Inestimably Inscrutable

7 minutes left

I’m syncing my laptop to my Dropbox account — my online back-up — and the application is helpfully telling me how much longer it will take. My nearly catastrophic hard-drive crash last September led to this good thing: All my data is now backed-up.

14 seconds left

Two weeks ago my laptop crashed again, right before a work deadline. After using the Big Guy’s desktop computer to finish my project, I waited super patiently for my laptop diagnosis, although I did wonder just exactly why it takes longer to figure out what’s wrong with one laptop than it does to create the whole next generation of laptops.

While waiting, I also foolishly indulged myself by reorganizing the stuff in my magic online cache:

  • Purging the really outdated stuff
  • Deciding which of the surviving stuff could be archived online, and which stuff had to be available day-to-day on my laptop
  • Renaming and re-nesting folders of stuff

All while missing George Carlin and his take on stuff.

19 seconds left

I say “foolishly” because I was, in effect, betting against my laptop returning in a usable condition. Given the paltry bandwidth allocation from our internet service (sic) provider, the sensible thing would have been to wait to make major changes until I absolutely had to initialize a new laptop from the online master.

1 minute left

I say “foolishly” because, although it was computer-related work, it did not further the only remotely urgent computer task at hand: selecting the sooner-than-later replacement for the crash-prone laptop now lying prone on the repair bench.

47 seconds left

I say “foolishly” because it was work that by any objective measure had less claim on my time than, say, cleaning house or weeding flower beds.

11 seconds left

And I say “indulged” because I was really doing it for pleasure, not for any practical reasons that outweighed the aforementioned good reasons not to do it. Pleasure? Well, of course. There are few activities more innately and reliably satisfying than sorting stuff, as long as said stuff requires no heavy lifting. A place for every bit of stuff and every bit of stuff in its place. Lovely.

3 minutes left

And so I’m feeling bad about having foolishly indulged, when something catches my attention.

26 seconds left

I frown suspiciously at the Dropbox monologue box (this not being a dialogue in any way that I understand), mentally reviewing the last few numbers: 11 seconds, 3 minutes, 26 seconds. Huh? What kind of time-to-completion estimate is that?

55 minutes left


Before I can do more than register that my download rate from my IS(sic)P has dropped to 50 KB/sec, the line of text flickers again. The download rate jumps to 5,400 KB/sec, and then to 10,400 KB/sec.

4 minutes left

Then I notice the copying sequence. Like spit on a hot stove, successive files jump from folder to folder (work, travel, nature, blog, family, administrivia) and from type to type (JPEG, PDF, Word, Excel), in no discernible pattern.

17 seconds left

No human would copy files like this. Different humans would tackle the job differently, sure, but wouldn’t everyone tackle it in some, umm, you know, order? By source folder, perhaps, copying all the files relating to a given topic and then moving on to another folder. By file type, perhaps, copying all the photos first, and then all the Word documents.

<1 minute left

Could this jumping by file type be why the reported “time left” also keeps jumping around? Is the estimating algorithm extrapolating from the last file handled to all the thousands of remaining files? Over the laptop fan noise, I can almost hear the thought process . . .

Web-optimized photo? Hah! Easy-peasy. I’ll be done in no time. Next!

Word document? Excel spreadsheet? PowerPoint presentation? Stay right there, I’ll be done in a minute or two.

Unscrunched Adobe Acrobat file from a scanned document? Multi-megabyte, full-resolution photo? Oof. This will take a little longer.

12 minutes left

I sigh, and leave the office. While Dropbox is doing its thing in its own inscrutable way, it’s clearly better for my blood pressure if I do a different thing.

I think I’ll go pull one weed, wash one glass, prune one branch, throw one pair of jeans into the washer, dead-head one iris, wash one plate, tie up one runner of Virginia creeper, dust one end table, run to the store to buy one slice of bread, and run home to pull one more weed.

But don’t go anywhere: I’ll be done in just 11 seconds. Or 55 minutes.

I’m sure I can be as inscrutable and inestimable as any dagnabbed computer application. So there.

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16 Responses to Inestimably Inscrutable

  1. Ralph says:

    No, they’re not like us, are they…..

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ralph – I did wonder whether the standards for the Turing test might be changing as we adapt computers to our needs and adapt to theirs. The line is blurring a bit, methinks.

  2. Things Rule. We Serve.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    Oh, no, I should be deadheading my irises too? Since I became the family gardener, I’ve become almost obsessive about pulling weeds and deadheading roses. I can’t go for a walk with the dog without pulling a weed or two out of someone’s flower bed as I go by — even if I don’t know these people and perhaps even if they think this was a carefully nurtured flower, like milkweed, now being promoted by David Suzuki as a means of saving the butterfly. I deadhead my roses every second day. I don’t actually deadhead the lilacs or weigelia — my pruning is more like a chainsaw massacre — but I do try to stay ahead of their growth.
    It occurred to me, the other day, as I crawled through the garden on hands and knees, that whoever wrote the New Testament wasn’t a gardener. All this stuff about Jesus coming back in glory and setting everything right for all time. Yeah, sure, tell that to a weed!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I have to use pruners to deadhead an iris, and it’s an awful pain, but they look so much tidier for it. If you’re an ever-so-slightly compulsive weeder, maybe you’d like to move clsoer to the community garden I initiated and (largely, but not exclusively) maintain. We can always use more handss. As for the (eventual?) glory, maybe it’s on the same schedule as laptop diagnostics, vice laptop creation. Indeed, it seems as if “making it” is always faster than “fixing it.” Not sure the NT writers knew that, either.

