Sunday, April 11, 2010

Machines need rest, too: an animistic theory of the universe

Just to clarify: I don't really believe that there's a mystic connection between machines and human beings, since (sorry, Tracy Kidder) machines don't have souls.

But it sure helps to act as if they do, doesn't it? Do you stand there in front of a class and mutter "come on, come on" when a particularly balky overhead projector or computer is creaking slowly through its deliberate startup routine?

Do you maybe think to yourself, "Right, then--if you want to be that way about it" when about 1 time in every 10 it won't work at all for no apparent reason? If I weren't in front of a class when that happened, I'd go through the startup routine until I figured out the problem by eliminating variables, but for some reason students seem to find this a less-than-gripping entertainment when they're ready to talk about literature, so I don't do that any more.

Do you ever feel a mixture of bracing yourself up for battle and a willingness to accept defeat when you're trying to use media at a conference, since whatever machine has been set up might take a dislike to your USB drive or your computer and refuse to show anything but a blue screen?

Have you ever had a machine that just stopped working, and you put it in the garage or just left it turned off for a few months or a year, and then you plug it in and it works again? I've had that happen too many times to count and have simply concluded that machines need rest, too.

Or, closer to home, all of a sudden Firefox stopped showing up for work this week. I don't know whether it was tired of browser duty or what, but I'd click on it, and I'd see it in the "running processes" list, but it never actually opened. After several days of this, I interpreted the theory to mean "sometimes browsers need rest, too" and uninstalled it. I'll reinstall it in a week or so, after it has had its Florida vacation or whatever it needed to recover from its fatigue.

Has any of this happened to you?


brandonpaulweaver said...

I have tested media before a presentation, got it working fine, only to have it completely fail when I actually needed to use it. In the space of five minutes!

Anonymous said...

I regularly allow my admittedly aging laptop at home time to warm up or defreeze. I'll go make a cuppa tea or whatever, and when I come back, voila! It works.

Maybe the machine is trying to tell ME something?

Anonymous said...

Firefox: if for some reason it's crowded out of memory at start-up, it can take forever to load. If, meanwhile, you click on it again, so it's trying to start twice... it never will. You need to kill all the Firefox processes in Task Manager and then start it afresh. I have met this many many times and it sounds a lot like what you're getting, though I never knew this problem to be persistent through shutdown. If you only hibernate your machine, though, then it would never be killed so the zombie Firefox would always be there to stop a new one starting. Does that help?

Bardiac said...

Computers might not have souls, but cars, motorcycles and bicycles get closer?

michele said...

Yes, cars definitely do. I drove an old Toyota years ago that obviously needed rest from time to time.

It would stall, usually at a light, then refuse to start. Not flooded. Just refused to start. Over the course of many of these events, I discovered that 4 hours on the side of the road seemed enough and it would start when I returned.

Funny how that quirk dictated the kinds of routes I chose to drive i.e. ones where there was space to pull over and leave the car if you did stall.

Didn't endear me to the car though - got rid of it soon as I had the opportunity!

undine said...

brandontheweaver, I've had the same thing happen. That's why I gasp if anyone even tries to use "Picture Mute" or shut down for a second in between presentations, because there's no guarantee that it will work again without 10 minutes of on/off cycling and rebooting.

annieem, I do the same thing, even though my machine isn't that old. (It has Vista, which is like a geriatric patch for computers.) I turn it on, go make a cup of tea, turn on Firefox, go make some toast, turn on Endnote, wait for the eggs to cook, etc.

undine said...

tenthmedieval, thank you for those tips! I do shut it down (rather than putting it to sleep) every day, but zombie Firefox (great image!) still seems to load. It's working better now, after the uninstall/reinstall.

Bardiac, I think I'd agree. Do you name your bike(s)? Mine doesn't have a name, but I've refused to get rid of it even though I'm told that the newer bikes are easier to ride. Think of a pair of vintage skis or a longboard and that's about how easy it is to operate.

undine said...

Michelle, that sounds familiar; I had a VW that did the same thing. The mechanics said, basically, "oh, yeah, it'll do that sometimes."

It must have been hard to plan your routes so that you could leave the car and get a ride to where you were going. Of all the attributes of a car, nothing beats "reliable"

Anonymous said...

It happens daily. Daily I pray to the machine. Today, talking with a home mainentance helper, I prayed to the house.