April 14, 2009

Nine Lives artist Lisa Anne Auerbach shares her reflections on Los Angeles, art-making and commuting by bicycle in this weekly blog.


Tuesday, April 14

There is a lot to report this week! Things are happening and falling apart, all at the same time.

I decided to make a new sweater to wear to Bike Night, which is coming up very very soon on Thursday April 16. I wanted to make the "sharrow" sweater like the one that's in the exhibition, but in a different color, so I just burned the pattern cd and fired up the old PC computer that's attached the knitting machine and... and... nothing. Some green lights blinked momentarily and that's all that happened. I thought maybe the cord had pulled out, so I checked that but it seemed to be OK. Then I thought maybe the power strip was bad, so I tried another power strip, and finally I figured the wall socket was bad so I hooked up an extension cord and tried another plug. Nothing. So, it's dead, c'est la vie. I'd bought the thing four years ago off of craigslist. Was $40, came with a sweet 1993 monitor, and was spookily located three blocks from my house.

Yeah, I'm one of those totally annoying "mac people." It's gross; I hate being tied to a brand, but it's all I know, which I am aware of is no excuse. But macs don't run knitting machines, so I had to step over to the PC side of the world, at least for this one little thing. The computer program that runs the knitting machine is pretty old, so I don't need anything fancy, which is why I bought the above crappy box. Before that I had another similar one, but it died too. I don't know if it's just me or if these kinds of computers are just not built with much longevity.

Anyhow, since it was dead, the search was on for a replacement. Somehow I had this completely deluded idea that people who had PCs would have a pile of old PCs in their closet, waiting to be somehow revived for someone else's arcane needs. I have a bunch of old macs lying around. It's like a mac museum over here. Even a Powerbook 100, if anyone out there is interested in some serious laptop history.

Anyhow, I contacted the only two PC users I know. My neighbor, who's a computer guy (I don't know what that means, but I think he's gainfully employed doing something computer-y) had an old beige box in his garage, but he wasn't sure if it had a Windows operating system and also it needed to be dusted off and he wanted to extract a hard drive before giving it away. Didn't sound promising. Another friend had two laptops that would maybe work, but turns out the connector port I needed wasn't on either of them. Then he had a friend who was maybe giving away a computer, but that didn't work out.

I really didn't want to buy a new computer. I've seen those photos of landfills full of computers and I wanted to be the solution and not the problem. I started getting kind of desperate, and put an ad on Craigslist and combed the classified to find a cheap one. I called Goodwill but they didn't have any. I called USC Surplus and they had them for thirty bucks, but the computers didn't have operating systems. Which is weird, right? But I guess that's the non-mac world. Windows isn't automatic.

I was completely obsessed. I thought about computers day and night, thinking about how I could find a twenty dollar piece of junk with an OS and the correct rear plug. I even considered buying the cheapest new laptop I could find, along with an adapter. But I didn't want Vista. The ladies on the knitting machine forum made that sound pretty bunk. Finally, on Friday night, I went to The Public School to teach a class on knitting sweaters and since all I could think about was my computer problems, it was the first thing I told Sean when I got there. And lo and behold, he had the holy grail in his closet, a big beige Dell with a 9 pin port in the back. I swiftly whisked it away to my car, before he had time to think twice about getting rid of his box. He stammered something about confidential files and I told him not to worry, that I was a neophyte about PCs and couldn't figure out how to open them up anyhow.

I got home and immediately hooked up the computer and this is what I saw. Total funk. Several hours and many google searches later, I'd figured out that the problem was my sweet 1993 SuperCom monitor, which is not supported by Windows. So it was running the wrong display driver which is why it looks like that. It worked in "safe mode" but then the port didn't work. So eventually I figured out to de-install the driver, and then I could use it, but if I had to restart it, it re-installed that driver again itself and finally Norman the neighbor came over and disabled the driver instead of de-installing it and now it works. Subtle.

But given my track record with beige box PCs, I'm still in the market. Sean was awful kind to loan me his PC, but I don't want to kill it like the others. I've got a couple Linux cheerleaders trying to get me to install Ubuntu on an old mac G4 I've got lying around and it still could happen. I'd rather re-purpose something I already have than bring something new and ugly into the house. But, really, do I have time to dive into these deep waters when all I need the computer for is running a very small modest program for the knitting machine? It's definitely intriguing... seems like a fun challenge... and I have the download ready to pop into the G4, to transform it, give it new life. Another possible resurrection story on an easter weekend....

But in the meantime, I'm up and running again! I've knitted all the pieces of this sweater and skirt and now just have to sew them together and wash them before Thursday night. I'm remaking a bunch of sweaters using only black and white. I like the simplicity. That and it's very chic and will look great with bike grease and blood.