Monday, March 23, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Why are computers so expensive? After almost 40 years of dealing with computers, I think I know the answer.

I first worked with computers in 1969, tracking data cards for a summer job in college. See my November 4, 2006 post In the Lair of the Beast for details. You'd think by now I'd be an adept, wouldn't you? I mean, I did my undergraduate minor in Computer Science. I have worked with computers for decades. I have owned computers. I have written entire novels on computers. I have taken computers into my own home. I spend a good part of my job drafting documents and entering case notes on a computer. So why won't computers cooperate with me? Why do they have to be so frustrating?

I thought PCs were bad, but this semester I've had my first contact with the Mac and, let me tell you, it is even worse. For one things, instead of ranging across your desktop, patiently waiting to be clicked upon, Mac icons congregate at the bottom of the screen. When you click on one, it gets excited and jumps around for awhile before it opens. I know what it is thinking: "Aha! A chance to turn another user into a quivering mass of confusion!"

Perhaps I might like Macs if I'd been introduced a little more gradually. Macs might have been polite if properly approached. But no. I jumped right in.

I'm taking two courses at Pittsburgh Filmmakers this term, using Photoshop and Final Cut Express on Mac. These are two of the most impossible programs ever invented. Honest. Both courses require out of class projects in which students are required to edit photographs and digital footage into little one or two minute movies. Doesn't sound too onerous, does it? Kind of fun, maybe? Don't you be fooled. It is hell on earth! Things that, in a straightforward world, would take two seconds tops morph into hours of intensive concentration and, once you have done everything exactly as instructed, the *!$%# thing refuses to come out right! It tells you it can't contact a device. What device? It says the files that you've been working on all day now contain "0 Kb." Nada.

This is what I call the "wonder of technology." You wonder why things never work the way they should.

So, to go back to the question I posed in the beginning: Why are computers so expensive? Because if they were cheap we would smash the ~!*#% things!
What do you think?


Annette said...

First of all, Gina, you've obviously become proficient enough to add a cute little picture of yourself to your blog post. Nice!

I was ready to smash my laptop last night because of virus protection software run amok. So you're definitely right about why they make it expensive. If the thing only cost me $10, it would have been out the window.

Technology is a wonderful thing. When it works. Which is rarely.

Joyce said...

Nice photo, Gina!

Why is it that the programs that advertise they'll make things easier, inevitably don't? I downloaded a program to organize my writing files. It was supposed to make it easier to edit, compile and analyze chapters or scenes, etc. (in a Word compatible format). I uninstalled it after trying to figure it out for an hour. I'll just stick with Word, as much as I hate it.

Karen in Ohio said...

Gina, you're onto something, I think!

Joyce, which program? I'm thinking of getting one of those, and of the several choices it would be my luck I get the same one you have.

Gina said...

Annette & Joyce -

I'm glad I'm not alone. For awhile I was getting paranoid, thinking maybe those computers had it in for me.

One thing about taking classes at Filmmakers is that students can use Filmmakers' equipment, but in order to take anything out, or even use it on site, you have to produce a student ID, which the equipment office then confiscates and holds to make certain you don't damage anything. Yet another reason not to smash it all.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Actually, I'm on a good streak with technology. My little netbook came with perfect manners right out of the box. It was pre-loaded with only a few things, most of them useful. I'm learning Sun Microsystems StarOffice 8 which is a trimmed down MS Office compatible office suite, but that is going just fine.

My daughter, a journalism student at Mizzou, loves her Mac and wouldn't go back to a PC. I've always had good luck with Photoshop on both platforms, but never dealt with Final Cut. I use some simple movie editing program that came with my DVD burner.

My only issue lately was the nasty virus that my other daughters downloaded on my desktop that fried my home network. That cost me almost $300 bucks and an in-home visit.

Joyce said...

Karen, it was a free program called yWriter5. It was too complicated for me. Maybe I just don't have the patience to learn anything new anymore.

Karen in Ohio said...

Thanks, Joyce.

Oddly enough, I've just spent a frustrating hour trying to download financial info into Turbo Tax. What turned out to be the problem was Safari, the Apple browser that I've been using on my PC. It absolutely would not work, so I had to reset my preferred browser to IE again. Grrrrr.

Other than issues with Safari, I have had almost no problems with my HP laptop with Vista on it that we got a year ago. It's the best darned computer I've ever had, and I've been using them since 1983.

Dana King said...

I guess I'm the outlier, but bear in mind I work with computer systems for a living, so not much about them intimidates me. Irritates, yes, but I'll figure anything out.

My Beloved Spousal Equivalent is a genius with PhotoShop. My desktop wallpaper is a photo of Penguins' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in full gear, except it's my face behind the mask, glasses and all. She also took three separate pictures from my daughter's junior prom and cobbled them into one. The flowers behind my daughter's head were added from a photo with flowers she liked better, and the right arm was attached from a photo where her arm wasn't in shadow. I defy anyone to look at the end result and tell me it's not legit.

As for the program Joyce struggled with, I'm always leery or programs that promise to sort things out for you after the fact. Computers are based on the repetition of discretely defined actions. They are not at all intuitive, so the odds they're going to get things organized the way you want them is about nil. Excel spreadsheets are nice. Word tables work for simple stuff you're not too worried about having to sort.

Pat Remick said...

Having just had to reformat my hard drive and then attempt to reload everything and update it all (the web still looks odd) plus add a new monitor has nearly put me over the edge. If a new computer had been just $100 bucks, I would have danced with joy on the old one. Despite what people want you to believe, sometimes technology is not our friend....