Modern Living

The latest in my on-going, if informal, technology series. Or, put another way, some more whining about machines.

I have a machine that washes my clothes for me. It is a shiny new (ish) Samsung, the model which was flinging off lids awhile back, probably in frustration at having to deal with unpredictable biological organisms like us humans. As it turned out, my machine was not one of the ones with that problem, although it was the same model number. Those were specially manufactured for Sam’s Club, which had demanded a lower price. They got it.

So as not to leave ordinary, hard working machines like mine feeling ignored, Samsung sent a guy over to bolt some stuff together all the same. And (I suspect just to leave evidence he had been there) he also “installed” a new faceplate, by which I mean he pressed the pre-glued replacement on over the existing control labels. It’s a dandy, striking black and silver against the pure, Caucasian white of the machine, stunning. The only other change I could see was that the setting called Bedding had been consolidated with Delicate.  Keeps those blankets in a low-spin zone, so the machine doesn’t freak out and start stripping off its coverings.

It is a marvelous machine for sure, but it has a little quirk, not serious, but just enough to remind me who’s boss: it keeps time like a computer update status bar.

This shouldn’t be surprising, since it has been many moons since washing machines crossed the invisible line from mechanical gadgets with computers attached to computers with mechanical gadgets attached.  As such, they have their own reality.  For example, when I put in a load and close the lid and press Start, a little LED countdown timer appears with, say, 45 minutes showing.  Long experience has taught me that I need to set a timer upstairs as well, since it’s hard to hear the delicate little jingle Samsung plays to let me know it’s done.  It’s just as well; I swear it’s the same jingle the Mr. Softee truck used to play when I was a boy.  I get a strange craving for ice cream whenever I happen to be in the basement when the washing machine has finished its cycle.

Experience has also taught me that I need to set the upstairs timer to 50 minutes instead of 45, since it works on the same basis in reality as I do.  Usually, this does the trick.  The wash cycle usually lasts anywhere from 45 to 50 minutes.  All’s well that ends well.

Except that now and then it takes appreciably more time.  Or less, but that’s very rare.  It seems that it sometimes transpires that it isn’t quite satisfied with the level of cleanliness it has achieved  for my clothes, and runs them through an extra rinse cycle.  When it does this, all bets are off as to when it will actually get done.  My upstairs timer goes off, and I go down to change the laundry, and the washer is chugging merrily away.  Almost smugly sometimes, I swear.  I look at the LED.  It says 15.  Or 8, or some other such number.  Ok, fine, I think, be that way.  I go back upstairs set the time to the new time, and wait.  Now and then, if I’m close enough to the basement door, I hear the little jingle a couple of minutes early, as if to say “Ha ha, just kidding!”  More often, I go down at the appointed time, and there’s still a minute or two left.  I use that time productively.  I stand there and stare at the washer until it stops.

When it finally gets tired of the game and stops, I transfer the clothes to the (somewhat) matching dryer and the little dance starts all over.

Well, ok, you might call this a first-world problem, especially if you’re given to especially trite catch phrases, but it’s symptomatic of what I call Global Robo-Creep.  Everywhere you go in the world except the most destitute reaches of the outermost hinterlands of civilization, more and more computers are doing what used to require humans.  Even simpler machines like parking meters have no job security anymore, replaced by touchscreens and credit card slots featuring arcane instructions designed to use up your allotted parking time before you even get properly started.  And cellphones?  Don’t ask!  Even the !Kung-san of the Kalahari have better 4G availability than you do.  Yes, this is all making life more … interesting, some might say better.  Certainly, in the case of washers and dryers, life is made both easier and more convenient.  But here’s the rub: it’s all done on the machines’ terms.

Yes, yes, of course, I know it’s a cabal of coders who actually animate the machines, and they’re undeniably human, but so was Faust.

How would you like to be on a help line with Faust?  Who do you think would come out ahead?  Hint: it’s not human.

Good news, hackers!

Great news for hackers, folks.

My hard drive crashed a couple of days ago, and I tried desperately to restore my stuff to a new HD.  First up was the re-installation of Windows 8.1.  Not a problem?  Easy for you to say!  As it happens, I had downloaded it in the first place, and so had no installation disc.  I had, of course, been diligent and created recovery media, including an image of my system, that, according to all accounts, would allow me to restore everything, just as if nothing had happened.  My computer would be new inside, but no one the wiser.

I loaded the recovery flash drive and booted up.  Immediately a message came up: cannot restore, missing sector on drive.  Well, hello, it’s brand new.  Must be a mistake; tried again.  Same message, this time with the helpful suggestion that Windows would have to format the drive before I could restore on it.  Except, of course, I didn’t have Windows anymore, did I?!  No worries, though.  I had also diligently written down the activation key for Windows; I could download a new copy on my laptop, and install from that.

Or not.

That key was no longer active, probably because I had never uninstalled Windows from the drive that crashed.  Had I known it was going to, I would have deactivated Windows moments before, but, oddly, I got no warning (sarcasm alert).  What to do?  Call Microsoft.

Ever try to find a contact number for Microsoft on their website?  After running you around in circles for a sufficient time, they offer a “chat” instead.  Sounds delightfully cozy, a nice chat with your buddy from Microsoft.  Of course, it takes awhile; 20 minutes, to be precise, before your buddy becomes available.  I pressed the button that said I would prefer that they call me, and gave them my number.  After another 20 minutes, they did.

“Hello, this is —- at Microsoft Office support.  How may I help you?”

“But I want Windows support, not Office.”

“I’m so sorry. I’ll have a representative from Windows support call you.”  Another 15 minutes passed.

“Hello, this is —- at Microsoft Office support.  How may I help you?”

Arrgh!  Was this the “chat” I had been promised?

Eventually, I got through to a nice fellow in India, which is where Microsoft has determined to be the most secure spot in the world, apparently, because that’s where you go for any sort of meaningful help.  Even so, even after I had reluctantly given him control of my laptop remotely, it took the nice fellow 4 hours to download a new copy of Windows 8.1, complete with a new activation key, to my laptop and save it to a flash drive.  Yes!  Now I could install it on the new HD, and restore my beloved desktop, with all the software I love!

Or not.

Long story short, restoration from the image could not be accomplished, because it had been made from an earlier version of Windows.  Nor could I use any of the regular restore points to at least get my documents back, because THEY WERE ON THE OLD DRIVE, WEREN’T THEY?

I threw in the towel, utterly defeated.  Off to Best Buy, where they had a nice computer for sale for $400.  I now have to re-install all of my software, half of which have secret keys and codes to which a mere mortal such as myself, who doesn’t even live in India, has no access.

The good news is, I can now verify that computer software and the internet are totally and completely secure from legitimate users like me; only hackers can get access.

Note to anyone who even whispers the word “Mac:”  for $400, you might be able to get a keyboard.