Birth of a Computer

A few weeks ago, I had a little problem with my laptop. Everything worked perfectly on it, except for the power, which, you know, tends to be an important part of the whole computing experience (right up there with the motherboard and the, um, screen). Basically, it can't get any juice, so the only way I can get the thing to work is if I get a co-worker to charge my battery on her machine, which is a lot more convenient for me than for my co-worker.

I thought briefly about getting it fixed until I discovered that it would cost roughly $500. Or, more accurately, I discovered that it would cost $100 in order for someone to tell me that it would likely cost $500 to fix. Frankly, I've been down that toll road before, and I don't like it. "We've looked at your computer, and we've been able to determine that it's broke. That'll be $100."

And so I decided to buy myself a brand new laptop, an exciting experience during which I discovered such things as dual-core processors, video RAM, and fingerprint readers. Without fully understanding them, I decided that I must have them all. It was as if I was suddenly at the All-You-Can-Download salad bar for computers.

Of course, my purchase had all the hallmarks of traditional computer purchases. For example, shortly after I bought my machine, the price went down. I'm talking minutes here. When I went back to the company's web site right after my purchase, I suddenly noticed a new link called "Winter Specials." It was as if they were waiting specifically for me to get off the phone before their web guy was allowed to upload it. There, I found a very similar computer for about $100 less. I comforted myself with the thought that this one had a slightly smaller hard drive. Also, one number in the specs, which I didn't fully understand, was a lot lower than on the one I bought. Numbers like this, you see, are important.

"Excuse me, but why's the dual core cache transmogrifier 50 megahertz rather than 75 megahertz? ... oh, it's supposed to be lower. I see, so mine's better. Thanks."

As you can tell, when it comes to purchasing a new computer, you can't get much past me.

Once I got my computer home, it was time, of course, to change all the settings so that it looked exactly like my old machine. What can I say? I'm not great at change. I like to know that my computer is ultra-modern, but there are still only a dozen or so things I need to do on the thing.

Still, I did try out all the new features and even played with the fingerprint reader security system. (You just know Homeland Security is behind that one somehow.) And then I got rid of all the junk they put on new computers on the oft chance that you might accidentally sign up for AOL or something.

In my quest to delete all the useless stuff, I almost deleted something called Vital Bookshelf. After all, I'm tempted to delete anything from my computer marked vital for much the same reason that I tend to ignore most e-mails marked urgent. I've found that, in most cases, they aren't. Luckily, I stopped myself just in time, because this program is actually quite impressive. It includes over 3,000 items from the public domain, including books, plays, speeches, poems, paintings, and even music. As far as I can tell, it's free, though I'm still suspicious that I'll get charged at some point. My computer now contains everything from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" to Immanuel Kant's "Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals" to Einstein's "Theory of Relativity."

"Wow," my girlfriend pointed out, "Your computer's more cultured than you."

Well, not so fast. It also has both inaugural addresses of George W. Bush.

For some reason, I've also been given 631 Supreme Court decisions, in case I have trouble sleeping at night. I can't wait to read "Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge" from 1837. I'm definitely not waiting for the movie on that one!

Still, with all this new content, just imagine how learned I'll become. Now, thanks to my new computer, I can spend all my free time reading Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Robespierre, and the rest of those cats.

I can't wait. I'm planning to get started right away, just as soon as I finish reading the sports page online. It's going to be great.


    A periodic humor column, disguised as a blog. New columns published on Tuesdays or not as the case may be.


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