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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

That hormonal bath

Last week I heard a gifted teacher talk about what success feels like -- to a schoolchild, or to anyone. She pointed out that there's this bath of pleasant hormones that we enjoy when we learn how to make sense of something, or to make it work.

I really needed an endorphin shower at that point. The recent loss of my home computer had knocked me for a loop, and it's taken a couple of weeks to recover. I had some great assistance in buying a new computer, but setting the darn thing up the way I had the old one has been a challenge.

To start off with, the new one came loaded with the much-criticized Windows Vista operating system, which takes some getting used to. For what I do on the computer, it isn't any better or worse than Windows XP, the version I'd been on for many years. But it's different, and the changes take some getting used to. Most noticeably, it's much more uptight about security than ever. Tasks that XP performed routinely won't even get started on Vista until you've sworn that you're really you and yes, you realy want to do what you've commanded.

Then comes hooking up the many gadgets that hang from my computer these days. Oh, they physically plug in fine (with the help of a USB hub), but most of them need drivers, and the ones that they came with don't work with Vista. And so off we have gone, hither and yon throughout the WWW, trying to find and install updated drivers. It's been time-consuming, to say the least.

Next comes the software. Rooting around for the installation disks for all the programs on which we rely, then praying that they'll work in Vista. Amazingly, they all do. But of course, there are going to be a few "gotcha" moments. Like when we tried to install WordPerfect 12 off its original CD, and it haugtily demanded, "Give us your serial number." Serial number? Where is that? Maybe on the box, or the user manual.

The box that we no longer have. The user manual that we can no longer find. Hmmm, looks like the b*stards at Corel get another hundred bucks or two out me. I downloaded a free trial version, but it will run out 30 days after it was received.

There was lots of freeware to install, too -- nothing out of pocket there, but time, plenty of time.

Then there's anti-virus protection. In the past, I've used Norton by Symantec, but on every computer I've ever installed that stuff on, it eventually wound up becoming so intrusive and slowing things down so badly that the computer ran poorly. I wasn't going to make that mistake again, and so this time I decided to try AVG. So far, so good, but getting it to recognize the many programs on the computer, and teaching it what should be left alone, was a bit of a chore.

Two big challenges remained on my checklist the longest. One was getting my neat-o Sound Blaster/Creative Media audio stuff installed and set up. This toy lets me record anything, analog or digital, onto the computer, and edit it in all sorts of ways. Comes in quite handy for bringing those old vinyl record albums into the new millennium, among other things. But hey, a new computer doesn't just up and recognize it -- there's an installation process, and of course, it had to be reworked for Vista. That took a long time, but after all sorts of trial and error, we got it back and running better than ever.

The last task didn't get resolved until the wee small hours of this morning. Our Palm PDA, a trusty old m515 model, wouldn't sync up with our new computer at all. There's a little cradle that the handheld organizer sits in to charge, and it's connected to the computer via a USB cord. There's a program that sits on the computer, and it holds all the same data that the PDA does. Every once in a while, you push a "hot sync" button on the cradle, and the PDA and the computer update each other with your latest additions and subtractions.

I couldn't get the cradle and the new computer onto the same page to save my life. I downloaded new drivers for Vista from the Palm website -- that was obvious enough -- and I was careful to make sure I had the program on the computer configured to be expecting to hear from the cradle via a USB port. But every time I hit the "hot sync" button, the computer would tell me that the PDA was trying to communicate with it on the port "COM1," "COM1" wasn't available right now, and they'd let me know when it was.

This frustrating turn of events led me to various web postings, several of which instructed me to find "COM1" in the Windows Device Manager, and see what Windows said about it. Well, as it turns out, the new computer doesn't even have a port called "COM1," and so it seemed like my PDA syncing days were over.

This was a real shame, because what if I lost the PDA? All the data on it would be gone forever -- address book, date book, list of all sorts of important information -- yuck.

Having given up on the prospect of getting the sync mechanism back up to speed, I remembered that I had another Palm lying around in a box somewhere. I had bought this on eBay after an earlier drama had convinced me (wrongly, as it turned out) that my original PDA was about to die, and I never got much use out of the spare. Now, these gadgets have a nifty infrared beam thingie built into them, and I figured that maybe I could at least beam everything from my working one to the idle one as a means of backing up.

Alas, that wouldn't quite work. Not everything will beam. Date book entries have to be shared in pieces, not all at once, and the thought of beaming the entries one at a time (or even one category at a time) was ridiculous.

But I did have that second PDA sitting out for a while as I pondered fate, and one evening I noticed for the first time a little pocket in its carrying case that contained a little card to slip into the top of the handheld. And what was it? Lo and behold, a backup chip! You just slide this into the Palm, the Palm recognizes it, and next thing you know you can back up the full contents of the Palm onto the little removable chip. Extremely slick. Our backup problems were solved. Another little hormonal bath.

