Friday, December 19, 2014

Computer Love Song

They say that losing a spouse through death or divorce, getting fired, and moving, are the most stressful things we commonly live through. 

Not far down the list, I think, is losing a computer.

It isn't that we loved our computer so much. But so much of our selves is invested in it, sustained and remembered by it, that getting a new one is hardly a satisfactory solution—though it may be the beginning of a solution.

And to make matters worse, we don't really know how the darn things work.

I don't, anyway.

It's like the human body. Muscles, bones, oxygen and blood running around every which way. We rely on it, but who really knows what's going on in there?

I can remember all of my computers, from the IBM-XT that drove my huge daisy wheel printer, back in the 1980s, to the Macintosh Performa that crashed, to the Gateway (Windows Millennium) with 32 gigs of disc that was so easy to buy on-line.

Then there was the Compaq Presario with the boxy screen and 250 gigs of disc that I bought used from my brother-in-law Paul for $300. I was moving up.

That machine was doing fine, though nine tenths of the memory was gone, until just recently, when it got finicky about  turning on. It's disturbing when you push the button ... and nothing happens.

Maybe it's the switch (I thought). Or maybe there's some storage battery inside that's wearing out. The machine was using the XP operating system, which was becoming  a little risky in itself.

Meanwhile, my InDesign program was taking five minutes to appear on the screen. Once it showed up, it was usually fine. But I knew the time had come to move on.

I don't like to buy new things, especially when the thing I have still works. I'm "uncomfortable" with change, to adopt that ever-so-cautious post-modern phraseology. But after some cursory research at Best Buy and MicroCenter and a few emails to my friend Tim (who's a computer expert, among many other things) to get some advice about graphics cards and RAM, I pushed the button indicating the purchase of a Windows 7 machine with a huge screen and a terabyte of disc from CostCo.

So my two machines were sitting side by side, and they both worked. (I didn't turn off the Compaq for weeks.) I moved most of the files from one to the other using a terabyte external drive. But what about the program files?

Now the hard part begins. First of all, I've got the get some virus security on my new machine but don't want to drop it on the old machine. I finally arrange a "network" deal at no additional cost to me, thanks to some customer service rep who genuinely sees the situation.

I reload the Adobe Creative Suite using the discs I've saved in the basement. Then learn from Rashmi (my on-line chat interlocutor in India) that the discs won't work. I must download from the website. But he fails to mention that the serial number I bought and paid for and preserved so carefully no longer works either.

Further "chat" a few hours later  reveals that there's a generic number no one told me about.

All of this is complicated by the fact that a while back I upgraded the InDesign program (part of the suite) to 5.5 without upgrading the rest of the suite—which you're not really supposed to do. But we won't get into messy details. My Creative Suite is finally in place. (Though I downloaded some parts of it to the wrong folder. Oops!)

But not so fast. The InDesign program seems to be missing a lot of the fonts it used to have! I should have known that I'd have to reinstall the ones I bought—including my trusty Sabon, Bembo, and Trend—and the free novelty fonts I've downloaded over the years for a specific purpose, including Babelfish, Croomby, Woodplank, Alien Ornaments, Litterbox, Fabulous Fifties, and Jokerman. But what happened to Giovanni Book and Jenson Pro?

So I went back into the old machine and somehow downloaded most of the fonts I was missing onto a flash drive. Two hundred in all. Then installed them en masse on the new machine.

By this time days had past, and I was getting frazzled. I could hardly bear to think what I'd forgotten about or what might happen next, and was incapable of doing any real work. Then I got to thinking about my WinZip software? And my barcode creator from SNX? (Out of business, I'm afraid.) And my FTP Commander, which I need  to access and modify the websites I maintain? (I always loved that name. Every time I logged into it some sort of tune would surface on the order of "Up in the air, Junior Birdman," which is from an old radio program my dad used to listen to.) 

And what about my Abby Finereader OCR software? Fortunately I'd purchased it recently enough that there were no problems re-downloading.

Then there was the driver for my Scanjet 5300c flatbed scanner. I don't even know what a driver is! After a good deal of on-line research, I spotted that device on a list of items that HP no longer supports. Oh, great!  So I needed to download a driver from a third-party with the hokey name of VueScan ($40) or buy a new scanner ($200) The second option would allow me to scan some old slides from Europe. How much is that worth?

And what about the addresses in my Outlook Express 6.0? (Export as a CVS file—or whatever—transfer to a flash drive, and then upload into the new system, dummy!) And what about my cherished game programs? Bridge? Backgammon? Impulse purchases from the check-out line at Office Max long ago. Those CDs must be lying around somewhere.

The new computer doesn't even come with a free cell program.

Perhaps the Dreamweaver XS 2004 saga is the worst. I paid real money for this program, which I use to make web pages. It works. But when I re-installed using the CD it wouldn't accept the legitimate registration number that I miraculously saved for all these years! It recognizes it as valid (green check mark) ...but claims I'm not connected to the internet!

Yes, I know. Adobe bought Dreamweaver a long time ago. And my version is too old. Adobe reps have no advice to give me except to consult the chat forums. If worse comes to worst, I guess I could download a copy of GoLive using the generic serial number they gave me?

For now, I'm watching the trial use date on Dreamweaver drop, day by day. I've got 14 days left. The question is this: If it's too dumb to accept my registration number, after all these years,  is it also too dumb to cut me off when my time is up?

We'll see. If it does, I suppose I could just re-install it using the disc. But once every thirty days? That would get old.

I know what you're going to say. "Your programs are old, you cheapskate. By some new ones."

Trouble is, the old programs work fine, and the new ones have all sorts of unnecessary "enhancements." Besides, the programs I've mentioned here would triple the cost of the new system. 

Then there are those who would say, "Hire a professional to do all that." But it should be obvious that I'd have to tell him my life story before he got everything right.  

About a week ago, I plugged an external hard drive into the old machine to extract a few folders I'd missed the first time and it bombed off again—with a little pop. It's never come on since.

I still push the on-off button every morning, but nothing happens.

Since then I've removed the keyboard from the desk, and I hauled the screen to the basement a few days later. The tower is still there at my feet; there's a pale green light blinking in the back, as if it's in a coma. And the memory lingers on...

Someone at Micro-center told me yesterday that I could remove the hard drive from the tower  physically and attach it via a special cable to the new machine to use  as a separate drive. "It's not a big deal," he said. "It's on the left, just remove a few screws."

I have my doubts. The cable was $15, but I didn't buy it. Maybe I'll try that some day.

Here are the silver linings. The new computer is darned fast! Microsoft supports it (for now). And the screen, as I mentioned, is huge—I'm getting a sore neck just looking at it. (The last screen looked huge, too, when I got it.)

The screen-saver allows me to set up a succession of rotating images, which I could never do on the Windows XP—or didn't know how to.

Right now I'm looking at a close-up of a white cleome from the summer garden.

I like it. I'm seeing things I never saw before. It's quite remarkable.

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