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Clean Reinstalls? What?

Today I went to the Woori Bank to get my 공인 인중서, which is, basically, a little electronic certificate that I need to have in order to file my taxes. (Which I can only do on paper now: the electronic tax filing through my workplace closed a week ago, and the office assistants either didn’t know, or assumed that foreigners couldn’t do it, or forgot to tell me when it was announced.

After a little discussion in which I mentioned I’d done it before (with a different office assistant who is now gone), and it’s much easier with a 공인 인중서, we tried it and discovered that mine had expired early in January, and I couldn’t get one without a secret passcode card.

When you sign up to do internet banking at my bank, you get a card that has a bunch of numbers paired with 4-digit codes. The interface to do any internet banking at all requires you have that card, and of course, I have no idea where mine is, since I just assumed internet banking via Linux is imnpossible and I haven’t installed any Windows stuff anyway. (Not that there’s much e-banking I would do anyway: all my payments are automated, and I can’t send money out of the country from this bank via e-banking anyway!)

Anyway, I arrived at the bank at sometime before 3:45, and the security guard asked me what I needed to do, so he could send me to the right place. When I finally got the card I needed, with the magic code grid, the guard brought me over to the lobby computer so I could sign in and generate a new 공인 인중서 to save to my USB drive, because I doubted I could get through the process alone at home.

Well, we tried and tried, and for half an hour, it went like this:

“Okay, login.”
[keys clatter, mouse clicks.]
“Oh no! Wait!…. Oh no! Why?”
[mouse clicks, frozen window shuts. Mouse clicks again, new Explorer Window opens.]

Wash, rinse, repeat. And we repeated for about half an hour, getting farther into the login routine at some points, and at other points having the bank’s website refuse to load at all.

Finally, once the bank was closed (at 4:30pm) the guy took me to a computer terminal in an office just behind the tellers, and we tried it again. It worked fine and I was out of there a few minutes later with the stuff I needed all done.

That (Windows) computer in the back — aside from being disgusting, as the white letters on the keys were all stained brown: I shudder to imagine where that comes from! — worked fine, but the one in the lobby didn’t. One reason is that it was loaded with all kinds of crapware: chat programs, an MP3 player that autostarted but was never used, and at least a few cruddy security apps that I’d wager made it ten times more unstable than it would otherwise have been.

But I think the worst problem with it was that it was running an ancient installation of Windows, the same installation it came with in the first place, and that nobody had ever through to do a clean reinstall.

This is a problem that has plagued the machines on which the office assistants in my office work. Well, on which they attempt to work. The campus computer maintenance guys are great at installing crudware, at making the PCs across campus harder to use, and more, but when the office assistants take my advice and request that their computer’s hard drive be backed up and cleanly reinstalled, the response is outright refusal.

The result is that the office assistants have no choice but to sit and wait for, say, a web page to load, or for a document to open. Yeah, that action that’s supposed to be instantaneous? I’ve sat at the computer for minutes waiting for it to complete. I can’t imagine what it’s like to work on a machine like that.

When I said, “How can you work like this?” today, the response was, “With this computer, you must be patient.”

One wonders how many manhours are lost, not just in Korea but worldwide, to poorly maintained operating systems. Certainly my experience in Korea is that reinstallations are easy if you know who to ask, or have enough clout; otherwise, you need to know what you’re doing and do it yourself, or sit and put up with a screwed up OS.

I suspect there are, though, a number of workplaces around the world where workers lack the minimum competence to know when they need a clean reinstall, and lack the resources or clout to get it done. I wonder how many hours of human labour are simply wasted staring at a screen, waiting for tasks to load while hijacked cycles are wasted on other crap?

(This was something very cool about working with computer people in my first real job in Canada: they got it, far better than I did, and were on top of any such problem right away.)

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