Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Faith-based Computing

Well, I thought I had done it.

I began this post with a heady sense of optimism, full of myself because of some significant victories in computing over the last few days. It didn't happen without a lot of work and a lot of smarts and a lot of yelling at my husband (which seems to help me, although it doesn't usually help the computer problems very much). But after a full 24 hours in the land of milk and honey (and fast connections and working applications and seamless network connection), I guess I got too cocky. Or maybe somebody who is more in charge than I realize got annoyed that I was giving all the credit to the deity of my new religion, New Media. Maybe that "it's not a genre, it's a theological construct" comment in the last post pissed off, er, somebody.

Of course, I began this post during my lunch hour at work. I came home ready to finish the clean "from disk" install of my Major-Applications-That-Would-Not-Work, but almost immediately encountered a compatability issue. No matter, I thought, since I wasn't going to run that program anyway and was just installing it to serve as the baseline for the Very Expensive Upgrade I had purchased, which was hanging out in cyberspace waiting for me to download it.

And then, Big New Computer misplaced our household LAN. And then it misplaced the Internet. And finally, it misplaced the Network screen in Windows Explorer altogether.

Holy. Moly.

Well, it took a little swearing and a little Googling and a little more yelling at my husband, but I found a trick online, posted in response to someone who was experiencing basically the same thing as me (without all the religious overtones). I stood at my "old" computer (where I am standing now) and read off the instructions I had located on Wikipedia to my husband who was kind enough to sit in front of Big New Computer and follow them. And the trick worked. The network screen came up with all three computers identified and happy. The Internet connection came up, and not in the dreaded "limited connectivity" mode.

So now I stand here at 10:14 pm, when I had planned to be in-world blowing Linden Bucks on even more new hair and some great clothes in 1900 Paris. Instead, I'm writing blog entries and playing solitaire on my "old" computer, waiting for 685 MB of program upgrade to download. I'm tired, I'd rather be asleep, but I want to get this at least downloaded before the trolls strike again. Maybe it's because I made fun of some of the poor hapless software customer support people I found myself dealing with over the last week or so; among my many conclusions about software customer support people was the notion that as a general rule they are just not very clever to begin with. I was feeling smug, because I didn't yell at anyone and instead forgave them.(Poor Bapshar, Indra and Kevin, I wish you many blessings and hope you are forever protected from the mantra, "would you like fries with that?")

But maybe I stepped on someone's toes there too. Seems I remember something about forgiveness being someone else's territory as well.

Well, alrighty then. I'll abandon all religious metaphors immediately. I've learned a lot in the last few days, not all of it about computers. And I'm still devoted to New Media, but in a less ecclesiastical sort of way. Maybe in a more ontological sort of way? Or is that actually the same territory?

Yay. My download is at 73% and it's only 10:30. I might make it into bed sometime tonight.

Monday, April 28, 2008

New Media ... It's Not Just a Genre Anymore

It's been a rough couple of weeks, here, as you'll know if you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog.

It began with a dead monitor and some unceremonious lack of cooperation by my "old" CPU, just before my new computer was scheduled to arrive. Or so I thought. The dead monitor turned out to be a dead power source, and $25 and a couple of days later, I have a new one and the old monitor is happy and working just fine.

The uncooperative CPU, which I thought might be a fried motherboard, was in fact a bad drive. Good news: the failed drive was an external hard drive I have been using to store video and new projects--remove the drive and all is well. Bad news: the failed drive is the external hard drive I have been using to store video and new projects--there's a sh**load of stuff on there that I absolutely cannot lose or I will go postal. The drive was nowhere near full and purchased much more recently than my old, full exterrnal drive (which connects up without a fuss and works just fine, as long as you don't plan on trying to squeeze more stuff onto it ... and yes, I had managed to fill up one 250 GB external drive and was working on a second one.)

Then there's the new computer. My first bit of, er, excitement is actually how I discovered that a failed drive was causing my old CPU's problems; I hooked it up to my new computer and got the same result. But of course I didn't put two and two together until I fired up the old CPU, now sans problem drive, and it came up just fine. I only had to suffer the negative excitement of thinking my NEW box had a fried motherboard as well for about 10 minutes, so this was not as bad as it could have been.

I shall spare you the intimate details of my fourth through eighth bits of excitement, all having to do with my new compupter and its accompanying accourtrements. Suffice to say (with names changed to protect the innocent) that they include:

4. a DULL computer manufacturer that actually shipped my new computer preinstalled with bloatware that actively conflicted with the operating system, also preinstalled in the factory.

5. the same DULL manufacturer shipping the computer loaded with an incorrect driver for the graphics card they installed

6. a third-party file transfer software recommended by both the computer manufacturer and the maker of the operating system that took 22 hours to migrate the contents of one computer to the other, and proceeded to overwrite CPU and OS settings on the receipient machine, even though its documentation swore it would not do this

7. the same third-party file transfer software boasting "most applications will work fine!" but then noting in very small print "*except (fill in name of company responsible for 2/3 of my actively-used software)"

8. the inability of the exciting new operating system (a product we'll call Trapdoor Panorama, by a company we'll call MacroSquish) to maintain connection to our LAN, to the Internet, or to its own DVD drives for more than a few minutes at a time.

