anghara (anghara) wrote,

July blogathon #4: Keeping the wetware up with the hardware and the software...

So, we upgraded one of our computers.

This particular beast was RELATIVELY contemporary, it ran Windows XP and although we couldn't quite be certain of the precise year of its arrival into our household it WAS new back then and it is definitely of Pacific Northwest vintage which makes it anything up to seven years old. So it isn't an ANTIQUE, not really, even though it did miss out on the Vista era. But it was starting to get buggy, it was crashing more like it was running WIndows 98 than XP (several times a day, sometimes) and it could get slower than molasses in January. It was probably time. It was PAST time.

But OY VEY. Changing computers. JUST when you get used to working with one version of things - and there you go, having to get re-used to something else again, often just SUBTLY different, different enough for you to automatically go and click on the place where "send" used to be and discover too late that you've just hit "delete" instead and that an hour's work has vanished into the ether.

Which got me remembering.

My first ever CLO (Computer Like Object) was a spiffy little Amstrad I actually won in a competition sometime back in the eighties (yes, VIrginia. I did not own a computer before then. Amazing, that. I lived and functioned in a COMPUTERLESS HOUSEHOLD...) I kind of liked it. Kind of liked it a lot. It was the computer I learned a very important fact on - that I could, in fact, write directly onto a keyboard, onto a screen. I had done all my writing longhand before then and I wondered if I would be able to make the transition, if my brain could function in this paradigm - but I needn't have worried, I took to it like a duck to the proverbial water - it gave me the speed that I had never believed possible, because I could very quickly type far faster than I could have ever written things out in cursive and it gave me the heady sense of THINKING my writing onto the screen, taking the middleman tools of pen and paper entirely out of the equation.

However, I quickly "outgrew" the Amstrad, and when I came to upgrade to a better - a REAL - computer, I discovered that everything about my beloved little computer workhorse was pretty much proprietary and simply did not play well with others. There was very little I could do to transfer any of my data from the Amstrad format into anything that my new computer would read. And so I started from scratch, with a DOS machine which had a bulky CRT monitor which took up half my desk and which had the white-writing-on-black-screen kind of mode (nothing remotely like WYSIWYG, thank you very much...) and used dual floppy drives (and I mean FLOPPY. I mean the old 5 1/4 inch soft bendy vinyl ones) I wrote up a storm on that thing... and then we moved from South Africa to New Zealand.

My new computer boasted Windows 3X, it had a 40-megabyte (yes you read that right) hard drive, and the monitor eventually morphed into a colour one, with all the resultant changes that went with it. This particular machine was originally attached to a dot-matrix printer - a loud and clacky thing that deafened one while in operation to the point that you had to leave the room and let it get done before you could co-exist with it in any sort of peaceable fashion. I migrated to what I thought was a marvel of technology - a much quieter but eminently smearable ink-jet - and I remember with a sense of preternatural clarity the day I bought my first laser printer, large, unwieldy, and expensive but oh BOY what a difference it made.

This was the computer that gave me the most drama. It was very constrained in terms of space and memory, and I remember the time I attempted to install a Zip Drive on it, so I could use that for data and free up space on the hard drive for actual functional software (such as I had at the time, which wasn't huge - by that stage I had that version of Microsoft Word and although it took up enough room it wasn't nearly the bloated kraken it became in later years...) The computer archly informed me that I had "insufficient memory" to add the peripheral drive. Talk about adding insult to injury... In another attempt to grab back some breathing room someone installed a piece of software called Stacker onto the computer - its function was to compress the data, literally halve its storage footprint, so that more stuff could be crammed into the same space - predictably, this fell over with a crash (a literal computer crash, a semi catastrophe) which necessitated major surgery while the computer was kept on life support and could not be switched off for any reason until intervention was complete because if it was it would take EVERYTHING with it.

I then acquired a laptop, which came to the USA with me - and once in America I upgraded to another desktop model, running WIndows 98, which presented me with the blue screen of death more times than I care to recall and usually made me lose stuff in the process. So THAT computer went by the wayside, and I got given another as a present by somebody else, running a more stable Windows 2000. I do believe that I survived on that for quite some time, until I upgraded here in Washington to WIndows 2003 and then to XP which is what's currently running on THIS computer, as well as the other one, rdeck's, which was the one just upgraded. Mine is probably due for an overhaul sooner rather than later but oh boy I hate hate hate these transitions.

You ALWAYS lose something, more often than not something you love and are comfortable with, because "it is no longer supported" and because the new operating systems are written so as to exclude older software (so that you are forced to buy new upgrades if you want to keep your stuff) The casualty this time is rdeck's Pagemaker software, because it won't function with the WIndows 7 environment on the new computer. There are files in Pagemarker which pertain to stuff we've done for my books - bookmarks, readers' guides, that sort of thing. Pretty much blown away, I'm afraid. Nothing we can do about that. I don't actually think they even make Pagemaker as Pagemaker any more and I wonder if whatever has risen to fill its place will be able to read these older files anyway. When I made one of my transitions I lost that Zip Drive, which had a couple of MSS saved in that format which I will never see again. WHen it comes time for me to upgrade the current beast that I am working on, I am pretty certain I'll probably have to buy a whole new version of Agent - because the version I'm running now as a Usenet and email reader is some four or six generations of "improvements" behind, and although I love it just fine as it is and don't LIKE the newer versions I downloaded this one from the web lo these many years ago and I don't have a disk I can re-load it off of even if id DID deign to function with WIndows 7. I have lots of saved emails in there in a sort of filing system - what's going to happen to those if I have to go look elsewhere? I will both miss some of the more sentimental relics (I've still got messages of congratulations on the occasion of my wedding, from ten YEARS ago - my tenth anniversary is coming up in less than a week - or early fanmail), so sue me, to professional milestones like the first few emails I exchanged with my agent and email exchanges between myself and a bunch of editors - not to speak of the multitude of contacts saved in this address book which I have no clue how to export. The wetware is coming up squarely against the problem of software and hardware again - it's me against the computer, all the way.

Computers. Can't live without them, can't shoot 'em...

Anyway. There's my little journey down cybermemory lane. Yes, I'm a parvenu compared to some of you folks out there who've been intimately involved with all this stuff for what amounts to millenia if you count it in Computer Years. Go strolling back yourself and reminisce or complain, if the mood takes you.

I'm going up to see - OOOOH! SHINY! - the new computer set up on rdeck's desk. And seethe myself in the ambivalence of raw envy and the kind of "there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I" kind of pity as I watch him curse and struggle and fiddle and whine until he gets to grips with the thing.

Soon enough, I'll be there myself.

I might go coo at my older emails later. Just because they're still here, still mine, still familiar and accessible... and one day, if the damned software and hardware get into a strong enough alliance against the wetware entity currently typing this blog post, they may be the price I have to pay for being obliged to learn once again to swim the strange murky waters of cyberspace, deeper than comfortable and infested with monsters...
Tags: july blogathon
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