Computerese

Posted by By at 25 January, at 08 : 26 AM Print

From my archives. A satire by Femi Akomolafe

 

I was consuming a large portion of rice with stew, fish and the works when Joe Appiah burst in, sweating profusely like a marathon runner. His whiskers were quivering like leaves in a harmattan wind. Having raced the stairs to my second-floor domicile, he was panting like an asthmatic patient. By the look of things, he had some important things on his mind.

“Come chop.” I invited, eyeing him suspiciously.

He gave me a derisive look. “You think sey I be Indian wey go dey chop rice. My madam im don make proper fufu for man. Mankind don grease im soul.”

“Mighty Joe!” I exclaimed in admiration. Among the things, I admire most about Ghanaians is their creativity with the pidgin English: They always roll it out peppered with slangs.

Joe Appiah took a seat, I could see that he was agitated. I could take it no longer, “Mighty Joe, spill it out.”

“Spill what?” He enquired, quizzically. His heavy brows arched heavenward.

“Whatever is bugging you. I know that you’re here not on a casual visit.”

“I was wondering if you could help me check out some computers. The prices keep falling. I really think I should get one now. It’s getting awkward when the kids come back from school and start talking about computers. They think I am the dumbest thing this side of the ape-divide. And the way some of my friends are going about it, it makes you wonder how they ever lived without computers. No talks except of mega-floppy harddisks, ram memory VGA, super-resolution this, Quad-speed that. Computerese is now the latest buzz-words. Imagine what the girls are doing to those with computer knowledge! I need to get into some of the action. I know that you know a thing or two about computers, why don’t you help an old pal?” He pleaded.

I finished my meal and we cramped ourselves into his ancient jalopy. It is a dated Black Man’s Wagon (BMW). With smoke billowing, we nosed our way to BigTime CompTech Store at Adabraka. It has recently been remodeled. Layers upon layers of the latest computers systems and peripherals beckon as far as the eyes could see. Joe Appiah was wowed.

A salesman dressed like a successful banker strolled in our direction, beaming. His nametag suggests that he’s a Nigerian. With unnecessary flair, he grabbed the keyboard of one of the systems. With a few keystrokes, he made the computer performed wonderful animations with extraordinary clarity on a VGA Wonder screen. He pressed a few more keys and the PC was turned into a high-fidelity music studio. He beamed with satisfaction and hit a few more keys, names, addresses, profession, sex and a lot of other jargons popped up on the screen.

The salesman smiled, “That’s a wonderful database program. It contains the information on all people in Greater Accra Region. He won’t say why we would ever want a list of all the people in Adabraka alone, never mind GAR. Appiah beamed a knockout smile in my direction. He was mesmerized. He was too mystified or is it animated, to ask what he would ever want to do with such a list.

I looked at the salesman who was still smiling and hitting keys, “Actually, my friend, here, would like a simple system to do word-processing, organise some database, that kind of stuff. He’s neither a music guru nor a graphics buff. As for your database, I think only the BNI (the Ghanaian investigative police outfit) and the Secret Services would be interested in that type of program.”

“But…” Joe started, I threw him a contrite glance and he closed his mouth.

The salesman was a pro. He senses the confusion and rose gallantly to Joe’s aid.

“Would you like tea, coffee, coke or beer? Actually, alcohol is not allowed, but things can be arranged.” His eyes and attention were now fixed on my friend. Before we could answer he led us into a very posh office, “Sit down,” the salesman invited, the smile still pasted on his face. He put some color brochures into our hands.

“That’s a terrific machine you’re buying there.” He pantomimed. He never seems to mind that we haven’t yet make up our minds.

“It is a pretty beast that runs on a tested and original INTEL 80486 processor, and together with the co-processor, it turns into a terrific number-cruncher, it is the best machine around in its class, you cannot make a mistake buying that machine, no one can. A truly and tested 66-nanomegahertz speed demon. Your spreadsheet will calculate so fast that you’ll think that you’ve imagined it. Its hard disk and floppies are optimized to sort a full gigabyte of the database in one minute flat, give or take a few microseconds. Graphics are displayed instantaneously, thanks to the no-wait-state graphics accelerator. It’s a highly-rated machine, 100% compatible system. The paging unit, bus control, request prioritizer, physical address bus, perfecter/limit checker, local-bus path are built to the highest standards. So are the address latches and drivers, physical address adder, offset adder, barrel shifter adder, instruction decoder, and the internal physical address. All the components are fabricated by the best-automated assembly plant in Singapore. You know that Singaporeans are, by far, ahead of the Koreans when it comes to computer engineering. We sell the best at BigTime.” He gave a well-satiated smile.

