You know the drill. People ask you for help, and you doubt you can get to the bottom of things with them. You worry that your modicum of expertise is going to be just enough to torpedo the relationship. But you try, and occasionally things work out.
Like this past weekend. A neighbor called with a software problem involving Lotus Ami Pro 2.0 -- a version that came out before I started using the program, seven years ago. Every time she started it up, it crashed. Worse, she believed she had lost all her data.
The first thing we looked at was disk space. Windows programs like lots of empty disk space to use for file swapping. She had about 200 kilobytes available, next to nothing, so we deleted a few unused programs. We found her data files; Ami Pro had just forgotten what directories they were in. Then we set up an automatic backup file to protect future data. I taught her some keyboard shortcuts, like ALT-TAB, and I explained how the SCANDISK and CHKDSK utilities work.
It all took about 50 minutes. When we hung up our phones, I was somewhat confident I had helped, which was better than I usually do.
But I was not prepared for my payment. Later that day she stopped by and gave Rachel a fresh baked apple pie, made the old way, from scratch. I was taken aback. In all my years of knowing one percent more than the next person, no next person has ever made me a baked good. We set it on the table in our kitchen, my family and I, and just stared at it. We looked. We smelled. We blinked, uncomprehending.
Friends, a tech-head confronting something as undigitizable and as nonvirtual as an apple pie is a scary thing. It is pure analog information, like a dog or a galosh or cinder block, only much better. Reverse-engineer it and you journey backward from the oven to a grocer, in crates and trucks, to an orchard where seeds form stars in the heart of each fruit, and a farm where wheat berries dangle in the un, dreaming dreams of piecrust and lard.
I now know how the prophets must have felt, healing ten lepers in a day and only one returning by nightfall to say thanks. This irrespective of how you feel about apple pie made by a leper.
This pie, I told myself, was for all the phone calls during supper, the interrupted ball games, the times I bit my lip to keep from calling someone I ordinarily respected a moron, because the topic had shifted to computers. The lessons you teach so slowly, so carefully, and that you will need to re-teach that particular sad person again.
There are mothers by the vanload out there who wish more than anything that their sons or daughters would grow up to be doctors, and grateful, humble people will pay their bills with a basket of peaches, a jar of preserves put up in the summer, or a spring lamb. I mean to tell my mother you can achieve the same results by reinstalling a word processing application.
I can imagine, as the gears of our reengineering age strip us from our jobs and careers, that this pie is a symbol for a new economy. Forget paychecks and benefits and 401(k) programs. Forget Digicash and secure network transactions. When all but the best of us are shunted to the margins to live or starve on our own, techie gurus will be ready with their tiny screwdrivers and diagnostic disks. They will be like priests who have treasured what everyone else has thrown away or lost, the manuals explaining how the programs work.
Techie gurus have no need of silk sheets or a punkawalla to fan away flies. They pitch their tent wherever there are computer users getting UNRECOVERABLE ERROR messages. They will be welcome wherever people gnash their teeth and curse the technical support voicemail queue. No evil will befall them because their toil preserves the toil of others. Truly, the techie guru is the midwife of thought. If you think about it.
They are like those saints of the snow who are out there when your wheels are spinning, and they put their shoulder to your bumper and lift you up and get you going again, and before you can roll down your window and shout your thank-you over the engine whine and wind, they are gone, gone to do some other good turn.
So I would like to make the pie a gift to all of you out there who wear the techie guru turban from time to time. Picture the pie by a frosty window, steam and sugar rising around it, like the shimmering branches of a virtual tree.
So flaky and so sweet, this pie's for you.
Why Change Doesn't Work, by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley, has just been published. Visit Mike at www.mfinley.com.
Michael Finley's new book Why Change Doesn't Work, co-authored with Harvey Robbins, has just been published. Meet Mike at a reading at Hill Reference Library, Thursday, November 21, at 5:30 p.m.
Michael Finley's book THE NEW WHY TEAMS DON'T WORK, co-authored with Harvey Robbins, won The Financial Times/Booz-Allen Global Business Book Award for 1995. Visit Mike at www.mfinley.com.
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