austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

And through their strange hours we linger alone

Every year or two it's good practice to upgrade your computer's operating system, which will teach you to stop trying to upgrade your computer's operating system, a lesson which lasts for a year or two.

The earliest computers had no operating systems. They just put whatever they had wherever it fit and trusted that it wouldn't avalanche too often, which it did. So we have the modern operating system, which takes everything a computer might consider and tries to organize it. Initially all is well: as with a new house, all the surfaces are either neat and clean and the disorganized things are packed in boxes marked ``Miscellaneous'', or ``Misc'', or ``AV[ Diamond Shape ]8et'' if one's handwriting is poor.

But as the computer settles in, little nagging problems accumulate. Bits fall loose from ``lossy'' graphics formats like JPEG. Frames fall out of from YouTube videos of guys who experiment with using melted ice cream instead of milk when making macaroni and cheese and carefully review the sorry result. Bookmarks to thoughtful dissection of plot holes in Superfriends cartoons rot, producing ``swamp gas'' hallucinations making the window you look at merge with that of other programs.

This is where the excitement comes in: the programs on one's computer live in a state of armed truce. They started long ago trying to grab available digital resources. After so much of this squabbling the programs would rather just pretend to be fighting one another, shooting harmlessly into no-programs-land to convince the General Staff that they're still taking the war seriously, and only actually launching a full-scale assault when a high-ranking program insists on watching the action closely. We see the evidence of this when the computer appears to have randomly decided that the audio files in your music library are supposed to be opened by Zoo Tycoon 3: Ungulates!, or that the e-mail you saved a copy of should be opened by this weird tool that nobody ever seems to have heard of and which shows each letter divided by many periods and the occasional unpredictable symbol. These are the representations of the fronts shifting.

So the occasional upgrade of the operating system is a great way to try wiping the slate clean and starting from a completely organized basis. But a full operating system upgrade is a massive, staggering assault which to the programs appears to come out of nowhere, and all realize this is the time to move. In the resulting scramble all alliances and mutual defense pacts are forgotten, except for the smallest and most helpless programs, which run around crying ``Festival! Festival!'' It can take months before the toughest sieges are settled and the computer returns to working very nearly as well as it did before the upgrade started.

Always the most difficult programs after any upgrade are the drivers. The point of the drivers is to tell your computer how to use the other things that it might try to communicate with, like your printer. However, the drivers are themselves frustrating to communicate with, as they have an endless supply of meandering and pointless anecdotes they can't stop sharing, so the modern operating system contains programs to talk with the drivers. These intermediate programs are themselves called drivers for simplicity. These drivers which drive the drivers are unfortunately pedantic creatures and insist that they should have other names, so another layer of intermediate programs, known drivers, connect the operating system to the drivers which drive the drivers.

Understandably, this complex network of alliances is thrown into turmoil by the operating system upgrade, which likes to bring its own new drivers in. These new drivers have no idea who to talk to, and the old drivers don't wish to talk to it. So after the upgrade one has exciting moments such as attempting to print a file and discovering that the computer has sent the file not so much to the printer as it has sent it to a toaster oven in Argentina. You may collect your printout during ordinary business hours, provided no one has eaten the bagels on which it appeared. And that shows us all.

Trivia: The photographer that William Randolph Hearst had in Havana, Cuba, in 1898 -- who supposedly telegraphed William Randolph Hearst, ``Everything is quiet. There is no war. There will be no war. I wish to return'', and whom Heart supposedly answered, ``Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war'' -- was Feredric Remington. Source: The Spanish War: An American Epic 1898, G T A O'Toole.

Currently Reading: The Wizards of Armageddon, Fred Kaplan. History of the United States strategic policy for nuclear weapons, and speculations on whether the country will ever develop one.


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