Dear Dr. Boli: Why do computers have to be beaten into submission? —Sincerely, C. Simon.

Dear Sir or Madam: It is not the computer per se that requires beating. The computer is a lifeless corpse without an operating system, which has the same function in the digital world that the soul has in the biological world. Unlike the souls of biological life forms, however, the souls of general-purpose computers are usually replaceable; and if you derive no sadistic enjoyment from beating your computer, you may be using the wrong soul for your purpose.

Computers running Windows are usually the ones that require beating. Apple operating systems can usually be tricked into submission with a few cultish slogans or snatches of new-age jargon. As for Linux, there are so many varieties of it that it is useless to generalize, but you might try offering it chocolate.

Perhaps, however, your problem is simply that you have adopted someone else’s operating system. Adopting an operating system is a bit like adopting a dog: if you take it in when it is fully grown, it comes with all manner of bad habits and behavioral problems that are not readily apparent when it first greets you with its tail wagging and its tongue hanging out. But if you raise it from a puppy, so to speak, you can carefully train it to be exactly the sort of operating system you want. This is why Dr. Boli prefers to build his own operating system from spare parts he finds lying about—a Linux kernel here, a window manager there, with nothing superfluous or unexpected.

On the other hand, your problem may be that you are using the wrong tool for the job. Are you absolutely certain that a computer is what you need? It’s surprising what one can accomplish with a stack of paper, a bottle of ink, and a good steel pen.