Changing computers is like moving house, a comparison that should hardly be surprising given the huge part of our lives that we spend with the machine. On its hard drive is so much of the furniture of our being, not least the humongous photo albums, that, freed from silver nitrate film and printed paper by the digital age, have multiplied easily 50 times over in quantity. Then there’s the music library, and the loads of clippings and research on myriad subjects collected over years.
Hardware-wise, what I had was a spaghettied collection of components put together at more or less the same time some years ago; they’ve been aging in step with each other since.
The omens were there at the end of 2009 when the speakers (well, just the one on the left) died; through procrastination, I didn’t replace them immediately, relying instead on my headphones.
Then starting January, more crucial parts acted up. The modem flounced about, the DVD drive made guttural noises and occasionally spat its disk out, and finally, the screen turned dark. They had to be fixed, and I did, replacing each part in turn.
I began to wonder how long more the CPU would last. As with houses and cars, when the need for repairs accelerates, there will be a point when it is better to get a new one altogether. But the thought of having to migrate years of stuff was just too daunting. Staying in denial was so much easier.
Then unexpectedly and to my great annoyance, it was the netbook’s turn to fail, when it had not yet reached its first birthday. Moreover, I had used it only sparingly, mostly on my travels, so I had every right to be furious. However, by the same token, it was also a blessing because it meant that I had very little data on it, not losing anything that was important. But the suddenness of its suicide had meant that what little there was on it could not be retrieved in time.
There was no point sending it for repair even though there was a warranty on it. I just didn’t have faith that it wouldn’t come back from the shop with other problems. Replacing it would set me back by about S$700, which was not too huge a sum, and so that’s what I did.
It made me worry again about the big machine, but at the same time, you tell yourself, heck, I’ve just spent $700, let’s hope for a bit longer and not buy a new desktop now.
Then last week, I noticed the desktop performing slower than ever before. Sometimes an application would hang when it never did previously. Quickly, I did the usual: a defrag, a check disk, and a full computer scan (which I’ve always done weekly – I think I do anti-viral scans more consistently than I use condoms), but when after 24 hours, the anti-viral scan was still not complete, I knew the writing was on the wall. It was all quite mysterious though, because check disk did not report any bad sectors.
Help me out here: What could have gone wrong? The only possibility I’ve come up with is that the processor has partly conked out.
* * * * *
Buying a new computer was a bit of a howler. I felt so old. Well, not as old as my sister who went to Mustafa to buy a video-tape player, I believe, in an attempt to convert once and for all her taped stuff to digital. She chose Mustafa in the realisation that video tape recorders are old tech. Which would be the last corner of Singapore to sell old tech? she asked herself.
Not seeing any on the shelves, she approached a sales clerk.
“Do you have video tape players?”
The young man looked at her blankly. Apparently he had never heard of such contraptions dating from the age of steam.
Fortunately, an older salesperson walked by and enquired the reason for the confounded looks. He was very kind, telling my sister as gently as possible that not only are these things not made anymore, it’s rather embarrassing to be asking for them.
And as for the younger sales clerk, “A whole generation has grown up not knowing about such things,” remarked my sister in wonderment.
This week, it was my turn. All I wanted was a CPU. My largish screen (which I liked) was still new, as was the modem; other components were working fine. Why do I need to purchase an entire set? I grew up with computers that needed plugging this into that and I’m okay with it; tangling and untangling doesn’t faze me. But not only was I (quietly) laughed at when asking for “just”a CPU, even desktop sets were visibly fewer in the stores. In both stores I walked into, laptops outnumbered desktops 5 to 1. There weren’t a lot of models of the latter to choose from, I noted, somewhat alarmed. Were they being phased out too?
“Why don’t you get a laptop? They’re very competitive now,” the sales clerk said.
“No, I find myself hunching over them; they’re just not ergonomic. And anyway, I like my wide monitor.”
Thinking the width of the monitor would determine my purchase, she showed me a new fangled desktop model that came with a gargantuan one. Momentarily, I was tempted (I can hear you all say “size queen”) but when I couldn’t see the CPU box and she had to explain it was built into the back of the screen, I knew it was not for me.
There was no way I could use my existing monitor with it; no port to connect. In any case, I don’t like these integrated things; when one part fails, the whole has to be junked.
“Please show me something with an old-fashioned configuration – do you know what I mean by old-fashioned?”
I couldn’t believe I used the term twice to refer to my preference. No, no, this won’t do. Old-fashioned is so not supposed to be me.
* * * * *
So I’ve got a new desktop now, with its CPU hooked up to other existing parts. The new, smaller, monitor is linked to the old CPU, which is running in parallel as I write. Why? I’ll come to it in a moment.
Buying the new computer was the easy part. Like buying a new house, it’s the moving that is crazy.
Let me share three of the headaches I’ve been through; perhaps it may give some of you readers pause:
One: My external hard drive, which was supposed to do automatic back-ups, had apparently not worked for a few months. I didn’t realise it until I looked at its contents. I just assumed it worked in the background, not looking at it for months on end. Aghast, I had to rush out to get another hard drive to mirror the old computer (which, amazingly, copied over quite fast)… and then I decided I wouldn’t put all the junk into the new. So I’m going to run both computers in parallel for a while and slowly decide what stuff to migrate over and what stuff to leave frozen in the hard drive.
It’s really like moving house: some stuff you want to take the opportunity to junk. But the sorting and deciding is a lot of work.
Two: Some applications are machine-specific, a result of online registration. I could not install them on my new computer without uninstalling them from the old, but in at least one case, there was no way to uninstall it!
Does that mean I have to purchase this software anew? This is a costly one.
Three: By chance, and only by chance, I discovered that my anti-virus subscription on the old computer was on automatic renewal, chargeable to my credit card. If I hadn’t discovered that and not gone online to cancel automatic renewal, I would be billed annually for a subscription on a computer I would soon be junking. No more automatic renewal; the new computer’s going to get manual.
But there’s something about new computers that’s like moving into a new house. In return for the backbreaking work, when you’ve finally settled in, you feel refreshed with a new lease of life. Somehow there’s the justifiable confidence that at least for the next few years, the roof is not going to leak, the toilet’s going to flush, and for once you know where things are stored, because you’ve gone through the pain of reorganising the drawers.