Geek on a shoestring budget

I’m a geek on a shoestring budget.  I love buttons and wires and boxes and gizmos.  I get the same sense of potential that one might get from having freshly sharpened pencils and new sketchpad.  That pile of chips and plastic could be anything.  When that ‘anything’ is under my control and doing what I want it do, the world is good.  My knickers get in a twist when the ‘anything’ has gotten too big for it’s boots and trying to be in charge.

An example of this would be my pet peeve, Facebook.  As a networking tool for re-connecting friends who’ve lost contact with each other, keeping families together who live on different parts of the world or organising the party of the century, nothing comes close to it.  When the Facebook advertising starts to get creepy, privacy controls suddenly change or you have the feeling it knows you a little too well, that’s when I start to get grumpy

There are a number of things of which I am proud.  Mother Duck and the ducklings are top of the list and this goes with out saying.  One of the things that gives me sense of enormous satisfaction (Parklife, anyone?) is my own geek kingdom.  I love the fact that we have old single core PC under the stairs which has been pressed into service as a firewall, DHCP server, file server, printer server (to Windows, Linux and Apple devices), web server with backups and anti-virus.  There are probably too many things running on it to be safe, but it’s nearly always on and is more is less invisible.

Hearing the printers rattle into life as a print job is sent across the network always puts smile on my face.  No magic spells or hacking with shell scripts, just press “Print” and out it comes.

I think it’s great when the technology is silently doing it’s thing.  The boys playing online with friends from across Finland or from the UK whilst chatting on Skype, Mother Duck watching a TV show online and printing off a document,  I might be listening to music from the server as the Xbox is running an update.  There is also an occasional Minecraft server running on the desktop PC.  This some form of geek heaven for me, and I make no apologies.

And this is how I feel technology should be.  It should  be bent to our will and mastered (Mwwwhahahaaa!!).  We should know precisely how, what, and why things happen.  Technology is a tool that should serve us.  Just as the carpenter is master of his hammer, chisel and file we should be the master of the technology we use in our daily lives.

But then ..

The flip side of this is how it’s shouldn’t be used; when all this is turned around and the computers start running the show and we begin to serve them.

At work I often have to fix a computer which is being used to design another computer.  This will then be manufactured, shipped and sold with the bare minimum of human intervention.  When something goes wrong, one human rings another human to have an entry inserted into a database, so that another human can come and fix whatever is broken.  Who’s running who?

Another gripe I have is the ‘keeping up with the Jones” culture that seems to have grown around technology, and in particular mobile devices; phones, tablets and the ilk.  This is not a new thing and jealousy, one of the seven deadly sins, thrives in this environment.  I’ve seen how this can wreck the joy of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time.  To see a child’s eye light up as they open a longed for gift, only to see it cloud over the next day when a neighbour has something that is perceived as superior.  This is heartbreaking, and it’s just wrong.

Taking the splinter from my own eye

There is hypocrisy here.  I am obviously quite happy to use the fruits of another’s labour and then complain about how the product is made.  It’s directly akin to bemoaning the inhumane production line by which meat is mass produced whilst at the same time eating a beef burger.

In terms of enjoying meat, it is possible though to side step the production line.  I have had the bitter sweet experience of dispatching numerous fishes and chickens and turn them into some wonderful meals.

I haven’t the skills to go and mine the materials needed to make even a soup spoon, let alone a computer.   Although, if it is possible to enjoy meat with a clean(er) conscience then it surely must be possible to live in a technologically advanced world and not feel like a ‘wet-ware’ extension to the system.

When I jump in my time machine and go back in time, maybe several hundred years, I wonder if I will see a time when the task of keeping ourselves alive was a lot closer to nature?  Technology was there to make things easier.  People worked and traded to put a roof over their family’s head and food on the table.  May be nothing has changed, just the tools got smaller.

These days, though, we seem to be so inward looking, with the newest and shiniest devices praised and worshipped like little gods which are in need of our flattery in order to survive.  This is what bothers me the most.

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