Computer Voodoo

I got a new Toshiba laptop a couple of months ago. I suppose I should have learnt by now, but I thought maybe computer technology would be more reliable than in the days of my PhD when my PC case was never screwed down because taking it apart was such a regular occurrence. The battery packed up after a month and then last week it started freezing on start-up. When I tried it in safe mode it seemed to get stuck at mup.sys. It seems I’m not the only one with this problem. The suggested problem seems to vary from a window service pack 2 upgrade, CMOS problem, virus or keyboard failure. The solutions are equally varied.

During the whole saga I became aware of two things:

i) The emotional state the rational machine induces in us. I ranged between violent swearing, sobbing, ennui, despair and hysteria as I wrestled over the course of three days with various start-up techniques.

ii) The superstition and irrationality you bring to these problems. At one stage I managed to get it all the way through the start-up process by continually moving the mouse. This became the first of many actions that came to constitute a start-up ritual that any religion would be proud of. Further rites included holding the laptop at an angle (and in one extreme fundamentalist sect even holding over one’s head), closing and opening the lid three times and removing the power lead for ten minutes. I can’t say these had any objective measure of success, but they had enough promise of success to be worth doing. And computers have become so complex that although I know they were mostly ridiculous, I couldn’t be quite sure that they were redundant. They became the IT equivalent of sprinkling the dirt from a grave before midnight over the computer – sure it doesn’t work, but hey, it’s worth a try.

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