Sunday, January 28, 2001

Web geek

Computer exorcist

        Item: A new garbage disposal installed with adhesive tape that looks like the mummified plumbing in King Tut's tomb.

        Cost: A maxed-out VISA card, two bad knees, mocking laughter, heavy cursing and skinned knuckles.

        Value: Priceless.

        Ask any guy. The real measure of a man is not sex appeal, annual income, stock portfolio or golf handicap. It's the courage to strap on a leather tool belt and go fearlessly into the unexplored frontier of home improvement. Nothing makes a man happier than to come back alive, dazed but undaunted by almost-lethal electric shocks and contusions, proud of wasting only an entire weekend to avoid a $25 service call.

        Nothing sounds sweeter to me than the musical chime of ice cubes tinkling into my glass from the automatic ice-maker/dispenser I replaced in our refrigerator using “Easy to follow instructions” written in Portuguese. OK, so the icemaker has no door anymore, and the ice cubes eject like jet pilots whose plane is on fire. But I did it my way.

        Victories like that make a guy feel like hanging out at a hardware store, swapping stories about rebuilt toilet valves and the mystical secrets of water softener installation. It's the kind of thing that separates real men from the “college boys” who will never live down the time they were sent for a tool and asked, “Where's Mr. Phillips and can I borrow his screwdriver?”

        A man who can slay a furnace is king of his castle. But a man should also know his own limits. And I drew the chalkline at anything with a silicon-chip brain. That stuff is repair-proof. Just walking into one of those black-box superstores always made me feel like a caveman thawed in a microwave.

        Computers and I have had an uneasy truce like the kind they keep tinkering with in the Middle East. Now and then I would get frustrated and throw rocks at my terrorist Macintosh, and it would fire back pictures of bombs with smoking fuses.

        I knew about a place called the Internet, sort of the way the Bengals have heard of the playoffs. Can't get there from here. Not on my computer, which was slower and crankier than an HMO with sore feet.

        But then one weekend I strapped on my tool belt, loaded my 50 cal. caulk gun and became... Computer Exorcist.

        After years of muttering prayers, oaths and incantations over my demon-possessed relic, I replaced my rotten Apple with a PC Porsche: 900 megahertz of raw power. (For all I know a megahertz is a unit of pain, but I'm pretty sure 900 is about 800 times the computing capacity of my own brain.)

        All that horsepower in my hands is like letting a beagle land an F-14 on the deck of a carrier — with his head out the window. But somehow, I launched my PC rocket into cyberspace. And now I'm thinking of moving there permanently.

        Where else can you instantly find 3.2 million facts without stumbling on the one you went looking for?

        Where else is there a staff of experts on call 24/7, ready to take your question after only 90 minutes on hold, so they can politely explain what a moron you are?

        Where else can you destroy a whole universe — and restart?

        Where else can you click and drag the Dixie Chicks into your car and make them sing in your CD player for weeks without attracting the attention of the FBI?

        I used to think Napster was something you took on the couchster. Now I think MP3 is the greatest thing since the automatic ice dispenser.

        I have not even begun to tap my new computer's enormous potential to make me feel like a complete imbecile.

        I love it like a hammered thumb.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. me


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