I have used computers since mainframes and cards. I have not always understood them. I have always felt free to ask questions about what I did not understand.
The first course I took at university that used computers was Statistics. I remember the first class distinctly. We sat in a gently whirring computer lab, terminals for everyone. The "teacher" for this lesson was a computer laboratory technician, brought in to show us how the beasts worked. He knew little of statistics, nothing of teaching, and a great deal about the computers he tended.
Having no frame of reference at all about how computers worked or how one might interact with them, I began to ask questions. I wanted to create a logical structure around the meaningless details he rattled off like gunshots. He tolerated my first "stupid" question with an impatient look and a curt answer, resentful at having to interact with a human rather than his well-controlled machines. It would have been the third question I think that pushed him over the edge of his tolerance for human interaction.
Loudly, in a disgusted tone of voice, he asked me, "Are you retarded?"
Now you must understand that I paid the tuition for my university courses. No one expected me to be there, no one supported me, encouraged me, or financially assisted me. I really wanted to be there and I really, really wanted to learn. I am a little funny about services I pay for; I expect service. As far as I was concerned, we students listening to the abusive reaction to my question had paid this technician. He owed us service.
I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable at the titter of nervous laughter that arose from some of the other students. Most others, however, watched the transaction with interest. I believed at the time that they hoped I would rally and defend the rights of the student to ask questions. I still believe that most of the other students in the room felt that way.
Blushing furiously, as I frequently blush when someone is being mean spirited, I replied in a voice of matched loudness, "Certainly not, did you not understand my question or do you not know the answer?"
A deathly silence descended in the room.
He stood there, aware that all eyes were on him, aware that his response was crucial.
It was at this juncture that he surprised me. Taking on a solicitous tone of concern, he calmly responded, "Please rephrase the question."
I admired him at that moment. I rephrased the question. He answered the question. From that point onward, he carefully answered all my questions. No one else in the class ever ventured a question.
My opinions about computer technicians have not much changed since then. My understanding of computers has expanded and my questions have become more sophisticated. The same scene has been reenacted many times, in various forms and in various contexts. Where knowledge is power, it is reluctantly shared.
These reminisces are triggered by an event. The unthinkable has happened! For years I have been saying, "I do not do hardware." For the most part that has been true. Yes, I have installed PCI cards and plugged in and configured a hub, but nothing more complicated than that.
Economy and need have forced me to expand my skills. I now can remove and replace a hard drive. The new hard drive that I had installed in Alfred a little over a year ago just died. Since it is under warranty, I can send it back to the manufacturer and they will gladly replace it. The catch is the cost of labor. The drive needed to be removed and shipped and the new one installed.
The computer technician that installed the drive last year gave me a few tips over the telephone. He was helpful. He was pleasant. I will do business with him again.
I am looking at the drive right now, it sits on top of Alfred looking innocent and healthy. My hands are scraped and raw in spots, my index finger is still numb. The new drive is on its way. Alfred is reassembled for the moment and running well on the remaining hard drive.
I do hardware!
|RECIPES :: Cast
The hard drive comes out.
By the Easy Chair
Kate Rice Prospector
by Helen Duncan
Waking on a Wire
by Richard & Linda Thompson
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