About 3 years ago, I splurged on a super-lightweight computer, the Averatec 3250, which weighs just 4.3 pounds with battery. This was a concession to the fact that my old H-P notebook was getting just too heavy and I was getting too old to lug that much weight around with me through airports, security lines, etc. About 1 year ago, the H-P started acting funky (3 months after its no-restrictions replacement warranty expired).
The H-P didn't crash; nothing that dramatic. It would just periodically decide to reboot even though I was in the middle of working on a file. So I put it aside and started to use the Averatec as my main work computer. In the midst of deadlines for the October issue the Averatec crashed. This is a perfect example of Murphy's Law at work: computers will never, never, never crash when you are not on a deadline or a super-rush project. The Averatec didn't just crash; it crashed and burned. It would not allow me to reformat the hard drive with system restore discs; the HDD was apparently really fried. It brings to mind Andy Marken's continual adage: "It's not a question of aif your HDD will crash, it's a question of when it will crash." At the time, this was the only computer that was working with my DSL Internet connection; the desktop system had serious issues with the Hughes Satellite Network, and would not work with the DSL. So I did the only thing I could think of: I ran down to Best Buy and bought a new notebook — not a superlightweight, but a modestly priced Sony VIAO NR Series with a large 15-1/2-inch screen — a welcome change from the Averatec's tiny 12-inch screen.
More Memory Needed
Then I started hitting snags. First, the sales clerk recommended upgrading the computer's memory from 1GB to 2GB because of its memory-hungry Vista software. I couldn't just buy 1MB of added memory; the existing 1MB was installed as two 512kB modules, and there were only 2 memory slots. Thus I had to buy two new 1GB modules, and then pay for a member of the Geek Squad to install them. The morass was getting deeper and deeper. And of course, I opted for an extended Geek Squad warranty. Then there was California sales tax. This is how a sale-priced $600 unit became a $1,000+ computer.
I took the beast home, turned it on, popped in the ATT/Yahoo CD to get DSL installed, and ran into a new snag. The CD I had was for XP, not for Vista. So a call to tech support got me a lengthy but highly satisfactory session with a slightly accented, but totally understandable female techie in the Philippines — unlike the language barriers that confuse the issue when talking to tech non-support in India for other companies (like Microsoft). She talked me through logging into a website that downloaded a set of Vista drivers. One friend of mine later told me that he would have gladly paid the Geek Squad to install XP on the computer. From hindsight's wonderfully crystal-clear viewpoint, I have to agree with that opinion, and in fact may do this after this issue is complete. I am writing this on our desktop system which still runs on XP, and which allows me to use the legacy software (translate: "antique") that I prefer to use for my writing and editing. It's a venerable MS-DOS program called WordStar. Some of you may be old enough to remember it. But there are problems when trying to use it on Vista. I was forced to use Vista for the first time in the Press Room at the Consumer Electronics Show last January. I didn't like it then; I still object strenuously to it. Oh sure, it shows a pretty face; I like the fact that I have been able to configure it with three analog clock faces showing Pacific Time, Eastern Time and GMT along with a rectangle showing a yellow, uncluttered sun, and the inscription: Palm Springs 76° giving me a snapshot of the local weather.
I finally had a parting of the ways with my satellite Internet connection. Four consecutive days of tech support "Help" netted me this answer: "The Hughes Network no longer supports the type 4,000 modems." Guess which type I have? Then: "The Hughes Network no longer supports that model of dish antenna." So I cranked the antenna down (automatically — at least that part still worked — and later uninstalled the MotoSat and related software. That may create a problem down the road, because I will have to erect the antenna in order to remove it from the top of my coach. But I'll do that on another day.
Unplugging the DSL Line
We were planning to pull out of Chico, and that meant unplugging the AT&T landline and the DSL. We needed something wireless and reliable, and I opted for a Verizon Internet card for the laptop. At first I bought the USB version, thinking I could use it on either computer, but this turned out to be a mistake. An hour on the phone with tech support did not resolve my installation issues with the Sony notebook. The techie (an American located somewhere in the U.S.A.) finally said: "Take it into a Verizon store and take the computer with you. They will set you up." I finally did that in Bakersfield, and they swapped out the USB card (at my request and for another $35) for an Express card. The Sony doesn't use a PCMCIA card, but the smaller Express Card. Okay, we got it working, and was told to pick an e-mail service, so I went with Google, and I am not one bit sorry.
In the meantime, I had a number of large files to transfer between the desktop and the new notebook. This was made relatively painless by a wonderful new gadget called "The Tornado". This file transfer tool is a handful of electronics in a case shaped like the meteorologist's symbol for a cyclone or a hurricane, often seen on the Weather Channel. Pulling a USB connector out of one end unwinds a similar USB connector from the other end. One USB connector plugs into one computer, the other USB into the other computer. A proprietary IC embedded in the unit is programmed to act as the intermediary between the 2 computers. It is powered by the USB line. There is no installation needed, and no setup. When you plug it in, each computer displays two directories — the local computer and the distant (4 feet away) computer. Then it's just a simple drag and drop operation to copy files. It works fast and accurately and for $60, is well worth it. It is not a network; it is not LapLink; it's The Tornado, and in my estimation works far better than networking or LapLink. It is true plug-and-play operation. For more information, see http://www.thetornado.com.
While I have been struggling with Vista and all of its "side benefits" I am still trying to crank out the needed editorial. I have decided to take a few more strong measures in this regard, including solving my Vista problem once and for all and getting high-speed Internet back on my desktop system. Read all about it in the next issue of U.S. Tech.