I give you fair warning: I am neither a mechanical nor an electronic genius. Neither are you if you’re not one of those strange people who deeply understands a car or a computer.
Let’s face it: Most of us have about as much chance of fixing our cars and our computers as we do of taking out our own gall bladders.
The good news is that modern cars will perform well for years at a time. Most of us haven’t had so much as a flat tire or a breakdown for years if we’re astute enough to lay off the booze, stop texting on our cellphones and stay out of demolition derbies.
When cars first came along, they were so likely to malfunction that you pretty much had to become your own mechanic. Early cars were hard to start. They coughed, hiccupped and rattled to a stop too often to call a mechanic every time they failed to function.
As a consequence, a driver in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s learned to spend many recreational hours on his back beneath his car, cursing the vehicle and the day he was foolish enough to buy one of those heathen contraptions.
I remember witnessing my own father attaching a crank to the front of the car and turning the engine over by hand (an early version of a starter) to get the beast running. And when the engine sputtered and quit, I don’t know what worked better for him, kicking the car or cursing it until the engine – in apparent fear – rolled over and went to work.
Such mechanical challenges taught a lot of young men and a few women how a car was put together, how to take the engine apart and how to make it work again.
The few women who owned automobiles by themselves had less success in repairing them because few women cursed in that era. And there were days when you simply couldn’t make a car behave without swearing at it.
There is a reason why few people of any age work on new cars today. The cars are more complex, brimming over with computers and other oddball elements. Today’s cars don’t break down often but when they do, it almost requires a degree in automotive engineering to take one apart and fix it.
That brings us back to the unpleasant fact of computers. They are 100 times more complex than automobiles. An automobile does pretty much only one thing. It uses an engine and a few doodads to comfortably transport people in a box on wheels complete with music.
A home computer does everything under the sun – writing, music, movies, mathematics, books, scientific studies, electronic games, email and sparse text messages that help you forget how to spell “cat” or anything else, if u no wht I mean.
Worst of all, computers run on massively complicated innards that make an automobile engine look like a cheap box of Legos.
In the early days of more simple computers, it was a little like the period in the early years of cars. If you paid attention and read the manuals, you could do some things by yourself without the help of the experts.
Unfortunately, early computers were like early automobiles. They kept crashing and needing to be restarted, whether you had a grasp of how they worked or not. Sometimes they still lock up and lose what you’re creating.
Before computers came along, fibbing schoolchildren told their teachers that “The dog ate my homework.” Now, in the age of computing, school children tell their teachers that “The computer ate my homework.”
And they’re telling the truth.Contact columnist Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.