Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Eeeww! I feel so….decadent!

Gasp! I drove the car today. The chorus is leaving for DC this morning. I had to get Lyndsay and her baggage over to the high school. This required nagging her about leaving on time and almost required prying her away from the mirror that traps her every morning.

A word about teenage girls and baggage is in order, too. She was allowed one suitcase. It’s about the size of a steamer trunk and was seemingly filled with building materials. I may have to visit a doctor after lifting that thing. It’s a five-day trip and I believe she took a hundred and forty seven pairs of shoes. Her carry-on and purse are roughly the same size, big enough to conceal a SMALL family of illegal immigrants, and she has a pillow and blanket.

This will be a twenty-hour bus trip, but knowing teenagers, they’ll sleep through the first half of it.

Fortunately, we were early enough to avoid the chaos of the school parking lot. I dropped her off and drove to work. That’s when I started feeling decadent. I had a radio, a comfy seat, and….a heater! It was a chilly 50F this morning. That wouldn’t have bothered me on the bike, but in the car sitting still in the comfy chair, it felt cold.

Now, about that ‘mea culpa’ yesterday – I have to ‘fess up about the computer problems. Those of you who are knowledgeable about computers will probably get a few laughs at my expense. So be it.

Our newest computer is a Dell I bought through an employee purchase plan a few years ago. Yeah, I know. “Dude! You’re going to D(H)ell!” I’m thinking about putting a prominent label inside the case that says “Forsake all hope ye who enter here!” Lyndsay used it, and over time it accumulated a boatload of junk. It was bloated with adware and she didn’t run the anti-virus program for months at a time, never mind updating it. I decided to take the nuclear option and re-format the machine.

I had all the operating software for it, of course, so it would merely be a matter of taking the time to reload everything. That was a nice, comforting thought that I would return to later on. “What the hell was I thinking!!!” I’ve NEVER had a re-format go smoothly. This one was true to form.

Right after that DOS command, FORMAT C:, the fun began. I had the original operating system, a Windows CE disk expressly designed for Dell. I’d tried to use it on another computer, but the program would not install on anything other than a Dell. OK, I can live with dedicated software, but sometime since we received it, the software password had gone missing. No problem, I thought, I can just install Windows 98 instead.

The operating system installed without any further drama. I installed various programs from back-up disks, but when it came time to try to connect to my ISP, the modem wouldn’t work. I found a corrupted modem driver and some other drivers that weren’t right, so after tinkering with them I tried again. No dice. The modem remained stubbornly silent.

That was a month ago. I fooled with the machine now and then, but it rapidly exceeded my frustration threshold. Sometimes, Windows discovered two modems. Sometimes, it changed the COM ports. Regardless, the modem wouldn’t work. Finally over the weekend, I stumbled across the Internet Connection Wizard, a Microsoft program that connects to their servers and provides a list of ISPs in the area. This re-configured the modem and drivers (I’m assuming) because it not only connected to the MS server, but it allowed the machine to connect to my ISP too.

Happy, happy, joy, joy. Now all I have to do is finish updating from the MS site and add the rest of the software.

Meanwhile, my other home PC went squirrelly too. Same fix – reformat. Same problem – no modem. Same solution. The monitor took a hit too and now it has a bad case of pincushion distortion, but I know someone who can fix it. I am not and have never been a TV technician.

But wait! There’s more!

While all this was going on, I was commuting with my laptop. A word of caution: Laptops do not like to be exposed to the vibration on a bicycle, and it’s difficult to pad them sufficiently. I know someone who had a nice Olympus camera fall apart from the vibration.

As an aside - aircraft electronics are subjected to much more vibration and extreme temperature changes. We can simulate that in the shop by allowing units to get very hot under power, chilling them in a freezer, or hitting them with hammers. Really! I tap on computers with a small hammer to provoke vibration-related failures. Sometimes I’m tempted to use a much larger hammer. I’ve resisted that impulse.

Most consumer electronics cannot withstand the abuse for long, and sure enough, my laptop went flakey too. Several keys went away. Try writing anything without using a T, for instance. The mouse pad developed a mind of it’s own and the A drive became very, very temperamental. This is an old Compaq. It has a modular construction, so the fix is to clean the connectors with alcohol. After that, it works perfectly.

There’s another older laptop at home. It’s so old it has a monochrome display and it’s running Windows 3.1. And it had a similar problem with the keyboard. I’m planning to put some technical manuals on it – once I find my null modem – and it will be a dedicated bike computer out in the garage. But I can’t resist the temptation to tinker with it. I may try to install some version of Linux on that one. We’ll see.

I’ve learned a lot from tinkering with these old machines. Mainly, I’ve learned that I need a better checklist of the necessary software and procedures before I do another reformat. That’s a project to start in the next few days. For now, I just want to breathe a big sigh of relief!


Blogger George said...

I had an old computer with Windows 95 on it.

When we bought a new computer to replace it back in the late 90's, I took the Win95 box out in the garage and sledgehammered it.

I can't tell you how good that felt.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Coelecanth said...

The only thing that's saved my home computer is that all it's wiring runs through a hole in the back of the desk. It takes so long to disconnect it that by the time I do it I've lost the impulse to heave it off the balcony.

6:07 PM  

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