by Mike McHugh
My wife holds me to the agreement, despite the fact that I have no aptitude whatsoever when it comes to gadgetry. You’re looking at somebody who almost electrocuted himself changing the smoke alarm battery.
Her latest call to the Clod Squad was a case in point. My mission was to figure out why she couldn’t open the program that she uses to balance the checkbook. As a first step, I tried to convince her that there was no need to balance the checkbook. Couldn’t I just run to the convenience store and buy a six-pack on the debit card, thus verifying that we have a positive balance? She wasn’t buying it, so it was off to step two.
This step involved trying to run the offending program myself. That resulted in the following message: “Fatal Application Error in stack 0f47c3b.” I recognized this last term as being in hexadecimal—a language that computers converse in. It’s related to legalese in that it’s indecipherable to most carbon-based life forms.
Next, I tried a restart. Restarting solves many computer issues, and it’s a good thing, because it’s all I’ve got in my tech-service bag of tricks. That and a crowbar, which looked like it might come into play after the restart failed.
I knew to try one more thing before applying a heavy physical object to the problem. It’s something I learned from watching the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which represents the extent of my technical training. I would simply wipe the memory clear from the offending computer and re-install everything from scratch. It’s an elegant solution; one that many parents wish could be applied with similar ease to their teenage children.
This solution requires one to locate the original discs that came with the computer, plus those for all of the application software. In our house, this meant that it was time for a scavenger hunt, but in this case, it would have been easier for me to round up a currency note from Romania, a bus ticket from Biloxi to Opelousas, and an original 45 rpm single of “Puppy Love” by the Osmonds. That wasn’t going to be happening. My wife, in her youth, was more of a Partridge Family groupie.
So, it was time to call in the big guns, or, failing that, the PC maker’s technical support line. Upon doing so, the first thing I learned from the helpful support person was that the warranty I’d bought with the PC, one I was still paying for in a bajillion low, easy installments, had just recently expired. But not to worry, he explained in surprisingly passable English, at times slipping into what sounded to be hexadecimal. I could extend the warranty over the phone by simply adding another bajillion low, easy installments to the original term. I quickly agreed to this, accepting it as something that my great-grandchildren would just have to deal with.
“All we will need, sir,” he said, “are the original CDs that came with your PC.” At this point, I wished I’d known a few choice swear words in hexadecimal. Still, he offered to send me replacements, and my wife was just going to have to wait a few days to balance the checkbook.
The CDs that I received failed to install, prompting another call to the friendly technical support person. He put me on hold, during which I was treated to what sounded like a Lawrence Welk rendition of “Smoke On The Water” for my listening pleasure. He returned to give me his unequivocal diagnosis—a defective optical drive. I marveled at how he could figure this out over the phone, wishing that my cable company could do the same, rather than have me wait at home between the hours of 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a technician to show up.
Yes, I fought the computer, and the computer won. Maybe I’ll have better luck this time with the smoke alarm battery.