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A Response To My 6th Grade Teacher

June 18, 2020

Who can tell me a difference between computers and people? Rodney?

Well, people can heal themselves and computers can’t.

That’s not correct. Anyone else?

I could be misremembering his response. But, it was something like that. I went to 6th grade at Nisqually Middle School in Lacey, WA in 1977. Even 43 years later, the question has stuck with me. And after four decades, I still think I’m right.

In fairness Mr Michalek was probably thinking about someone with cancer or a life threatening disease. Obviously, we can’t cure ourselves.

Back in 1977, the quintesential IBM PC hadn’t been released. It would come out three years later in 1980. But, there were some early computers in the consumer market. And of course, the government and universities had big mainframes. So, we all knew what a computer was.

Of course, even those mainframes that took up an entire room couldn’t do as much as the smart phone you had in your pocket. Oh, and cat memes were not yet a thing. Anyway, we knew what computers did.

Can people heal themselves? Of course. I recently built a fort in my backyard. In Utah’s heat and low humidity if I work outside with wood too much, my fingers chap. They get dry and the skin splits.

Do you know why Super Glue is so good at glueing your fingers to that tea cup you were trying to repair? It’s because Super Glue was originally developed as a tool to close wounds. It was designed to stick well to skin.

I used Super Glue on my fingers to close up a couple of the splits. They don’t really bleed, but they hurt like a really big paper cut. A little Super Glue and they were better. But, then something happens, after a couple of days, the “cuts” open up again. By that time, it has started to heal and it’s less painful.

Why do they reopen? Because your skin doesn’t stay attached to you. You are constantly shedding dead skin. In fact, most of the “dust” in your house is dead skin that you and the other humans living in your house have shed.

The point is that left alone, the cracks on my fingers will eventually “fix” themselves. If you get a cold, you might take some cold medicine for the symptoms but your body will eventually fix itself. Even COVID-19, while the most serious cases require hospitalization to avoid death, the milder cases often don’t require anything. The infected bodies simply produce the necessary anti-bodies and fight off the virus.

Our bodies are amazing. Our species has spent millenia developing ways to not die. And our bodies are pretty good at it.

Computers aren’t so lucky, or adaptive. If your computer gets a virus, it won’t eventually develop anti-bodies. In fact, most anti-virus software is designed to be preventive rather than corrective. Your AV software will work very hard to avoid letting a virus get past the front door. But, if a virus does infect your computer, the computer is not going to be able to fix itself.

Even without considering viruses, because unlike human viruses, computer viruses are developed by a person for the express purpose of infecting your computer. Often to try to steal personal information.

(Yes, I know that human viruses can be engineered. No, COVID-19 was not developed in a lab.)

But, even without considering viruses, computers are very predictable things. There’s an IT concept called GIGO.

GIGO: Garbage In Garbage Out

In other words, if you give a computer bad data, it will give you bad results. And if you give the computer the same data every time, it will give you the same results every time.

Computers require hardware. There’s a CPU, RAM, ROM, SDD, VGA, HDMI, monitor, keyboard, mouse, power supply, network connections, WIFI, Ethernet, and thousands of others. If one breaks, say your monitor shorts out. No amount of waiting is going to allow the computer to fix itself. If your harddrive has bad sectors, you can isolate them, and the computer might even do that itself. But, the computer won’t fix the harddrive.

You might be thinking, what about monitor programs? All they are doing is telling you where it broke. They aren’t fixing it themselves.

Imagine your Check Engine Light. It’s controlled by a computer. Your CEL isn’t actually fixing the misfire in piston 3. It’s ony telling you that you need to fix it.

So, Mr Michalek, if you happen to read this, and if you figure out that I was adopted after your class so you never had Rodney Bliss, please understand that I’ve carefully considered my original answer and upon further reflection I’ve decide I was right.

Humans can fix themselves. Computers can’t.

Stay safe.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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