Trouble Thinking

November 20, 2010

Strange new world.

Filed under: Computers, Interesting Things — Tags: , , — Katherine Barclay @ 8:25 pm

So, I’ve always liked computers. I’ve always been one of those fixypeople, the ones you ask when something’s gone wrong with your technology and you can’t quite figure out why – I’m the girl who either solves it for you, or lets you know you’ve got an actual problem problem on your hands and should really ask someone who knows that the hell they’re doing, like Durandal. I’m pretty good at things like codecs, and updated drivers, and turning it off and on and plugging it in again, and kicking it when nothing else works.

For all of that, though, there’s always been this large, sturdy brick wall between me and actually understanding what goes on inside the case of that technological devil that bewitches us all. I knew that motherboards had very little to do with maternal instinct, and that video cards made things look good, and that some processors are faster or slower than other ones, which is either good or bad … When it came down to it, though, all of the hardware in my computer basically just looked like a tangle of wires that would probably electrocute me to death if I looked at it the wrong way, or tried to stick my hand in where it didn’t belong.

Until a few days ago, when I built my own computer.

I’ve been living in a laptop, you see — a pretty good laptop, definitely considering when I bought it, but still small, and limited, and growing older by the second. Games that used to be nice and shiny now play like they’re running through molasses, and that’s with the graphics settings dropped to minimum. So, I’ve wanted a nice new desktop for a while, but I  figured while I was moving around from school to other places it didn’t make sense to spontaneously acquire some giant hulking thing that breaks your back to carry down five flights of stairs. Now, though, I’m reasonably more settled, and just so happen to have some friends with extra parts lying around, parts that they decided they were willing to sell to me at awesome prices to get me the computer I’ve been craving.

There was only one condition: they weren’t going to work for free, or at all, so I had to make the thing myself. And, I had to understand what I was doing while I was doing it.

You can be sure, I looked at them as though they were stark raving mad when that ultimatum was first set down: I don’t do hardware, I never have; I don’t know what a gigahert(z?) is or what clocks have to do with speed or how going over one could be a good thing … to suggest that a random civilian could acquire such knowledge is insane.

Well, apparently crazy works for me, because I have to say, I haven’t had as much fun in an embarrassingly long time. Sitting at a workstation with a slightly condescending friend pointing out every blinking light on the motherboard, I suddenly felt everything click into place. All those things I thought I just couldn’t understand, like what BIOS was or why a dual-core processor isn’t the same as a quad-core one, began to make sense. Suddenly, I know what a heat sink is, and why they’re useful, and why the one I have isn’t as good as it could be, and I get it.

It kind of makes me wonder what exactly was stopping me from figuring all of those out before, honestly. But aside from that little bit of self-chiding, it feels like an entirely new world has been opened to me. Like my ball and chain went from being a mystery box to a device with regular, predictable means of operation, with parts that intersect in logical ways. When my dvd drive stopped working, I opened up the case, checked, found that the cables weren’t properly connecting because my video card was putting a bit of a strain on them, fixed it, closed the case, and had it work again when I turned my computer on.

Which is probably more impressive when one notes that my previous response to that situation would have been to stare in confusion, and wait for a man to come and rescue me.

It’s liberating, and empowering, and just a little bit frightening … but at the end of it all, I have a computer that can play Batman, so I have to fucking win!

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