Monday, November 15, 2010

New Computer Blues

There was nothing wrong with my client’s computer. If she only wanted it for writing and book keeping, she would have been fine. But it was a 5 year old computer with only 514 meg of RAM, and a small hard drive. And she wanted to do email and browse the web. Her computer could do that without problems. So why did she call me?

Her computer had been updating antivirus definitions for days. And while it downloaded and installed these updates, the speed crawled. It took about 25 minutes for her web browser to load up on her screen. Her email took over 15 minutes to download, and it was just a few messages from friends – no graphics or fancy text.

In other words, thanks to the hackers of the world, her perfectly good computer needed more memory. The memory was busy installing antivirus updates and wasn’t available to do what she has a computer to do. Since the memory was limited, the computer was writing the needed files to disk. And since the hard drive was small, a process that should have taken a few minutes was taking days.

I called her computer’s manufacturer. They would sell us 2 gigabytes of RAM for her computer for $120. The salesrep admitted this was expensive, but he said it’s hard to get RAM for older computers. He offered to try to get us free shipping. I asked the price of a new computer. He said we could get a new computer with 2 gigabytes of RAM and a larger hard drive for $300. Her monitor was fine, so she didn’t need to buy another.

I know that 5 years is a typical lifetime for a hard drive. My client was going to need a new hard drive soon. That would cost her another $80. It didn’t make sense to me to have her pay $200 for parts to fix up a 5-year-old computer when she could buy a new, faster machine for $300. I would get my $60 labor fee either way, and she’s have a better computer.

We decided to get the new computer. The sales representative said we could get a cable to transfer the data from her old computer to the new one for an additional $24. That sounded reasonable. He said it could even copy her old email to the new computer. My client is not a fan of copying files to her flashdrive and then re-copying them to another computer. I charge extra if I have to do that. So, she bought the cable. That was where our troubles started.

The new computer arrived. I set it up and it worked beautifully. During set-up, it asked how we wanted to use the easy transfer program. I chose cable, since we had the cable. I tried to install the software on the disk that came with the cable on the old computer. The first thing I had to do was hook the monitor to the old computer, which meant crawling under the desk, which wasn’t easy because my client’s chair can’t be pushed back because her study floor is covered with piles of books and papers. Then I discovered that her computer could not read the program disk.

Not to worry. The new computer (monitor hooked up to it again) offered to write the easy transfer program to the flash drive. My client was worried that I’d have to erase her important files from the flash drive to make room, but the program fit just fine. Then I crawled under the desk again and rehooked the monitor to the old computer. I installed the software on the flash drive on the old computer. I told the old computer I was going to use a cable to transfer the data. The software said it was ready. It said to hook up the cable to both computers. I did so, Both computer popped up with messages that they detected new hardware. An easy transfer cable. The easy transfer software said it was searching for the cable. We waited. We waited. We waited. Then the easy transfer software said it could not find a serial cable. Well, of course not. We bought a USB cable. New computers don’t have serial ports. What was Microsoft thinking when they wrote Windows 7? Why would Window 7 software, which is written for a computer that has no serial port, be programmed to look for a serial cable?

I called the computer vendor. They wanted us to pay to talk to their 3rd party tech support department. To support a new product that came with a bad disk? That didn’t make sense. I asked if we could have a return merchandise authorization and if they would pay the return postage. They agreed to both, and sent an email with a postage paid label we printed out and stuck to the envelope that the cable and CD had come in.

One of the other options was transfer over a network. I told my client I’d bring the router and patch cables from my house and use them at her house the next day to transfer her data. “What’s data?” I’ll transfer your documents, spread sheets and emails from your old computer to your new computer tomorrow – with some tools I’ll bring from home.”

I set up her email account, installed a couple of browsers and the entire Open Office suite from At least I left her with a working computer. I even enlarged the typeface to 150% to make it easier for her to read, and downloaded the Windows 7 driver for her printer and installed that.

The next day I arrived with my router and 1 cable. I biked home, got the other cable, biked back again. I hooked everything up. I tried to run the easy transfer software that was already installed. But it was still looking for that serial cable. I crawled under the desk, rehooked the monitor to the old computer, reinstalled the software on the flash drive, got a secret code number so that the program would now work over the home network I had installed, rehooked the monitor to the new computer – it was still looking for that serial cable. I restarted the software several times and finally it agreed to look at the network. It asked for the secret code number. It found 4.1 gigabytes of files that it wanted to transfer. I didn’t trust it, so I stayed there during the entire transfer.

It did transfer all the documents and spread sheets. But none of the email. I hand transferred the contact list. I ran the easy transfer again, and specifically showed it which files I wanted – they are hiding under identities within a folder that has a weird long name of letters and numbers. Inbox.eml and its friends. The program agreed that I had found them. It let me checkmark them. We ran easy transfer again. The files I wanted did not transfer. I could easily copy them to the flash drive, but that would mean crawling under that desk again and I wasn’t up for it.

I’d already done my 40 minutes of Egoscue exercises, my 90 minute yoga class, and biked there twice and back once. I told my client I’d be back. I biked home.

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