Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Rage against the machine

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

My computer starts braying at me, like a maddened donkey. Then everything flashes. Then everything freezes. If I were not such an anti-cliché vamp, I should say my blood ran cold. (Actually, one does feel a sort of physical chilling effect in moments of panic; and anyway, there are clichés and clichés.)

A furious sign appears. Disc full alert, it says, or something equally terrifying. Apparently, I have only 113mb of space left. For those who do not speak computer, i.e. My Mother, this is absolutely nothing. If my computer were an acre, I would have one square foot of room left in which to move.

I do not understand. There are many things about machines I do not understand. Specifically, I did a big clear-out only last week. I was so proud of myself. I threw out a whole forty gigs of junk. Suddenly, my poor old contraption had a bit of room to breathe. In under eight days, all that had been mysteriously filled up.

The thing has gone rogue, I think. I have downloaded nothing in that time. I have taken a few pictures, that is all. Slightly shaky, I go to the pictures file, to have a rummage. It turns out that I have 7,345 photographs. How does that even happen?

Even more alarming, they appear to exist in three locations, which means in effect I have over 22,000 pictures files. There are things I knew I deleted, but the computer has said no, and squirreled them away in secret cellars and dungeons, scattered about my hard disc. I find endless duplicates. Each one has to be individually removed, with an infuriating ARE YOU SURE notice after each. Yes, yes, bugger off, of course I am sure. I start to grow crazed with the machine. Is it questioning whether I know my own mind?

I waste at least two hours of valuable work time doing what is euphemistically called ‘housekeeping’. None of it makes any sense. There are files where there should not be files. At one moment, there is no disc space left at all; after a reboot, there are, bizarrely, sixty gigs, which is much, much more than the amount of nonsense I have just deleted. I think: are there gremlins in the thing, secretly reproducing in the night? Have I lost control of my own implement? This is supposed to be my slave, not my mistress.

Eventually, things rock back to some kind of normality. Disaster seems to be averted, although I have deep technological questions to which I can find no answers. (Why are there suddenly 179 photographs in a Temp file, which was not there five minutes ago?) I wish, mournfully, that The Man in the Hat were here, because this is ABC to him. For me, it is like trying to have a conversation about sovereign debt in Italian, when all I can actually say in Italian is please and thank you and goodness the Campo de Fiori is beautiful.

It makes me think about impotence. I’ve been having sudden moments of cresting fury, small random rages, in the last few days. I am not good with anger. I do not know where to put it. (I asked The Brother this, yesterday. Take it outside and shout it into the wind, was his advice.) My crossness is a delayed reaction to one specific thing, in which a person has done me egregious wrong, and there is little chance for redress. It is one of those things where you have to let it go, and you persuade yourself you have let it go, because otherwise it will eat you up from the inside, and then you find yourself yelling at an inanimate object. At which point, it becomes clear that the letting go is not working so very well.

I realised that this specific rage, about this one event (too dull to tell you all about), had been steadily leaking out into unrelated areas of life. It could be big things: my bloody father bloody dying. It could be tiny things: the fact that I can never find my mobile telephone, and, if I do find it, it turns out I have always forgotten to charge it.

I can get violently cross about intractable political matters, and pointless tribalisms, and the stupid bankers with their stupid salaries. Mr Hester, I think, enraged, suddenly taking it very personally: do you really need your £35 million in three years? Thirty-five million quid. That is how much we, the taxpayers, have paid the fellow in order to sack people and watch the share price of RBS go down, down, down.

Then, back to the very small again, and I find myself hideously affronted that a complete stranger will ring me up, in the evening, and ask if I want some double glazing. How dare you encroach on my privacy, I think, in stupid rage.

The computer crossness runs over all this like a palimpsest. It’s a combination of not quite knowing what I am doing, the machine refusing to do what I am certain I have told it to do, and the denial of agency. I damn well pressed that button; I got rid of that file; I made space. And now there the bloody thing still is, in some inexplicable other location, as if the computer is defying me, and spends its free time hiding stuff from me, for a joke. I think the fatal thing about machines is they make us dependent on them, so that when they suddenly do not work we know not what to do. It's like when there is a power cut, and I realise I can do nothing, not boil an egg, have a cup of coffee, keep warm, turn on a light.

There is a sense of wider grumpiness, in the population at large. The Grumpy Old Men and Grumpy Old Women have their very own television franchise, where they get to grumble about everything from school to Christmas. It takes hardly anything to send the Twitterati into incandescence. Columnists traffic in rage, against any perceived slight, politically correct idiocy, ministerial initiative.

