As I sat on hold waiting to speak with Apple telephone support, I pondered a perhaps unanswerable question: Would my life be better if Alan Turing had been strangled in his crib?
Probably not, I decided. Even if Turing hadn’t been around, someone else would have invented the computer and I would still have been on hold.
I blame My Lovely Wife, who has hounded me mercilessly for the last eight months. “Sweetheart,” she would rudely inquire, “my laptop used to automatically back up to our wireless external hard drive. Now I get a message that says there is insufficient space. Is that something you can fix?”
Well, I could if I wasn’t busy winning the bloody war, woman. Do you think it’s easy cracking the Enigma code? Do you?
Well, it turns out it is, at least compared to fixing our wonky 1 terabyte Time Capsule external hard drive.
I thought the whole point of computers was to make our lives easy. I’m beginning to question that premise. “Backing up your data couldn’t be simpler,” Apple says. “Just set it up once and AirPort Time Capsule does the rest.”
You know an even simpler way to back up data? Write it on a piece of paper and put that paper in a safe place. Have more data? Get more paper.
The messages started popping up on our computers in July. “Time Machine couldn’t complete the backup,” said the little box on the screen. “This backup is too large for the backup disk.”
Really? The whole point of Time Machine is that when it gets full, it deletes the oldest backups and replaces them with the newest. How can the backup be too big if the device is supposed to be endlessly whittling the data down?
I think computers lie. They say they are unwavering automata that do the exact same thing over and over (and over) again, endlessly performing mundane calculations with perfect consistency.
Except they aren’t, are they, and they don’t, do they? How many times have you run into some problem on your computer and thought, “Hmm. It’s never done that before”?
Why did your computer do that? There are two possible reasons:
1. It became sentient and was gently probing the perimeter before deciding how best to kill you in your sleep.
2. Computers are liars and can’t really perform mundane calculations with perfect consistency.
And so it was with my iMac and My Lovely Wife’s Air laptop. I knew that fixing the backup problem might be beyond me. And I sure as heck wasn’t going to haul a laptop, a desktop and an external hard drive to the Genius Bar. Procrastination seemed like the best option.
That’s what I did, all through last summer, into the fall, past the holidays. . . . Every morning my computer would remind me that it hadn’t backed up since July 14, 2014. And every morning I would click the little box that said, “Close.”
And then the computer would say, “You do realize you could lose all your data: documents, photographs, music, everything.”
And I would click the little box that said, “I Don’t Care. Shut Up, Liar.”
Finally, my wife threatened to go to the Genius Bar herself. That, we cannot have.
I grudgingly leapt into action. I Googled the error message to see if I could fix things myself. One Web site urged me to edit my “sparsebundle.”
I ask you, dear reader, have you ever seen a more ridiculous word? How can you have a bundle of sparse? It sounds like a character from Harry Potter: “Professor Sparsebundle will be teaching Spells and Divination.”
I finally gave up and called Apple Support — three times, in fact. Eventually, we got things sorted out, and our computers are now doing what they promised to do. Simple!
Alan Turing isn’t around to tell me whether computers aren’t really what we think they are, so I consulted another expert.
“Siri, are you lying to me?” I asked my iPhone.
“I am not programmed to lie,” came the response.
Notice how she didn’t really answer the question.
Just as squirrels busily gather nuts, so I am busy gathering stories about squirrels. I will unleash them starting April 12, when my annual Squirrel Week begins.
If you’re an amateur photographer with access to squirrels, please enter my Squirrel Week Photo Contest. I’ll choose some of my favorites, the best of which will earn a $100 gift card to a retailer to be named later. Other entries will be displayed online.
The deadline for entries is this Friday, so don’t delay.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.