Monday, April 25, 2005

Computers: Love them or hate them?

What is it about computers? You use them for weeks, even months, without any problems. Or nothing major, anyway. Well... my CD-Rom drive wasn't working - it refused to open, and if I managed with the help of a knife to get it open, it wouldn't accept a CD. But that's OK, I don't use them much. Oh, and my keyboard was obviously not doing well: every time I switched the computer on in the morning I got a horrible beeping noise until I unplugged the keyboard and then plugged it in again. But I got used to it.

Also the monitor was large and ugly and not brilliant. And I was using Windows 98SE which is reasonably stable (as Windows products go) and I'd had it for four years, so why change? Microsoft don't support it any longer but I had virus protection (Avast!) and a firewall (router and the free version of Zone Alarm) and anti-spyware programs (Ad-Aware and Spybot) and I use Firefox as my browser...and I'm fairly streetwise as far as the Internet Highway goes. So all in all I reckoned I was reasonably secure. Last year I even made backups of all my documents and the financial data on the boys'computer, and deleted all my temporary files, and de-fragmented - on the last day of each month. So efficient.... they even burned a backup CD for me last June.

Somehow I haven't got around to it so much lately. It all seems like such a hassle. I copy my digital photos on the Ofoto site so they're safe enough there, and there's not much else that really matters....

For my birthday, as a total surprise, Richard bought me a flat screen monitor. We had talked about it a couple of years ago when they were still very expensive. I'd quite forgotten about it, in fact. So it was a great gift. He installed it for me with ease.... well, almost with ease. He hadn't realised it was impossible to use my Cd-Rom drive, so had to do something clever via the boys'computer over the network. But anyway, it worked, and looks so much better on my desk. It's clearer too, and I can see more of most web pages than I could before.

I had some birthday money too, and he suggested I should really get a new CD-Rom drive, maybe one that will write CDs so I can do my own backups. Good idea, I said, and what about a keyboard too? Mine was old and evidently wasn't going to last long, and they're not particularly expensive. So he went out to our friendly local computer shop, and bought these on my behalf. I tried out three different keyboards before deciding on a neat-looking black-and-silver one.

So everything was fine. Tim found some good software for writing CDs; Richard installed it and showed me how to use it, so I made a CD of all my digital photos - 500 megabytes of them in all. And everything was fine. I decided I would make a backup of everything at the end of the month (to be tidy....)

On Saturday I was using 'Hello' to send the photos to my blog which are just below this entry. When it prompts me to find the photos, it asks if I want to use Windows Explorer or Picasa2. I've always used Explorer, since I hadn't managed to get Picasa to instal. I downloaded it a few weeks ago and tried to, but every time it simply locked up my computer so nothing would work, and I had to restart it with the button on the front.

But this time I decided I really wanted to try it - it sounded like an excellent product that would help me find my photos much more easily. So I tried installing it again, and once again my computer locked up. Richard came into the study as I was looking at information about it, and I asked him if my computer had all the requirements needed - I have no clue about RAM and Hertz and so on. He said it should be OK, but he wondered if I had a good enough version of Quicktime. I didn't know, but we found one and installed it. Then tried again to instal Picasa, and once again the computer locked up.

But then, when I tried to restart the computer, it wouldn't. At least, it appeared to and it let me log in, but all that appeared on screen was my background. No taskbar, no icons. The mouse pointer moved, but I couldn't even do a right-button click to bring up a 'properties'dialogue. So I restarted it again, and the same thing happened. Richard tried to restart it into 'Safe mode', and even that didn't work. Uh-oh....

After much discussion - all four of us - the boys said the first thing to do was to rescue my documents. The only way to do that, apparently, was to use a Linux bootable CD to read my hard drive and copy everything via the network onto their computer. So Tim spent three hours downloading a system called Ubuntu which he thought would be good. Sure enough, it booted up (what a good thing I had a working CD-Rom drive by then!!) although I didn't like the background of the screen: it was an unpleasant shade of brown which looked as if someone had sneezed all over it. But looks don't matter in these circumstances... and I was relieved and pleased to learn that I could indeed copy my files to the boys'computer.

Unfortunately, I could only copy some of them before the CD locked up. Apparently it didn't have enough RAM to deal with such a complex operating system. So Daniel proposed something simpler and plainer, which only took about 15 minutes to download. This produced something that looks a bit like FTP and enabled me to copy everything - documents, photos, downloaded programs, settings, email... over to their computer. Whew!

We did talk about me having Linux, but that doesn't work with my email software (Pegasus). Although I could perhaps have tried something else such as Thunderbird, Linux also doesn't work with the Hello program (or Picasa, for that matter). I would have been quite happy to simply reinstal Win98 again, but Richard said that was silly because I would simply hit more and more problems in future as it's not going to be compatible with new software. So he suggested I have Windows 2000, which apparently is much more secure than Windows ME.

So Sunday after church he formatted my hard drive and installed Win2000 for me. Then we installed all the various programs I was using beforehand, and we copied back all my documents (although not the ones which were backups of the boys'computer) and Daniel even managed to rescue my previous Firefox browser settings and passwords. By about 8pm it was all more-or-less working and I could catch up on the email I'd been missing. We even managed to instal Picasa which seems to be am amazing program, although I haven't yet done much experimenting with it.

The only remaining problem is the scanner. It took ages to find a driver that would work, and although my computer now recognises it, scanning produces a horrible red glow over everything. It's possible that the scanner is the one thing that was compatible with Win98 but not with Win2000. Ah well, I haven't used it much since we had the digital camera.

I am very, very thankful to be part of such a tecnically-aware family who were able to rescue all my files and settings and help me get it all working again. I guess there were more important things on my computer than I had realised... it wasn't until I thought I might have lost them all that I got worried about it. The moral, of course, is to do frequent regular backups of EVERYTHING.

This morning I thought I might do a backup onto CD, only to realise that the one thing we haven't reinstalled is the CD-writing software. So maybe I'll wait till the end of the month. After all, everything's still backed up onto the boys'computer at present....

1 comment:

jj said...

Whoa, those computer gremlins sure don't like you lately!