Tuesday, March 18, 2008

You've got Mail

As Louise mentioned yesterday, our mail finally arrived. The postmistress of this small-town station had gotten to know us by the time the package arrived, and so she called first thing yesterday morning to say it came in.

There was no obvious damage to the box -- the address and the Priority Mail label were both intact, so we are all at a loss to know how it took 11 days for this to get here from Washington. My best guess is that it got stuffed onto a truck meant for parcel post, which can take days to get from one sectional center to another.

We had talked about leaving the casino as soon as the mail arrived. However, yesterday I was recovering from a pulled muscle in my shoulder, which would have made driving difficult, and I was also hip-deep in a project that I started because it looked like we might be settled in here for the long haul. So we decided to stay at least until today. My shoulder and back are still sore, and my project is still not done, so we've now decided to stay until tomorrow morning, since we are paid up through then anyway (it is the same price to stay here for one, two, or three nights).

Sticking around gave us the opportunity to go out to dinner last night at what is likely the nicest restaurant in Yuma -- Julianna's Patio Cafe. The casual name belies the fact that this is really a steak house. My rack of lamb was juicy and tender; Louise had fish prepared Wellington-style, which was also good. They made our traditional Caesar salad tableside, a nice touch. The place is tucked in an out-of-the-way corner -- you have to go looking for it, but we're glad we did.

Speaking of projects, the one I am working on now is to move to a new computer. It's a little embarrassing, since I've had the computer since August, but my old one has been working fine up to now and I've been waiting for a few solid days of downtime to make the switch, as experience tells me that changing computers is a tedious, time consuming, and often frustrating affair.

There is a good reason why I bought a new computer back in August even though I didn't really need one, having to do with Louise's computer, and Windows Vista. Some of our readers are probably in this same boat, and so I will share the tale here.

Louise's computer, a Fujitsu LifeBook, was actually in better cosmetic and physical condition than mine (a Sony Vaio), despite being a few months older. However, one day while we were out at dinner or wherever, a rain storm blew through and the computer, which was sitting below a partially opened window, got wet. We got most of it running again, but the touch-sensitive surface of the trackpad was history (and, yes, I took the whole trackpad out to clean and dry it, to no avail).

Trooper that she is, Louise continued to use the computer for another half year with the addition of an external trackball. But as we came up to about the three-year mark, the fans were getting noisier and noisier, and the computer was getting slower and slower. This is a result of a process that I have come to call, after two decades in the industry, "software rot." Over time, internal tables get corrupted, and system record-keeping becomes more and more bloated. Only a complete nut-job with no life other than fixing the internals of Windows can fix this sort of overall decay in place (the name for this kind of nut-job is a Microsoft Certified Professional).

What most of us do instead is to save all our data, and reinstall Windows from scratch -- a so-called "clean install." This cures the rot and starts the clock running all over again. Of course, a clean install means re-installing and the re-configuring absolutely everything on you computer, from Windows settings to email to how you like Solitaire set up. (Using any of the various tools that are out there to "back up" and then "restore" all your system settings, to avoid this tedious work, is very likely to copy over some of the very rot you are trying to get rid of).

Having already decided that starting with a clean Windows installation was the proper cure for Louise's laptop, it was a no-brainer to go the next step and just start over with a whole new computer. That would fix the pesky mouse failure, as well as offer nicer displays, more horsepower, more USB ports, and DVD writing capabilities, all things that had become standard on even low-end machines since the last time we bought.

That's when the trouble began. We had waited just a tad too long, and all the laptops in retail stores (our preferred buying option on the road, since getting shipments is difficult), and even most on-line outlets, were only available with Windows Vista, and we wanted Windows XP. I will migrate to Vista kicking and screaming, and even then, not until at least the first major Service Pack. (Read one of the many reasons why here.)

[Special note to the geeks who are reading -- you know who you are, and I know you're out there -- everyone else can skip to the end of the square brackets. If I don't write this, I know I'll get about 30 "Why don't you just..." emails or comments: Yes, I would dearly love to move away from Microsoft altogether. It is a fantasy that I always harbor, that all of the apps I need will be ported to Linux by the next time I need to change computers. So far, it hasn't happened. And, for the record, the big apps that I use daily which are not ported are the DeLorme mapping products, the management and tracking software for our VSAT system, the management software for the Garmin and Mio GPS units, the synchronization software for my cell phone, and our VOIP software. Pretty much everything else I use is open source and cross platform, except for the MSOffice stuff I use for the Red Cross, although in a pinch I can open those files with OpenOffice.]

It turns out that Dell (and other manufacturers with on-line retail ordering) will be happy to sell you a laptop with XP instead of Vista. You just need to pick from their Business line-up, rather than the Home offerings. When you configure your system, most have the option of at least XP Professional or perhaps the Tablet Edition on some models. Prices are decent, and you will get the latest technology.

We went a different route, because we did not want to deal with figuring out where to have them send it. We had just wrapped up a Red Cross job in Aurora, Illinois, and it turned out that on-line mega-retailer Tiger Direct has a retail store (one of only half a dozen around the country, all attached to their distribution warehouses) in Naperville, one town over. While they only stock a handful of items in the outlets, they can pretty much will-call anything in the attached warehouse on about a half-hour or so wait.

