2016-09-04

Dad's machine'"

It's one of the hardest things I've ever done. Building my dad's computer, that is. It takes skill, tenacity and empathy. But it is possible, it really is.

He shocked me one day as we were drinking coffee in his small living room. He wanted to have a computer. Mostly for bank stuff on the net, but also for keeping in touch with family and friends. He didn't like computers, he told me, but he needed one anyway.

How would it fit? There was plenty of space available for a computer even though the apartment was small. There was a desk that mom had used for reading newspapers. The machine that enlarged the text for her old and radiation damaged eyes had been returned to the hospital after she passed away. That's how things are done here. The desk wasn't empty but there was room left for a computer.

But dad needed the computer in his living room, where his TV is. It is a comfortable room with a lot of clocks. There's a sofa for sitting and napping. A clever recliner adds another cozy place to curl up in, even when not watching TV. It's right next to the stove, you know. Surely there would be room for a computer on the table but it would block the view of the bigger screen. A laptop would keep its head down but it would fill up the table. A tablet, perhaps? No, the touch keyboard wouldn't work for him. He's been pushing mechanical keys all his life. Linotypes, typewriters and photosetters. There had to be some sort of keyboard that he could feel. But where would the rest of the computer go?

And what about the cables? His TV had all the necessary sockets for viewing stuff from a hard disk, but the cables would snake across the floor. Tripwires and stoves don't mix. Unless the computer hides behind the TV.

I had that sinking feeling by now. The hardware was leaning increasingly towards the solution in my own home. But dad isn't a computer geek. He doesn't even like computers. But what if the same kind of computer would work for him too? He didn't have any bad habits from other systems, after all. He would wield a remote without hesitation. And that big TV had a really nice display. I still had my doubts, but the idea made sense.

One mitigating circumstance was the fact that my own system had been getting gradually better at not being annoying. The process has taken years.

If you think about it... A TV is a box of parts that have evolved by layering for decades. Each new function has been bolted to the existing stuff. And every new function gets another remote. Adding a computer would bolt another layer to that mess. But dad's computer could cut through those layers, intercept the signal from the antenna, decode it and feed it back to the display and speakers.

The funny thing is that the idea works in practise too. The computer hides neatly behind the flatscreen and a mouse replaces the remote. To dad it's still a TV, though. But that is fine for now. No need to rush things.

He's using a computer now, whether he thinks about it or not...

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