Thursday, June 26, 2008

Technology Overload

We have a saying in our family: The one who dies with the most toys wins. Until recently, I didn’t even think I was a competitor; now, I’m sure I’m going to win.

It started with the new external hard drive, which I had to have because it spoke two languages: Mac and PC. Then, there was the ergonomic keyboard for the PC, since my fingers seem incapable of negotiating a standard laptop keyboard. And, of course, I had to have a universal wireless mouse of my own, despite the fact that there were mice in every drawer of every desk in two states.

The entire time I was in Florida, every time I made or received a phone call on my cell phone, I had to go outside to talk because my phone didn’t seem to like the house, especially the kitchen. My earpiece wouldn’t work at all, so I wore out my left ear smashing the phone up against it. Leslie finally took pity on me and gave me her old cell phone, but then she had to take me to the Sprint store to switch my phone number and contact list. I was happy as a clam, but what did I know? Apparently, a truly modern cell phone user is half naked without a Bluetooth permanently attached to his or her ear. Need I say more?

By now, three quarters of the world knows the saga of my new laptop. Really, it seemed perfect until I realized how incomplete I felt not being able to send e-mail or access the Internet while sitting in bed, which is about five feet away from my desk. “Why do you need wireless when you live in a closet?” Terry asked. My condo may be small, but it is not a closet. Besides, no one really needs wireless. It’s like diamonds. People have been known to live all their lives without diamonds. But the question is, are they really happy?

Such reasoning immediately sent me to Best Buy to inquire about a wireless modem. The inquiry led to the purchase, which led to the attempted installation, which led to the frustration, which led a totally unintelligible conversation with someone in India. I don’t know what he said, but it doesn’t matter because I am connected and can access the Internet from every room. What more could I possibly want, except maybe to figure out why I still can’t send and e-mail from any room?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And the winner is ... Mac, of course

After a two-and-a-half-week struggle with a borrowed PC, I did what I should have done at the outset: I bought a Mac laptop. It looked like an impulse purchase, but it really wasn’t. I had checked out every model at the Apple store in Jacksonville, typed on the key boards, peered at monitors, researched software to determine how much hard drive space I would need, compared prices, and chosen my color scheme. I was ready.

Before I even finished unpacking, I drove to the mall and plunked down my credit card. My teacher’s discount didn't amount to much, but I got a free printer/scanner/copier and an iPod that holds 2,000 songs. What more could a committed Mac lover need, except perhaps software? And that was where the trouble started.

In order to install my software (which I own legally, complete with licenses and serial numbers), I would need to do a “migration,” which involved bringing in my desktop computer and hooking it up to the new laptop. In retrospect, that would have been the best course of action; but I was tired, the desktop Mac was awkward to carry, and the whole process seemed like too much trouble. I wanted a simpler solution. What I got instead were four trips to the Apple store, hours of waiting around while the techs tried various other approaches, and a rapidly deteriorating disposition.

In the end, of course, they prevailed. And, when I say they, I mean an entire team of Mac experts who would not give up until they solved this knotty problem. They were so genuinely happy when they handed me my new, fully functioning MacBook, the whole event felt like a party.

Mac owners are fanatics, I know. We simply don’t understand why anyone would own anything else. From our very first one (mine was the little box model), we are forever hooked. We extol its virtues to anyone who will listen. Can you imagine anyone waxing poetic about his Dell or Gateway? I can’t.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Mac-PC Wars

Going on a trip, when you’re a Mac person who doesn’t own a laptop, is anything but easy. In fact, it is a saga.

I could have bought a Mac laptop, which I desperately craved, but it would have cost roughly $2,000 ($800 more than my desktop) if I wanted any memory at all or even one bell or whistle.

I could have rented a Mac laptop, which seemed like a great idea (it wasn’t mine). My daughter, Leslie, was only too happy to find a Mac rental website for me, the easy part of an otherwise arduous process. After I finally researched and entered all the essential information, I learned that it would cost me $225 a week, times two-and-a-half weeks for this option.

I could have brought my external hard drive and plugged it into Leslie’s laptop. That was supposed to work, but it turned out this particular model of LaCie hard drive wasn’t compatible with a PC. Then, in a fit of rebellion, it even refused to recognize my Mac. So, off I went to my computer guru in a panic. Mike performed his usual magic, making the hard drive compatible with anything I might connect it to; but, somewhere between his office and mine, the LaCie committed suicide.

