Monday, April 20, 1998

My name is Jason A., and I used to have a life

There was once this girl named Pandora who had a little box. Not satisfied to leave it alone and just enjoy it as a box (you know prop her coffee on it, or use it as a paper weight) she had to go and open it. Bad idea. Out popped all the maladies the gods could come up with and we humans have been paying the price ever since.

I should have learned my lesson from that old Greek girl because lordy lordy, not only did I open my own box, but I threw a bunch of electronic gear into it and then oh-so foolishly plugged it in. What folly we mortals rent.

Take it from me, DO NOT build you own computer.

At first the idea seemed simple enough: the world is rapidly changing, becoming more computer oriented, what better way to learn how to be abreast of the changes than to build a computer?

Yeah right. I got the electronic part figured out and the bloodsucker of a machine works well enough, but I failed to consider the most important part of any home building project - the psychology.

Let me explain by way of an example. If you buy a phone, it is just a phone. Get a call, make a call. No big deal. Unless you have a BMW and a cellular phone, you leave the damn things alone because, after all, they are just phones. That is the way life should be.

But now throw in the psychology of the home builder. Lets say you BUILD a phone. Now you would be screwed. You could not possibly leave the thing alone now. How could you? It is your offspring, some kind of Frankenstein's child of a phone crying incessantly for your attention.

You start thinking, maybe the ringer would sound better with two bells instead of one. You rip it apart and try. Or you think it would sound better hooked up to the wall with co-axial cable instead of the cheap wire ma' Bell gave you. So you rip it apart and try it.

You cannot help but try it. You would have no choice because by then you would have home builder's disease - a psychological impairment.

The dynamics behind the impairment are really basic to human nature. As humans we are like little ego machines out to find self-fulfillment, we need it as sure as we needed mother's milk. If you think you can get some fulfillment building something as dumb as a phone, imagine what happens when you build a computer and see it blinking and bleeping away ready to let you fight it out in "Doom" or fly a mock F-15.

To be honest, if you do it right and everything in your computer works from the get-go, you stand half a chance of being a normal person who will feel fulfilled but would still get more satisfaction and fulfillment from things like volunteering for charity and joining a bowling league.

But if you make a mistake and actually have to redo something, have to rescue some program from the delete scrap-heap or god-forbid, get the soldering gun out, then you might as well accept fate, you will be, as I said, screwed. There is something about fixing stuff that just sets off the addictive genes in mortal men and from then on the brain will tell you that the thing always needs fixing.

Your life as you once knew will start fading away. Whereas you once dreamed life was cliff-diving in Acapulco and eating fresh bread in Paris, post computer life soon starts resembling a series of lulls in between upgrades.

You find yourself doing one of two things, either you are thinking about upgrading the computer, or you are actually physically upgrading the computer.

Like the time I was researching some school work using an electronic encyclopedia that came on two CD-ROM's. I had to keep switching the disks as I searched through the encyclopedia as data was sometimes on disk A, sometimes on disk B. Now any normal person would have thought that was straight forward enough.

But see my impaired home builder's brain immediately told me that something was wrong with my computer. It needed fixing. I dropped the homework and ran out to get another disk drive. I ripped the box apart and installed the sucker. Then when I used the encyclopedia I did not have to swap disks since both could now run in the machine at the same time.

Acapulco? Paris? Who can afford that when I am saving for a DVD player and a new 3-D FX CPI-slot configured video board with 4 megs of VRAM? (If you do not know what that means, save yourself now and do not learn.) Besides you can see Paris and Mexico on the web.

Down in the south bay where I live there are these stores huge super electronics stores that cater specifically to the psychologically impaired home builder. They carry about four different kinds of products: electronic gear, magazines, soft drinks and junk food. Apparently, that is all a home builder needs to survive.

The scary part is that, 'Hey, that make sense to me.' Why not eat junk food? Balanced diets are for people who go outside and move around and stuff. I do not have time for that I'm too busy configuring my track-ball so that the cursor floats to hot buttons. And why read thick books anyway when a good computer magazine will do? What did Camas and Kundera know about .wav files and MIDI dubbing.

As my previous non-builder life fades away, ever more distant from memory, I can only think with the last analog like thoughts I have left that you should save yourself while you can and do not follow my footsteps. Do not build a computer. Go live a normal life. Volunteering and bowling are good things. Really.

Now if you will excuse me I have to go. I have been thinking that if I rewire my computer's sound card to the front of the box I can ...

-Jason L. Ables is the Opinion Editor of the Golden Gater