Monday, 13 December 2010

Normal service has been resumed – comments are back, for now

Regular visitors to this neck of the woods may have noticed that the option to post comments on my latest witterings disappeared some five or six posts ago. I didn’t notice for a while because I just assumed everyone had found better things to do with their valuable time.

But the lack of response to my posting on the Germans aroused my suspicions – I sometimes suspect that the internet was invented primarily so that we could accuse other people of being just as bad as Hitler.

We used to have neighbours two doors down who were the one remaining working class family on our stretch of road. Occasionally, the elderly couple who lived there would have a gathering of the clan (including a son who was the spitting image of Paul Gascoigne - only not as intelligent-looking - and a pit-bull terrier called Ripper). 

When they’d finished lunch, or watched a football match, or whatever they got up behind closed doors, they would, without fail, troop out to inspect one of the cars the various family members had arrived in. Gazza, in particular would turn up in some unique vehicles – marques one had never heard of, colours one had never previously seen in any context, and making noises one had never heard before. 

The bonnet of one of the cars would be ceremoniously opened, and, for at least an hour, the males of the family would stand around, staring down at the engine, looking confused and disgruntled, like the members of an isolated Indian tribe deep in the rainforest who have come upon the wreckage of an airplane, and have no idea what to make of it. Now and then one of them would reach in to tap a bit of metal or tug at a lead. Meanwhile, the owner would get behind the wheel at intervals and rev the engine, as if this might fix the problem. (All it did, of course, was to annoy the hell out of their neighbours, while producing gouts of carcinogenic smoke from an invariably rusted exhaust pipe.)

What they were hoping to achieve was always a mystery. Perhaps they imagined they could fix whatever was wrong by concentrating all their communal mental energy on the engine. Maybe they were wondering whether to kneel down and worship it. Or appease it by sacrificing the dog. 

Whatever they were up to, the temptation to open the sitting room window and shout “You know nothing about cars. Take it to a garage, you idiots!” would become almost overpowering, but as they all looked a bit handy, none of us ever uttered a peep.

Eventually, they’d disperse and we’d hear the vehicle which had made a noise like a sick gibbon when arriving make the same noise as it departed. 

Well, that’s pretty much how I react when anything goes wrong with a computer. In this instance, the bundled Apple iWeb application, the design-tool-cum-content-management-system I use to maintain this site had come over all teenagery, taking ages to publish anything and cutting me off from the world by refusing to accept comments. (Maybe it disapproves of my politics.) After staring with mounting incomprehension at various web pages for an hour or so, I eventually contacted Apple’s nice online text chat service and posted a bunch of dumb questions on the Apple discussion forums. Following instructions, I saved everything I’d written to an online cache and a disk, uninstalled and reinstalled iWeb, then removed and added a variety of recent posts. It all took hours. And more hours.


Eventually, I found the iWeb tick box that tells iWeb to allow or deny comments, unchecked and rechecked it – and the comment facility was suddenly back. (I have no idea if this is what actually did the trick).

I would love to know how much time I have spent mucking about with recalcitrant software programs during the past dozen years, usually to  little or no effect. But in this instance, there’s probably no point in you shouting “You know nothing about computers, take it to an expert!” The last time I took a delinquent laptop to an “expert”, they said, “God, I hope it’s a hardware problem.” When I asked why, they explained that a software problem could take forever to diagnose (fortunately, it was an easily-fixed hardware malfunction). 

I have one simple question: after all these years, why are systems with no moving parts still designed so that they are able to start doing things they haven’t been asked to do or stop doing the things they’re meant to do? Why does software malfunction? 

Answers on a postcard, please – better yet, use the “Add a Comment” facility. If it’s still there! 

1 comment:

  1. About a month ago, after installing an update to Logic Pro, I noticed that two rather good tracks I had been working on had disappeared irretrievably, along with Apple Loops. Eventually, my middle daughter returning from University, managed to sort out the latter if not the former but only after her father had spent hours venting his frustration on items of blameless hardware.

    As Todd Rundgren put it: "I've got a deadline that won't back off, I'm about to chew my own leg off, cos some snot-nosed pube has locked me out, and I wait and I wait...."
    Friday, December 17, 2010 - 11:16 AM