Monday, June 14, 2010

Locked Out of the Den!

: Bear got locked out of the Den Friday afternoon, and it wasn't because of a problem with keys this time!

It's computer illness, major. Not only is the laptop sick still, but lately, the illness seems to be spreading to other computer components.

Bear had already been having some modem troubles, off and on, for the past month -- just periods where the high speed internet connection falters for a bit and then corrects itself after unplugging the modem for a minute and restarting it. In fact, she called her Internet company Wednesday to ask them why it does that.

They happily informed her that her modem has lived a long and healthy life, but is dying of natural causes -- old age -- and it's time to buy a new one from them for only $53. They said its power is showing sporadic highs and lows at their office, and that means it's dying. And, just to prove them right, the modem conked out totally Friday afternoon, and remained in total coma through Monday morning.

Bear was locked out of the Den all weekend! And it felt hot and sticky (with no virtual Den air conditioning available) all weekend.

So Bear's in a very grumbly mood this morning, even though the modem decided to come to life suddenly on its own -- just resurrected itself for no apparent reason. She knows it could die totally on her any minute...

So, Bear's going to skip doing the FaithWriter's Writing Challenge this week, not knowing whether or not she'll have internet access when it's time to submit her entry.

And she'll be in and out of the Den, as she's able.

However, it's possible she'll be locked out totally from the Den again until she gets a replacement modem, or from time to time -- so no predictions for how things will go this next week or two at the Den. She'll do her best to get things posted as she can.

Meanwhile, with all the computer problems, glitches, and equipment failures over this past couple weeks, Bear has naturally been thinking much about the subject of computer and software reliability, in general.  She's not a rich bear, and is noticing that maintaining and running the most basic computer system, seems to be an ongoing drain on finances. 

Originally, when Bear first bought that first Zapclunk computer, and bought the needed software to go with it, years ago, she naively thought that she was done for 10 or 15 years, at least.  But, on walking around the house this weekend, and examining all her dead and/or outdated computers, computer components, software, small gadgets (PDAs, recorders, etc), she was appalled to find how many of them had stacked up over a ten year period. 

This $125 eBay computer that's on the way will be her fifth computer.  The original Zapclunk's processor became outdated within a few years -- couldn't run the faster programs required for Internet hookup.  (By the way, hopefully "Zappy and I -- Part 3", the concluding segment of that story will get posted this Friday.  Stay tuned.)  Three other computers (all purchased used off of eBay) have gradually gotten irreparable disk problems. The other computer was running Windows 98, but Windows 98 became too old to do what Bear needed it to do on the Internet.  And buying a used computer that already had Windows XP on it was cheaper than buying a brand new version of Windows XP for the old computer. (And by now, that computer, although still working, is too slow a processor speed to handle the Internet at all.)

The modem that Bear has been informed is dying of "old age" is only four years old!  But they say that "three years is a good run for a modem", and that it's natural to have to replace them every three years, or even more often.

All these things parading through Bear's mind all at once led even slow-Bear's mind to get kind of suspicious about the whole system. So Friday, just before the Modem went down, she was browsing the Net, searching Google to find out just what the average life expectancy is supposed to be for a computer.

She was shocked to discover that most people agree that the average life expectancy of a brand new computer is four to five years!

Bear couldn't believe it. Computer manufacturers sell us these things for $350 to $1000 plus dollars, and expect us to smile and thank them, when they die after only four or five years???

Plus, the software manufacturers are deliberately making the software to only have a few years life expectancy. People end up having to buy "updates" and pay new license fees for each update. For example, Microsoft Word 2000 is so far out of date, that it can't even be used with some systems. And there has been Word 2003, since then, and Word 2007, and likely a couple updates Bear missed. (But Bear's still using Word 2003, which came with her laptop.)

So, not only do they expect you to buy a new computer every 4 or 5 years. They expect you to buy new software. And new computer components. Bear's lost count of how many printers (all purchased new for $30 to $50) have broken over the years.

Plus, they expect you to buy new gadgets that attach to the computers. For example, Bear had several cheap PDA type of gadgets from years back that are totally useless now, because they won't work with Windows XP operating system -- there's no way to back up their files anymore. Same for some other types of gadgets that used to work great with Windows 98 and Windows 2000, but are totally useless with Windows XP.

Debating with herself as to whether or not she should go ahead and try to scrape money together to buy a new computer this time, (which would come with Windows 7 on it), she was dismayed to find that some of her current software can't be used with Windows 7, and that her current PDA won't sync properly with it!

So they expect her to go out and buy a whole new set of software and PDA?


Bear is starting to catch on to this pattern! It may have taken her 10 years, but she's on to it now!

First of all, she's not going to shell out $350+ for a new computer with a 2 to 5 year life expectancy. (Some of the reviews she read for the cheap new computer she was looking at, from customers who had already bought one, reported some hard drive failures already happening in the first year.)

She decided that, since computers have such a short life expectancy anyway, she might as well get a used one at so much cheaper prices, and just replace them as she goes. At least now she knows more what to expect.

