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ATPM 15.08
August 2009


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by Mark Tennent,

Blinking Cursors

New job, day one. I sat looking up at the Dell wondering how to turn it on. On the monitor is a button that looked hopeful so I pressed it to illuminate a tiny lamp on the button. After a few moments of waiting for something to happen, nothing did, apart from adding a tiny bit extra to my carbon overhead. The Dell remained a blue-black lump of lifeless plastic.

Being a Mac user since nineteen eighty-something, this promoted a problem because, in my experience, if the monitor is alive so should be the computer. I jiggled the mouse, a large and ugly object probably made out of left-overs from the part-bins in East German Trabant factories. Then I pressed the spacebar on a keyboard made from cheap, clickety-clackety plastic.

The tiny lamp on the monitor’s button kept its steady glow, but all the screen showed was fingerprints of previous users and the scrapes where they ran their nails down it in desperation. At least the screen is LCD and not cathode ray. After years of not using a flickering, luminescent monster, LCD is a definite plus, even if it is about the size of my MacBook’s. Until I could coax some activity on the screen, I couldn’t start work. It was time to examine the CPU box.

You Ought to See My Floppy

I see the front has two slots, one with the initials DVD in barely discernible capitals, and an oblong button. Even a Mac user recognises this as the way to get the coffee cup holder to slide in and out. I pressed it anyway. Beneath the DVD was another thinner slot, also with a button.

Could it be…no, surely not…a floppy disk drive? Good Lord! Do they still make floppy disks? Apple abandoned the whole idea years ago, and here I am, supposed to work with a computer with a floppy drive. How old is this machine for goodness sake? I pressed the button on the floppy drive, just in case. Nothing happened.

Where next to start grabbing my share of Lotus, destined to replace QuarkXPress, Photoshop and all software which my skills have been honed to perfection over the last 20 years? The only other recognisable elements on the front of the CPU are a pair of USB ports—and USB 1 at that.

Obviously the “On” button must be on the side or maybe round the back. A large, raised, oval silver area looked hopeful but yielded no results. I saw an identical one on the other side and pressed them both out of devilment, hoping that maybe the case would open so I could see inside. Nothing happened. Nor was there a button round the rear of the computer, only a sticker saying Windows XP2. The computer sat there “looking” at me in its oh-so-smug Dellness.

Look at the Monkey

All I could think of was the video of Steve Ballmer doing an impression of a monkey at a Microsoft conference. His sweaty armpits leaking darkly into his blue shirt. That just about sums up this computer, old and sweaty.

No computer meant no work. Everything I needed to do in my new role was inside that computer. I asked a colleague for help, he waved his hand across the front of the CPU, pressed something, and the machine sprang to life. This is not life as we know it. A noise filled the room, sounding like an asthmatic extractor fan desperately needing a squirt of WD-40.

After waiting a few minutes and still nothing, I noticed some faint lettering on the screen inviting me to “Enter Password” followed by a blinking cursor. Time to make some educated guessing. I played at being a hacker for five or ten minutes, largely to make myself look busy before walking to the administration office.

Curly Cords

I was walking because no one had shown me how to work the phones yet, phones which had handsets still attached to bases by curly cords. No more wandering round making calls, tucking the handset between chin and shoulder to allow secondary, often more important pursuits such as typing, kneading bread, and opening bottles of wine with one hand.

The office administrator didn’t even look at me as she said: “I haven’t put you on the system yet so you can’t use the computer. We got new ones in this year so I’ll see you on Monday next week and go over them with you.”

Logmein Not Chowmein

I got home that evening, after a day spent being incredibly helpful, making umpteen cups of tea coffee for anyone who looked slightly dehydrated, meanwhile cleaning the kitchen area to spotlessness. My partner suggested I install the free Logmein on my Mac, and hope that I’ll be able to use it via a Web browser once the Dell lets me in. Then I’ll be able to have a Dell running my Mac Pro back in my own office. I’ll also take my MacBook in case I can pick up a wireless network somewhere, and possibly put hard, yet-to-be-earned cash, to buy into the iPhone hype.

Otherwise I think I shall try to catch swine flu in preference to going back to my new job next week.

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Reader Comments (3)

Jaraeez · August 3, 2009 - 08:23 EST #1
A bit thoughtless wouldn't you say

"Otherwise I think I shall try to catch swine flu in preference to going back to my new job next week."

I won't insult your intelligence into why!
mark Tennent (ATPM Staff) · August 12, 2009 - 17:27 EST #2
Here in the UK, most people catch swine flu and don't even realise they have it. More people have had more days off work when they are in good health than any other current excuse.
thommango · August 28, 2009 - 16:48 EST #3
This article provides a vivid snapshot of what it's like for technocrats entering into corporate life.

As someone working at megabank, I've opinined numerous times to the powers that be, suggesting that it will become increasingly difficult to attract young talent if you are going to make them check their iphones at the door. It's a problem every lumbering, fear-mongering and penny-pinching megacorp is going to have to face.

The CTO of BP gave a great talk on this very subject. They started a program where new employees are basically given some cash and told to buy whatever compy they want. All the corp apps are in the cloud, and the corp doesn't take any endpoint security position on the end user machines. It's a security retreat, but its also a recognition that you aren't going to be able to attract the techno-elite with your hokey beige boxes.

I also feel that my employer's choice of computers and software is cramping my style. However, I'm a PC tablet user.

Mac users are always comparing their home or hip creative agency machines with those used by mostly older, less techno-focused folks at megacorps and believing that they are comparing macs to pcs. It's naive.

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