  4. Yesterday, my computer developed electronic hiccups and I was on the verge of palpitations. Perhaps the band of storms riding through the area had electrical effects or the pride of puppies at my feet who would like to gnaw at the black and blue spaghetti of wires I have sequestered in cardboard containers. By the time the computer had rebooted, failed to reboot, rebooted half a dozen times in two nerve-wracking episodes, I was plotting how to transfer current editorial work and who knows how much other critical data onto a flash drive between the hiccups. As the computer underwent self-examinations befitting a nun, I sneaked into folders and downloaded files, tense if not yet grim while adding to the bad Karma of the inventors of these machines that have taken over our lives. Yesterday also was the second time my online banking double-paid an item I had clicked only once. How does that work? I found the leisure to hang on the phone for half an hour listening to damaging ear-worms while waiting for someone who would ask me a surprising number of personal questions before establishing other secret codes and correcting the error. You can cancel a cheque online, but not reverse an error made by the computer (or by yourself) to your own account. No one could explain to me how the program could perform that double-whammy. My level of trust in the system took a dive. The bank is phasing out cheques, so reverting to handwriting and snail mail is not an option. The one bank in the nearby (7 minutes) village closes in 30 days, forcing locals and yokels like me to drive 25 minutes east or 25 minutes west along the Trans-Canada Highway or half an hour south to find a different institution at which to open accounts. Personal knowledge of long-time residents in the area, which used to be part of the community of trust in regard to mortgages, loans, errors, services, and community involvement will vanish. I think Hosea foresaw the Internet when he issued a warning about sowing the wind.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Like any maintenance task with little or no immediately pleasurable feedback (I think here of exercise and flossing), back-up requires discipline or money to cover automation. I prefer to pay, saving my limited Discipline Quotient for something where I can’t purchase automated “coverage.” I was worried about losing my laptop and being forced sooner than planned into the replacement cycle, but at least (this time) I wasn’t worried about my data or about being forced into spending more money on a computer whose time had come. As for Hosea, maybe he did foresee the internet – or maybe those Old Testament guys just had a realistic view of life! Glad you recovered your data and your money.

  5. Judith says:

    Fantastic! I always leave the room while my computer is doing heavy-duty thinking. That way I don’t try to think for it, and I get some other meaningless chore accomplished.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – I guess they call that “parallel processing.” Or, maybe, “delegation” . . . Of course, it assumes either that you trust the computer or realize that you can’t do anything about it even if it does go south!

  6. Ted Spencer says:

    As one who writes software – no, worse: one who writes software to help me write software to help me write software – I’ve no innate faith in these things. Backups – often minute-by-minute backups – go on little plastic sticks, hard drives all over the place, remote computers… 3 belts and several sets of suspenders later, the pants still fall off and the crucial file goes adrift. Where?
    The mantra of the trade: if you want to frustrate someone for a week, give him a program. If you want to frustrate someone for a lifetime, let him be a programmer. When I shift myself from this mortal coil, let eternity consist of a pad of paper, a pencil, and a one drawer filing cabinet. And nothing that really needs to be found in it.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ted – The older I get, the less I find that I need to keep – either stuff stuff or data stuff. But, as you say, it’s always the one thing/file you want that wanders off. As for Heaven as “paper and pencil,” I get that. Is it an indicator of how our brains work that paradise is more easily defined by what we don’t want than by what we still need?

  7. Ted Spencer says:

    Yup. Paradise should be the state of being where we are lumbered with what we need, rather than with what others tell us we need. I’ll bet that pile won’t be all that high.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ted – I think itinerant Buddhist monks have only a robe and a begging bowl. Pretty sure my pile would be higher than that, but likely not as high as all my current stuff, piled up.

  8. Norm Haug says:

    Sorry this is not about the current topic. I was away when you wrote about ANZAC Day. I was poking around WWI Battle Sites in France and Belgium during the time of ANZAC ceremonies and celebrations and ran into many Australians and learned how important ANZAC Day is to Australians and New Zealanders. Villers-Bretonneux is of particular importance and about four thousand Aussies were bussed in from nearby centres for a dawn ceremony on April 25th. Many were up at 2:00 a.m. to get to the site on time as there was very little access by car. Although Canadians don’t appear to feel as strongly about the sacrifices made by our war veterans, that may be changing. The Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge is an elegant and beautiful tribute to our fallen soldiers. It is an easy day trip from Paris or Brussels. Many Canadians feel that the Battle for Vimy Ridge was a coming of age for Canada in the same way that Gallipoli was for Australians. It is well worth the trip and may help shape your concept of what it means to be Canadian.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Norm – Good to hear about your experience in France and Belgium. I know of current high-school classes going to the sites of battlefields, memorials, and cemeteries in France – as always, there is nothing like seeing it, to get it. I’ve heard more about Vimy in the last 30 years than in my first 30 – I think the losses in Afghanistan have helped make war real for the generations since WWII. And I watch with amazement the continuity of memory in Holland, where little children reach out to touch Canadian veterans, and to thank them for liberating their country 60 years or more before they were even born. It is possible to tell a nation’s or a people’s stories, but it takes work.

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