Not a Techie


There might be quite a few forgettable movies with one memorable line in them.  Somehow, there’s one that keeps recurring in my brain circuits.

Many years ago, sick at home, nothing else on the tv, I saw Support your Local Gunfighter (1971), a western farce that looks like it was shot in a couple of days with a lot of leftovers from other western productions.  Here’s the setup:  James Garner plays a con man, Latigo Smith, who convinces a town, for some nefarious purpose I forgot, that his drunkard friend Jug May is an infamous gunslinger.  Trying to be worthy of the role, Jug practices his quick draw against Latigo on several occasions.  Latigo easily outdraws him every time.  Latigo has to keep on telling Jug, “I’m SLOW!”

This is what I’m tempted to say every time something of a “technical” nature comes up in correspondence, and people want to call me “technically proficient” or something of the sort.  Are they trying to flatter me just to defuse something?  Playing dumb as an easy excuse?  Hard to say.  See below one little exposition about this, of unknown origin.

Political action, the original subject of this blog, remember, like most things about our lives these days, is intimately bound up with our communication devices, like whatever you’re reading this on now.  It doesn’t take a techie to observe that it’s not easy to hear the difference between “can” and “can’t” on a phone call, so how is it “getting all technical” when I observe that some kinds of data come across better than others in a mass email?  It certainly doesn’t take any expertise to set up a Facebook account, so why do I get called “computer savvy” for having set up and maintained a few listserves?

Clarifying this is the purpose of this post, if you all are interested enough to read.

I’m going to lay everything bare here to give you an idea of where I am on the noob-nerd continuum.  It will give me a chance to include some general advice to those with greater noobosity (noobility?  noobitude?) , as I’ve tried before here and here.  It’s also an invitation to those who build their own systems with cannibalized trash and hack into government cell phones to tell me how much I don’t know.

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THINGS I HAVE NEVER DONE

Programmed

I’m not a progammer, but probably could play one on tv, if that ever came up.  I’ve read some materials and played around with elementary lessons, but never had a reason to write my own software from scratch, so I never pursued it.  If you want to do something with your computer, chances are 99% that someone has already written software for it, and you probably can get it for free or very cheap.
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Built a computer

Seems quite possible, from this manual:  http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/the-guide-build-your-own-pc/, but I like having bought it from someone who deals with this kind of stuff every day, and stands behind what he sells.  More of that later.
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Bought the latest & greatest model of anything

There’s a rule about any number of products — cars, blenders, mowers, dog snuggies — that the best deals are usually available JUST BEFORE the next model comes out.  This especially applies to computers and the software that comes loaded on them.  It takes any company a few months of feedback from consumers, recalls, and software updates, to work the bugs out.  It’s often called “gamma testing” or worse.  Only after something has been on the market for a while will there be enough consumer reviews to assure you that it’s worth buying.
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Purchased an Apple product

The simplest reason for this is the ridiculous prices, of course.

The second reason is based on a little experience and a lot of hearsay about the “walled garden”.  Apple
has a reputation for being “user-friendly”, which means their products are designed for people who don’t want to know anything about how something works, and might not even know what they want to do with it.  They’ll just take the applications they are given, for the tasks that Apple thinks they ought to be doing.  No ideas of your own allowed.  If something goes wrong, just buy another one.  If you think about the cost, you’re not cool enough to be an Apple customer.

A third reason, based on a little experience, is that Apple products don’t always interact very well with the rest of the computer world, which is at least 90% non-Apple.
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Used an Apple product without a metaphorical gun to my head

I’m sure they’re very easy to learn, but I’ve never bothered.  So each attempt to use one is a getting-acquainted all over again.  Not worth it.
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Saved anything in “My Documents” (later systems:  “Documents”) except by accident

I’m sure it was well-intentioned on Microsoft’s part to have everything in their applications default to saving your files under “My Documents” (or God help you, the Desktop), so you’d have only the one place to look for it all for whatever purpose.  Three things about that:

(1)  Everyone else, including those with evil intent, knows to look there for your personal stuff.