Still, the inability to sync with the computer was an annoyance. Sometimes it's much easier to work on the main computer, and download stuff to the PDA, rather than peck away with the PDA stylus. And sometimes there are large-ish memos on the PDA that I might want to cut and paste into another program -- blogging software, for example. Without the sync option, those interactions are impossible.

Last night, obsessively now, I went back to the internet tech support posts and continued reading about ways to solve this problem. Bypass Windows, go into the computer's most basic setup functions, and screw around with the port settings. Are you kidding? Not this cowboy. Reset the handheld -- erasing all the data -- and try with a clean slate. Even with my new little backup card, that did not sound appealing.

I was thinking that maybe I could find a contraption that would copy the contents of the little backup card onto the computer. Or maybe something that would allow me to beam data from the handheld to the computer without wires.

Finally, after reading dozens of possible solutions, some of them official from Palm but most written by other frustrated users, I came across a post that advised checking the Windows Device Manager, not for the communication port, but rather for the Palm itself. This post also pointed out something I already knew in the back of my mind: that the computer doesn't recognize the handheld and its cradle except when the sync operation is in progress. Until you hear that little "ga-dink" sound that tells you a new device is operating, Windows doesn't see the handheld or cradle at all. And that sound isn't heard until you start syncing -- when the sync is done, the other, "ga-dunk" sound comes on, Windows telling you that the device is gone. (BTW, those sounds are changed ever so slightly in Vista.)

Now, in our case, the computer was clearly hearing that the handheld was trying to talk to it -- it just didn't know what it was trying to say. And hey, I had tried everything else a dozen times, so what the heck? First I had to re-connect the cradle physically to the USB port; after giving up, I had pulled that plug. Then I hit the "hot sync" button on the cradle and clicked onto the Windows Device Manager on the computer. Sure enough, there under "Portable Devices" was the Palm. And when I right-clicked around a little, Vista told me something like, "The driver for this device has not been installed."

Huh? I had downloaded all the latest Palm drivers, long before this. Hadn't they gotten installed? Anyway, Vista asked me if I wanted it to look for and install the driver. I said sure, but I soon could see that it was not looking anywhere it would find it. And so I told it where to look -- in the "C:Palm" folder.

In a few seconds, Windows said that the driver was now installed! But was it the correct driver? I wondered. Was it a Vista driver or an old XP driver, which probably wouldn't work?

There was only one way to find out: hit the "hot sync" button on the cradle again, and see what would happen.

Mirabile dictu -- it was syncing. And fast, too. Compared to the old computer, this new one is a rocket ship.

Finally, there came the ultimate test -- had it synced properly? I knew I had my backup chip, and that would come in handy if, as I feared, the sync went in the wrong direction and erased everything.

But guess what. It worked perfectly.

And that, dear reader, produced a very long and luxurious hormonal bath. I am sure there are many tech adventures in my future, but with fingers crossed, I am now pronouncing the setup of the new computer complete.

Comments (17)

As you've noticed, there are few things that can beat setting up a new system when it comes to keeping your brain engaged. Congratulations on getting it done.

You may want to consider imaging the new system - it's an inexpensive means of avoiding such headaches in the future. My setup automatically backs up all system content to an external drive, just in case.

As well: the exact version of WordPerfect that you use has escaped me for the moment, but before ponying up hard money for a new copy, I'd suggest contacting Corel to see if their support staff can't locate a working serial number for your disks. I've not dealt with Corel, but I had the same issue a couple of years ago and was able to obtain a working Serial from the company.

That's another reason why I decided to image my system periodically; hassles avoidable are hassles no more.

Free advice; worth the price!

Re WP serial #:

1. Pester WP
2. OpenOffice.org


PS: Open Office is the first step towards freedom from Gates. Also need Thunderbird and Firefox

Congrats, Jack! You're doing yourself a big favor by learning to get around Vista instead of clinging to XP ;)

Forgot to add, I wouldn't purchase WordPerfect again if I were you. If they can't or won't help you locate a working serial, I'd look into either OpenOffice or purchasing an Academic Version of Microsoft Office.

When I picked up my new Vista machine a year ago, I went with Open Office and have never looked back. It's fantastic.

Unfortunately I don't think Open Office is compatible with WP and The Professor's profession long ago standardized on it, hence the need. I'm sure he'll clarify once he gets back from smoozing with/hitting on Laurel Porter.


And people still ask me why I use a Mac...

A complicated method of solving your problem ...
(1) Install your old harddrive as a slave harddrive.
(2) Open up Regedit.
(3) Load the hives from your old computer (located in windows\system32\config
(4) Find your product key. Many are located in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\

And people still ask me why I use a Mac...

Because you enjoy paying a lot of extra money to Apple since they are the only source for most of the programs/externals that work on the MAC. By the way my mother-in-law just bought a new MAC. She needed to upgrade the operating system almost immediately, half of her old programs didn't work right, and the new computer keeps freezing up on her. Don't let these MAC fanatics keep giving you the BS about how superior MACS are cause they're not.

