Up the Downgrade

My computer’s been telling me that it wants to upgrade.  In fact, when I first bought this laptop several years ago, and started it up the first time right out of the box, a message popped up that a system update was available.  The tech business, you see, never really sells you a computer.  They’re working on it constantly, often at the same time I’m trying to use it.  In any case, the reason I haven’t upgraded has been that I need to clear off space on my hard drive.  Each upgrade requires more and more of the limited space I have, so my work has to be shoved off onto external drives that I stack like bricks in my attic.  And that takes time.

This wasn’t a problem with my pre-internet computers.  You bought them to do PowerPoint for work and word processing for publications.  Said publications were printed out and sent via mail to publishers.  Just typing that makes me feel old.  The fact was, however, you could get by on those computers without any upgrades at all.  The system that came with it was sufficient for the life of the machine.  Once you get connected to the internet, though, you have to keep up.  I often run into websites on my work laptop, which doesn’t have the latest system, that simply don’t work.  If they’re going to upgrade, I have to upgrade, and to upgrade I have to discard stuff I want to keep.  Every day I get the red warning signal—computer is hungry but can’t be fed until I start throwing my hard work away.  Or at least putting it where it will take extra effort to get it back.

Also, how are you supposed to find the time for upgrades when you use your computer constantly?  A typical download and install takes over an hour.  If we’re so wired, when are we possibly going to find the time for that?  And I still haven’t cleared enough space on my hard drive.  My external drive’s getting too full.  I guess it’s impossible to keep everyone happy.  In the midst of all this I squeeze in some time to use my laptop for that which I actually bought it—to do my research and writing and, during the pandemic, to buy the necessities of life.  And if I don’t upgrade Zoom’s going to stop working because it’s upgrading too.  I need to buy a computer that does nothing but upgrade itself.  That might be the solution.  That, or going back to good old-fashioned pen and paper.

Nightmares with Nightmares

Although some staff members are furloughed, Nightmares with the Bible is still going to press.  Unlike many authors, I realize that Covid-19 has had a stifling effect on publishing, starting with bottlenecking books at printing houses.  Printers (along with publishers) were non-essential businesses and since you have to be physically present to run a printing press, the virus literally, well, stopped the presses.  Many publishers could work remotely, so the projects began piling up before printing houses reopened.  All of this is preamble to saying I am gratified that work with Nightmares is continuing.  Yesterday, however, it led to a nightmare of its own.

One of the reasons I don’t fight awaking early is that it is uninterrupted writing time.  Most of the rest of your time zone is asleep at three a.m., so I can write in peace.  Yesterday, however, I had to divide my manuscript into chapter files and resend it to the publisher.  No problem, right?  Technology, however, has made this once simple task a burden.  I use a Mac, and so my word processor is Pages.  Not only that, but the constant systems upgrades require me to empty space on my hard drive—really, the only stuff I keep on here are my writings and those pictures I snap with my phone.  Still, I had to load my external drive to access the final file sent to the publisher two months back.  With Pages you can’t select material from page-to-page in the thumbnails.  No, you must “physically” go to the start of the chapter, click, scroll to the end of the chapter, and shift-click to highlight and then copy it.  Then you have to open a new file, select a template, and paste.  Save and export as a Word document.  The process took about two hours.

 

Now, I get up this early to write and do a little reading.  Yesterday I could do neither.  Instead I was cutting and pasting like a manic kindergartener, trying to get my manuscript printed before the second wave comes and shuts everything down again.  Talk about your nightmares!  Technology has made the industry much swifter, no doubt.  When I first began publishing articles you had to send physical printouts through the postal services and await either a rejection, or acceptance, through the mail.  Book manuscripts required large print jobs and keeping duplicates (at least we didn’t have to use carbon paper!).  All I lost was a morning of writing before the work bell rang.  Still, nightmares come in all sizes, some of them quite small.

Sickness unto Death

It’s like Nightmare on Elm Street, as my daughter suggested: if my laptop falls asleep, it dies. Actually, that only happens if it turns off. As much as I rail against technology, I have to admit that I get a little choked up thinking about it—my laptop has had its final reboot. Finally back home from a trip where my MacBook died in transit, the local Genius Bar genius told me the frank truth. The on-off switch has stopped working. He was able to take it in the back and get it started with a “hard reboot” and I can’t help but imagine that it involved tiny little defibrillator paddles and a techie with a trendy haircut shouting “Clear!” before jolting the little guy back to life. If it turns off again, though, they can’t guarantee that they’ll be able to bring it back to life. At five years it’s suffering the effects of old age. Planned obsolescence means that you shouldn’t get too close to your machine. Still, with all this talk of artificial intelligence, I wonder if we haven’t given this laptop life. It sits right on my lap every day. It has for five years. It keeps me warm in winter and too warm in summer. It knows my deepest thoughts.

