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May 15, 2010

Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness

There was a time in my life when I would often find myself sitting alone in a dark room in the middle of the night, my face illuminated only by the faint glow of my computer monitor, furiously pounding away on the keyboard, the week-old beard, unkempt hair, and dark circles under my eyes a testament to my hard core ways. After all, I was once a (much reviled) engineer, and more importantly, a code monkey. And though the painful awkwardness, perpetual loneliness, and paralyzing sexual frustration characteristic of my past life as a computer science major have all remained with me, I had thought that at least the days (and nights) of bitter and futile fights with technology were a distant memory. So much the worse, then, that my horrid return to late night keyboard pounding would come as a consequence of something so atrocious I can barely stomach thinking about it even now: installing Windows 7. Excuse me for a second; I am going to be sick again.

The aforementioned nausea might require some context for those newer to this most worthless of blogs. Despite being in law school, a place not always known for the computer literacy of its inhabitants, I am first and foremost a massive computer nerd. And though I have far more computers in my house (and situated around the country) than an individual could possibly need in a life time, none of these run Windows.

There is a good reason for that. I hate Windows. No, that's not quite right: hate is not a strong enough word. I don't just hate Windows like I hate bums, or idiots, or SF MUNI, or even those who advocate for the continued existence of government-sponsored entities (though the last of those are truly a despicable bunch—rot in hell, Fan and Fred). I hate Windows the way I hate Hyde Park—with an intense loathing that I usually reserve only for myself.

Imagine my consternation, then, when I found out some months ago that I would be required either to hand-write my bar examination (all eight hours or whatever of it) or take it on a Windows computer. Now, there are many objections that could be drawn to the previous statement, not the least of which is the fact that I have to take a bar exam in the first place. It's never been clear what purpose this served, and three years of law school have not changed that. Indeed, after three years at The University of Chicago, I might be less convinced. One would think that, as cartels of sorts, state licensing organizations would exist to restrict entry, maintain minimum quality, or both. But it is hard to see how a bar exam succeeds on either front. There are too many lawyers to begin with, and no indication that the bar exam stops people from flocking to the profession like flies to shit. Whether or not said lawyers will screw clients, moreover, likely has little to do with whether they passed a bar exam.

But that's a topic for another day. The more salient problem with the statement is that the bar exam is administered in a Windows-only environment. In 2010. Are you kidding me? I can understand not supporting my preferred operating system—FreeBSD, that is—given its abysmally low market share. And maybe not even Linux, given its lack of popularity among law students (alas!). But not supporting Apple? The wonder child of Wall Street? How can this be?

The only thing I can think of is that maybe they're still using market share statistics from 1999. Otherwise, I have no explanation: even a cursory glance at a law school classroom will tell you that Apple has at least half the market, if not more. Not supporting a computer used by a sizable minority is an abomination.

But that's the marvelous part of monopolies: it means never having to say sorry. If I want to get licensed, I have to take that exam, and if I want to take that exam on a computer, I have to use Windows. Wonderbar! So, with teeth firmly gritted and an ever-increasing sense of despair, I began a week ago the long and tortuous process of installing Windows on my laptop—a MacBook Pro. Having spent years doing far more complicated system administration tasks, I was not too worried. As usual, I grossly underestimated the magnitude of misery that accompanies any endeavor involving Windows.

My journey through hell, for posterity's sake as well as any others who have this misfortune in the future, is summarized briefly below. The details are both maddening and inculcated with more cursing than is appropriate for any decent person.

I started out with BootCamp Assistant and tried to partition my laptop's hard drive. It's 200 GB and had 51 GB free. Windows 7 needs 20 GB. No problem, right? Wrong! The first error happened almost immediately. Files cannot be moved; backup your laptop and reinstall OS X. What the fuck? No. No way I'm reinstalling the OS, asshole.

Some googling later, I discover that fragmentation might be causing problems. Several more searches and £20 later, I have iDefrag, which will supposedly defragment my hard drive. Eight hours of full offline defragging after that, I finally have a compacted drive. I then try to partition my drive again: Files cannot be moved; backup your laptop and reinstall OS X. What the fuck?

Back to Google. Back to the message boards. Disk Utility to check the hard drive. Corrupt sectors. Fuck. Two hours spent finding the installation disk for Snow Leopard. Another hour correcting the corrupt sectors on the hard drive. Another two reboots. Another go at partition. Finally, success!

Now, to install Windows. Several hours later, Windows is installed. I then go to enter the product key. Whoops, doesn't work. Some incomprehensible error involving hexadecimal code and little sensible text. Excellent. At least it wasn't a blue screen. Back to Google. RegEdit and Command Prompt. Product key accepted! System and security update. Antivirus install and scan. BootCamp install . . . .

I awoke to a ping, as the final install finished. A single tear welled in my eye for what seemed like forever, before streaming slowly down my cheek. It was nearly 2 am on Saturday, May 15, 2010. The current session had lasted over eight hours. In total, it had taken almost twenty hours to get everything installed. Worse than the lost time, I was no longer Windows-free. Who knows how long it would be before I would be again? I shook my head at the horror I had brought upon myself before turning off the desk light and retiring to bed, the infinite sadness consuming me as I drifted off to sleep. I hated myself.


That is why, when I absolutely am required to run Windows, I install it in a self-contained VirtualBox image. Then I can delete and rid myself of it immediately after. Or archive the image to my Linux box to resurrect it when the next required usage occurs.

If only it were that simple; the bar exam does not permit virtual instances for security reasons. I guess I could have just bought a netbook or something, but that would essentially be a one-time purchase, to be junked soon thereafter.

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