Greg C

Greg, you're just wrong about this. But it's ok.

I've been looking for something to agree with Grec C about! Geez, both Allan and Greg on in the same week. Who's next? Tensk?

Switching from XP to Vista: Pain the neck.

Upgrading Mac OS: Royal pain in the a** (but probably only if you have the array of programs either Bojack or Greg C. has).

"Ga-dink" and "ga-dunk": Priceless!

"I've been looking for something to agree with Grec C about! Geez, both Allan and Greg on in the same week. Who's next? Tensk?"

No, just me.

My career - my studio - is currently based on a dual 2 Gig G-5 Mac, a little old at four years or so. I recently was horrified to find out the problems I was encountering were due to physical damage to my primary drive, most likely due to contact of the read/write head with the medium. That means directories for my operating system, applications, files, etc. were corrupt. I'll spare you the details, but after much initial fear and in trepidation, I began the scary task of trying to back up and salvage what I could, re-install on a new larger primary drive, and everything else.

I was out TWO days and am now stronger, faster, better than ever. Nothing lost.

I have at last count four computers that I use, and more waiting to be re-purposed in some way. Mac and PCs. At least 4 Terrabytes of external real estate. I cut my teeth on Macs. I am self-taught because Macs made it easy through their operating system based on logical expectations of the user. PCs were initially very linear and klugey, Macs more spatial. Over time the boundaries have blurred. But they are just tools. Comments suggesting the superiority of one platform over the other usually just reflect the depth of the user. I'd be surprised if these folks go much beyond the word-processing stage, which is fine if that's what you need. So I gave up trying to show my lovely wife the power and speed of key commands and drag and drop, and she is happy to deal with path names. So what?

I don't run Leopard because many of my primary applications are not yet supported. If you upgrade without doing your homework, don't blame the operating system. Apple makes it very easy to find out what you should or shouldn't do.

Anyway, I've got to get back to work on my system of choice.

OK Greg:

I have to butt in here in defense of Macs. I can say this as a consultant in three languages: Windows XP/Vista, Linux (particularly Ubuntu), and OS X 10.5.2. I have ALL of them installed on my Mac Pro and they all work perfectly. One computer, four operating systems. The cost to do this: 39.95 for VMWare Fusion, which permits the virtualization of the other operating systems. Nothing further. I already owned legal copies of the Windows software and Linux is free.

As to the software costs, it has been my experience that Mac software is, on the whole, far cheaper than Windows software. Moreover, since the Mac is built on a BSD Unix core, there is a HUGE amount of open source and freeware available. Almost all of the regular software I run on the Mac cost me no more than about $20 on average. I have Mac Office 2008 for Educators. That cost me $129 from Amazon. I have Photoshop Elements 6.0, which cost me $69.95 as an upgrade. Development software on a Mac: XCode and the SDK (the functional equivalent of Visual Studio for Windows) is free (nada). It is operating system specific and a version is available for whatever operating system you are running. It comes on the install DVD. There is virtually no software developed for the Mac that has much in the way of development costs other than programmer time. Apple supplies everyone with the essential tools to write any of the software to run natively on Macs (either Intel or PPC).

I did spend $49 on Bento to replace my minimal usage of Microsoft Office Access, which isn't available for the Mac. Bento is trivially easy to use and does most of what the average user needs in a simple database program.

As I look across my program tray, I can't find a single piece of software that cost me more than $129 (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Entourage). The backup program is donationware. My email client is free. My antivirus is free, although it hasn't found a single virus and its list of virus signatures changes about once every two months. Most are heuristics based on patterns that its authors THINK might present a problem, but they don't.

So, I suspect your point may be confounded with the fact that Apple changed its hardware platform two years ago from Power PC to Intel. This has resulted in some software shifts that would have necessitated additional costs, IF the person wanted programs that ran natively on the Intel platform. But for the most part, that wasn't necessary either if one is willing to accept the slower speed imposed by running under Rosetta.

So, in short, I don't agree with your take on the Mac platform.

anyone who bashes (in terms of price or performance) macs these days is truly out of touch and i can say with a fair degree of certainty they haven't actually used a mac.

on the COM issue jack you need to change the hotsync program to look at the usb ports - by default usb syncing is not turned on. right-click on the red and blue hotsync icon in the lower right corner.

There is not a computer out there that can't reduce your life to a human rights violation.

Does anyone in their right mind think Jack would have had to write the whole last 2/3 of his post if he had a Mac?
OSX is so superior to Windows and so much smoother in operation that I get more work done on my 4-year-old iBook with a 12" screen than I do on my fancypants Windows box with dual monitors.

*The* truest opinion (in Oregon) to consult on computer hardware, software, operation ... you ain't got enough goods for a consultation -- it doesn't exist:


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