“But the tech-specs say there is a CYRIX chip in the machine, why do you say it was an original INTEL, and what is nanomegahertz?” I queried.

The salesman replied with a laconic laugh, “Yeah, you seem to be out of circulation. INTEL is in deep trouble at the moment, and no decent computer OEM is betting his wine-cellar on its surviving. Why would anyone bet on a losing horse? He glowed mischievously at Appiah who, to my utter consternation, beamed back.

“And according to the Computer Today magazine of last week,” the salesman continued, “CYRIX chips outperformed INTEL by about 750% on every test thrown at them. The FPU is more than a trillion times faster, the cache left INTEL in the dust. CYRIX screen refresh rate is so fast that there is no basis for comparison. And, of course, you couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re having our super sales, you get a 25% reduction on any peripheral of your choice. Plus, of course, you get a bundle of software to ensure that you stay competitive in your business for the next decade. You get the latest version of the Windows operating system thrown in as a measure of our appreciation of your patronage. I am sure you have heard of Windows 3.1. That Operating System will enable you to run about thirty programs at the same time.”

I couldn’t contain myself any longer. “How do you do that, and why did you call Windows an operating system?”

The salesman smiled at my friend, ” I told you that our friend here is out of circulation. The trick is called multi-noding, available only on 80486-processor-based machines.”

“And that multi-noding enables you to run thirty programs simultaneously on 4 megabytes of RAM?”

“Actually that magic is possible only on 80486 systems. That’s why I am strongly recommending that particular machine.”

The salesman was doing a good job on my friend by trying to put me down. Joe seems disoriented by all the computer-babbles and the guy was feeding on this confusion. I wondered why he asked me to come along in the first instance, he’s doing just fine on his own.

“I will ask the cashier to prepare the bill if you’ll excuse me.” The salesman radiated a knockout smile for Joe.

“You’ll do no such thing. We haven’t…” Appiah cut me short. “I will buy it…” He exclaimed.

Just then the telephone rang, the salesman grabbed it with some flourish and spoke some rapid-fire Yoruba into the instrument, tapping the table with his pencil. Unknown to him, I could follow the conversation. It confirmed all my suspicions about him. He finished the conversation and beamed a sated smile at Joe.

“Let me get the bill.” He said and went out. I grabbed Joe’s hand, “Let’s get the hell out of here before you make the biggest mistake of your life.”

“What, why?” He protested. I dragged him out of the store.

He was puffing with anger, “After all it is not your money that I’m spending.”

“I know that it’s not my money, but according to a Yoruba proverb, ‘If you have to eat a toad, you should eat one that has eggs. If you want to be conned, let it be by one who knows what’s doing. That gut knows next to nothing about computers. He was, until last week, selling Bible and Children Story Books around Accra. That’s what he’s explaining to his friend on the telephone. He was telling him how easy it is to bamboozle idiots like you into buying what you don’t want or need. He just went to a computer shop, buy all the magazines he could get and crammed all the jargons. He was lucky to find another Nigerian to give him a chance to sell computers. That’s why he was mixing all lingos. He also told him about the trick he devised to handle people like you who call for technical help after they buy machines from him. He called it the RTFM theorem.

“What does it mean?” Joe asked in a solemn voice.

“Read The Fucking Manual.”

 

 

About the Author 

Femi Akomolafe is a passionate Pan-Africanist. A columnist for the Accra-based Daily Dispatch newspaper and ModernGhana, and Correspondent for the New African magazine, Femi lives in both Europe and Africa and writes regularly on Africa-related issues for various newspapers and magazines.

Femi was the producer of the FOCUS ON AFRICANS TV Interview programme for the MultiTV Station.

He is also the Man and Machine Coordinator at Alaye Dot Biz Limited, a Kasoa-based Multimedia organization that specializes in Audio and Video Production. He loves to shoot and edit video documentaries.

His highly-acclaimed books (“Africa: Destroyed by the gods,” “Africa: It shall be well,” “18 African Fables & Moonlight Stories” and “Ghana: Basic Facts + More”) are available for sales at the following bookshops/offices:

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on Amazon books: http://goo.gl/1z97ND

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