On Making Mistakes and Futzing About


How many people here have mastered, truly mastered, their technology inside and out? I know I haven’t. There’s still PLENTY I have no idea how to do, even writing the tech column for y’all every week. And this week, I’ve just gotten back from A-Camp, which for me only means one thing: A-Plague. A-Plague is the illness I get every time I come down from the mountain. Every. Damn. Time. Except this time, I chose to lay down and stay down instead of working through it. And I got better faster than normal. That didn’t mean I did nothing, though. That’d be boring. So in between watching Parks and Rec, liking Facebook photos and sleeping, I did something I hadn’t done in quite a while.

I played with my computer.

Now I don’t mean played on my computer — I’ve been getting into the more casual of games lately, playing through The Cave like it’s my job and finally getting around to Year Walk (something I wanted to finish last December). Those are valuable things, but that’s not what I was doing. And I don’t mean work on or with my computer either — I do work on my computer so often that I feel like it’s to my detriment as a human. No, I mean truly play with my computer. And that means I a) take something I’ve never explored before and b) mess with it, but without setting any kind of real hard goal for myself.

And y’all, let me tell you. I needed that.

See, I used to teach adult clients how to use their computer for personal or business use. And while every person learned differently, there was one piece of advice that remained completely constant for all humans I ever saw. Set aside a bit of time each week to just futz with the computer. Noodle with it. Play with it. It’s easier said than done. The same people who don’t play with their computers often say things like “I’m sorry, I’m so bad at this.” Or “I use a computer like a grandma” — it’s a thing I’ve pointed out before. The biggest culprit in my completely anecdotal, only fit for a personal essay experience are adult women. Many women truly don’t think they can learn technology.

I mean, I get it. I always feel like, as a woman, the pressure is on. The pressure to be instantly perfect at anything you do. Or at least, to keep quiet about what you’re learning and trying until you’re absolutely sure it’s 100% watertight. If even a fraction of the pressure to look perfect falls into other arenas of our lives, it’s safe to say we’re under a lot of stress to kill it at absolutely everything. We often feel like women have to be the best in the room to be considered good at all. Whereas those perceived as men are encouraged to be the explorer, to voyage where no one has gone before, and fuck the education and planning. It’s why we have the “hero brogammer syndrome”: a brogrammer effs the code up, realizes it 24 hours before deadline, works all night to fix it and then is rewarded for pulling the all-nighter. Many women in the industry complain that they aren’t showed as much recognition simply because their code wasn’t broken in the first place. In short, men are encouraged to play, women are encouraged to learn. The thing is, especially with computers, we learn by playing. A catch-22.

So y’all — regardless of how you identify — if you’re not a cisgender, heterosexual man and you haven’t been taught to play with your technology yet, do that. Futz about. Set no goals for yourself, other than the goal of having a nice time futzing about. And then — hear me out — if you futz about and wind up with a thing to show and tell, show off that thing. Even if it’s imperfect. Because fuck instant perfection.

That brings me to what I futzed about with this week — Ariel Marcy’s piece “Taking Over The World One Controller At A Time: The Good News About Queer Games” mentioned a handy little doodad out here on the interwebs: Scratch, by MIT. Now here’s my deal — I’m good at the part of programming where you memorize steps. I am not good at the part of programming where you put all those steps together creatively to solve a problem. In short, I am a great memorizer and a not-so-great programmer. But man, in my cold-medicine induced state, I remembered my own advice. I futzed. And I came up with this, a very imperfect maze game, and I am going to share it with you. It features Marni, in her knight costume, trying to get to the mountain:

So. What have you futzed about with today?


This has been the eighty-first installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Feature image via Shutterstock Header by Rory Midhani

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. I should really take this advice. I only tend to mess around with my computer when something goes wrong (although granted, that isn’t very often thankfully). I’d love to get into programming but I don’t have the time to learn. I did once write a bash script, which, when you run it randomly generates an episode of Star Trek to watch. That’s the extent of my futzing about.

  2. I frequently futz around with the CLI in Windows and Linux, respectively (Bash all day err’day). Also, lately for work, I’ve been futzing around with powershell because Office 365 is impossible to administrate without it. It’s been one of those learn by fire experiences. Microsoft rules my life.

  3. YES! I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, as I’m learning to use 3D-modeling software at school. I found it way easier than I thought I would, and I’ve realized it’s because I would futz about for ours in photoshop in my early teens. I didn’t really make anything worth looking twice at, but now, 7-8 years later, the inner logic of adobe software is helping me understand rhino or 3D-studio max.

  4. My friend Evelyn was an original Scratch developer when she was at MIT; I’m incredibly proud of her for all of her professional accomplishments and I’m so pumped to see it mentioned here!

  5. I saw a project I liked the other night that combines lights and music which I think is fun, so I went home and wrote the code for one using processing.org which is super basic. Now I’m going to figure it out in Java without downloading all these libraries. I’m futzing all the time and typically show the results to people who aren’t as interested in computers to make my very basic projects seem exciting.

