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.comment: The Trouble with January

The cruelest month?

  • January 16, 2002
  • By Dennis E. Powell

When the otherwise reliable Thomas Stearns Eliot informed us that April is the cruelest month, he let slip that he was unfamiliar with January.

I speak not of the wasteland that the month renders much of the hemisphere (the northern hemisphere, the only one I have available at the moment). I'm not talking of the matter of frozen pipes bursting and flooding homes, or of old people slipping on icy patches and breaking their hips, often the first step downward in final decline; nor do I mean impassible roads and the snowfall's first excited footprints hardening so as to make the very ground difficult to navigate, or the litany of ailments that beset cold-weakened people locked together in ill-ventilated buildings, such that the first sick person is sure so share with the others.

The late sunrise and early sunset lead to depression in some, but I speak not of raging against the dying of the light (wrong poet) as Autumn's excitement having given way to holiday frenzy, holiday frenzy now gives way to -- nothing much.

No, it's neither particularly new nor imaginative to list January's manifold shortcomings. But there is one thing about January that you probably have experienced but may not have noticed. I first took note of it about a decade ago, and I've encountered an ever-growing body of evidence to support the observation ever since.

January drives computers, or their users, or both, completely crazy. Hardware that worked stops working. Applications that used to work now work differently or not at all. Computer stuff that just comes to an end.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

What is it with January?

One sensible, scientific explanation is that January is when static electricity is at its peak in the frozen regions of the north. Kiss your wife and your lips will be preceded by a painful, quarter-inch lightning stroke. Slide sleepily across the car seat in the morning and touch the ignition key, and you'll get a wake-up jolt. People become walking capacitors, looking for a place to discharge. Static is the enemy of computers. It stands to reason that things would stop working.

And that might explain some of it. But not all.

There is, too, the cumulative effect on users of the fact that it is January, with the attendant delights enumerated above. It could be that we're all a little less attentive, a little more fogbound, a little more distracted than we are at other times. That, too, might explain away part of the long line of computer disasters that occur in the first month of each year.

We mustn't overlook, either, the arrival of Christmas swag, which sometimes doesn't get installed until January. Smart shoppers add to this by taking advantage of post-holiday sales, some of which involve open-box returned items, some of which were returned for a reason.

Even adding all that in, there's some intangible January factor, a seasonal computer gremlin that, it seems, can only be waited out.

Each year as I've observed this, I've asked friends in computer consultancy and have never been disappointed -- they see it, too.

It has come to visit here.

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