Like Logan, however, it was only planned to live for a few years. Its crystal is flashing, and I’m getting kind of emotional. Yes, it’s been running slower and slower. Sometimes it doesn’t hear my commands. It takes its time waking up in the morning. Still, it has become like a friend. So when the disciples came to Jesus in a panic saying Lazarus was dying, he replied that the sickness was not unto death. Lazarus died nevertheless. And Jesus wept. I wonder if he would’ve felt the same about an old laptop. This machine has been with me through several jobs—it was purchased to help with my teaching at Rutgers, but it has kept me company on many long flights and lonely nights traveling for publishers and trying to remain sane when there was only a whiff of a wifi scent to latch onto. We’ve done a great deal together.

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It can be fixed, the genius said. I have to send it to the iHospital where a new switch will be installed. It will cost a lot of money and if it goes bad again, Apple won’t be able to replace the parts because they don’t keep them on hand all that long. The best solution—buy a new laptop. Spoken like a young man without a child in college. I’m dithering here. I can keep this computer running for a long time without shutting it down. Still, it’s borrowed time. The genius helping the next customer over said, “It’s not a matter of if a hard drive goes, it’s a matter of when.” We’re living on borrowed time. Our devices are meant to be tossed, but my gray matter understands things differently. I like my old laptop, and when Freddie Krueger comes for its soul, I know I’ll be wide awake.

TechnoFrazzle

Hebrew can be an obstinate language. And computer software companies can be immature. In a biblically inspired pulling out of the hair and rending of mine cloak, I am trying to submit an old manuscript for publication. You see, I have been a loyal Apple user from the beginning; Moses himself was one of my original teachers. This was back in the day when the processor took up proportionately about 90 percent of the space, and the screen was about the size of, say, an iPad. Monitors were black-and-white then, kids, and you had to save everything on devices called “floppy disks.” In any case, Macs died and Macs resurrected—actually, they never really die, as an attic full of aging, but document-rich Macs attests. Operating systems evolved at a frightening rate, and the document I want to submit was originally written *gasp!* about eight years ago. The Dark Ages. Before OSX. Before Keurig individual serving machines. When fax was still used.

The publisher made a simple request: send us a Word document. The problem, you see, is that Apple no longer runs software based on Microsoft platforms (Bill and Steve, play nice!). That means instead of Word I now use Pages. That’s mostly fine, but then Hebrew can be an obstinate language. It is written backwards. The vowels are above and below the consonants. It has letters that English doesn’t and most English speakers can’t even pronounce. So geeky font-makers came to the rescue and devised clever fonts to fill the gaps. In Word. I convert my old file into Pages so I can open it on a laptop that actually connects to the internet (the laptop on which it was written never could quite manage that) and guess what? Pages can’t display the fonts. I convert them, but like stubborn infidels, they remain the same on my screen. It is like driving through a blizzard with windshield wipers that don’t work. I can’t be sure what a PC reader, using that antique software, Microsoft Word, will see on the screen. I’m not sure what I’m writing.

I remember the rejoicing in heaven the day Apple announced that you could open a PC file in Word on a Mac. My life was easier, except for the fact that I was unfortunately working at Nashotah House—but that is a different story of archaic woes, for I could slip in a floppy disc (consult your dictionary) and share it with a less-sophisticated PC user. Now Mac OSX no longer supports Microsoftware and I can’t read my own fonts. I decide to copy the file onto a flash drive and submit it unchanged. My old laptop scratches its metaphorical head at this strange device I’m inserting into it and tells me this wondrous USB-deity is beyond its capacity to fathom. My Hebrew is stuck in the past. Along with my head, which, as you’ve been given to understand, is now bereft of hair.

In the beginning was Word...

In the beginning was Word…

Job Well Done

By now the world is well aware that Steve Jobs has died. As an avowed Mac user, an encomium for a man I never knew seems somehow appropriate. In a world where most religious leaders are known for their lack of vision and staunch conservatism (“Where there is no vision, the people parish,” to paraphrase Proverbs 29), Steve Jobs gained high priest status among technocrats for making the computer accessible. Even if you are reading this with a PC—thank your lucky Mac-OS-emulating Windows that you didn’t have to begin with a god-forsaken C-prompt—Jobs’ impact is part of your daily life. Although Mac has always been second fiddle in the computer market, Apple has always taken the lead in the gear: your iPods, iPhones, iPads, perhaps even the letter ”i” itself. We have entered the world of the Matrix, so much so that earlier this year it was reported that Apple fans experience a high like a religious encounter when they behold Apple’s mighty hand.

Nevertheless, a deep uneasiness overtakes me when I consider how helpless I am without my electronic accoutrements. When my laptop crashed last month, I was completely disoriented for about a week. I didn’t know what the weather was supposed to be like, who had tried to email me, and just how few people had decided to read this blog. I had become immaculated, and I was embarrassed. I miss the days of wandering carefree through the forest, concerned only about bears, cougars, and getting lost. Not having to wonder if there is an email I had left unanswered or if some new gadget had been invented, or if I had forgotten the birthday of someone I barely know on Facebook. No, electronic reality has supplanted actual reality. On the bus I’m nearly the only one who passes 90 minutes with a book. The glow of LCD screens peer like huge eyes in the pre-dawn of a New Jersey highway.