I could have run out and bought a new one or figured out if it were really dead or just pretending. Back to my guru, who diagnosed the problem and informed me it wasn’t dead (just sick) and all I needed was a new case (long explanation). He bought the case, reinstalled and reconfigured the drive, and made sure it worked. I transferred all my files to the shiny new box. Problem solved.

Then, of course, there was the matter of the teeny-weeny keyboard on a laptop, which I can’t negotiate because of arthritis. To buy or borrow an ergonomic keyboard that works with a PC? That was the question. (My ergonomic keyboard is only Mac compatible. What a surprise.) Leslie offered to buy one, but my friend Bobette insisted that I borrow hers. Another question resolved, though it did take up a lot of room in the suitcase.

A very small issue popped up regarding a PC-compatible mouse. It didn’t occur to me to ask if anyone had an extra one; I just went out and bought a little wireless number. Then, it turned out everyone had one.

When I arrived at Leslie’s, it took five seconds to determine that her laptop didn’t have enough USB ports to handle the keyboard, external hard drive, and wireless mouse. And I had forgotten to pack my little USB extensions, never thinking I would need them. My son in law, Allen, came to the rescue and offered his computer, which is relatively new and replete with USB ports. The only problem was a lack of electrical outlets and surge protector. A little desk moving solved the first part; I went out and bought a surge protector to handle the second.

At last, I was set to go. I felt relieved; everyone else seemed a little frazzled by what it took to make all this happen. Leslie and Allen when off on their long-awaited anniversary trip, and I prepared to work. I had already figured out how to access e-mail, voice mail, and the Web. I had all my passwords with me (farsighted person that I am) but, unfortunately could not open my e-mail address book. A frantic call to Terry (my other daughter) sent her scurrying to my office to send me the addresses. It took a while. Terry is a PC gal and had some difficulty finding her way around my Mac.

When I think about all this ridiculous effort and confusion, I can only conclude that serving the customer has never been a priority for either Microsoft or Apple. If it had been, they wouldn’t have made communication so frustrating and difficult!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Taking a Time Out

We interrupt this writer’s life to accept the mother-of-the-year award for flying to Florida to dog sit, while my daughter and son in law celebrate their anniversary cruising around Europe. You must understand that this is not your ordinary dog who could spend a week in a pet hotel or have the neighbor’s kids drop by to feed him and walk him twice a day,. This is my daughter’s child and, thus, my grandchild.

So, here I am, rambling around a huge house (any house would be huge compared to my 900-square-foot closet of a condo), swimming laps in a gorgeous pool (with fountain), and lounging on the custom-built patio amid a paradise of tropical plants, butterfly gardens, and soothing chimes.

In between all that swimming and lounging, my duties consist of making sure Milo (the love of our lives) has food, water, treats, ample petting, and scheduled walks around the big circle (complete with plastic bags – a new experience for me).

Milo is a cross between a sheltie and a corgi – fluffy, low to the ground, and lovable. He has soulful eyes and a constantly wagging tale. Milo does not bark, but he does make his desires apparent through a series of facial expressions (no kidding), body postures, and unmistakable displays of excitement – all of which I struggle to interpret.

Since I have not yet mastered the art of just “hanging out” and must work, I brought enough electronics with me to set up my own Radio Shack. This took some creativity on my part, because I am a Mac person and most of the rest of the world is not. Configuring my external hard drive; a borrowed two-foot-long, ergonomic keyboard; and my son in law’s PC is a story in itself. If anyone ever tells you Windows is just like OS X (Mac talk for operating system), don’t believe it.

In any event, I am prepared for any eventuality. I can get into my website-based e-mail; I can charge my cell phone; I can retrieve messages from my office voice mail. What can’t I do? One little thing: retrieve my e-mail address book! This is a serious oversight, but I have a contingency plan. It depends only on the good will of my other daughter, who is still in St. Louis, though nowhere near my office nor Mac proficient. (She used to be, and I will never understand why she went over to the dark side!)

I’ve only been here four days, trying desperately to relax. So far, I have reorganized my daughter’s closet, done two loads of laundry, swum laps, finished a book and gotten half way through a second, and worked for umpteen hours on a client project. It would seem that taking a “vacation” is harder than I thought it would be. But I have another week to figure out how it’s done.