Tech is a dying art.

  spikeychris 20:15 19 Nov 2004

The art of computing, have we lost it? I posted something similar a while ago and in my opinion third party progs are now totally entrenched in today’s computer world. There’s a program you can buy or download for free, for any and every possible computer problem. The clean up progs are the worst but there are others. Why do we need ghost and backup programs when there is Xcopy/XXcopy?

No-one, who has just bought a computer will know what @echo off: means, things move forward and the difference now between XP and Win3.1 is immense. Now I’m not saying we should go back to coding and cmd lines as computers are now part of everyone’s lives and the convenience of a GUI has empowered everyone. From the first days of difference engines and 1000 valve monsters we have moved forward to a state near perfection. If we do come across a problem there is probably a third party program available to fix it. Quick search on the net and you’re sorted. The registry has always been a no go area if you don’t know what you are doing but when you are adding keys there’s not much that can go wrong .When you delete most of them its harmless but third party progs make us feel as its not for us, we should use their tool to check or compress of clean and scan the holy grail.

Is the PC in your house just a tool or communication device? If so that’s fine and dandy, I have a television and I don’t go messing with it as it works and that’s all that matters. However lots of us here like the odd tinker with a PC, how many people here still use batch files? Is it a dying art? Personally I love ‘em as I get a kick out of writing a little script that does what its told, I don’t have to install it, I just use the tools provided by M$ such as CALL, ECHO, FOR, GOTO, IF, PAUSE, REM, and SHIFT. Type any of the words in uppercase into a cmd prompt with /? After it and see what it comes up with.

Call /?

If it wasn’t for the engineering that had already gone into it would M$ input so many behind the scenes options now? What would be the point? A hell of a lot of problems are caused by third party progs with compatibility problems and rouge .dll’s and temp installation files, some people download programs just for the sake of it and might never use them. Admins on networks use tools provided in the network that get a hell of a lot more stick than the average home computer but they keep rumbling along quite well on limited resources. Servers shove data backwards and forward all day, switches are opening and closing, profiles are being created and saved to different drives all with no hassle.

Will there be such a thing as a tech in future years? Will there be any need? Bat files and anything requiring more than a mouse click will become obsolete.

So there.

  VoG II 20:41 19 Nov 2004

I remember the days when you sat at a terminal typing away commands that were almost unintelligible to a great lump of very hot computer that occupied the floorspace of a typical MacDonalds. You then fed it instructions in Fortran that you had laboriously typed into a card punching device. An enormous mechanical printer would then start up at about 100 dB and produce results ... that you probably did not want. Then revise the code and so on. All a bit hit and miss as debuggers were not terribly user-friendly.

So I'm quite happy. I've forgotten almost of the Assembler, CP/M and DOS that I ever knew and I am content to let Windows get on with it. I get my fixes by writing code in VBA for Excel, simply because there is no inbuilt function. And because I am a frustrated would-be programmer!

  spikeychris 21:00 19 Nov 2004

Still getting the fix though...

  Forum Editor 00:30 20 Nov 2004

which is reinforced on a daily basis, is that the need for technical help in the computer-using world as a whole is increasing, not decreasing.

Computers, and the software that runs on them hasn't reached anything like a state of near-perfection - it's all slowly becoming a whole lot more complex. The on-screen side of things has certainly become far more friendly and reassuring, and computers are less intimidating from a user's point if view, but as for doing the technical expert out of a job...........not on your nellie. Hardly a day passes in my office without at least one call from a confused client. Network issues - particularly wireless networks make up a fair proportion of the requests for help, but many of our calls are simply pleas for assistance with software installation and configuration and operating system problems.

As computers continue to become faster, more powerful, and more capable the average user will want to know less and less about what goes on inside that sleek, whisper-quiet case.

Ask any car mechanic if he/she has become less busy as cars have become more sophisticated and you'll find out the truth - hardly anyone tinkers under the bonnet now because it's all so complex. The same applies (and will increasingly apply) to computers.

  spikeychris 08:50 20 Nov 2004

I agree with the car analogy but the complexity of engines has turned mechanics into fitters, they replace a chip or management system. Back street garages must be finding it difficult to continue and the need for them will lessen in the future. The idea of an apprentice mechanic starting life taking an engine apart will be a thing of the past as cars will have to go to dealers for the special key that opens the box.

Computers are becoming more complex but the guts of the machines remain the same, open the box and you see a lego set that only fits one way. Networking now is a lot easier than it was, wifi has its glitches but some systems can be literally set up by a 10 year old as some ship with installation buddies that walk you through the installation.

