Tribune computer advice columnist James Coates's last column ran today. Perhaps it was becoming less vital in a time where every office and household has its own Jim Coates, and specific computer problems aren't as universal or gripping as problems in relationships or families, but I'm still sad to see one of my favorite Tribune columns go.
Virtually all tech journalism revolves around what expensive piece of crap you should buy next. Jim Coates's column was about what to do when the thing you bought goes kerflooey and you actually want to fix it yourself instead of taking it to the Genius Bar or the Geek Squad. That's the main reason I'm sad to see him go--there's a proud tradition of DIY computer repair on the Internet (phrasing your dilemma correctly on Google will almost always lead to a solution), but Coates was the rare voice in the mainstream media willing to address defiantly unsexy topics like installing drivers and cleaning up file folders. Coates has been a voice for self-reliance, a forerunner to layman DIY blogs like Lifehacker.
Recently, the Reader ran a story on the shooting of an unarmed man by police officer Alvin Weems, which included a surveillance video of the incident with narration by author John Conroy. I only learned a couple days in advance that we had the video in hand, and at the time, despite my extensive knowledge of computers, I'd never done anything with video before. As it happened, Jim Coates had just written a column singing modest praises for Windows Movie Maker, a basic, practical solution for simple video editing that happens to be free on every PC with a recent vintage of Windows. He was right--it did the trick, like his advice always did.
Update: the guy who does what I do over at Time Out Chicago, Scott Smith, has a nice tribute to Coates. Also worth reading: Coates's autobiographical farewell column. I had no idea he'd been a fixture at the Trib for four decades.