03 January 2011

The Birth Of A Computer Nerd -- Part Two

My parents acquired our first computer when I was eleven. We were visiting relatives and they had recently gotten a new computer. Therefore they had a slightly used Windows ME computer they were getting rid of. My parents, who had been sort of considering getting a computer, agreed to take it.
Again, I have no idea what the thing's technical specifications were (and unfortunately the tower is no longer in our possession), but it worked for what we needed. I was rather disappointed that I couldn't start e-mailing my friends -- my parents were dead-set against the Internet -- but I managed to survive by drawing things in Paint, occasionally doing some typing, and playing with display settings (my sister and I would preview the haunted house screensaver and spend hours pretending to sneak up to the house on the screen from the other end of the room. Whenever a ghost would appear or a noise was heard, we would freak out and skitter back to the opposite wall where we would catch our breath in the most dramatic fashion and then slowly gather the courage to make our way to the house again).
For several years nobody really used the computer for much -- the varying versions of Solitaire were the most often-used programs.
Then I got an iPod.
I knew next to nothing about iPods at the time. All I knew was that somehow you used a computer to put music on it and then you could listen to music all the time without the bother of toting along half a dozen scratched CDs only to find that two of the cases are empty -- twenty minutes into a three-day road trip.
For me, a music junkie, that was all I needed to know. We had a computer, I had enough money. No problem.
Alas, I was young, sheltered, and as such completely unaware that there were different kinds of operating systems. Neither was I aware of the term 'incompatible' in the computing world.
Long story short, I bought the iPod, brought it home, and after several hours came to the conclusion that the computer simply would not communicate with the iPod. Since I didn't have very much computer knowledge I initially chalked it up to my own inexperience. However, after I'd talked to a friend who also had an iPod, I read the iPod's packaging, on her recommendation. It was only then that I found that I needed something called 'Windows XP.' I also needed 'iTunes' which required... an Internet connection.
At the time a computer nerd relative of ours had just moved to our area. We telephoned him and asked what we could do. He said he would download iTunes onto a portable drive and install it onto our computer from there.
Several days later, he came out to do that... but the computer refused to read the drive. Nothing he tried worked.
Finally we had to admit defeat. The computer was simply too old. However, this relative -- who built and repaired computers for extra cash -- said that the next time he got his hands on an XP computer to sell, we could have it.
Seven months passed and I began to despair of ever being able to use my iPod for more than the Apple version of Breakout that came bundled with it (it was a pretty decent version, but even so...).
Finally though, the day came when he told us he had a computer for us. Since we still didn't have the Internet, he took the liberty of installing the latest version of iTunes on it before giving it to us. He showed me how to import my music and sync my iPod, and in doing so was the midwife at the birth of a more manic computer geek than anyone would ever have dreamed I'd become.
Not wanting to repeat the frustration of spending several hundred dollars before discovering an incompatibility and having to wait seven months to be able to use the device I'd paid good money for, I decided I would learn more about computers so I could avoid similar mistakes (but anyone who's read the story of The Zombie (as I've decided to call The Computer) knows that I still make that mistake. Occasionally. Once. And it did work out that time... for a month and a half anyway).
I went to the library and borrowed a few computer books that had 'Windows' or 'iPod' in the title, figuring that was as good a place as any to start.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), those beginner computer books led to more complex and in-depth computer books. It wasn't long before I was bringing home books and magazines with titles like 'Teach Yourself C++,' 'The Hacker Quarterly,' and 'Dreaming In Code' (excellent book, by the way, utterly fascinating. The author is Scott Rosenberg if you'd like to look it up).
My knowledge quickly expanded. Eventually I'd read all the computer books the library had and moved on to tinkering with our computer without any specific goal in mind. How it survived some of the things I (mostly accidentally) inflicted on it I have no idea.
Two years after we got that XP computer, my parents finally gave in to their offspring's pleas and got high-speed Internet installed. Around the same time our computer geek relative was given a newer, better Windows XP computer to sell and passed it along to us. I got the old computer (I was rather disappointed since I'd outgrown the hard drive before it even passed into my hands and had hoped to get the newer one since my parents and sister were perfectly fine with the old computer anyway. I still have that computer though... it's the 20 GB one mentioned in the story of The Zombie).
Despite all the reading though, I've done most of my learning through trial and error. To this day I have never owned a brand new computer, either my own or my parents'. Since used computers tend to come with, ahem, 'quirks' (some more severe than others), I've had to do a lot of experimenting and stabs in the dark, hoping for something to work. As much as I hate having to coax unresponsive computers back into existence, I've accidentally taught myself a lot of things (like never put the iTunes folder in another user's Documents).
The nine-year-old who spent a half hour in a dialog box trying to figure out how to shut down Windows ME seems so far away now. Especially considering I've hatched a rather elaborate, multifaceted, and probably-going-to-be-mostly-ad-libbed plan to get The Zombie operational again. (I suppose if it works I'll have to come up with a different name for it though... although really, computers are zombies to begin with...)

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