Computers, Bread and Tents

A conversational essay written long ago (2007) and, though the technology has changed a bit, still has meaning, to me at least:

Computers, Bread and Tents 

Okay, I admit I’m somewhat computer-challenged. However, I’m not totally without skills or understanding when it comes to working on a computer but a few years ago my husband, Bob, was interested in finally upgrading our nearly 10 year old computer and I needed to use it to update some of my drafts. This was how the conversation went . . .

I wanted to transfer some of my recent handwritten (gasp!) notes to one of “My Documents”. Bob was not in the office, the desk top computer’s screen showed various windows open, the topmost was an “Away Message” – “The computer is working – I’m not. BBL”. BBL was patiently translated by my fourteen-year-old daughter as ‘Be back later’. Peeking out behind this window little flying sheets of paper were being inserted into a folder. Rats! He’s either backing up the machine (which hasn’t been done in months) or he’s downloading something. I ran upstairs to find him – watching TV.

“Bob, how long is the computer going to take?”

“Nine hours.”

“Nine hours!  I thought computers were supposed to be fast.  That’s all night.”

“Probably.”  He calmly flips the channel due to a commercial break.

“What’s it doing?”

“Down loading an 875 megabyte program so I can back up things easier.”

I have no real concept of numbers that large, so, “How big is that in something I can understand.”

“About four hundred three and a half inch disks.” He’s still staring at the TV.

All I can think about is the article edits I’m trying to finish – a few hundred words at most. “We don’t have four hundred disks.”

“I don’t need four hundred disks, I can put it all on one DVD; after this program downloads.” He changes the channel again.

I’m not sure how to respond. “Nine hours?”

“Yep.” The TV flashes through eight or ten scenes from various programs.

“So, I can get on in the morning?” I’m hopeful.

“Right after I back it up” He changes the channel again. “I’ll let you know.”

“Okay.” I go find my pen and spiral notebook and start writing.

The shower is pulsing, beating at the sore muscles on my back. Characters play out a scene in my head. I need to get to paper or the computer. Bob pokes his head around the curtain.  “Join you?”

“Not today, how’d the download go?” I really want to get this new scene down before it fades.

“Fine, but I don’t have enough room to open it.” He talks through the shower curtain.

I try again, “You had enough space to download it but not enough to open it? Can’t you just click on the ‘open’ and use the program?”


“Why not?”

“Well…it needs room to expand.”

“So the program comes with yeast?” I was being flippant but how else could I wrap myself around this concept?

He responds enthusiastically, “A lot of yeast!”

“So the computer’s like an oven?” I rinse off and put my hand out for a towel.

A towel is dutifully placed in my waiting hand. “Well…no, the program needs to be told certain things before it can be used.”

All wrapped up I step out of the shower, “Use a different analogy then, if baking bread isn’t good enough.”

He looks thoughtful, then, “It’s like a . . . a tent.”

“A tent?” Let’s hear him explain this.

“A tent comes in a sack, like the program I downloaded.”

“Okay.” I grab a second towel and start on my hair.

“When I get the tent to the camp sight or the computer, I need room to open it and lay out all the pieces, the tent itself, the poles, stakes, the awning, etc. That’s what I don’t have right now, room to lay it out.”

“If you had the room, then what:”

“Then the program asks where I want to put it. I say, ‘over here’.”

I assume this means he tells it on which drive or such to set up this ‘tent’.

“Then, it asks if I want to set it up now or later. I say now and it stakes out the tent, puts in the poles and then asks if I want to put the awning on now or later.”

I interject, “If you said later, and then it started to rain after you’d gone to sleep, can you add the awning then?”


“I think I understand now. If I want to download a program, I really should make sure I’ve reserved the campsite first.”

“Well, yes.” He seems a bit hesitant.

“Didn’t you do that?”

“I forgot about the trash can.”

“The trash can? What’s the trash can got to do with the campsite?”

“It’s taking up too much space.”

“So throw it out.”

“I’m doing that.”

“How long will that take?” I turn off the water – he’s evidently not going to take his shower yet so why waste it.

“About forty-five minutes.”

“Then what?” I still have to fix breakfast so I can wait a bit longer.

“Then, I hope there’s still room at the campground and I can set up the tent.” He hesitates just a bit. While I wonder what the ‘but’ is. “Unless I have to download it again.”

Ah ha, the ‘but’. “Rats, that’ll be another nine hours, right?” I’m never going to get the rewrites done.

“Yep, so I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to get on sometime late tomorrow night.”

“Let me know.” I pull a pair of jeans and a sweater from the dresser. I wonder if he remembered to pack a sleeping bag? I think I’ll skip this camping trip, it’s taking too long to get there. Where’s my spiral notebook?


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