Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Curmudgeon is techno-busted

It was Christmas Eve. I had the morning set aside to clean off my desk at home. Oldest Son and his wife Abby would be staying with us tonight -- them and their dog, Rodent.

There are two ways a pack-rat can clean. There is the panic clean-up -- where everything loose is swept off the table and into a bag or box and hidden away somewhere where no one is supposed to look. A closet, perhaps. If there's room there. More likely, a room that will be declared 'off limits.' Depending on how (or whether) one remembers to bring all the stuff back after the guests have departed, such a room can quickly resemble the set of one of those awful 'Hoarders' TV shows.

The other method, and the one I greatly prefer, is the controlled clean-up. I move stuff from one pile to another, mostly, but I keep track of what I'm doing and how. I always assemble a large pile for recycling or shredding but, somehow, the pile on the desk doesn't look any different. I know this because Long Suffering Spouse tells me.

Anyway, the family computer is on my desk in the den. The old computer is like a spoiled child. Though I may urgently need to do something else, entirely independent of said computer, the machine will desperately require my attention. A grayed-out antivirus icon in the status was my clue Saturday that my controlled clean-up was going to have a computer maintenance feature as well.

The antivirus wanted to run a backup. This is my tentative toe-dipping into cloud-computing: I bought some online backup space with my latest antivirus renewal. I tried to back up my music files -- and found I would need three or four times the space I'd purchased in order to accomplish that task. So I let the antivirus backup business languish; I had other things to do. Now the computer would punish me for this.

One part of my clean-up routine was to transfer my files from the office into the home computer. That's how I back up. I have two mostly-equipped offices this way as well as some protection against machine failure. I put my work files on a thumb-drive at the office and bring them home in my briefcase. Moving my briefcase upstairs was an action item on my cleanup agenda. So I opened my briefcase to pull out the thumb-drive... and it wasn't there.

I yelped in frustration. I'd left the stupid thing in my computer at work. I must have gotten distracted on the way out the door yesterday.

Long Suffering Spouse heard me bellow. So did the neighbors, I suppose, but none of them offered to drive me downtown and fetch my thumb-drive. Long Suffering Spouse put on her coat.

The Kennedy was pretty wide open early in the morning of Christmas Eve. By pretty wide open I mean that what traffic there was was moving at NASCAR speeds. I was at the office in 15 minutes. The offending thumb-drive was right where I'd left it. I plucked it from the office machine and looked quickly around the Undisclosed Location.

You can imagine the Undisclosed Location this way: Paper here, paper there, paper everywhere. Boxes of paper. Shelves. Files. And office supplies. Mailing labels. I have a ton of mailing labels at the office. These are wonderful for getting Christmas cards out -- and, no, we hadn't done that yet and, yes, I know it was Christmas Eve already. If some spare brain cell triggered a recollection about mailing labels, however, I ignored it. I had mailing labels at home, too. And I was here to collect my thumb-drive.

My wife and I were home in another 15 minutes. I returned to my desk; she went back upstairs to whatever holiday preparations she was making there. I plugged in my thumb-drive.

My computer was still running the antivirus backup. There's a lot on the hard drive, I guess, and the computer (being very literal) needs to make sure it has scoured the entire thing before deciding that it has identified every file to be backed up (Since the antivirus seemed to be insisting that it must back up something, I'd decided to back up financial files -- in my case that definitely wouldn't take up too much external storage space.)

I suppose I should have thought about what I was doing before jamming the thumb-drive into its slot.

The thumb-drive slows e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g down. The pace of my controlled cleanup was never more than glacial to begin with; this was not helping.

After a period of time -- weeks I thought but, no, it was still Christmas Eve morning -- I finally figured out that there was a software conflict between the antivirus and the stuff on the thumb-drive.

See, my thumb-drive wasn't blank. It was given to me when thumb-drives were brand new technology and this one came loaded with a number of teeny-tiny little programs, none of which I cared one little bit about. But those programs had to load before I could move my files.

And they weren't loading.

I tried to safely eject the thumb-drive -- there's a procedure for this -- but the machine said a program was still running on the drive even though I'd terminated them all. Or thought I had.

And the antivirus icon was still grayed out. And nothing had yet backed up there either.

So... I thought... I'll do something else while I'm waiting.

I have a netbook computer that I also use at home. When the family computer gets this slow I can turn to that for the Internet at least. Read the comics. Stalk my kids on Facebook. That sort of thing.

I'd been looking at Facebook off and on Saturday morning but that wasn't particularly productive. So the thought occurred to me... why don't I dig out those labels? Long Suffering Spouse had only asked me about them 100 times or so. Here would be the Christmas Miracle: I actually did something I was asked to do!

So... I looked.

And looked.

And looked some more.

I began to wonder if perhaps the reason why I had so many labels in the office was that I'd brought the ones from home for some reason. Maybe they didn't print well on the printer at home?

There was just one more place I could look, but I was beginning to have serious doubts about that.

And, then, on impulse, I posted my frustration on Facebook. I didn't want to shout. I'd bellowed enough already. It seemed harmless enough to tell the world on Facebook. Long Suffering Spouse isn't on Facebook. And she was the only one I didn't want to tell about the labels. Not after she'd driven me downtown once already.

I tiptoed up the stairs and into our room. Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter were sitting on the bed. I didn't really look to see what they were doing; I understood that they were doing artsy-craftsy stuff.

I tried to look casual. I tried to look casually, too, if you see the distinction. No... not in the bookshelf. No... not on the desk....

"Looking for something?" I could hear the barb in Long Suffering Spouse's question.

"Um," I said. I looked at what my wife and daughter were doing and, for the first time, I noticed Younger Daughter's laptop was open.

Busted. On Facebook.

But the antivirus cleared up eventually. Last night, was it?

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