I wonder if the computer feeling is not a tiny, telling exemplar of a broader malaise. There are many areas of life which seem beyond our human control: the climate, racing technology, the tectonic plates of geo-politics, the secretive workings of the masters of the universe (very few mistresses, even now) as they rig the financial world for their own enrichment, intractable political problems, the mysterious bureaucracies of Brussels.

Only this morning, people were shouting about the NHS. No one can agree. The government bill is brilliant, and the only thing to save the health service; the government bill is disastrous, and the NHS shall die. Doctors want it, doctors don’t want it; the nurses are furious; the commentators are split. The citizen can only sit back and watch, and hope that someone, somewhere, knows what they are doing. The future of the dear old NHS, the thing of which we are so proud, despite the national sport of grumbling about it, hangs in a balance about which I can do nothing.

All of which is rather a long way of saying that perhaps it is not surprising that sometimes I get cross. I wonder if I am living in world rigged for crossness. I am inclined to think of anger as something bad, something which must be fixed. Perhaps it’s just a perfectly reasonable response to an unreasonable world.

I am not certain. It’s a fledgling theory and I am still working on it.

The main thing is the computer and I are friends again. I bless it each day; its miraculous chips and wiring and widgets allow me to do my work and read the internet and go on Twitter for fun. It is a thing I do not take for granted. I do not enjoy staring at the flashing screen bellowing What the fuck??? (You know when I start using three question marks things are very dire.) Let us hope the whirling disc gremlins do not come again in the night, and all shall stay calm, and I can think serene thoughts and make green soup and breathe.

Pictures are not quite of the day. As I went through the ancient, clogged photograph files, ruthlessly pruning and chucking, I found there were some old ones I could not quite throw out. (The excess if not just due to computer malfunction and defiance, but also because I find it almost impossible to delete anything of The Pigeon, even if it is slightly out of focus.) Here are a few darlings from the last six months that I could not quite kill. I am afraid they are rather dog-heavy, surprise surprise. Although there is also a pig, a robin, a Younger Niece, and some random grass:

1 Feb 1

1 Feb 2 24-12-2011 14-06-03.ORF

1 Feb 3 24-12-2011 14-06-09

1 Feb 4 24-12-2011 14-06-18.ORF

1 Feb 5 18-12-2011 15-56-47

1 Feb 5 22-12-2011 13-18-59

1 Feb 6 26-12-2011 12-49-18

1 Feb 8 26-12-2011 12-51-43

1 Feb 9 25-12-2011 12-57-13

1 Feb 10 03-12-2011 12-36-28

1 Feb 10 25-12-2011 16-25-23

1 Feb 11 24-12-2011 13-45-47

1 Feb 12 03-12-2011 15-53-36

1 Feb 12 10-09-2011 17-38-08

1 Feb 12 16-12-2011 13-56-21

1 Feb 12 22-12-2011 13-18-45

1 Feb 12 27-11-2011 16-56-02

1 Feb 13 14-09-2011 17-51-52

1 Feb 14 16-12-2011 13-51-27

1 Feb 14 16-12-2011 13-54-36

1 Feb 15 03-12-2011 12-36-39

1 Feb 15 09-11-2011 13-37-07

1 Feb 15 22-01-2012 12-05-32

1 Feb 17 09-11-2011 14-59-05

1 Feb 18 01-11-2011 16-15-21

And here is a quick snapshot of what today looked like. Afternoon light:

1 Feb 19 01-02-2012 16-15-21


1 Feb 20 01-02-2012 16-16-15

Yearny face:

1 Feb 21 01-02-2012 16-14-48


1 Feb 22 01-02-2012 16-12-50


  1. Egregious wrongs are the worst - if it is any consolation, the fury does pass. But only boring old time will make it happen. in the meanwhile, one has to soldier on, doing what one can as well as one can, pretending it doesn't matter. And then, incredibly, just when you have given up hope of it not mattering - and are sick of people like me telling you that it will pass - it does. And you are free. (Much freer than the person who did you the egregious wrong, as it turns out.) In the meantime, you have the Pigeon and the Dear Readers and a bunch of other lovely things in your life...

    1. Rachel - what a lovely, wise comment. Thank you.

  2. There you go, reading the rage in my mind and expressing it. Thank you so much. If I could have worded it as well, perhaps I would have let off steam long ago.

