Sunday, January 16, 2005

Solving a non-problem

My daughter, who is two, is able to blow bubbles using bubble juice and a wand. But it's not easy for her. This is the kind of bubble-juice container that can be tipped and dropped without spilling the juice out. Necessary features of this design are that the wand is inserted through a slot, and there is only a small amount of juice at the bottom of the container. Part of the problem my daughter has is technique. She holds the wand closer to the middle than she should, which reduces the length that she can insert, and she jiggles the wand in and out in an apparent attempt to prime it better. These techniques have the result that she often draws the wand out with no juice in the circular orifice. I tried to show her how to hold the wand by the end, and insert as far as it goes, but she immediately resorted to her tried and true method. It has, after all, resulted in several bubbles for her. She's only two, so she can be forgiven. But many adults take this same approach when using computers. Only they cuss more. I recently helped someone who is setting up a new Macintosh after years of using PCs. I had told her to just plug the ethernet cable into the back of the machine and she'd be golden as far as network goes. She called me a couple of days later and said that she'd been talking with the broadband provider (who let me just presume is a PC expert) and the Mac still could not see the internet. Worse yet, the Mac didn't seem to have Internet Explorer. I asked her to find that thing that looks like a compass (Safari) and click on it.

"OK, now it's showing me a page from Apple computer."

"Now try"

"That worked."

"OK good, so you do have internet."

"But it kept telling me I didn't."

"What told you?"

"The Mac."

"What part of the Mac?"

"The network setup."

"OK, but you didn't need to set up the network. You were solving a problem that didn't exist."

She seemed annoyed.

Most aspects of a PC require hours of frustrating circular hassling, and so a good PC person (myself included) arms themself with a series of setup routines, a diagnostic mind, and patience.

In this case though, my friend was choking up on the wand and jiggling it. The attempt to make things work prevented things from working.

Then we were all getting in the car and my son asked me why the red lights that are exposed when the door opens did not work. I went into lots of theorizing about it. I explained when I thought the lights should work, and the scenarios under which other drivers would need to see them. We put effort into trying to figure it out, tested what happened when they key was in. Then I finally realized that the "lights" were merely reflectors. Once again, trying to solve a problem that didn't exist.

Then when I drove out to help my friend with the new Mac, she was completely gracious, and never blamed me or the machine, and we got a lot accomplished.

In other news, I'm pretty sure I can no longer juggle. I tried it today with oranges in the back yard. The reaction time of the left hand appears to be just too slow. I can still juggle two balls in the right hand, though.
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