KATHRYN OLMSTEAD

Glitch confirms columnist can’t manage without computer

Posted June 10, 2011, at 1:51 p.m.
Last modified June 10, 2011, at 5:06 p.m.

Editor’s note: Due to an editor error, Kathryn Olmstead’s column did not appear as scheduled yesterday. We apologize for the mistake.

The butterflies flew around in my stomach for about an hour. I counted the number of things on my to-do list requiring my computer and decided to go to church.

 I prayed the “caps lock” had been engaged when I turned on my laptop this morning, causing it to reject my password. Home from church, I ran to the computer, pressed the “caps lock” key and the usual message appeared: “caps lock: on.” It had not been on before. Something else was blocking my access to this computer.

I usually walk the dog or take a shower while waiting for my laptop to boot at the beginning of the day. This Sunday morning I had decided to pay bills. I was right nearby when the little window appeared with some message about what to do to address a “problem” with the computer.

Thinking it was one of the many pop-up windows urging me to update this and download that, I clicked it away and never saw what it was trying to tell me. I typed in my password.

“The User Profile Service failed the logon. User profile cannot be loaded.”

Well, that’s clear enough. There must be some way I can reconstruct that profile: height, weight, age, profession, birthplace, mother’s maiden name, physical address, email address, name of favorite childhood pet.

I try again. The computer gives me “hint” for remembering the password I have been typing since 8 a.m. I shut down the machine. Restart the machine. Same message. Same hint.

OK. I lived for decades without a computer. Certainly I can manage. I talked to two people just last week who do not use a computer. No email. No Internet.

Yet I surprise myself with the level of frustration I feel when unable to access the Internet. That poor Time-Warner technical support lady who has to deal with impatient people like me all day. Step by step, she recently led me back to into the cyber world as I ran from laptop to router to Time Warner’s black box with the phone to my ear.

Once service was restored, I felt as though I had regained health after an illness. My mood was euphoric, up from the gloom and grumpiness of the previous three hours. Amazing the emotional impact of the computer.

Now this. I am not frustrated in the same way. I feel a sense of loss, something missing from my life, not a computer pestering me by refusing to go on line.

I am grateful important work is backed up on flash drives, even though updating those backups was one of the things on my to-do list.

I turn on the desktop computer in my home office. Thank God for a home office. I call up the UMaine website and log on to my e-mail account. The screen allows me to view only the top few messages, but it will do in a pinch.

I email people who might be expecting to hear from me. Fortunately, I had sent my Bangor Daily News column to someone else, so I ask that person to send it back to me so I can submit it on time.

OK.  I have two more articles to write. One is half done on the computer. The other is started by hand in a composition notebook. Should I try to reconstruct the one frozen in the laptop before I forget it or continue the article started by hand.

I read what I have written in pencil in the notebook and pick up where I left off, assembling my notes into the article I will type onto the laptop when it remembers who I am.

I call computer repair at the University of Maine, where I bought the machine, and receive the expected message: “Our hours are 8 to 4:30 Monday through Friday.

I wait … and write … with a pencil.

At first, the UM computer technician I reach on Monday morning suggests I call the Help Center on campus. If the problem is just software, they can fix it at no charge. If I have to bring it in, I might have to pay $20.

I tell him a few of the messages I have seen on the screen and mention that I am in Caribou, 150 miles from Orono.

“No Drive.” “No user profile.” “Insert flash drive.” These are “red flags” that preclude solving the problem over the telephone. He recommends hands-on service from a local professional.

And my documents? That unfinished article?

“Any computer technician worth his salt can recover documents,” he assures me.

Well, there. All I have to do is find that person.

I reach my man. He can take a look on Tuesday. If he can access a recovery program buried in the machine, he will be able to offload my documents and pictures onto a separate flash drive and recover what was on the machine when I bought it. If that recovery program is gone, he will need the disk that came with the machine, which, of course, is on my desk in Orono.

I type the hand-written article into a file on the office desktop computer, hopeful that I will see the half-written one again.

Tuesday dawns. I am on the doorstep of the computer guru in Fort Fairfield at 8 a.m. I take the laptop out of its case and place it gently on his desk.

“It’s very slow,” I explain, as though he knew nothing about Vista, a program (I learn later) he helped compose. He punches a bunch of keys I never use and Presto: “Recovery” appears on the screen.

Not to worry, he assures me. He can save the documents and restore the hard drive, which has somehow become corrupted. It should be done tonight.

Wednesday. I work all morning on the office desktop, certain each phone call will be a report on the recovering computer. At 11:45 I call.

“Yes, it’s done. Come any time after noon.”

The good news: the documents are safe, the hard drive functional.

The bad news: I can’t manage without a computer.

And that profile so essential to our relationship? It has nothing to do with me. It’s all about settings. But you probably knew that.

Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at kathryn.olmstead@umit.maine.edu or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.

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