(2)  Many non-Microsoft applications like to save things under “My Documents” too, including things that you will never want to look at.  It tends to get crowded.

(3)  If you create much at all with your computer, you’ll want to make lotsa sub-folders to save things into.  Otherwise, you’d go searching through a very long list to find anything.  As long as you’re making folders, you can make them wherever you please, not just under “My Documents”, which is a sub-sub-sub-folder to begin with.
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Used Facebook
Used Twitter

The only thing that really seems remarkable about the two services above is that some ridiculous number of people is claimed to be using them, with a few spending far too much time on them.  This makes them attractive to someone who might be hoping to attract many “followers” with little effort.  I am not such a person.

If a message is worth sending out to a lot of people, it’s worth addressing a mass email.  If people want to read your stuff, they’ll bookmark your site, regardless of where it’s hosted.  If they’re looking for your kind of subject matter, they can find you through any general-purpose search engine.  If they trust you to be ethical, they’ll give you their email addresses.  They will NOT necessarily want to create another online account for themselves, with one more password to remember down the road when they get tired of the spam they’ve invited and want to delete it.
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Posted on YouTube

I’ve never made a video that wouldn’t be embarrassing to show in public (not that that ever stopped most YouTube users), but if I did, it wouldn’t be too hard to figure this out.
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Composed a web page from scratch (except in the most elementary learning exercise)

When I saw a bumper sticker a few years ago that said “</Bush>” , I understood it, and that’s a noticeable part of my HTML knowledge right there.  With all the templates available from so many hosts, there’s not much reason for the ordinary person to learn this
any more.
..

Done anything financial online if there was another choice

Spyware aside, if you ever have to leave your computer in a shop for them to work on it, they WILL poke around your personal files and whatever else.  They get bored sometimes.  If there’s a bank account number, a password, a PIN, it will be sold directly to an overseas mafia.  Count on it.
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THINGS I HAVE DONE

Edited a whole lot of data and run a whole lot of routine jobs back when this was a computer:

Really not relevant to anything today, tech-wise, but I did learn one thing:  Knowing
about the computer’s inner workings does nothing for you if you don’t understand what you want to do with it, and there’s nothing “technical” about the latter.  This makes
understanding between users and techies the weakest link in many organizations.
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Reloaded an operating system (in the direst situation)

This happened to me twice in the seven years that I had my old Windows 95 laptop:  once because I did something really stupid, and again four years later because of a corrupted system file.  After the second time, I couldn’t restore the full capabilities I’d had before because the system was no longer supported, which led me to buy a new computer.

In the seven years that I’ve had my current XP machine, I haven’t yet had ANY trouble with the operating system.  None.  (Knocking on lotsa wood right now.)  In fact, I could be quite happy on an XP machine indefinitely.  Don’t know why Windows has to keep making new systems.  Well yes, I do know.  It’s called “planned obsolescence.”  They wouldn’t sell any new systems if they didn’t stop supporting the old ones.
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Written batch files

If there’s a routine task that you do often, like copying specific files for a backup, primitive means can be the simplest.  If you don’t know what batch files are, don’t worry about it.  There are other ways to do anything they can do.

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Moved a user’s data files associated with an application from an old machine to a new installation on a new machine

What first comes to mind here is an email client, but there might be a lot of applications that you would do this for.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s just a matter of finding out where the files live and moving them, normally.
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Experimentally edited video

Windows MovieMaker came free on my machine, and I can see how some nice things could be done with it if I ever had a good script.
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Edited my startup to skip over some commercial bloatware

You don’t need to understand this unless your computer is taking forever to start up, or seems very busy when it shouldn’t be.
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Used enough of the usual office-type software that nothing in that realm is likely to be a big surprise to me

Much as Microshaft loves, with each new release, to throw us all a few curveballs, I probably would freak out less than the average person upon being confronted with a new word processor, spreadsheet, or database application.
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THINGS I DO PRETTY REGULARLY

Use free and/or open-source software whenever convenient

a few specifics:

Firefox seems a bit faster than IE, and less bloaty.  I haven’t really had reason to explore the others.  Chrome might be a little faster for some things, but there are rumors that Google collects far too much info about browsing habits from it.

