Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Bumpy Road Often Traveled

We live in the western suburbs of Illinois, but I often come here to this beautiful place at the top of a hill in Minnesota to write. It’s pretty much a 4.5- to 5 hour journey, no matter how you cut it, including one pit stop, which I blame on Kornflake, my big red dog, but it’s really me who has to go. We pop onto the expressway two miles from our house and don’t get off until we’re two miles from this one. Easy. Perfect.

Here we rent a small, Sear’s kit (read really old with green shag carpet—NO LIE!), two-story place because we love it, we can afford it (well, mostly), it’s near our granddaughters and the atmosphere oozes peace and inspiration. (I’m here by myself this trip, so not even Big George can interrupt me.) Time spent here is therefore valuable on a number of levels, not the least of which is that I currently have a book deadline (which is why George isn’t here) blowing its dragon breath down my throat and this hiding place keeps the rest of the world at bay while I keep my head down, fingers to the keyboard.

Until this morning.

Last night I went online to check my email, which I only do a couple times a day here in MN because the only access available to me in this unincorporated area is dialup. Seriously. (Did you even know it still existed?) Hear fingers clacking on keyboard, hear annoying, squealing phone sounds (please!), hear fingers stop typing, see eyes rolling, hear sighing . . . hear ME YELLING!

My ultra-reliable (going on three years), sexy little three-pound Sony VAIO laptop seized up, not a first when forced to use dialup these days, and not just with this computer. The culprit often has to do with Windows trying to download one of it’s planet-sized “updates” through a connection as big as a pea shooter. Make that a grain of rice shooter.

“Calm down, Charlene,” I actually say out loud. “It’s happened before and it will be fine tomorrow.” (Famous first words.) I powered off (unnaturally) and went to bed, which it was time to do anyway.

But this morning when I turned it on, all wasn’t well. My Little Sony that could, couldn’t. It pitched an unending hissy fit (I realize this isn't official I.T. language, but in my office, I am i.t. it) as complicated as a major-league chess move, which is why I don’t play chess. So I turned it off and booted back up and this time it pitched a whole different set of hissy fits, and so on and so on and Scooby dooby $^&#@ . HEAR ME WAIL!

Where do you turn when you’re on the road and your electronics -- your very lifeline to your business world -- wig out? (Seriously, please COMMENT to this post!) How do you know who to trust? “I’M UNDER DEADLINE,” I yell to the task bar that won’t load.


My last experience with this type of “adventure” was not a happy one. I was driving on a long road-trip between speaking engagements, my old giant (eight pounds) laptop in tow. I had exactly one evening to spend in town and a major need to communicate something to my publisher. Since the problem surfaced at my back-roads motel for the night -- DIALUP! -- I knew nobody in the area to give me a referral.

No help at the front desk. Yellow pages. Prayer. The $150 “fix” lasted two days; it cost me more money when I got home to fix the bad fix—which was never really fixed, which became my last-straw determiner to stop lugging an eight-pound laptop around. (Perhaps I should have THANKED the mess up!) No, I sure don’t want to go through that again this time, but due to deadline, I can’t afford to take my wordsmithing baby on a ten-hour, round-trip drive plus who knows how long in the shop.

Yellow Pages. Prayer. A phone call to a couple people I know who live in this area. $63.75. Fixed. Of course I haven’t even passed the six-hour "fixed" timeline yet, let alone the two-day one, but my new good friend Brent at Kennedy Business Systems gave me more confidence from the beginning than the last guy. And Brent told me to come back if I had any more troubles. The other guy just said, bye-bye when he handed me my power cord.

So, rather than working on my book, here I am writing about my nonlaughing traveling adventures when this is supposed to be a humor blog. Plus, I pray my book editor isn’t reading this. I recently read an article that said things posted on the internet last a lifetime and. . . .

[intermission while I write a quick email]

“Dear Mary,
Things at The Farm are going SWELL! I’m fast at work on the manuscript, which is practically writing itself. People here in Winona are kind and smart and stories are bountiful.

So, no worries. I look to be right on target to meet my deadline, which I of course take very seriously.

I hope things are going well with you, too. And FYI, it’s possible I might not read your reply for a few days. DEADLINE, ya know. Gotta keep my head down.”

Your dedicated author, Charlene
Prayer: free. Typing with crossed fingers: quite a trick. Having published six novels and honed the fine art of storytelling: PRICELESS!


Anonymous said...

I have a similar place I go once a year for 2 weeks, without cell coverage just dialup, at best. And, I've suffered meltdowns while away and out of touch from civilization - it will always happen at the worst time without being said.

I think you touched on it best, bring a backup laptop, one that doesn't connect to anything but has your word processing software, since its your livihood, and a flash drive to transfer files back and forth (assuming USB ports on both).

Or floppies, if both machine have them since you probably could "boot" into Safe Mode or DOS and copy your critical file over without too much techinical effort.

And a do Start>Control Panel>Automatic Updates> and select "Notify me but don't automatically download or install them" to avoid your other issue. I had the same problem last week on an "air card" but even on broadband, it will slow you to a crawl, again at the worst possible time.

Finally, if you have cell coverage, you might have "air card" coverage from Sprint or Verizon, epescially being just 2 miles off the interstate - if I read correctly. I've experimeted with my first this week and its pretty amazing.

Regards, Joshua

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone, and for making your stellar suggestions! I'm going to check into the air card (although I suspect that might be a no-go since even my cell reception is sketchy), and I've turned off the Windows auto updates. THANKS! So obvious, and yet . . . .

As an author, losing my WIP would be devastating, so I am a diligent backer upper. I wear one, if not two, of my five USB drives at all times (literally, on a lanyard or snap) and don't leave here without it (them). PLUS, I use to keep things stored "out there." But it's always good to remind folks (me included)about backup since sometimes the obvious isn't.

Appreciate the feedback!

Anonymous said...

Joshua makes good points. I throw a USB stick in my laptop bag - great for transferring a file to another PC with a printer. And often carry one in my pocket with key files I might need to send someone.

I've used a Sprint 'aircard' for several years. Very convenient although I use it less and less with more availablity of broadband.

I use Verizon for my cell/PDA so this 'split' allows me to have at least one service more often.

I use the aircard in lieu of WiFi because it is much easier to use especially if I have to pull-over in the car for a quick but longer note than I would do with my PDA.

Jim - Baltimore

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Thanks for the testimony on the Sprint "aircard." I appreciate your feedback!