  6. I’m trying to become a better programmer because getting through grad school literally depends on it and I’m finding that I mostly spend hours reading the documentation online but am reluctant to do anything that might make my code not compile. And when I do start messing with the code, I recompile it after every line to make sure it still works…

    So basically I need to get better at futzing.

  7. I still remember futzing around many years ago when I discovered the little menu you can get to pop up on old computers if you press one of the function keys when its booting up. Anyway, several futzes later I had managed to disable the trackpad for my laptop. Needless to say I had no idea how I had done it and wasn’t about to admit that to anyone, so I just spent the next month or so working out how to use windows xp without a working mouse….. I got pretty good at it :p Long story short eventually my parents found out and took it to a computer shop – it took the owner about 30 seconds to fix *blush*
    Moral of the story: while futzing is good and great and you learn lots of stuff, you might also want to google how to fix whatever you futzed.

    A couple of years later I was trying to get rid of crud installed on my hard drive and went around uninstalling stuff that didn’t *look* important. Lets just say one of the things was important and I had to reinstall my operating system from scratch.

  8. “I use a computer like a grandma” is what my Nana says quite often during times in which I try to teach her things about her new laptop. For someone in their mid-eighties, it is fully understandable for Facebook to seem like a conundrum. Yet it’s one of her main sources of happiness and interaction these days. I’m mainly helping her with social media (Facebook/Pinterest) but the other day she called me when her internet went down and I found myself explaining about the router, the modem, the network, the proxy, the potential trojans, malware spyware. Has anyone worked as an IT for the elderly? Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks ;)

    • I do occasional tech support for a dear friend in his mid-70’s. No real tips to offer. I still can’t convince him that keeping a flash-drive in an old peanut butter jar is not an adequate backup system. Yep – he’s writing a book that’s his life’s work, and he keeps it in a peanut butter jar. Ahhhhh!!!!

    • Honestly, there’s no hard-and-fast rule to this that I’ve found. Basically all I can tell you is to just always take them through step-by-step. I mean like seriously every single step. If something is online, tell them to open [whichever browser they use], not just to ‘get to the Internet’ or what have you. While it’s better to teach people proper terminology, I frequently find myself calling things by whatever name the person prefers. They need to be made to feel comfortable within the system. This is really the biggest piece of advice I’d give to anyone and appplies to all learners, truthfully.

      Doing things on a computer may be totally foreign to someone. Even as they pick up more information, it’s like being given cultural education about a foreign country after being dropped in the middle of it. You are their travel guide, the individual who has lived in this new world for a long time. The person you’re working with is a tourist, a visitor. Show them around, guide them, teach them a few shortcuts to the best places, but know that they most likely won’t ever be a local, they won’t learn the ins and outs, they won’t be fluent in the language, they just want to enjoy their time in the parts of the country they temporarily inhabit. If they get frustrated trying to do something, just imagine how frustrated you’d be trying to find your way through busy intersecting streets of a foreign city.

      One of the people I work with every once in a while is 96. And while he’s surprisingly competent (better than some people I’ve seen half his age), he definitely just loses things sometimes. You’ll have to explain things multiple times and basically you just have to try your hardest to have a healthy dose of patience.

  9. Convinced the mess-about-and-see-how-it-goes attitude got my missus through her 3D animation degree, of course this does her a disservice because that was some hardcore dedicated messing about! But what I mean is she did try, fail, try again, fail better and eventually make awesome things that blew my mind. We’re looking at unity now and thinking about making a game for fun and have been for a few weeks. Let the futzing begin.
    Also I need to spend some time in CS just messing. The problem is I use what I know for basic stuff at work which needs to be done quickly but don’t find the time to play with it at home, mainly because it feels like work…but I do enjoy it. I made a flash animation of a frog a few years back whilst futzing, which was fun. I will make it a rainy day summer priority. :)

  10. This isn’t about computers but I know whereof you speak about women and tech. I used to teach a community digital photo class and the only people who ever signed up were middle-aged women. They would have cameras and laptops that one way or other a man in their life had picked out, told them was the best thing to buy, etc. I got the same story a lot, that their husbands had bought the camera, never read the manual or learned about it at all and then would lord their supposedly superior knowledge over them making them feel stupid. Most of them took good pictures too, they just needed to read the manual and futz around but they pretty much would always confess to not even cracking it because they felt they wouldn’t be able to understand it on their own so why bother. They were deathly afraid of futzing around in the menu to learn about the camera because they seriously thought they would break the camera. On several occasions I consoled women who had broken down in tears because they were having a hard time understanding things and they felt like they just were incapable of getting it. It was sad and broke my heart. </3

  11. I’ve fallen into a habit/hobby of buying a game, putting mods in it till it stops working, and then trial-and-erroring as much of it into working again as I can. So there’s that.

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