If it hadn’t been for Apple, I would not have joined the computer race at all. Back in college, several of my friends and I vowed we would not give in to the computer craze. I made it through my Master’s degree using an honest-to-God typewriter with ribbons, white-out and retypes. Today I can’t image how I ever survived all that. My wife first encouraged me to use a computer. She took me to the computer lab at the University of Michigan one Saturday and sat me in front of an Apple. “See, it’s easy,” she said. She was my Eve, offering me the bite of an Apple I’d never be able to put down.

We dream of building legacies, something to show that we’ve passed through this weary wilderness. Steve Jobs did not live to be an old man, but he has left a legacy. This blog, and countless others like it, would be inconceivable, were it not for his genius.

The apple tree keeps giving.

Confessions of a Luddite

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a techie. I learned my computer skills on a Mac, and I have been an adoring follower of Apple ever since. Every time I see Windows at work, I sneer at how they try to emulate the real thing: the Mac operating environment. Only clunkier. It is like watching hand-drawn cartoons in high-definition. Regular readers of this blog expect a daily post, but my valiant laptop, alas, had what is akin to a religious experience and I’m losing it. I’ve done my blog posts from that laptop for nearly two years. I sometimes work on them during the long commute to New York City. When my Mac Book encountered the plethora of signals from a Manhattan office building, it froze up. At home it no longer recognizes my base-station router. With my limited technical knowledge I’ve tried every trick on the Internet that doesn’t involve some Geek God going off into jargon that a humble reader of ancient languages can’t understand. I am grieving.

Yesterday, thinking about my plight, I saw the parallels with religious experience. My laptop in my eighth-floor office is like Moses climbing Mount Sinai, but less robust than the 80-year-old prophet. Having encountered a higher being—signals from the heavens, hundreds of them—it has bowed in acquiescence. It has received an epiphany that I missed while going about my daily editing duties. When it returned home, it was not able to recognize the one signal that has been its lord and master since it was first booted up. Nothing from restarting the router to reinstalling the entire factory-set system to clearing and restricting the access to the one true network has helped. My computer, to borrow a phrase from Atwood, has gone into a fallow state. That is a kind way of saying it is a mere paperweight or doorstop.

According to the standard interpretation, that is similar to an encounter with the divine. It leaves you marked, transformed. Sometimes incapacitated. Or perhaps the correct analogy is that of idolatry. My computer has gone on after foreign gods and no longer recognizes the one who gave it birth. I have suffered through two sleepless nights because of it. I even visited the local Apple store where they suggest I clear the AirPort history. Like I know what that means. Perhaps I have the analogy all wrong. Maybe my computer is the deity and I am the acolyte. It is mysterious and powerful and I am left in tears after an encounter with it. But really, it feels like a friend has died. I haven’t been able to post my quirky observations. I have to borrow a friend’s computer. Am I a prophet or just another Luddite awaiting my own theophany?

First Byte

The scientific study of religion poses dangers to the native environment. It doesn’t take a specialist to realize that different people respond to different religious stimuli; some like smells and bells and others prefer the stripped-down Puritanical style. Even beyond that some people get their religious thrills from nature, others from meditation, and some from controlled substances. In a story on CNN late last week, it was revealed that some Apple users find worshipping their favored brand a religious experience. A study by British neurologists discovered that the same areas of the brain are stimulated by both thoughts of the deity and Apple gadgets. MRIs have been utilized for many years now to study where the brain “lights up” during intense spiritual states. It seems we now have proof that God is a Mac user.

While some would cite this story as an example of idolatry, others would interpret the results in a more technological way. Our brains resemble motherboards, in some sense. Even Stephen Hawking’s famous interview of last week had the genius saying that human brains are just like computers. (I must confess to siding with Stuart Kauffman (Reinventing the Sacred) on this one—the brain does seem to be more than the sum of its parts.) If our brains are computers, then the Mac question is a literal no-brainer. Having worked in offices where every PC tries to be a Mac knock-off (wake up, folks! Windows is a Mac emulation environment) I too can sense a superior being behind that Apple with Eve’s first byte removed.

Should we attempt to explore where religious impulses originate? As intimated by Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause (Why God Won’t Go Away), if we are able to find the God centers in our gray-matter and stimulate them electronically, we may trigger religious rapture on demand. How does this artificial stimulation differ from the religious experience brought on by years of meditating, praying, or fasting? Or Apple products? Our brains are complex and only imperfectly understood. Religions have been around long enough for us to get a grip on their origins. Billions of believers worldwide, however, would prefer that other people keep their hands off their Apples.

Original thin?