Saturday, February 02, 2002

Like Sand Through The Hour Glass

let’s stop talking talking talking
wasting precious time
just a lot of empty noise
that isn’t worth a dime - Dory Previn "yada yada la scala"

bedrooms: 1
bathrooms: 1
property type: condo
doorman: yes
approximate square footage: 900
price: $575,000
maint/cc: $450
taxes: $450 (monthly)
down: 10%
- Property ad New York 2 February 2002

"I often drop in to the local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings", a teetotal New York friend once told me. "It's a good place to meet interesting people".

Such is life in the Apple where the "fabric of society" bears more resemblance to polyester than to the natural yarns.

At the neighborhood bar, the "locals" - people you'll only ever meet up with at the bar itself - sit on the barstools, their eyes glued to the quiz show on the telly, answering the questions loudly enough for all present to hear.

There's a tenuous resemblance to the family TV room of Australia in the 1970's. Social interaction is occurring, albeit via a quiz show compare. People comment on other people's guesses. Occasionally they applaud. But there it ends. No friendships are struck up; at least no friendships of the kind that I'm used to. The "friendships" are operative at that particular bar at that particular time.

My friend who drops by the local AA'S, doesn't want to actually meet and know the AAers. She just wants to hear some interesting conversation. In her own time. It is a sort of "user-pays" way of relating. And one suspects that one's use-by date is only a few seconds away at all times.

Of course I'm used to it. I'm one of them. I've learned that the easiest way to conduct a conversation is via the answer machine. This is how it goes... not wanting to tie up valuable time in an interactive mode of conversing, you call a friend when you know she won't be there. This gives you the chance to talk without any danger of interruption. You sign off with a "we must meet up soon", but do not commit. A few days later you get home from work and she's answered. "Great to hear from you. This is what's happening..... ", and so on till the obligatory "we must meet up soon". What could be neater and more time-efficient?

But occasionally I drop my guard and act like the person I was, many moons ago. It usually happens when there's a major change in my life. I feel obliged to communicate it to someone other than my better half. Of course I could call Australia and enjoy the conversation with old friends. But it can happen that I feel the need to talk to a real person in the daytime hours, rather than across the airwaves late at night.

It happened the other day. After months of soul-and money searching, I had finally decided to buy a Manhattan condo. The repayments will be BIG DOLLARS. But I worked out that if I don't go to Frederic Fekkai for my hair cut every six weeks, I can easily afford it.

Nevertheless I was sick to the stomach when the offer was accepted. Some ancient neuron connection fired and I was the me of nine years ago; obliged to COMMUNICATE. Immediately. Australia was sleeping.

I contacted a New Yorker "friend". "We're buying an apartment! I'm so nervous; it's on the Upper East Side", I blahed. "Oh", she replied, "That's nice; I hear it is going to rain today, must go, I have errands to attend to".

I should have known better. That night I called Melbourne. "What's it like?" "What do you feel like" "I'll look it up on a map" "My god!" The responses I was used to in my former life streamed down the phone line with no prompting.

Last night on the telly there was a show about sex dolls. They looked real. Life-sized and detailed. Soon they will simulate orgasms, the manufacturer explained. And perhaps in the not-so-distant future, there'll be doll alcoholics. And doll local-bar-customers. Doll work-collegues and doll-employers. Doll anti-globalisation demonstrators and doll-homeless.

Will we New Yorkers even notice? I Don't THINK so.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

"A Friend Who Knows a Lot About Computers"

They have computers, and they may have other weapons of mass destruction. - Janet Reno

I don't know anything about computers but want to set up an online store and hope you all can help me. - Member of an online computing support group

Can you help me; I want to get my computer working again. I had a mate over who knows a lot about computers, and he worked on it and now it doesn't work. - Someone I know

I don't know why it is, but many people, who are happy to employ a mechanic to fix their car, a dentist to fix their teeth, a doctor to cure their illnesses, a qualified hairdresser to do their hair, are just not willing to call on a computer professional if they need their computer fixed.

Somehow they think that computer work should be free. And invariably these people will ask some friend "who knows a lot about computers", to help them. Now this might be a friend of their kids who did a year's computer literacy at high school, a friend who is an accountant so knows how to use spreadsheets, or a hobbyist acquaintance who enjoys mucking around with hardware. Whatever.

The fact that this person knows a little in a certain area, can use a computer or just likes tinkering, does not mean that they can fix system problems. Would the same people get someone to do a root canal and bridgework who had not completed a university course in dentistry? I don't THINK so!

Many of these people who call on a friend "who knows a lot about computers" are very well off. It isn't that they lack the money to pay; it is just that well - who needs an expert with something as easy as a PC. Who indeed? In most cases they do after the person "who knows a lot about computers" has worked on it.

As a computer professional with post-tertiary qualification and over twenty years experience, I am simply horrified at the off-hand way that many people treat one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in their house. Would they let an amateur have a go at fixing their fridge? Could Johnny-down-the-road be entrusted with trouble-shooting problems with their new car? Would they get the cable guy to have a look at their A/C unit?

And then there are the virus experts. Those people that send on chain letters advising of "a virus that will ruin your hard drive". So sure of themselves about computer software and so confident are they about the knowledge and expertise of their friend "who knows a lot about computers" the friend  who sent THEM the hoax chain letter, that they forward on the hoax email to everyone in their address book. Including me at times.

I am insulted! What do they think? That I don't know about viruses? That I'll be silly enough to follow the hoax instructions and delete a necessary system file that the hoax letter typically claims is a virus, from my PC ?

Would they email their medical doctor friends and tell them that their is a danger of AIDS with unprotected sex? Would they call one of the Sydney firefighters and tell them, watch out, there are bushfires around Sydney. Would they call the anti-cancer council to tell them that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer? I don't THINK so!

Somehow in the land of computer-users, the man with a little knowledge is king. A friend of mine recently sent me a virus hoax. I emailed straight back, taking the trouble to explain that it WAS a hoax, and giving him the URL for the Mcafee information on the subject. I explained to him that the file mentioned in the email was a normal NT system file; that in no way was it a virus, and yes, of course he'd find it on his hard drive, if he did a search as the email instructed. A week later he called me again. His computer didn't work any more.

And yes, he HAD followed the hoax email instructions and deleted the file  in his system directory. And from the trash can. And he HAD forwarded the email to everyone he knew.  "Why?" I asked. "Oh well", came his answer, "I was sent the email by a friend 'who knows a lot about computers'". I was silent. I bided my time, knowing what he'd ask.

"What should I do now?" he said, almost in tears.

Without hesitation came my answer. "Well, I'd ask your friend, "who knows a lot about computers".