Readers of my "PC Obsolescence Conspiracy" and "PC Shopping Nightmare" tirades know that I was overdue for a new computer. I recently bit the bullet and replaced my desktop and laptop systems with a new laptop. Its mobile processor is not as fast as I could get in a desktop system, but the clock speed is still more than three times faster than either of my old PCs. It's loaded with memory--about four times my old desktop. The Achilles' heel is the hard drive, but I probably won't fill it for a couple of years.
Life is beautiful--not!
The machine is great. It's one of those sleek ThinkPads. (For readers of "The PC Obsolescence Conspiracy": No, IBM did not test my journalistic integrity with a free ThinkPad. In fact, I think that they charged me extra for being me.) It's just that after I stopped being a programmer more than 15 years ago, I became a programmer's worst nightmare: a user with the incredibly silly notion that technology should, out of the box, work for me, not me for it.
The first problem involved the software that transferred data and applications from my old system to the new one. I bought new software because the Windows and IBM migration tools transfer only data and settings, not applications. I wasn't looking forward to spending hours or days reinstalling software, so the investment seemed worthwhile. I bought and used the program a couple of days before stumbling on an IBM Web page telling me that I'm eligible to download free software that claims to do the same thing. Do these things happen to everyone, or is the universe out to get me specifically?
I think that the problem with transferring data and applications occurred because my old system had two hard drives, one of them being an external USB drive that cheaply and easily rectified a storage shortage. (Note to self: When it comes to technology, there is no such thing as cheap and easy, except the salespeople.) The software recognized the two drives and transferred most of the data, applications, and settings, but some of the applications that had been on the external drive did not work. The one directory that the software, for some unknown reason, decided not to transfer was the one holding software that I bought and downloaded over the Internet.
No problem, just copy the directory from the USB drive, right? Wrong. The drive chose that moment to decide that it had lived a long and useful life and it was time to pass on to the great storage pool in the sky. The vendor's help desk pronounced it really, truly dead and suggested that, since it was past the warranty period, the most humane thing to do was to give it a decent burial, thereby foiling my plan to use it to back up my new PC's data.
I always back stuff up. I could recover the missing directory off the backup, right? Does anyone want to guess which directory I inadvertently failed to include in my backup set? There are no prizes for guessing right. Fortunately, I was able to download the missing software and, because the settings were copied, the applications recognized that I already owned a license.
One other problem with the migration software: It seemed to have screwed up Windows on my new system. Opening the Windows Control Panel triggered an error that closed the Control Panel before I could use it. Fortunately, my new PC shipped with XP Service Pack 1. Installing SP2 resolved the problem.
As part of my upgrade strategy, I also invested in a wireless router so that I could eliminate the long cable that I unprofessionally snaked from my broadband connection entry point to where I work. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the laptop wireless card to connect to the router. One thing you should know about me is that when I run into problems like this I become obsessed and skip meals and sleep until I solve them, even when there is no pressing need to do so. At three o'clock in the morning, I decided to call the router company's 24x7 help line.
After considerable discussion, the help line person told me that the problem was with the wireless card and I should call that vendor. Not expecting to get any more help at that time in the morning, I decided to try a few things myself. Within a few minutes, I found that I had missed a router security setting. Fixing that yielded a functioning wireless network. Why the person in whatever country answers the help line in the middle of a North American night couldn't solve that in a few seconds is beyond me.
At 4:00 a.m., thinking that I had resolved all of my PC problems, I went to sleep.
I had not yet attempted to get on the Internet. When I tried the next morning, Norton Firewall repeatedly displayed a message saying that it was automatically setting a rule for its proxy server, but I couldn't access the Internet. I disabled Norton Firewall, enabled the Windows firewall, and got onto the Internet. When I tried to set the Norton rules manually, the system displayed an error message saying that a process was missing. A visit to the Symantec (Norton's vendor) site told me that the problem was a missing module in Internet Explorer. The Symantec page directed me to a page on Microsoft's site. (Don't ask me why Norton uses an IE process. I haven't the foggiest idea.)
The Microsoft site suggested a fix and said if that didn't work I should do an in-place reinstall of Windows XP. The fix didn't work, but an in-place reinstall sounded scary, so I used a help desk chat facility that Microsoft offers. The support person told me that an in-place reinstall was my only option. How do I do it? "Put the XP CD into the drive and..." There's just one problem. Windows was preinstalled, and IBM did not ship a disk. "Then you'll have to get IBM to send you a disk." To make a long story only slightly less long, IBM promised to mail me a disk within a week to ten days--as long as they are not on back order.
There were a few other issues, like the fact that every second or third time that I reboot, Windows Firewall doesn't automatically protect my Internet connection and I have to tell it to do so; the Windows Security Center warns me that I don't have antivirus software when Norton Antivirus is, in fact, running and successfully blocking viruses; and a router security setting was stopping me from getting to some, but not all Web sites, although another router help line person helped me resolve that quickly. Compared to the other problems, these issues are too trivial to mention. Wait. It seems that I just did mention them. Never mind.
My experiences highlight a drawback of working for myself. Large companies usually have an IT department where users can go and say, "Fix it. Fix it now!" After the requisite number of snide remarks about stupid users, IT usually fixes it. I don't have that option. I'm my own IT department. I also empty my own wastebasket. It's usually overflowing profusely by the time I get around to it, but I do eventually empty it.
There is an upside to this story. In just two days, I lost more than three pounds thanks to skipped meals and sleepless nights (we burn 10-15% more calories awake than asleep). If I buy one computer a week, I can get to my ideal weight in about seven weeks. After that, I should be able to go on a maintenance diet of one computer every two or three months. Then again, Atkins is probably cheaper.