  Forum Editor 09:13 20 Nov 2004

about the ease with which you can set up a new system, but that isn't - and generally speaking never has been - a problem area. The trouble comes when something goes wrong, and although you're right again when it comes to comparing the innards of a computer to a Lego set, it's the increasing complexity of the components themselves(and the software which runs them) which is the stumbling block. In my experience people are very often less inclined to open the box and interfere with the lego set - they want to sit in front of the computer and drive it, rather than twiddle about with hardware or software settings etc.

All that is in complete contrast to the results of our revent extended poll on self-building of course, but on the whole I don't think that our forum members are entirely representative of computer users as a whole. We tend to attract people who are slightly more interested in computing as an end in itself, although we obviously see many complete novices as well. The novices aren't the people who will be building computers though - at least until they feel a little more confident.

The computer users I see in my business life have generally never heard of this forum, and most of them have never heard of the magazine - or any computing magazine for that matter. They're using computers very much as tools - essential for the job in hand, but not that interesting in themselves. If these people have home computers they tend to use them for email and web-surfing, and that's it. They certainly aren't interested in the technicalities, and whenever I attend company meetings to discuss IT strategy or new technologies I'm used to seeing eyes glaze over with boredom if I get at all technical. I'm personally delighted to see it - I earn my living doing what other people can't do, or what they don't want to do.

  jack 09:23 20 Nov 2004

All that has been said it true of any dicipline.
Be it tech as Spikeychris says or Auto or even food.
There is the great movement about not eating 'manufactured' food and taking in only 'natural'- as nature intended.
The anti Gm crop protestors storm about in their white suits.
But if only the would stop for a moment,
I would be realized that nothing we eatr today is as Nature grows it.
Take humble things like carrots or cabbage.
Seem them as in 'raw nature' and they would not be recognisable as any remotely edable.
Coming back to 'tech'
I am no expert in this field but I suspect basic raw programming of the type mentioned[ I vaugely recall -Sinclair and BBC] is no longer the way and coders today work from books of modules to cobble to gewther.
The trouble would be of course any 'builtin' errors would be carried forward ad nauseum.
Just as in the natrural world until the whole scheme of things simply fades away because it no longer works or breeds true.
Dont throw away the Sinclairs yet lads.

  Taran 09:43 20 Nov 2004

Driven by a cosumer who, on the whole, has little interest in and even less inclination to learn DOS programming and other, similar tricks, it is hardly surprising that a 'point and click approach' to software is and has beocme the norm.

Personally, I much prefer the current crop of shiny icons and (relatively) user friendly interfaces.

A couple of versions of Ghost or Drive Image ago, the task of full drive imaging was still reasonably complicated to many, yet the Windows interface now allows a user to simply select form a list of icon options:

What do you want to back up ?

Where do you want to back up to ?

Would you like to start your backup now ?

That's more or less along the lines of how you do it now, whereas it's only a couple of years ago that a far more primitive interface in DOS mode (gasps of horror all round) was the norm and that, among other things, is what put a great many people off.

Home users are demanding similar prinicples of use to business users now, and quite right too. They want products that are easy to use, productive in use, which will increase their efficiency, speed up their output and (hopefully) be more enjoyable in the process.

I am not sorry to have left command lines behind to a large extent. I still need and use them, mainly for server admin, but even then, if you really wanted to, you can administrate most server applications now through a lovely control panel with most of the commonly used option right there in front of you. Be still my heart...

Basic skills are as important as always, probably even more now that computing has permeated most lives, but the basic skills of today are just different to those we used to use. There is some common ground but, in general, what people need to know now is different to what they needed to know in the heady days of Windows 98 and in five or six years time there will be other skills we will need to develop to keep pace with the then current OS.

The mere fact that I can, if I choose, configure Windows, Linux or Mac desktops and servers through a largely very pleasant and full colour control panel is a godsend.

I disagree entirely that the registry is not as scary as some people seem to think it is. I'd rather see a lot of people timid in editing it than the chaos that can result when lots of people armed with a little knowledge start hacking away at their registries. This, like many other areas in IT, is where a LOT of knowledge is needed to stay safe and is a perfect example of a minefield as well as the old saying "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing".

The amount of times I've seen a goosed registry where someone had read somewhere how to do X, Y and Z but had somehow contrived to do ZxY+X=stuffed PC. Cleaning up after this mess is fine if you know what you're doing in the first place (in which case you wouldn't be in the mess to begin with) and if you have the faintest clue just how many keys and which ones they were have been changed.

