Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Love and Hate in the Computer Realm

I keep having the noxious feeling that despite my knowing a reasonable amount about computers, the computer gods are determined to put me in my place this summer. I just hope they aren't trying to do an imitation of Cami's last 24 hours and let me have minor successes here and there before killing me.
How many computer-related things have gone wrong or had strange problems in the past month or so? Really, I'm losing track.
It all began with the laptop making strange noises during the conference at České Budějovice. While the 100GB hard drive that was in it at the time works pretty well as an external drive, it definitely doesn't enjoy having to run the operating system. You don't want to know (I have lost count) how many times I have moved that drive in and out of the laptop lately in order to temporarily use some program's special settings that are only on that drive.
Now, of course, had I simply bought a new hard drive to stick in the old laptop, life might have been easy (I would have duplicated the old drive onto the new using Norton Ghost), but I wasn't sure how long the rest of the laptop would keep working. It might go on for a long time, or it might give out in the Czech Republic as Dawn's did. Let's just say it would be a major problem to buy and set up a new laptop there.
So... I ordered a new laptop. The kind I wanted (which has been very well received by users) was being discontinued, so I had to order it from a store that claimed to have it in stock. I could have ordered a refurbished model for $200 less at another vendor, but decided to go with the brand-new. Well, I added on a second battery and so forth to my order, the credit card company had to be reassured the charge was ok (they didn't ask me about a series of fraudulent charges that someone was making around the same time!), and this whole process took a week or so, by which time another store employee called to tell me they had none but could get me a refurbished model for $50 less. Since I had no idea whether the other vendor still had its refurbished model, I agreed. The thing then arrived (after a week or so) with no second battery or any vendor paperwork. OK, there was a second AC cord, which will come in handy if Ms. Spots chews the original (which she has been known to do), but that's not what I ordered. This means I have to have a little talk with Customer Service now that it is clear no second battery is coming separately.
Anyone who has ever replaced one computer with another knows that it is a time-consuming bore and aggravation. So many programs to reinstall! So much data to copy! Since the hardware is never the same, it's not practical to use Ghost or other software to image the old hard drive onto the new. Fortunately, I had brought most of my installation disks to my parents' just in case something like this happened, and I try to keep the installation files for downloaded programs on the computer itself, but it is still a major pain. Most of these programs want you to connect to the internet for registration and other tasks; some don't even work if you can't connect to the internet. Well, I can't think of a time when I had just gotten a new computer when I was actually able to get it connected to the internet in the first few days I had it. There is always some complication that has to be resolved about my connection files.
Internet aside, it is amazing how many programs require passwords, serial numbers, and special setup decisions when being (re)installed. All my Adobe software wanted me to connect to the internet and "activate" it to prove I hadn't stolen it. Microsoft Office, Nota Bene, and The Master Genealogist wanted serial numbers and such from the installation disks or purchase email (which, fortunately, I had but searching for those emails is always a real pain). Programs that had had numerous downloaded updates, like The Master Genealogist, had to have each of them installed. After each installation, the computer had to be restarted. Imagine doing this fifteen times in a row. After all, pretty much every time you install a program or an update, you have to restart the computer. Massive tedium.
And what on earth were the special settings I had put into EAC so that when I ripped CDs I would get the highest quality result? What are the Skype names of the various people in my Skype contact list? And so on and so forth.
Getting DSL set up for the house was not too hard, thanks to Dirk's recommendation of, which is local. I had no problem configuring my new laptop to use it. But of course things weren't so simple on my parents' laptop. I ended up having to take the thing over to LMI, where we ended up uninstalling Norton's firewall and going back to the one provided by Windows. While I suspected there might be a firewall conflict, I didn't know how to handle it myself. (We still haven't got their laptop ready to use LMI's email account because it's not accepting the password I thought I had assigned it, and while I would like to install my 30GB drive to replace their 10GB, I cannot figure out how to open the machine, nor does there seem to be an instructional diagram for the HP Pavilion n5415 anywhere on the internet.) So, their computer is semi-upgraded. Of course, it remains exceedingly slow and the new theory is that it really needs more memory. I doubt my parents are willing to pay for more memory since they take the view that you should just read a book or go make coffee while waiting for it to do something.
Returning to my new laptop, I was only able to get it with a 60GB drive, which naturally doesn't hold the nearly 100GB I had put on the other laptop. I bought a 120GB drive under the impression it was SATA and thus could replace the 60GB. In fact, it was PATA (the new term for IDE). Well, fine, I could still prepare it to be a second internal drive as I could buy a caddy to use it in the so-called Slim Select Bay. But after a week I concluded that the 120GB drive was simply defective, as no matter what I plugged it into, nothing recognized it and hence I couldn't format it. Imagine the time-sink it is to repeatedly, carefully, screw and unscrew a hard drive into various caddies and laptops. After all, if it isn't really dead, you don't want to render it so yourself. Fortunately Compusa made no fuss about taking it back.
In the meantime, I had attempted to use Ghost to image the 60GB drive onto an external backup drive. This was met with utter failure. Apparently Ghost 2003 can't deal with SATA drives. The website claims that it can if you update the program, but my attempt to update the program resulted in it telling me that the program was perfectly up to date. Since by the time I learned this, I already knew I wasn't replacing the 60GB with the 120GB drive, I did not gnash my teeth into stumps. Instead, I learned that Acronis True Image, a similar program, can image SATA drives. (Of course, it cost $50. I already had Ghost.)
I can't finish off with the dying 100GB drive, since I need to deal with the hard drive issue on the new computer. Is it better to order a 100GB or 120GB SATA drive and have the 60GB as a nice little paperweight (since I have no other equipment with an SATA connector), or to order an PATA/IDE drive of the same size and hope that I can still get the caddy and connector equipment for the secondary drive? Ah, choices.
There are probably more issues that I have forgotten (ah yes, the disappearance of some texts from my bibliographic database, doubtless due to all this switching back and forth of hard drives), but at the moment my father needs to go on line and it is time to surrender the DSL cable to him. We have been trading this back and forth all morning since I didn't think I really needed to buy my parents a router for their DSL.


Blogger P'tit-Loup said...

Ah yes, technology at its best. You do sound quite skilled though with the different drives and such. I would have no idea of what to do with all of that and don't even know the difference between SATA and PATA, or what it means. Hope it gets resolved some time soon!

August 10, 2006 8:09 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

I wouldn't say I am all that skilled, but it does seem like over the years I've used computers enough and for enough different purposes that I've had to acquire a certain amount of knowledge. But my knowledge is limited to whatever I've actually needed to do.

Of course, it helps that for 19 years I lived not far from Silicon Valley and could always find someone who knew more than I did to guide me along!

August 10, 2006 6:14 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

Oh, and on SATA and PATA, SATA is the new kind of connector for the drive. The only reason to know about it is if you are installing a hard drive. Older computers (prior to about last year) need PATA, some newer ones need SATA.

August 10, 2006 6:17 PM  

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