Tuesday, 13 March 2012

In which I wrestle with technology and my conscience

I rolled in at ten this morning from a night on the tiles, or with the in-laws, whichever you prefer.  I was half-expecting a significant email, so as soon as I’d defused the alarm and unshipped my slippers from the overnight bag, I raised the lid on the laptop.  Usually, when I do that it winks at me a few times with its little blue eyes, yawns, then deigns to turn up for work.  On this occasion, though, none of that happened.  The screen remained black, the mouse and keyboard played dumb insolence.  No lights of any colour flashed.  There were none of those reassuring whirring noises.  The stupid thing was catatonic.

I’ve been here before.  I know what to do.  You press the power button for a while, and eventually it wakes up, complains about being unexpectedly killed and resurrected, and then grudgingly boots and gets on with it.  This sometimes involves protracted white-on-black gobbledegook diatribes, to which I am occasionally ordered to press ‘enter’ or ‘spacebar’, or some other key, within 45 seconds,  OR ELSE!  I’ve once or twice been scolded that I should defrag my disk, whatever that means:  I respond, shoutily, ‘That’s your job, mate!’, then sigh and do it anyway.

This morning, none of that worked.  Nothing.  Nada.  Ziltch.  Niente.  [Insert your own Local Hero quote ad lib.]  It’s finally snuffed it, I decided.  So I hauled myself upstairs and hauled down my fallback machine, an elderly XP Toshiba that hasn’t been used for at least three years, and weighs a ton.  I plugged it in and booted it up, and it worked!  Well, after a few Rumpelstiltskin moments, including having to upgrade the anti-virus software, which took three days’ work compressed into ninety minutes; but it worked!  The important email wasn’t there.

One of the things about me is that I’m quite dogged, and quite analytical.  (That’s why I’m so good at crosswords.)  So once I’d sorted out the anxiety (that’s another of the things), I worked out that this computer’s problem was that it had been overfed with electricity.  Switching off the power might have worked in the past, but we were in Mr Creosote territory here.  So I unplugged the power cable and took the battery out.  That’ll teach you, I thought.  I let it all cool down, put it all back together – and here I am, typing this.

The thing is, though, (and here I muffle this machine’s ears and blindfold it), it’s going to have to go.  What replaces it is a question for another day.  I don’t have tribal loyalties, but I also don’t want to have to switch allegiances nor relearn how to walk or run.  I’ll be doing this within the next seven days – feel free to help.


  1. If you're adventurous, try loading a free linux system (Ubuntu 11.10, Linux Mint, etc) on your old machine, and watch it fly. If PC is your preference, the Acer machines seem okay (I have an Acer laptop running Ubuntu 11.10 - still going strong after being hammered for five years).

    However, if your budget allows, switch to Mac. I did, two years ago, and I would never consider going back to Windows, even though I worked with that system for the best part of 15 years. Hope this helps, but I suspect it won't.

  2. The muffling & blindfolding won't have helped; you typed: "it's going to have to go". These words reach it by touch, not sight or sound, & it will surely draw its own conclusions based upon their context. So watch out.

    I have toyed with Mac because of what so many folk say, as Martin just has. It is surely tempting. Bit like St Just.

    BTW I leave my battery out of the laptop when it's mains connected (which is most of the time). It's lighter on the lap & I read somewhere that a battery like this should be kept at about 75% charge to maintain its maximum life, but that might now be old hat.

  3. I love Apple but wouldn't buy a Mac because they are wayyy over-priced and I've got quite used to Windows after 15 years. We've used cheap laptops but found the Sony Vaio very reliable for 14 hours use a day.

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  5. I just purchased a MacBook Pro and I have to say I'm very pleased I did. It's stable. No messing about with anti-virus software, falling overs because it doesn't like another piece of kit.

    I'd agree with Rog, they are quite expensive for what they do, but as I will be dealing quite a lot with creative people, images etc, it's a necessary expense.

    Or rather...it's so shiny and sexy I'd find a way to justify the expense with little difficulty.

  6. Thank you all for your advice. I don’t think I’m going to go the adventurous Linux route, Martin, so it boils down to should I go Apple? I find them beautiful, and doubtless functionally superior – but bloody expensive. I don’t buy the argument about virus vulnerability, and would never touch a computer that didn’t have screwed-down realtime security protection. I’ve never had a problem with McAfee, and it’s free to me courtesy BT. My ignorance is also a factor – e.g. can I transfer and edit my existing Word, Excel etc files, without having to learn a whole new bunch of programs? Finally, I don’t like the idea of being locked in to one hardware supplier, especially one that makes you buy a new piece of kit every time they up the software functionality – especially when they seem to be playing this trick ever more frequently. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  7. The Mac is expensive, and I didn't switch without careful consideration. As far as the Office package goes, I have Office for Mac and have had no problems with existing documents, of which there many.

    On the security front, I don't bother with anti-virus software, now. The Apple guy told me that the Mac will still pick up viruses, but because it doesn't understand them, they get ignored. I know quite a few Mac devotees, of long standing, and none of them run security software.

    And, yes, it's true that Apple offer regular upgrades to their packages. Personally, I buy what I consider to be useful, but I use an awful lot of FREE open source software, too.

  8. My son had a Sony Vaio and loved it until he got a Mac and now he loves that more.
    And after having an iPhone for a month, I think if I could afford it I'd switch to Apple for everything.
    (Oh and my computer rescue man told me that if you keep your laptop plugged into the mains while the battery is in, it burns the battery out. Certainly my netbook battery life is much better than the old laptop's was.)
    Have fun : )