Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Three-Hour Electron Diet

I live on a farm that emphasizes self-sufficiency. And while it's true that we raise about 80% of our own food (a fact I'm proud of, and love to share with others), today I was reminded about how much my commitment to self-sufficiency is more an illusion than an accomplishment...

I am home for just one day. Back last night after two weeks on the East Coast, Ma'ikwe and I head out for New Mexico in the morning, where I'll help her wrap up her life in the Land of Enchantment and move to Dancing Rabbit in Missouri (where, theoretically, we won't have to travel as much to see each other). We'll be back with a U-Haul the evening of July 11.

Catching up on phone calls and mail, I was having a conversation with a friend in Colorado this morning while simultaneously closing programs on my laptop in preparation for rebooting to install a software update. Just before shutting down, my friend asked me for contact information for my son. "No problem," I told her, "I'll just reopen FileMaker Pro and give you that right now." Except that I couldn't . When I double clicked on the FileMaker icon, nothing happened.

Oh well, I thought. I need to shut down and reboot anyway. Maybe that'll clear the cobwebs and get everything running fine again. Only it didn't. Oddly enough, I could open Firefox, iCal, and iTunes, but not FileMaker Pro, Eudora, or Microsoft Word. Weird. Given that I do 98% of my computer work in the three programs I couldn't open, this was not a good sign.

Luckily this occurred during the one day I was home in a month (a classic silver lining), and I called my friends and neighborhood geeks at Skyhouse Consulting (a Dancing Rabbit business). First Juan and then Tony tried to walk me through some diagnostics, but nothing worked. This was getting serious. It was not reassuring that neither of them had encountered this particular set of symptoms ever before. Still, Tony knew how dependent I was on my laptop and invited me to come over after lunch, so he could work on it directly. Although that wasn't how I had thought I'd be spending my one day home (I thought I'd be picking berries), suddenly there was nothing more appealing than a trip to the neighbors, and the hope that my machine could be revived.

Tony labored for two hours before he finally hit on the successful strategy of using my back-up drive to re-install a faulty security file. So my electrons are flowing freely again, and I even managed to pick two gallons of gooseberries before the light failed. But I had a wake-up call.

For a while there I got to imagine what my immediate future would be like if I didn't have access to my laptop. Oh, I've experienced technological failures before and I knew I wouldn't die, yet it's amazing how much of my life is sandwiched in this little 5-lb box, and how much my work would be stalled out—or at least seriously inconvenienced—if everything wasn't available pretty much every time I lifted the lid. I'd be reduced to picking berries as my main work, or using a pencil to communicate. (Do people still write letters?) Maybe I'd read more.

In truth, I like picking berries and helping harvest and process the bounty of Sandhill's strong commitment to food. Yet I'm also heavily invested in the Age of Information. While spiraling gas prices may shortly crimp my robust travel schedule (yet another good reason for my wife and I to live within walking distance of each other), I cannot imagine a computer-less future, and the reality is that I know practically nothing about how to fix the damn things.

When it comes to computers, I have plenty of attitude, but not much aptitude. Basically, I'm self-insufficient. It's humbling, yet ultimate good, I think, to have one's vulnerabilities exposed from time to time. If only one could schedule the surprises for slow days...

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