So, with all these challenges, mostly still not resolved, I have come to one conclusion:

"New Media" is testing me.

I say it in that particular way, giving it a sort of Godlike animation, because that's what it seems to be. It had a certain appeal, but I initially thought it was not for me. It continued to call to me--I resisted, but then responded, and then abandonned myself to it entirely. And now, it's testing my faith, challenging me to see how badly I really want to do this. I'm the modern-day equivalent of Job. New Media isn't just a genre, it's a theological construct.

How strong is my commitment? Let's just say the one thing I'm grateful for over the last week is that I finally got enough time "in-world" to repair my hair and improve my shoes. My next task will be looking for land for a nice little studio and art-park ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

TGI Monday

Well, thank Goddess it's MONDAY. I'll bet you haven't heard that in awhile, if ever. It's just that I had one of those weekends that makes my 9-to-5 job seem simple and easy-to-manage.

First, we'll talk about my adventures in technology. My new computer arrived Saturday afternoon. The good news: I'm sure you'll all be relieved to know that I've been able to repair my Second Life avatar's hair and have even gone so far as to improve her shoes. Dealing with the Perpetual Mystery that is the Vista operating system has not been too torturous, although it also hasn't been anything I would call "fun." And my cats like the new computer very much, the CPU is nice and high and wide and just right for putting chilly little paws, behinds, and bellies on.

But the bad news--and further proof that machines are already more intelligent than we think--is the fact that my old computer committed hari kiri Saturday morning, well before I was done with it.

The CPU went first. I turned it on early Saturday to complete the software upgrades and file organization I had planned to make everything easier to move to the new system, and ... uh oh. It won't move past its BIOS scan. The black screen with its big green corporate logo just sat there and mocked me, silent, unmoving. Damn.

So I powered down and got a cup of coffee and went back to try again (the conventional geek wisdom being, if at first you don't succeed, turn the damn thing off and reboot).

This time, I could tell by the sound of the CPU that it wasn't making it past the BIOS scan. Good thing, too, because I couldn't see anything. The monitor was black. Everything was black. And everything was cold except the 12v power source, which felt just short of meltdown, which it was. I must admit that this is not the first 12v power cable this monitor has destroyed, but I found the timing, er, interesting.

I spent a significant portion of my Sunday dragging around to places that were unlikely to have this particular power source, which for some reason features a hard-to-find four-pin connector. I was variously treated to interacting with sexist goats who were sure that a 40-something female couldn't possibly have any idea what she actually needed; with sympathetic-but-unable-to-help salespeople who had less than a modicum of real knowledge about any aspect of computers aside from having a MySpace page; and at least one complete moron who never got past believing somehow that I was trying to hook up a television set--this despite my having the product in my hand, holding it out to him, and saying very clearly in a language that was clearly the first language for both of us, "I NEED ANOTHER ONE OF THESE, ONE JUST LIKE THIS ONE, SEE?" Said moron then pretended to "look it up" on the company's inventory and announced that potential replacements would "start" at $80. Interesting, since the last one of these I bought cost $25, delivered, so he might also have been a crook; however, without further evidence, I'm placing all my money on the "moron" option.

In the end, I was unable to come up with a solution for any part of the downfall of my old CPU in the brief period of time I had to focus on it. We'll order another power source online, just like we did last time this happened. I have a friend who has proposed an interesting solution for the CPU issue (which could be a fried motherboard, and yeah, I really want to have the motherboard replaced on a computer I was just about to stop using altogether), so all this will be solved soon. But not as soon as I would ideally have liked. Harumph.

The other part of my weekend that made things less than fabulous kind of took me by surprise. I received the expected "thanks but no thanks" letter in response to my application for a position at Berkeley City College. I can't say I didn't expect this particular bit of rejection; the position was full-time tenure track and I have no teaching track record. My exhibition record is good, but not astonishing--I'm definitely an "emerging" artist, as much as I hate that term. So I figured I would not even get the chance to interview for this position, and I was right.

But for some reason, expecting rejection didn't make it any easier to take. I was really, really disappointed and depressed that I hadn't gotten at least an interview.

It's not because I need a job. I have a job, and even though it's not an art teaching job, it still has elements of art in it. It's really flexible and I work with great people. And it pays about $11,000 more per year than the full-time, tenure track position at BCC paid (and that's another blog entry right there).