At today's writing, their catalog shows 120 Vista laptops, but also 28 XP laptops. At the retail store, the trick is to go on-line and find not just one model you like, but two or three that will work, as long as each shows on the web site as "In Stock". Then go into the retail store and ask them about each of your choices. If they show as In Stock on the web site, then chances are good that at least one of them will be in stock in that specific warehouse ("In Stock" for any given item could mean in stock, but in some other warehouse).

Back in August, we found three models in stock that met our needs, and they had plenty of our second choice in that warehouse. Knowing that my laptop was also nearing end-of-life (it, too, has been getting noisier and noisier, and slower and slower, not to mention I've worn the labels off many of the keys), and having already done all the work to research and identify appropriate models with XP pre-installed and finding a retail store with stock on hand, we just bought two identical machines and called it done.

We ended up, by the way, with factory refurbished Gateway machines with XP Media Center Edition. They're quite nice, actually, and I am looking forward to finally getting moved over, after which I will sell the Vaio which will still have plenty of life left in it once Windows has been reloaded.

Tomorrow we will bid a fond farewell to the Cocopah casino, which has served us well, and head east toward Gila Bend.


  1. "as experience tells me that changing computers is a tedious, time consuming, and often frustrating affair."

    Not if you have a Mac. You'll also save all of the other hassle (including 'software rot'). You're also much more likely to survive an accidental soaking. :-)

    Safe journey to Gila Bend!

  2. Just wanted to also say a big YES to the Mac, I just got another Macbook Pro and setting it up was as simple as unplugging my Time Machine drive from my other Macbook Pro and plugging into the new one and all software, settings, preferences, music library, photo library, and what not is copied over, absolutely ZERO setting up or adjusting.

    Thats the first time I had done it that way (as Time Machine was introduce in 10.5) and I was very impressed.

    Plus Parallels works extremely well, I have had zero problems running windows apps except for any that need 3D graphics. I have used it to talk to my GPS, Sat receiver( thru a usb to serial converter no less) and so far any other device I have tried with it. If Parallels doesn't work then install Boot Camp, I have a nice clean up to date XP installation on a 32g partition. (the reason I have it is I am a gamer, and even tho more and more games are coming to the Mac, still 100x more for Windows) It runs windows great, but I do everything else under OS X.

    I have never really done much more than play around with Linux, but of course plenty of people swear by it, I just feel the Mac is a better solution because you have the elegance, ease of use and security of the OS X, plus acouple options for running windows when must have apps are windows only.

    Safe travels

  3. @Raven and Kevin,

    OK, you need to read the stuff in teh square brackets, too, whether you are or are not geeks.

    None of those applications that I listed, which marry me to Windows for the moment, run on a Mac either. They are Windows apps, plain and simple.

    And, yes, I know I can use compatibility software to run Windows apps on a Mac (or on Linux, for that matter). But I don't see much point in that. It is not as if a Mac (or certainly Linux) is any better at all the other things I do, such as email and web browsing and making little signs that say "Beware of Dog" in Spanish.

    IOTW, I'd rather deal with the frustrations of running Windows software on Windows than those of trying to run Windows software on a different OS.

    No disrespect to Mac users -- if that's what floats your boat, great. I'm technology-agnostic, and I use whatever works to get the job done.

    I also know that the vast majority of folks out there are using Windows, so I thought my story about how we found XP machines in a Vista world would be relevant to many.


  4. (I did read the stuff in square brackets, LOL!)

    You can run Windows on a Mac! It's actually a lot more stable. I have both OSes on my iMac so I have the best of all possible worlds. I kept a PC for a long time because I needed some apps for work until I tried to run these apps on Windows on my iMac.

    With the new intel Macs, you're truly running Windows on your Mac, not an emulator, so your software will behave normally.

    Just something to consider for next time. ;-)

  5. arrrggghhh! The Mac zealots are EVERYWHERE!!!!

    On topic, I ordered my Fujitsu P1610 w/XP as well. Just not enough hardware to run Vista; however, my Vista desktop w/2 gigs of ram ain't half bad. YMMV!

    Enjoying your blog. Love the "odyssey"!

  6. Ha! No tech preaching here. I read that you said "The Fans were getting Nosier and Nosier". Implying you had more email to respond too. Oops. You said fans getting noiser! Laugh. EJ

  7. I'm a new reader and I've been digging through the archives. In a post from a while back you mentioned printing out something (eBay shipping labels, I think). I was just wondering what kind of mobile printing setup you use in Odyssey.

  8. Blackeagle:

    I think Sean is going to take your suggestion and write about how we print. He took some photos yesterday, so expect a post soon.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. I'm not objecting to your views (I'm a Mac lover and non-owner who swears by Windows XP Pro), but it's been said that Apple's computers are the best for Windows. That's because Apple controls everything about the machine - especially the drivers, for their specific sets of hardware (unlike the millions of configurations that MS has to deal with). Apple onlt needs to focus on supporting their limited set of hardware, making it easier to develop much more stable drivers for any OS.


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