I spent much of this week tinkering with my computer, which has become increasingly temperamental with age and stopped working completely last weekend. Like most people, if not most bloggers, I possess just more than the bare minimum of knowledge that is required to operate the machine, which makes sudden and mysterious system crashes a profoundly distressing development.
Over the course of the week, I backed up my hard drive, reinstalled programs, archived over 4000 email messages, and, in a fit of technical machismo borne out of sheer desperation, edited my system registry. (*gasp*) In so doing, I have managed to fix problems that the Dell support technician I spent three and a half hours on the phone with, Manuel, was either unable or unwilling to solve. “I think it’s time for a new computer,” he suggested blandly at the end of our call. “With the greatest possible respect,” I thought, “fuck you, Manuel!”
At some point along the way, I remembered that I actually enjoy tinkering immensely. What happens if I do this? How does this fit together with that? How does a problem change over time, and is it possible to guide its evolution to a productive outcome? I used to derive pleasure from this process of figuring stuff out, and I often regret having fallen for the idea that “science” and “art” are mutually exclusive fields of endeavour.
When I was in grade school, I attended a program of summer classes that was developed by the Toronto school board for allegedly “gifted” students. One had the opportunity to choose from a range of module-based courses in everything from improvised comedy to stained glass making -- an embarrassment of riches, by contemporary standards. For some reason, I kept gravitating toward the science-geek classes, of which Introduction to Rocketry was my undisputed favourite.
We spent the module learning to build little aerodynamically sound rockets, which we would attempt to launch from the school’s football field on the last day of class. My rocket was red with a sea-blue nose cone and matching blue balsa-wood fins, which seemed altogether too fragile for the function they were designed to perform. When launch day came, I awaited my turn on the field and felt the unique pangs of anxiety that precede any long-planned experiment. Would the thing actually work? Or, would the craft I had spent weeks assembling lift only just high enough to enable it to sputter uselessly to the ground?
As luck would have it, the thing worked. My red and blue rocket with its improbable balsa-wood fins went up into the air and stayed aloft for an entirely respectable length of time before returning to the grassy field from whence it came. Other rockets rose higher or stayed up longer, but I was no less elated by my craft’s modest performance; the rocket worked, which, as some of my classmates came to understand all too keenly, was far from a guarantee. It was a remarkable feeling to have, squinting against a bright yellow sun, something between pride and accomplishment and reward but not quite any of those things. Whatever it was, it felt damn good.
There was a hint of that feeling the other night, when, after nine hours of increasingly manic tinkering, I rebooted my computer for the umpteenth time and its hard drive purred like the proverbial kitten, as opposed to the apneatic snorer it had previously been. In spite of Microsoft’s dire warnings and without regard for the bad faith demonstrated by Manuel Dell, I made the thing work. And it was good.