But it sounded like a great position, teaching things that are right up my alley, and I KNOW I'm a great teacher. I had a brief stint of teaching when I was working on Master's Degree #1 back in the 1980s, and students loved me--not because I was an easy grader (because I definitely WASN'T), but because I was a good teacher and they actually learned things in my class. I also had a history of calling out troublemakers and the kinds of students who take up class time trying to show off or be cute or otherwise just draw attention to themselves, and my serious students really appreciated that. I had students who came back after the end of the quarter and thanked me, who told me they'd told their roommates and friends to make sure and get the section of the class that I was teaching. And I have to tell you, this meant more to me than any compliment I've ever had in my entire life, before or since that time. It was incredibly rewarding.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in my official paperwork that can convey this to Berkeley City College ... or any other potential academic employer, for that matter. I was teaching as a GSI, and it was 20 years ago. Hiring entities don't care that, while working on my MFA far more recently, my fellow students frequently came to me with their questions and discussion points instead of the instructors. There's no way to document that in some classes I was as much the instructor as the instructor was, and not because I took on the role myself, but because my fellow students recognized something in me that was clear and grounded and approachable. Someone is going to have to take a chance on me, on something not unlike blind faith. It is unlikely that chance will be a full-time, tenure-track position.

So I don't begrudge Berkeley City College the decision they made; from a pure business standpoint it makes sense, although I personally know they blew it and missed out on someone really terrific who had all the bells and whistles they were looking for and who would have done them beyond proud.

Somehow, though, that doesn't make it less disappointing.

Ah well. I'm trying to view it as an opportunity, as the "right thing" happening. I have a lot of art projects ongoing right now, and if I'd gotten that position, I'd have lost lots of art-making time to curriculum-preparation time. I'd be making a lot less money and would be trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Things would be very, very stressful and difficult and hard.

And yet. And yet ...

TGI Monday. See what I mean?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Going (for) Broke in New Media

... and kids, I mean BROKE. As in, "where did the money go?"

It's my own fault. I never get interested in anything cheap that you can do with, say, a pencil and a napkin. My noble experiment in drawing failed not because I cannot draw (and let me be the first to say I cannot draw, when it comes to drawing I really put the "not" in cannot), but because I couldn't make myself be interested enough in doing it to reel off even one attempted alleged drawing per month.

Now some of you might argue that my lack of ability, whether real or perceived, was the actual reason I couldn't get interested in drawing. But ah-hah, you would play innocently right into my hands with that argument. Because the reason New Media is currently costing me lots of money is exactly that: I discovered I wanted to do things that I didn't have the abilities to accomplish.

So of course I did what any respectable uber-geek academic-under-the-hood intellectual smartass would do: I decided to teach myself. Don't get alarmed, it's a geek thing, we spend all our lives laboring under the illusion that given enough time and enough code borrowed from someone else, we'll figure it out. It's not false confidence; we come at things this way because it generally works for us. Plus, we tend to have little patience with exercises that don't mean anything to us: let it be said here that I have never asked my computer in any form or fashion to say "Hello, World!" (Er, sorry, that's a bit of an in-joke, all the geeks just laughed and all the rest of you are now staring blankly at your monitors.)

What I discovered, unfortunately, was a fairly dramatic external barrier to my success. Namely, my computer is almost five years old, and was purchased back when the most processing-intensive thing I did on a regular basis was run a Microsoft operating system (oh dear, all the geeks just laughed again, sorry, sorry ... I'll get to something for the rest of you in just a bit, I promise.)

But now I'm doing a lot of video editing. I'm spending a lot of time on Second Life. And I'm trying to drag a lot of my "public art"-type projects into dual existence in both the real and virtual realms.

I knew I was in trouble when the installer for the last update of Second Life informed me that my system specs suggested I would soon have issues with my graphics support. No kidding. I found myself basically inhabiting Second Life alone. Buildings flickered and dissolved and changed textures disconcertingly. In a breathtaking "art-imitating-art" moment, I began to have trouble with the script that runs my hair (oh, more geek laughter ... at least some of you non-geeks who happen to enjoy the occasional foray into cyber-punk literature will have gotten that one also, unless it's been a darned long time since you read Snow Crash).

I further knew I was in trouble when, in preparation for a course I'm taking in Berkeley's Summer Sessions this year, I tried to download a particular 3-D modeling program ... and the installer wouldn't even let me download it.

This is all a very long, roundabout way of telling you that I've bought myself a new computer. Dell 630 computer, vroom-vroom!
It's quite a computer, too, with enough under the hood that I think it will probably go "BLUMBLUMBLUMBLUM ... VROOM, VROOM!" when I boot it up for the first time. It will be the most powerful thing I've ever had under my desk, although I once had something almost as powerful in the back seat of a Camaro, ha-ha (now all the rest of you are laughing, and a good many of the geeks may feel puzzled and left-out).

Was it expensive? Well, yes it was, stupidly so. But thanks to tips and reminders from my sneaky (that's "sneaky" in a good way) friend Seth, I wound up paying significantly less for it than the posted price, although one could argue that anybody who pays the list price these days is either not trying hard enough or simply has too much money anyway.

I'm still kind of in "I got a new computer" high, although "o god I have to move my stuff and all those applications" horror is beginning to set in. But I'm going to enjoy myself a little while longer. I feel sorry for those poor hamsters I can hear laboring in their wheels in my current set-up. They'll no doubt be happy to be set free.