The good thing about used computers is the other element in the picture... Many people tend to get rid of still perfectly good computers, which they call "outdated", because the processor speeds of the newer models are always somewhat faster and make music and video viewing and other Net stuff easier. So she figures, she'll just continue walking along, buying up people's "outdated" computers at cheap prices, and use them until they actually die. Even though this current eBay computer on the way to her is "outdated" in the seller's eyes, its processor speed and storage capacity are both twice that of her current dying laptop -- so it's all gain to the Bear. (Also, the one due to arrive in this next week or two is a desktop -- and desktops seem to have a somewhat longer life expectancy than laptops -- maybe a few years longer, and sometimes even longer than that.)

Second, she decided to stay with her current operating system as long as possible each time before "upgrading" to the modern one. So she made sure that the used computer had Windows XP on it rather than Vista or 7, so that her software and gadgets are compatible.

Third, she decided she's going to set her Treo PDA up, if at all possible, so it can be updated to the computer without a "sync program", via its external memory storage card (which can be plugged into the main computer for straight data transfer via a card reader). That way, she'll be able to use the PDA with any operating system, and still keep data backed up, and won't have to buy another PDA in future, when she eventually is forced to change operating systems.

Fourth, she decided to search the Net for alternatives to paid software. And she was doing that Friday, when the modem crashed, in fact. She had already found and installed Open Office on the laptop, to test it out. It's totally free, and although she'd heard of it over the years, she'd assumed that it was nothing compared to Microsoft Office.

Happily, she discovered she was totally wrong -- So far, over the weekend of testing Open Office, it has been most wonderful. And there seem to be very few differences between it and Microsoft Office (which they want hundreds of dollars for). The Write and Calc components of Open Office work very similarly to Word, and there's hardly any learning involved at all to use them, after using Microsoft. And they have almost all the same extras and functions and menu items. She was amazed. And Open Office updates their software regularly over the years, but doesn't charge a cent for it.

Plus, Open Office is set up so that its documents can be marked as Microsoft formatted documents. So that a document Bear creates in Open Office Write can be told to be in "Word format", and to the computer (and to Bear's PDA), it looks just like a Word document, and can be opened by Microsoft Word.

So wonderful. Bear has been such a fool not to look into this before.

Bear already uses Firefox instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer, and has been doing so for almost a year now. And loves it much better than IE. It works better, faster and with fewer crashes. And is another freebie.

So Bear's next getting ready to try Thunderbird -- a free email program that replaces Outlook Express -- by the same people that do Firefox.

And Bear's looking into other "Open Source" (i.e. "free") software solutions. She's even looking at Linux as a possible operating system alternative, which is much cheaper, and sometimes can be even obtained free. However, it looks like that has a much higher learning curve, and she may leave that one for the distant future, when she's got more time and is not busy learning all the other ones.

However, she's getting very tired of planned obsolescence in computer systems and software and gadgets, and is determined to get herself off the "gotta upgrade and spend more money" treadmill as much as possible.

Not only does it pull money out of a bear's pocket, regularly, over time, just to keep a computer system up and running that can handle the Internet -- but it also is a time drain.

There's obviously no way around that completely. But there are some choices that can apparently help, under the circumstances, at least somewhat.

And Bear's on the alert and on the prowl... with some real computer "troubleshooting" in her line of site.

Oh yeah. And, being in a grumbly mood about the whole thing, Bear was not willing to go to her phone company's office and lay down $53 for a new modem with a wonderfully long three year lifespan. And didn't want to fiddle with a new driver and stuff for the modem while she's having to fiddle with a whole 'nother computer and software installation on Friday... So she surfed eBay this morning until she found her exact modem model being sold by an eBay seller. He's got a bunch of them for sale at $9 apiece that were used at an office that's going out of business -- so they're selling off their computers and parts. Bear grabbed a couple of the modems (figuring they might only have 6 months to a year of life left on each of them, although possibly longer), to make due with for now.

See you all soon, (Lord and modem and computer willing!)
Bear's news and free multi-media Christian resources: Bear's Writing Den


Denise said...

Praying for you, and your computer.

Sara Harricharan @ Fiction Fusion said...

LOL--you have a way of making this humorous, though I feel for ya. Praying your tech troubles are worked out. Yes, as someone who's worked with PC's for awhile, up to seven years, running the usual stuff, is max for a good pc. If you pretty much just write though--on a laptop, 13 years is the most I've heard someone get out of theirs, and then they were having issues with transferring file formats. ^_^ Hope things are fixed quick!

Karen said...

So sorry for your tech troubles...things just don't last like they used to years ago....

Georgie Pie said...

We've all been there. I feel for you. :(

Have you ever considered SSuite Office as a free alternative to MS Office or even OpenOffice?

It would have made for a much quicker download too. :)

Their software also doesn't need to run on Java or .NET, like MS Office and so many open source office suites, so it makes their software very small, efficient, and easy to use. :)

joanc said...

Hi Bear. Sorry to hear about all your computer problems. I also have a love-hate relationship with all this tempermental technology that's become so crucial to us all!

joanc said...

PS: Have you re-arranged your furniture - your den feels a little different. Or maybe I just haven't visited for too long :-)

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