certain low-level gadget lust
Friday, January 9 2004
It was a sunny day, but hardly a good one for romping around outside, since temperatures hovered at around five degrees Fahrenheit all day long. My truck made a few whimpering sounds when I turned the ignition, but then it somehow mustered the necessary strength to spring to life.
On the way to Woodstock, I saw a hitchhiking woman with an enormous backpack in front of the Hurley Ridge Market, so I picked her up. She stunk of patchouli and used a lot of hippie lingo I haven't heard since Oberlin College. Good things were "kind" and she said "right on" as if she was suddenly distracted by a concern about whether or not she'd left her stove on. She said her car had refused to start this morning and that had necessitated the hitchhiking adventure in the brutal cold. But unlike most hitchhikers I pick up, she didn't seem terribly concerned about the prospect of getting her next ride when I dropped her off.
I made a computer repair housecall at the home of one of my many Woodstock regulars this afternoon. Mostly what I did was transfer data from an existing desktop computer to a brand-new laptop. (The new laptop was still in its packaging when I arrived.) Like many of my customers, this particular client seemed to have only a vague notion of what monthly services she needed to use her computer, and she needed fewer than she thought. I figured out how to set up her free Road Runner roaming dialup service (which, I was surprised to learn, seems to be as geographically complete as AOL or Earthlink) and arranged an easy way for her to connect using this system from, say, a hotel room. This made it possible for her to abandon her stupid MSN service, which she was using exclusively for roaming internet access. The other thing that I did was export some ancient PalmPilot data from an older Sony Vaio computer. When I was done doing that, she asked me for ideas about what to do with the Vaio, since she no longer had any use for it and it was, she said, "very slow." I helpfully came up with the idea of accepting it as a barter for an hour and half of the work I'd just done. It was a good deal for her, since now she didn't have to concern herself with it anymore.
It was also a good deal for me, since it was pretty damn capable laptop. It was a PCG-Z505JE featuring a 500 MHz Pentium III, an 8 Gig hard drive, 64 Megs of RAM, Firewire, Ethernet, USB, and a 1024 by 768 pixel screen, all within a tiny form factor only slightly larger than the paperback edition of How Buildings Learn. Ever since Michæl Pousti, the CEO of the ill-fated CollegeClub.com (and my then-neighbor in the seating chart), flamboyantly took delivery of a tiny Vaio in late 1998, I've cultivated a certain low-level gadget lust for the things. Now I have one of my own, a luxury I could have never normally justified. The only downside of a computer this small is that it has no removable mechanical drives such as a CD-ROM. But how often do you really use a CD-ROM in a laptop? In a pinch you can use some other computer's CD-ROM across a network.
Once I got home, I immediately went about the business of setting up my new Vaio to be the way I wanted it. The first order of business was to rip off all the big ugly marketing sticker stuck to the places where your wrists rest when you're typing on the keyboard. I can't imagine having a computer for four years (that's my guess of how long the client had it) without ever peeling off the stickers that list the computer's specifications.
The Vaio had been running Windows 98, which (as is typical of that flawed operating system) runs with decreasing speed and stability over time. Four years is a long time for an original Windows 98 installation, and I knew that the Vaio would be a powerful machine with a fresh operating system. I didn't really know what operating system to put on it, so for the time being I have it running an experimental installation of Windows XP. It works, but it strains the meager memory supply. Fear not; more memory is on the way. If I was a person who cared about the karmic balance in the universe, of course, I'd install something like Debian Linux, or at least some sort of dual-booting Linux/Windows setup. I'm thinking, though, that I'll mostly be using the Vaio as an on-site Windows machine in future housecalls.
This afternoon Gretchen brought home another cat from the Ulster County animal shelter (where she does weekly feline-related volunteer work). The cat's name is Max (but we call him Maxwell). He's a long haired cat like the erstwhile Noah, but with black in the places where Noah was grey. He's a young cat, only about eight months old, but his unusally anti-social (autistic) behavior made him an impossible to adopt. So we have him for the weekend as a trial to see if he can adapt to our household. So far he's spent nearly all of his time cowering behind the toilet in the upstairs bathroom.
In other news, this evening Gretchen nearly sliced off a part of the tip of her left index finger while chopping garlic. The cut was a wicked one that sliced diagonally tipward into the side of the finger, bogging down about a third of the way into the nail, probably where the blade hit bone. The cut bled profusely, as you probably have already surmised. Once the bleeding stopped, I thought the cut actually looked like a worse injury than the one I got when the tip of my thumb was cleaved by the spinning blade of an electric handsaw. We treated Gretchen's injury almost exactly the way I treated my thumb back then - first stopping the bleeding and then bandaging it with an antibacterial salve. This technique seems to work fairly well; you can't even see the injury in my thumb anymore, although I can feel the scar tissue in there when I massage the tip with the opposing forefinger.
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