Computer (oh! for one more moment with your spellcheck) – you can still hold your own against those cheaper, flashier models out there.  And you’ve been perfectly healthy until now.  That’s meant a lot to me.
Where do we go from here?  I don’t know.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could go out in a blaze of glory?  Flying off the roof of the Sears Tower – drifting slowly to the bottom of Lake Michigan – colliding with the brick wall of the Lozano school, chips and keys and LCD flying dazzling outward into the grass.  Part of me wants to give you that spectacular passing.  But the sentimental part can’t bring it to fruition.  I don’t know.
What I can promise, at least, is that I’ll try my best not to remember you this way, hobbling along semi-lucid in the mornings, sitting silent and closed all day.  You deserve better, Computer.  So let’s just savor our last times together online, and not worry about things you can’t process.  I know I’ve kept you awake a long time now … but do you think you have it in you for one last blog post, for old times’ sake?
<CRASH>
… Computer?
R.I.P. Blackadder, 2004 - 2009

R.I.P. Blackadder, 2004 - 2009