Monday, July 14, 2008

Opening up New Vistas

My rural bliss was shattered today with the arrival of the new computer. It had been two years since I’d gotten one, so of course everything was different. Well - not everything: it was still impossible to open the box and wrench the pieces out without using both hands and feet. But opening that box, taking out the new flatscreen monitor and glancing through the instructions made me feel older than watching Goldie Hawn talk about her grandkids! Fogey-hood, here I come! For one thing they have reduced the Quick-Start instructions to four paragraphs, but have written them in five extra languages for a total of six pages, most of which can be cut away with scissors. I also noticed that the machine had 134 gigabytes of memory -- that’s more memory than I have now! (me, I mean - not my old computer). Now, if only I can fit it with a camera so it can watch where I leave the keys…

Second, I was amazed by the incredible ease of the new “plug and play anything” -- color-coded plugs and holes so that even if you can’t read the cartoon directions, you can hook the system together and be up and running in five minutes. Balancing that off, though are the incredibly complex-bordering-on-deceitful cascade of legal notices that you have to agree to in order to get to the desktop for the first time!! By the end of the first ten minutes I was as paranoid as if I’d read an hour’s worth of conspiracy blogs. My brain was buzzing with legal-ese and disclaimers. I wonder if grocery stores would sell any food if the side of the milk carton, for instance, said, “THIS IN NO WAY REPRESENTS THAT THE CONTENTS OF THIS CARTON IS BOVINE OR EVEN LIQUID AND THE MANUFACTURER ASSUMES NO LIABILITIES FOR THE RESULTS OF DRINKING THIS, USING IT IN COMESTIBLES OR FOR ANY USES THAT COULD CONCEIVABLY BE MADE OF THIS SUBSTANCE, WHATEVER IT IS. READING THIS LABEL CONSTITUTES YOUR AGREEMENT TO ALL OUR POLICIES, WHICH MIGHT CHANGE AT ANY MINUTE.”

I was really amused by the fact that the start-up process assumed that the computer was cabled and ready to go online for numerous “immediate updates” (before I‘d gotten to the desktop) -- I was not, and after the first 20 minutes of start-up, I was glad. I haven’t been so patronized since my philosophy professor assumed that a 17 year old girl couldn’t possibly understand logic. I know that teams of really bright people spend years writing these programs and are understandably irritated that we might want to know how they work, but Windows has now made their “details” of their updates as vague as a politician‘s promise. Nothing that might give you any idea of what was being downloaded. I mean, they practically said, “Just trust us, you need this”…

I was less amused to find out the system didn’t come with speakers -- I know I got a low-end deal, but those used to be as standard as a keyboard and mouse… luckily this was a Friday, so my town was full of garage sales. I hit pay dirt on the third one and brought home a pair of speakers for $2. And a half gallon of ice cream, to steel my resolve for the rest of the set-up. I had to convince the delicate modem/ router provided by the phone company that it wanted to talk to the new computer - actually, I played bait and switch - I hooked it into the internet via my laptop and then just moved the ethernet cable to the new box… it worked, and I don’t know why. But just as I could see success looming, I found I was down to exactly one electric plug in the whole room, and two items left to be plugged in! This being an old house, there is exactly one outlet in the office and I had once blown the fuse by trying to vacuum while the old computer was on… so even with the power-surge strip, I was anxious… but a piggyback plug seemed to work.

I finally was able to see my new “desktop” (home screen) and it seemed the system was set up, but anyone who’s started up a new computer knows that half the crap that’s put on there needs to be junked and then there’s at least three hours of transferring data from the old system. This spiffy new one proudly informed me of a fast-transfer option: just bring over your whole old computer, desktop, files, programs -- I actually shuddered when I read that… Not sure how many innocents were burned, but that seems the equivalent of pouring the half-moldy contents of last week’s coffee into the new pot! First of all, it was an entirely different operating system. And why would I want all the fragmentation and random crud from my old computer? Now, I suppose they might have given me some choices about how to port it over, but I wasn’t able to find out -- because it required a special fast-port cable which “you can order online” - and pay $32 to overnight or wait another two weeks to get your system working… gee -- what convenience! So I just used the 1 gig flash stick to bring over what I need for now… My eyes were more glazed over than a Bundt cake, and I had to drag out the emergency crochetting to keep me from clicking too fast with the mouse and double-installing everything. I knew I couldn’t take much more of this. I glanced longingly out the window, where the plants were frying in the heat. Ah, for the simplicity of hoeing weeds, or picking berries!

What finally stopped me was finding the ice cream in the fridge. The topping had made it into the freezer. A clear case of brain-melt. So I gave up the quest and sat down to eat ice cream soup while I played a game of spider solitaire on the new computer.

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