There is a lot to be said for learning some key basics. I don't see scripting disappearing in the very near future though. Any server administrator simply couldn't manage at all without scripting support to perform various custom functions, so we're not quite there yet.

I rather like what progress has brought us though. I've not had a blue screen or system crash with Windows XP since goodness knows when and my Apple Macs have remained rock solid for the last few years as well. I just sit and work at my computers without any serious incident, which is how things should be. It's called progress and I am all in favour of it.

  Sir Radfordin 09:46 20 Nov 2004

As someone who didn't really use a computer of any form until Windows 95 came out I've had to learn a lot of the old stuff as time has gone by. The command prompt remains one of the most useful things in troubleshooting, especially networks. As more and more people have a network at home (wired and wireless) and share internet connections things like ping/tracert/pathping etc all become valuable, if unknown, tools.

I'm finding there are a lot of people that know how to use a computer to do the things that they have been taught to do but that is as far as it goes. As soon as something doesn't happen exactly the same as last time they haven't got any understanding of the problem to be able to think how to solve it.

It seems to be the case that people expect to be able to buy a computer and it just work in the same way a washing machine or TV do. Whilst that may be true in most cases you don't have the same access to support when things go wrong. If your washing machine breaks down you expect to pay someone to fix it. If a computer goes wrong 'you' expect someone to fix it for free (even if you caused the problem!) or find a friend who doesn't mind helping out.

Part of this is a culture problem that no doubt stems from computing having been portrayed as a form of 'black magic' for so long - no doubt by people who do understand the technology and want to be able to make money from it. Where I can, I try to explain to users the problem and what I am doing to fix it instead of just quickly resolving it and walking away. User education is as important to technical support as fixing a problem in 3 clicks. Sadly there are too many people in the work place who simply fail to make any effort to graps the basics and shouldn't be let loose on a computer!

  Forum Editor 10:45 20 Nov 2004

who fail to grasp the basics? Well perhaps, but isn't that why companies have network/tech support desks?

The reason that people are let loose on computers is that their employers want them to work that way. The average employee doesn't have any/much technical knowledge, and there's no reason for that to be a requirement for getting a job. Basic computer literacy is a prerequisite for pretty well any admin job these days, and of course there are jobs that need a more comprehensive knowledge of certain applications - notably Word and Excel. Apart from that, there's no reason why anyone should need to have any technical knowledge about computers, any more than they should know about the inner workings of the office water cooler, or the hand dryer in the cloakroom. These things are supplied to make life easier/more pleasant/more efficient, and if they need the attention of a technical person then said technical person should be employed or outsourced.

As for the esoteric delights of command line computing - well, that's largely a thing of the past as far as everyday computing goes, and a good thing too. As Taran says, modern point and click interfaces are the norm in server administration circles, and he and I are glad of it. Computing is about using the power of electronics and digital technology to liberate human beings from the humdrum aspects of business and personal data handling, and to entertain us with visual and audio experiences that were but a dream a few years ago. There's nothing faintly appealing about a black screen and a blinking white cursor, and ordinary computer users should never have to work at that level.

  spikeychris 11:53 20 Nov 2004

Information technology has changed the world to the point of Grandma can now not only mail her family throughout the world but also see them in almost real time. If the tech had moved along without a GUI then this wouldn’t have happened. If Telnet were still used from a command line then millions of people would miss out. Things do move forward, dry stone wallers and restoration experts are now thin on the ground but brickies and builders are abundant.

Ordinary computer users wouldn’t even exist if the blinking cursor were the norm as academics would have kept their toys to themselves. Not too long ago it was considered geeky to even run a home network but now it’s the norm, to open the magic box and shove a modem card in was a great achievement and one undertaken with a shaking hand strapped to a radiator standing on a rubber mat wearing a scene of crimes white hooded protective suite. Now Grandma will just roll her cardigan sleeve up her arm and get on with it.

Part way though an OU course on robotics the theme was “will robots take over the world” the main argument was, seeing as robots will soon be designing computer organic brains how do we know what they are thinking and how would we fix it if it broke. Asimov came up with the three robot laws

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Laws have been written that prohibit robots working with society as a whole, why is this. One of the reasons is we just don’t know what they might do as the tech is far beyond our grasp and is held by a select few. When organic computers become available will we still be using command lines and batch files?

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