Thunderbird seems to do about anything one might want from an email client.

I also use the Juno email client, of all things, for the same reason that Mac users used to brag that they
were virus-free:  It’s so little-used that even virus makers wouldn’t bother with it.  It’s really simple to work with for most purposes.

Gimp does everything an amateur might want for image manipulation.

I would probably use OpenOffice if I weren’t so used to MSWorks, which is cheap and lightweight.

For security, I’ve used AVG, MSE, Malwarebytes, and Spybot Search & Destroy at various times, all free.

I use the Fox-It reader to view .pdf files.  It seems lighter than the Adobe reader and
doesn’t bug you with useless “updates”.
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Compose text in Notepad

When you’re thinking about putting the right words together, formatting is a distraction that can really slow you down if you’re using the bloatware that SOME word processors
can be.  There are many choices of simple plain text editors, but Notepad is free with any Windows system, and very simple to use.  No nonsense when you’re just trying to get the words down.  You can think about bold, italics, different sizes, etc. later, after pasting it into the final application that will display it.

Notepad is especially useful when you want to take your time composing an email.  You’ll just copy & paste it into the email message when the time comes.
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Send email in plain text whenever convenient

I wrote about this elsewhere, long ago.  Still waiting for some people to either stop sending me stuff in other formats or tell me what they don’t understand about it.  If your email interface is worth looking at, it has an “option” or “preference” you can set to send everything in plain text.  Use it.
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Touch Type

I didn’t learn much that’s useful in high school, but this is an exception.  Being one with your keyboard can clear away a lot of what would otherwise be distracting.
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Post whatever I think my friends might consider entertaining or informative on a web site

Some people think this is what Facebook is for.  It’s not.  There are so many free hosts with easy templates floating around, since long before Facebook existed, that anyone can do this.
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Maintain a couple of listserves

Old-fashioned, yes, but they work, mostly.  Not everyone is on Facebook.  Almost everyone has an email address.
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Maintain mailing lists

See here for the general idea
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Make tiny URL’s

Depending on the oddities of the email interface at each end of the transmission, and a million layers of software that the message must travel through, even slightly long URLs can get wrapped, with the second line not included in the link produced.  Some people still haven’t learned how to paste such things together in the address bar of a browser.  Some people don’t even seem to know how to use an address bar (unfathomable).  So there’s tinyurl.com to solve this problem, if you don’t already know.
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Manipulate graphics

Yes, I know a bit more than just cropping and putting captions over pictures.  If you don’t learn anything else about it, you should know how to resize a picture so it doesn’t take up 2 or 3 MB of space.  It can take a while to learn the fancy stuff, like moving heads onto different bodies or psychedelic effects, but it can be fun.
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Blow out the cooling system

It took me a  while to get comfortable with this.  A real techie had to show me the parts involved to make me believe that I wouldn’t be blowing debris into the guts of the computer.

It’s pretty elementary, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know about it.  If your laptop is getting really hot without any large-scale processing going on, and the fan is audibly coming on a lot, the screen over the air intake of the cooling system needs to get the dust cleaned off it.  This might be needed once every couple of months or so.  It’s a whole different thing with desktops; they have much more robust cooling systems.

The miniature vaccum cleaner I was using for cleaning out cracks & such doesn’t have the power for any real dust buildup.  You need compressed air.  Just locate the intake and output vents on the cooling fan (generally on the side and bottom somewhere) and blow them both out.  You’ll see a puff of dust telling you it was necessary.  (Hold the can upright, and don’t shake it, otherwise you’ll be spraying liquid.  That would be bad.)
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Go to the same local hole-in-the-wall shop for most computer-related problems or purchases

