Friday, April 30, 2010

A matter of self-Ctrl

Since getting her new Dell Inspiron 1545 in December, I’ve been listening to a steady trickle of complaints from my girlfriend about how it seems to have a life of its own. Browser tabs opening and closing, text randomly being cut and pasted, and most upsettingly: windows closing without warning, eviscerating filled text boxes.

I give my girlfriend more credit than most (as she generally deserves it more than most) but experience has shown that whenever anyone starts complaining about a “stupid computer”, a stupid user is most likely to be the culprit. Since the problem only occurred intermittently during typing, and as every one of the seemingly autonomous actions the computer was taking could be prompted by holding Ctrl and pressing a certain key, I quickly arrived at the conclusion that she was accidentally hitting the ctrl key during her furious typing sessions.

When I tried typing on her computer, I had no difficulties, and while I was never thrashing out long essays or blog posts, it galvanised the notion that user-error was to blame, not a malevolent computer exercising its free will. I explained to her about all the Ctrl-key related shortcuts, and told her to be more careful with how she rested her hands on the keyboard, and congratulated myself on another mystery solved.

About two months later, she brought up the issue again. I stood over her, dictating an absurd narrative that spoke highly of me, and she hammered away at the keys at a frenetic pace that left me little time to ponder synonyms for ‘magnanimous’. Eventually, the font on the screen flashed blue then disappeared. She screamed a triumphant “A-HA!” and pointed at the screen. I told her that she had hit ‘Ctrl-A’ to ‘select all’, then kept typing, and that she should ‘Ctrl-Z’ to get her work back. Her 'proof' debunked, I saw fit to reiterate the ‘hotkey’ lesson from before, blaming her woes on a misplaced pinkie. She glumly accepted my diagnosis.

Two more months passed by, and after a busy semester and a half of typing on this laptop, she told me again that she was still having trouble. She had been filling in some schoolwork into an online form and the window closed on her, setting her back a few minutes. After she provided a swift rebuttal to my light scolding for not doing her work on Word then copying/pasting, I decided I should humour her with some troubleshooting over the phone.

Even though it had been the first thing I did when I was setting up her computer, I talked her through the steps of disabling Stickykeys. She got to the appropriate screen, and sure enough, all the relevant boxes were unchecked, except one, which related to ‘Function keys’. I told her to disable it to see if it made a difference. She quickly rattled off some text, and observed no issues. She seemed enthused, optimistic, and above all, grateful that I stopped trying to convince her that her sloppy typing style was causing the trouble.

It was nice to see her so happy.

I got a text message from her the following day – her text messages are generally characterised by tongue-in-cheek petnames and frenzied over-punctuation – the message I got that day did not match her trademark style:
Had no troubles today, but I did trigger a load of shortcuts right after we talked yesterday. It’s my right pinky finger hitting control. I’ll have to change my typing habits

“It’s my right pinky finger”. “I did trigger a load of shortcuts”. She was finally taking responsibility for her typing quirks – I should have felt relieved, and yet, this crestfallen text message broke my little heart.

Realizing I had broke my girlfriend flipped a switch in my head, surely there’s some problem with the laptop – nobody could have these kind of issues five months later, especially not a good typist like her. My girlfriend's too smart for this kind of stuff.

For the first time ever, I googled the problem.

Son of a bitch! I hadn’t even finished typing and the problem was popping up at me. Within fourteen seconds of beginning the investigation, I had found a sure-fire solution.

Dozens of people were crying bloody murder about the problem, many of whom had resorted to sending the computer back to Dell up to four times for repair / replacement. In the end, what solved it for them was disabling a setting on the touchpad that makes the computer act as though the Ctrl key has been pressed.

Bugger. All the vitriol and anguish thrown around on the Dell support forums, and I treated my girlfriend’s gently raised-issues as an opportunity to pontificate on ‘hotkeys’ used by ‘powerusers’.

I don’t know what the lesson is to be learnt here. Maybe it’s that I’m capable of being a good boyfriend to my girlfriend, but it only kicks in after I’ve broken her spirit, leaving me to remould her as I see fit.


Gamma Goblin said...

Come here now, come here to me boy... "Self-Ctrl"?? I thought this was the blog of the "Ninja-Pun'ist" where obtuse indications of pun'ery were frowned upon. I'll be writing to Damien Mulley about this, just you wait and see!

Sully said...

@Gamma Goblin

Sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment, I was 'mulley'-ing it over. Har har har.

(I apologise profusely - someone left a copy of The Sun lying around at work and I fear I may have accidentally touched it).

When it comes to nerd humour, the less subtle the better. Internet-geeks of the world unite!