    As to deletions - you cannot ax photos like the ones you posted here. Already, I fear that too many incredible ones have bitten the dust. Is there not such a thing as a CD to store them on? Eat up boxes of CDs if you like, pushing off 700 MBs of pictures every few days, but do not lose wonderful shots like these. My favorite is the seventh one of The Pigeon (in case I can't count, the first dog after the pig, who is herself pretty cool).


    1. Bird - GENIUS Occam's Razor solution. And I even have some CDs in the house. Am going to do it AT ONCE. Thank you.

  3. Another back-up idea is saving photos to a site like snapfish - I have copies of photos saved there as well as copies on an external hard drive, which reassures me that if one back-up fails, I have another one!

  4. Once I had a dog who was probably The Pigeon's great-great-great-great aunt as she too was half collie half black lab. I got her as a pup in 1968, when I was eleven, and she soldiered on in the family home until she was fourteen znd I was married and a mother. She was my childhood friend, my baby's guardian and my mother's bosom companion in her widowhood. This was in the days before digital photography and I have no more than half a dozen photos of her. They are not enough. Sometimes pictures of your Pigeon in similar characteristic poses are like extra ones of my old dog. Thank you. I'll happily take any you don't have room for...

    1. Goldenoldlady - that is such a lovely story. :)

  5. Anger is perfectly ok, a positive reaction to a negative situation. It's a shortcut to letting go. It deflects the negativity away from you and - if you happen to be cross with yourself, it speeds up the getting-over thing. Between that and wallowing in self-pity, I know which I'm going to choose. That's my little theory anyway... Lovely pics!

  6. We do seem to live a world rather hard-wired to getting angry, to asking questions and to ranting and raving about how things should be and why they aren't. I find myself, sometimes, shouting at the computer - a computer technology failure is the only thing to bring my normally calm self close to violence. How dare it break?! Then I remember it is just a thing, and life is just life said and done, and I step back, and it's OK!

    1. Lauren -such wise words about the stepping back.

  7. Ah, the computer thing - I just don't 'get' it and live in fear that every single incompetent thing I do on it will come back and bite me on the bottom. Recently, like you, I thought I had enough space and ended up having to delete things one by one by one until I thought my brain was going to explode!

    I agree with Bird. Please save all your wonderful pictures. xx

    1. Em - yes, yes, the deleting one by one. Having had my scare, I am not obsessed with freeing up more space and roam about the hard disc looking for MORE things to delete one by one. It's EXHAUSTING.

  8. The "are you sure?" prompt used to drive me quite loopy. Will let you into a little secret: Right Click on your recycle bin and select properties. Un-check the "Display delete confirmation dialog" As long as you are using the recycle bin, you can still rescue anything. Just remember the empty your recycle bin after a big tidy up.

    Geeky but hopefully helpful too.

    1. Anon - brilliant, thank you. Hurrah for geekiness. (Mine takes the form of political obsession rather than technical knowledge, sadly.)

  9. Tania: quick geek comment. Absolutely there are plenty of off-site solutions for storage, and Snapfish (or one of the other photo companies) are great for this. Also have a look at using Google Picasa - useful place for storing stuff you want to share with others, rather than sending huge emails. Finally, CDs are a good temp solution, but please don't rely on them forever: CDs have a short-ish shelf life, and tend to become unreadable after a while. I have music CDs that I created and took to CD of concerts I had done some years ago (around 10) and some are unplayable now; happily I still have the minidiscs that they were recorded on.

    Oh, and additional external hard drive (usually simply plugs in with USB) can be a lifesaver for such things. They are, compared to a few years ago, ridiculously cheap: 1TB (that's 1000 GB, if you can imagine it) is in the region of £75.

    If you need any help at all with this techie stuff, don't hesitate to shout. All Dear Readers are correct; do not lose your photos. They mean too much to us all.

    1. Cassie - brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Thank you so much. You are so kind always, and now incredibly helpful and practical.

  10. Oh, I just had to leave a comment today. You made me laugh out loud raging about the machine! How often have i screamed at mine 'Yes, I am sure. I want to shut you down. Get lost!
    I am at my desk in my front room while trying to come up with creative ideas. Tough job, especially when my hands are nearly frozen. So I thought it would be a good idea to make a cup of tea and read up on my favourite blogs. Yours is on the top of my list since I stumbled across it at the end of last year. I have definitely become a blog stalker. I am a bit embarrassed about it. But I think today I have come out of hiding and maybe next time I will leave a more thoughtful comment...

    1. Karina - can't tell you how happy I am you came out of hiding. It's a lovely comment and I'm so glad to hear from you. Welcome to the Dear Readers. :)


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