This is not hard to do in a large urban area.  If you want a warranty to mean anything in practical terms, do NOT go to a big chain store for tempting advertised “bargains”, where they employ kids fresh out of high school as their “geeks”, who know little more than how
to sell you some silly “diagnostic/tune-up” package and tell you to mail it back to the manufacturer.  I probably know as much as some of these “geeks”.  Find a small shop in your neighborhood with low overhead and old people who have been tinkering with computers every day for 30 years or more.  The salesman is the same guy who works on it if anything goes wrong.  The fact that they know you as a regular customer, and know the products they sell, can save you a lot of grief.
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Back up

Any files that it would really hurt me to lose get backed up a couple of times a week.  I’m not talking about system save points or anything like that.  It wouldn’t kill me to have to re-install the system and applications.  Might even clean up a lot of accumulated trash to do that.  I just don’t want to lose my personal stuff.  Mentioned this before here.

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If my acquaintances are a good sample of the general population, below is where I would guess myself to be on the noob-nerd continuum.When you comment, please include where you would guesstimate yourself to be placed on this scale, and maybe I can get a better idea of where we all stand.  And please, argue with me.  Tell me something I don’t know.

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13 Responses to Not a Techie

  1. P. W. says:

    Awesome (and pretty looong) post! Was fun to read, thanks! Even if I can’t imagine how a guy who does so many computers and online related things never would want to use social media!

  2. RAB says:

    Oh, c’mon, don’t be so hard on Apple. My Macs have NEVER CRASHED. My programs are INTUITIVE—very short learning curve. My programs INTERFACE. Most virus-makers have NO INTEREST in Apples. I spend most of my time at the computer actually getting done the things I want to get done, and for this I thank Apple (at various jobs I have used various Windows machines and have found them substitutes of a less agile kind). Love the rest of this post….but do try a stroll on the sunny side of the i-street!

    • kitchenmudge says:

      I expected to hear from a Mac loyalist or two, but don’t want to start a holy war here. You’re free to make your case. I just find it efficient not to have to learn one more group of interfaces.

  3. I’ve always had an aversion to Macs for the reasons you describe. When you couple that restrictiveness with the progressive image they package it with, the hypocrisy gives me a bit of a wiggins.
    I have programmed (learned BASIC in junior high) and I have used Facebook to interact with things organized by student groups (though I much prefer WiserEarth.org for this, if I get to have my way), in addition to doing and regularly doing all the things you mention – I guess that puts me at about a 2.5. It helps that my lifemate is a 4 (Photoshop guru & gamer), and builds our machines – I get good hand-me-downs.

  4. kitchenmudge says:

    Thanks for the backup, Michelle. I’ll add you to the list of people to consult about my major tech-related decisions. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?)

  5. Ron Rodarte says:

    What may be the cause of a lot of these “techie” badges being thrown your way is the quality and amount of the “flash-video” (correct term?), charts, photos, anecdotes and a generally well thought out and laid-out blog. It just looks “professional”. How do you do it? Where can one cull the pictures and clips and stuff that ends up on your blog? Most readers are content to get an email off without it bouncing. A sound line-of-thinking also adds to the professional quality of the blog. Most can’t think and chew gum, you manage to write and format while you do it.
    By the way, I wish I had read your “blowing out the cooling system” entry two nights ago. I took a can of air and turned it over to blast the air vent on the Apple Time-Capsule and heard a sound like a frying pan hitting a sink full of wash water.
    Oops.
    No signs of a crash to date…

  6. Great post–you covered so much ground–and did it so well! I’d say I’m about where you are. I’ve never been on Facebook or Twitter, owned an Apple (but eaten quite a few), installed operating systems on home computers, but I have designed some rudimentary web pages. I’m also living with a guy who can program computers and fix them when they explode. Does that push my score up? 😉

  7. kitchenmudge says:

    Depending on just how much rudimentary web page design you’ve done, you might be a bit to the right of me on the scale.
    Our rigorous research reflected in the graph did not consider techitude by association (Dang, I lost the link to where we describe our methodology!)

  8. Oh, Kitchen….you and I have a lot in common. I’ve also never programmed nor have I bought an Apple product (these are just a few among MANY other things we have in common).

    Awesome post!!!

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