Friday, March 04, 2011

Geek Talk: Thinking Outside The Box

by James Jarvis
from Life With Creepy

  This is why they pay me the big bucks (relatively speaking) when I do computer software systems consulting: I intuited a fix for my dead Firewire hard drive today. Those of you bored by geek talk can skip this now . . . except that my roommate was peripherally involved in the solution and that is usually a bit funny.

    I sat in my broken crack motel room barcolounger today, staring at my dead hard drive. I turned it over and over in my hands, like it was a Rubik's Cube. I turned it over until the EUREKA! came.

    I remembered that the drive was having a hard time mounting before it capitulated, so I erased my laptop's PRAM, found an old utility software which allows one to see the invisible housekeeping files that operating systems have, erased all of those (which made my laptop temporarily inoperable), then I reinstalled the laptop operating system off an emergency CD and installed a new mounting program onto the Firewire hard drive by assigning the Firewire a new custom icon and repartitioning only the nonMac partition.

    Eureka! My Firewire is back and I lost nothing!

    Sometimes I see the answer before I understand the question. That makes me an idiot savant of sorts. Hee hee. I've already fessed up to the idiot part long ago. It was about time the savant part did me some good.

    And I have my roommate to thank for this hard drive breakthrough. He came out to my room complaining that he had spent an hour on this one math problem in his homework and hinted around that I should help him. Here was the problem: A box has a length of 15 inches and a width of 20 inches. The designer wants a surface area of 1510 square inches for his graphics. What must the height of the box be?
    "Thirteen," I said.

    "Wrong," my roommate said immediately without having any idea of what the right answer was, "this is a volume problem. You have to do it in cubes."

    "I think you can do it with reverse addition," I suggested.

    "There's no such thing," Creepy groused, weary of my tendacy to just make stuff up out of the thin sky.

    "Okay, I'm just going to look it up."

    "Whaddya mean, 'look it up'?"

    "They got the answers in the back," he said as he started flipping pages in his math book.

    "Whu . . .well, uh, why didn't you just look it up before?" I asked impatiently.

     My roommate looked at me like I had never seen the inside of a college math book.

    "They only give you the numerical answer," he chided me, "but I've gotta show how I got it, this number ... which issssssssss," he said as he found it, "thirteen . . . no, excuse me, that's the wrong one . . . no, it IS. It IS thirteen. Good guess . . . but it's useless unless I can show I actually did it."

    "It's a box, right?"

    "We KNOW that, James," he said, "it's right here in the problem. A box. So what?"

    " A box has a top and a bottom, right?"

    "Yeah, the box is 300, James. I DID that math. 15 times 20 is 300. So what?"

    "Well, the bottom of a box is the same size as the top, right?"


    "So the top is 300 and the bottom is 300, so that's 600 we can deduct from the total of 1510 right?"

    "I don't know what you're talking about, James."

    "1510 minus 600 is 910. That's the top and bottom. That leaves the sides, the heights of the box."

    "So 910 divided by 4?" he asked.

    "Well no. Two sides are 20 inches wide and two sides are 15 inches wide. 20 plus 20 is 40 and 15 plus 15 is 30 so 70 times something equals 910. Turn it around and divide 910 by 70 and you get . . ."

    I waited for my roommate to see the light, to answer the question.

    "Cubic inches?" he asked.

    "Thirteen," I answered.

    "That's not the right way to do it," my roommate said.

    "Probably not, but it gets you the answer," I said, and then thought, "Thirteen. Unlucky number for a box. Like my unlucky box (the hard drive). Hmmm. I've been trying to get my box to work using all the accepted ways, the right ways, to fix it. Hmmm. Maybe I should try the wrong way."

    So I went out to my broken crack motel room barcolounger and looked at my box. Finally, it hit me. My box, my hard drive, was too young to have died. Subtract that from 1510 and you get the answer: it was a communication problem between my laptop and my box that was the culprit. Finally! I was thinking outside the box.
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