Corey Mwamba


know your tools

One of modern life's great ironies—and a constant source of irritation for me—is the environmentalist choosing a new Mac.

My relationship with computing is long-standing; I've had access to a computer of some sort since I was 8. My dad is a software engineer, and he's a particularly thorough man, so if I was going to touch the computer I would have to know how it worked. My lessons in BASIC were (at the time) dull; typing subroutines and watching the green screen print text and numbers. I much preferred playing games, waiting for them to load on cassette (or on the PC, a 5.25" floppy). I love games. But to play the games, I would have to know how the computer worked.

When I was old enough to buy my own computer, I went to Zodiac on London Road, part of a long pathway that stretches from Luton to Carlisle. They could build a system for you for parts and labour, and you could upgrade it as required. If the computer broke, either they could fix the computer, or I could learn how.

The year I lost a hundred compositions because of a virus was another turning point; I realised that I did not know how the computer worked. I had a few more years with Windows 98SE (that's how Sipping Rioja At Home was made) before Jak from Netiva gave me a copy of Mandrake Linux to install. And I was forced to know how the computer worked.

The desktop I had a time was slow, so I bought new memory. I changed the graphics card, and the sound card; and when the power supply unit blew, I took another trip to Potts to replace it. At the time, there were things that I felt I needed to be able to do on the computer that I couldn't. So I did the dull thing and typed subroutines and watched the black screen print text and numbers.

I was then donated a better desktop by an ex-colleague from the library; and switched to openSUSE. I moved the hard drive from my last computer into the Dell. I wanted it to be faster, so I bought new memory. I changed the sound card. I wrote reports, essays and learned at my desk. And I learned about Angola, and DRC, and coltan, and the cost of certain things. My folks gave me a older laptop. I made "Popular Delusions" and "Songs for the New Folk" on it. When it died (as laptops tend to now) I took from it that which could used (the hard drive, the memory) and installed those parts in a secondhand laptop. The rest goes to recycling or eBay or my Draw of Parts. One of the older laptops is a Kodi (XBMC) box. I switched to Arch Linux. And there were small things I wanted to do, and there were many programs to do it, but not quite in the way I wanted; so I typed subroutines and made my computer do what I wanted it to do. Sometimes I need a very old file, so I grab one of the saved hard drives, attach a cable, and find the file. I play games.

There are some tools we own that we cannot fix. But the computer—in this age and with the environmental/sociopolitical consequences—should not be one of them.

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