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Entries in Technology (2)

Monday
Sep132010

Getting My Fix

Last week, I wrote about when things break, in which I revealed to the world some of my hang-ups about the inevitable destruction of everything we love in this world househould items.  Today, thankfully, I am feeling much more upbeat as a result of some successful fixes, namely, the resurrection of two computers.

I mentioned in the comments to my last post that I distinguish between objects like glass lamps that can be shattered irrevocably in an instant and items like cars and computers, which tend to die slow deaths.  One main reason for this distinction is the ability to repair these hunks of metal and electricity.  Thanks to some internet searches, troubleshooting forums, and a DIY attitude, I am typing this entry on a 2004 Dell desktop that now boasts a brand new hard drive. 

Now, I'm not a computer whiz, but it's funny how much I've learned about computers while trying to keep this antique running.  I've learned about AGP vs PCI slots, the limits of Video Cards and the importance of drivers, the difference between IDE hard drives and SATA, and how to pair matching memory cards when upgrading RAM.  So even if I won't be hacking into the Pentagon any time soon, I am a lot closer to being able to build a computer from scratch if I choose to in the future. 

I'm sure some of you would ask, "Why don't you just buy a new computer?" or "That's why I have a Mac," and while exploring those options would be nice, I just don't have the funds for that kind of expense right now.  Plus, the point of my efforts is not only to save money, but to use my head, hands, and search engine skills to fix a solvable problem.  The satisfaction of a clean Windows install and 500 GB of fresh hard drive space surpasses the knowledge that I've kept this machine running for six years by spending only about $250, minus labor.  

My Mr. Fix-It success was not only limited to hardware upgrades on this machine, however.  While waiting for my replacement hard drive for the Dell, I started messing around with a 2005 HP laptop my dad picked up at work.  The original owner had taken the hard drive, so there was no operating system on the machine.  Once I popped in a compatible hard drive and purchased a power cable, I was able to start messing around with Linux. 

I had zero experience with Linux, which is essentially a group of operating systems available for free use.  The Linux experience and community are rooted in a commitment to open source software, i.e. free.  This sounded good to me, as opposed to paying over $100 for a Windows license.  

Again, thanks to the wonders of internet tech forums, I determined that I would be able to install Ubuntu, the latest Linux distribution, on this old machine, but that there would be limits due to memory and graphics specs.  I learned all about how Linux arranges files, that it does not have traditional "drives" like Windows, and that the system encourages command-line customization.  I was quite impressed with the clear language and sensible approach of this software.  I thought I had everything right, but I was still getting a hanging black screen during bootup.  After a little more digging, I found that I needed to input a specific command to force Ubuntu to push past the limits of the old graphics card.  So then I find myself hacking into the kernel, modifying the "grub" file, and crossing my fingers.  Seconds later, bam!, I'm running Ubuntu on an ancient laptop.  I now have a working laptop that will be just fine for blogging from the coffee shop or surfing in front of the tv, at a total cost of around $150. 

Again, the satisfaction goes beyond the cost saved.  That feeling of achievement that comes from tackling an unfamiliar problem, gaining new knowledge, and making useful what was once useless is equally as powerful as the negative emotions that come from things breaking.  So while it was great to learn new things about the interaction between hardware and software, and to now have two computers that are fully functional, the real success here was the triumph of will and intellect. 

For me, these everyday experiences allow an examination of how we approach challenges in our lives.  The results, I think, speak to the resilience of human nature, that even though we are susceptible to anger and shame when things are beyond our control, we are also capable of hard work and ingenuity to take back that control.  And as long as those lessons go hand-in-hand, the universe hasn't won yet.

Tuesday
Apr132010

Why Don't My Friends Tweet?

There’s a situation I’ve been mulling for quite some time now, and it has come into sharp relief as I’ve been working on this blog the past couple months.  My friends don’t Tweet

Now, this realization doesn’t apply only to Twitter and it doesn’t apply to many people I know.  What I’ve been pondering is the fact that my best friends, the people I talk to weekly, go the bar with, take road trips with, do not use social media nearly as much as I do.  They don’t tweet, don’t comment on blogs, and don’t use Foursquare.  I asked myself, “Why?” 

I thought about how their lifestyles and personalities affected their use of social media.  Here are some characteristics that stood out:

Relationship Status

Do single people tweet more?  Many of the persons in question are in committed relationships, on the doorstep of marriage even.  Love is a beautiful thing, but it takes a lot of work.  Perhaps the energy it takes to have a relationship takes away the desire or at least the free time to communicate on the web.  It makes sense that a close personal relationship takes preference to engaging with media or people on a further circle of friendship. 

Type of Employment

Certain professions are inherently more geared to using social media.  Friends of mine who work in PR or Journalism have much more readily embraced social media, because in many cases their personality is intertwined with their product.  Friends who work in finance or education may not have as much professional incentive to venture into the social realm online. 

Comfort Level with Tech

Partially tied in with employment, the degree of technological savvy is also a determining factor in using social media.  None of my close friends are programmers or engineers, nor do they rely on specialized computer programs for their jobs or hobbies.  Without an innate interest in the technology itself, social media can seem like an extraneous tool that cramps one’s lifestyle instead of enhancing it. 

These categories offer an interesting look into the social media habits of people ages 25-30.  There are always additional factors, however.  Two of my best friends have actively shunned the use of social media for the past five years, ostensibly for the distaste of being associated with the status quo.  One only acquiesced recently because his professional life demanded it. 

Now, while my small focus group is not on Twitter, Last.fm, or YouTube, almost every one of them is on Facebook.  That remains the king of the Internet, and their level of engagement on that site far outweighs any other.  A large chunk of the hits on this blog are directed from Facebook.  Google also garners plenty of attention, with GChat effectively replacing the IM platforms of old like AIM or Messenger, although Buzz has failed to fill any perceived need.

So what did I take away from this admittedly unscientific study?  That as much as social technology begs users to engage with the media they consume, the act remains largely passive.  As much as online profiles allow for narcissism, they also encourage voyeurism.  My group of friends, my generation, has not fully taken advantage of the avenues of communication available on the Internet.  Perhaps that is a good thing, though, as concerns about privacy become more relevant, and so much time in front of a screen can be a bit dehumanizing.  While I will continue to urge my close friends to learn about and have fun using social media, I’m quite happy to keep them close the old-fashioned way.   

Follow me @adamrmcgrath