What's in a name?

It has been brought to my attention that I keep referring to my laptop as 'she'. This is entirely correct. There is a significant bias to pareidolia that leads to seeing similarities to human qualities in things that aren't -- this is why we see faces in car grilles and Jesus in toast, rather than collections of random shapes. Once a system -- any system, but particularly one with which I can interact in real-time -- gets complicated enough that it's no longer entirely predictable, it becomes much easier to think of it as an analogue to a human personality, and to speak of it in those terms.

I'm aware that what I'm seeing is a rule system of which I do not have full knowledge and for which I therefore can only make statistical predictions, but this is effectively the same way I deal with squidgy unknowable humans, and my intuition works much better when I let myself think of it in terms of what the computer (car, train, algorithm, console, river, whatever) 'wants' to do, or what it 'likes' or 'dislikes' to cope with. The phrasing simply reflects an awareness that systems generally have some outcome paths that are more likely than others, particularly a physical system which is also subject to things like friction and wear, which in the absence of an opposing force will become likelier and likelier over time. It's just much shorter to type that the computer viciously dislikes iTunes than to sit down and elaborate on all the myriad things that probably (but undeterminably) contribute to everything including Windows Explorer tanking whenever I try to run the application.

Computers in particular acquire pseudo-personalities because their operations are all very interconnected. They act very much like humans having a progressively worse and worse day in that when one program crashes for some reason, it tends to corrupt other things in subtle ways that lead to other programs ABENDing from faults the application would normally tolerate. The more things that go wrong, the more things are going to go wrong, until the computer just says 'fuck you' and decides to restart whether you like it or not.

Whether computers become 'he' or 'she' to me seems to be somewhat random. If I have a pattern, I've not been able to determine it. Most of them get the male pronoun. I've done this ever since I was quite young -- I grew up in a strongly geek-oriented household and have been exposed to an assortment of mystical computer rays since birth (no, really, we had a VIC-20 in the house at the time), but the anthropomorphization isn't something I got from either parent. Dad is an engineer, and although he does use 'wants' and 'likes' in reference to complicated piece of circuitry, they're always 'it'. I think I eventually transferred the idea of gendered computing devices to my mother, but she got it from me when I was adult, not the other way around.

The first computer I had that was mine-all-mine was the Gateway I took to college with me. I discovered when I got there that all the computers on the school network had to have a name. Birdie had already been at college for a year and had named her monstrous desktop Mephistopheles, as it was crabby and obstinate in many respects; I named mine Gabriel in the hopes that if they were busy bickering with each other, they would leave us mostly alone.

(Birdie was a friend from high school, and my first college roommate. She's probably around here somewhere; I know she used to lurk in my LiveJournal from time to time. She was also the one who inspired me to develop the hypothesis that chemists are uniformly insane, which has so far not been disproven by any of the other chemists I've met. I ran her dinner up to her at one of the labs once, and passed so many radiological and biohazard signs in the hallway that I flat refused to set foot in the chemistry building for any reason for most of the ensuing decade.)

I've named several other things after archangels since. The next desktop, which was piece-built from Fry's Electronics, was the Metatron; at one point I also had a Macintosh IIci that I got from University Surplus, whose main function in life was to sit on my bookcase and run AfterDark screensavers for my amusement, named Raziel. (Raziel was supposedly the angel sitting on a giant book of knowledge that only he could read -- Raziel was my only Mac at the time, and according to his HDD he was previously owned by one of the science labs at NAU.) I also had a giant, primitive notebook that I'd owned since I was about fifteen, a Zenith Z-Note my father cobbled together out of two or three semi-broken Z-Notes at work, that was named Raguel, although he was never on the net, as I never did find a working 10baseT dongle for him. All were male, except for the slimline PS2, who acquired the name Cassiel when she was also hooked up to the school network.

Moggie, following a similar theme, named her main gadgets after the three Wise Men of Biblical lore. Gaspar was the Creative Zen Vision that lived in her pocket; Melchior was her slimline PS2 (which, no lie, she cuddled affectionately all the way from the Target where she bought it, to my apartment, where she first plugged it in).

The computer was Balthazar. Balthy for short. Soon also "Barushii-sama" in mock Japanese, and "Himself". Balthy was obstinate and magic. He refused to let Moggie's then-roommate, who was mildly terrified of computers, log in under XP. We watched her type in the right password; no dice. (He let me log in, and of course Moggie. We hypothesize that he knew damn well who could take him apart with a Swiss Army knife, and who couldn't.) Mog dropped him once and he spontaneously generated drivers for an onboard TV tuner, of which she had previously been unaware. He cheerfully ran two monitors at once for several semesters, even though we later learned that Dell had specifically disabled that option in their software at the request of the manufacturer. For the first couple of years she had him, he refused to admit he had a wifi adapter -- and also refused to do anything at all useful if you unplugged his ethernet cable. Balthy refused to launch anything, even things that had nothing to do with the net connection, without his binky. "There is no internet here," he would say. "How can I run Office without the internet? I do not understand what you are asking me. Did I mention that I have no internet? Because I don't. Have internet. Where is it? Office startup has failed, by the way. Because INTERNET."

(In all fairness, Moggie functions the exact same way. "I can do things without the internet," she says, "but neither one of us is going to like it.")

In later years, after he suddenly gained awareness of his integrated wireless-G, he just worked out how to not lose his binky for himself. He was part of our entertainment center for a while in Casa del Dorko in Flagstaff, and since he wasn't anyone's main browsing computer I used to use him to torrent things onto the external drive. After giving our crap router one particularly vicious re-booting, I remembered that the ordeal would have interrupted μtorrent and I'd have to go restart the download, only to discover, when I checked with Himself, that he had never dropped the torrent in the first place. Further investigation revealed that he was actually using a (secured) wifi network belonging to one of the neighbors. Whom we'd never met. Whose WEP password we did not know.

I just stopped asking questions after that.

Balthy got his quiet retirement to the entertainment center when Moggie bought a new laptop, which she named Illyana, because I had finally gotten her to watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at the time, and she developed a really smashing crush on young David McCallum. Illya Kuryakin has a brief monologue in the opening about going anywhere and doing anything he's told, which Moggie sincerely hoped would apply to the new computer. (And did. Not leastly because Illyana weighed about half of what Balthy did -- Balthazar was a 12lb "desktop replacement" monstrosity, who was effectively welded to his own dock and subwoofer.) Illy has recently also gotten her retirement in favor of an Alienware, which after about half an hour of debate Moggie decided to name Stark, as in Tony. I'm told that his backlighting has already been changed to Iron Man red.

My current Toshiba is named Maleficent, sometimes affectionately known in Italian as "la mia Maleficenta". I've no idea why this one is a she, but she is. I fully intend to keep her until either they quit making replacement parts for her, or something so fundamental breaks that I would need to shell out in one lump sum as much to repair her as to replace her.

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