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STAYING COMPUTER LITERATE

Automobile manufacturers have always created new sales by making minor changes for the new year on cars that are basically the same as the ones they produced last year. They change the model name or number and add or subtract some chromium strips. Only every four or five years, do they engineer a major design overhaul. This is the American Way.

To increase sales, manufacturers of almost everything have always added a frill, changed the color, made a big deal about adding a new feature or a new ingredient or subtracting an old one. They know what suckers we are for change. If our neighbors have the one with the new "franakapan" and we don't, then they're one up on us and we want one, too.

The computer industry has taken planned obsolescence to new heights. No matter what you buy for your computer, including a new computer, it's out of date before you get it home.

In the eight years I've been using a computer to write my television broadcast, my column and my books, I have had to buy six expensive new computers to stay with new developments in the art.

The new trick in the world of computers is not a change in the shape of the hood ornament or the curve of the lid to the trunk. Computer manufacturers make your machine out-of-date by coming up with new programs that don't work because they are incompatible with its old technology.

The variety of computers and computer equipment available is more than a mainframe computer could sort out. Buying one is infinitely complex, and it is impossible to get one that turns out to be just what you want when you try to use it. Each machine should come with a technician who would show you how to use it, how to fix it and how to make it compatible with all the other computers out there.

Yesterday, one of the helpful people at a new department at CBS called "Network Support" came to my office to help with a problem I was having with my computer. He took one look at my Toshiba T3200SX, which I acquired in 1993 and said, "You still using that ancient machine? That's a real antique."

It turned out that my antique had picked up a "virus" through some e-mail that came in. Your computer can get the disease if people who send you messages have viruses on their machines.

The technician inserted the anti-virus disk another technician had given me several months ago. He pecked away at keys and did things with my machine I've never dreamed of doing. He found great mysteries hidden in its depths. Finally, he turned away from my "old" Toshiba and said, "This is an old anti-virus program you got here. You need an updated version."

Most young people are better with computers than most people who are middle-aged and up. That's me -- "up." Yesterday I read this message from someone in the company who identified herself as "Dana."

Dana's message read like this:

"A box of tapes were picked up from archives they were for Denise at 'Face the Nation.' The subject of the tapes were on China and the Long Beach Navel (sic) Yard in Calif. If you took these tapes by mistake please return them."

How can someone smart enough to use a computer be almost illiterate when it comes to the content of a message?

My answer to Dana: "A box of tapes WAS picked up from archives period. They (capital T) were for Denise etc. . . . The subject of the tapes WAS China, not 'were' and not 'on China.' The Long Beach Yard you refer to is 'Naval,' not 'Navel.' You're thinking of either eating an orange or your belly button."

Next to that "real antique" is my 1919 Underwood typewriter, working as well as the day it was made. Underwood never got with "planned obsolescence." It may account for why they're out of business. Their product was so good, no one ever had to buy a new one.

Tribune Media Services

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