Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why is it that . . .

When you turn on the television in a hotel room, the volume is pre-set loudly enough to wake up everyone on your floor? Sincerely, I want to know, why?

A number of possibilities come to mind.

--Hoteliers assume that only seasoned travelers (read hearing impaired from the constant ROAR of jet engines) are frequenting their establishment. Since it will take said travelers such a long time to locate the volume toggle to turn it up (can't they make those remotes uniform?!), why not give them a head start.

--The person who dictates pre-sets is hearing impaired.

--We're all being taped by cameras hidden within the remotes (delightful nose hair shots), and our "bad words" will be used as the background for a violent new rap video.

--It's really an orchestrated technique to help us sharpen the "state" of our reflex abilities. (How fast can we find the correct button?) You know, a little involuntary testy-poo to keep our reactionary muscles in tip-top shape for those last-minute gate changes.

Why is it that:

So many of us leave our cell phone chargers (cords, cradles etc.) in hotel rooms? Have you ever seen the dozens of them in the lost and found? Or called and tried to describe YOUR black cord among their dozens of other black cords? It's mind boggling! (Hint: we should put a name tag on those things!)

A number of speculations come to mind as to why we are so forgetful:

--As a whole, we road warriors are ADHD, which is why we cannot remain in one place for too long, nor remember to unplug our stuff from the sockets.

--"Charge phone" is on our daily travel check lists. We never added "pack charger."

--We don't have an "appropriate," visible and usual place for our cords, one that's emptiness would indicate we are missing one. (Ah, there is always a need for just one more travel bag, the one that gets everything right!)

--We are always in too big a hurry to consider how much more time efficient and, in the end, cost efficient, it would be to pack the cord when we unplug the phone, rather than having to spring for a new one. (This is so DUH! that I can hardly stand it!) Throughout all my years of travel, I've only recovered one lost cord. For the most part, hotels either seem to toss them ("No, we didn't find a cord in that room."), or cannot detect yours amongst their maze.

Why is it that:

We know so much about the disgusting, germ-laden ooky state of the remote controls in hotel rooms (so much so that some of us have taken to using the shower caps to cover them--come ON!), but we don't give a second thought to pushing the buttons on the remote controls in our homes--while using the same hand to eat popcorn. I mean, you KNOW what goes on in your own home. Things related to:

--your nose

--your mouth (this includes what's excavated from between your teeth)

--your children

--your negligent hygiene habits when nobody's looking

Why is it that:

I am now running for a can of Lysol, and that I shall never ever again touch a remote control anywhere without first shower capping it?

Why is it that:

I think about stuff like this? Do you?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vista to XP-Pro Downgrade Dance--OY!

Once again, I am glad I’m not flying home from this five-week long business trip. Reason Number One, and enough reason in and of itself? I’m traveling with two laptops.

I have my new laptop, shipped to me on location during this trip. Why? Obviously, you didn’t read my last post. Although I am disheartened, I shall now give you the chance to correct your oversight by clicking here. But I still also have my old laptop, my dead one. Why do I still have it? Why do you have YOURS? Truthfully, if I kicked you in the gut, tell me why you still have your cashed-in laptop, and I’ll tell you why I still have the two that died before the dead one I’m traveling with. Not only that, but if you missed my post about this vintage “portable computer” I found in my closet, the picture alone is worth a look-see.

But I digress. (No surprises there.) Let us get back to why I’m so happy I’m not flying home. Can you even imagine the confusion at an airport check-point should I arrive with two computers? Do you think they’d buy into the premise that one of them is for my imaginary—and thus invisible—friend, who, while they are busy haranguing me, is stealthy passing through their crack security with three four-ounce bottles?

However, since I do not wish to write to you from jail, I shall refrain from walking into that trap by happily getting into my little SUV and driving five hours.

As promised in my last post (read it yet?), I shall herewith present my “technical report” as to how I survived (mostly) transitioning a brand new machine loaded with Windows Vista (NOOOOOOOOOO!) to Windows XP Pro. I used the “downgrade” disk supplied by Sony that came packed with the new machine. A downgrade. How hard could that be?

Let me count the ways.

Way Number One, and enough reason in and of itself: Fallout. Or, perhaps it could best be described as fallin, as in, I fell in to a four-day process, exacerbated by the fact that I was staying in a remote area (book deadline) with DIAL-UP.

I’ll give you a moment here to recover from the exhaustion you likely encountered by screaming, “WHAT KIND OF A NUT CASE TRIES THAT?!”

The "easy part" of the Vista-to-XP downgrade, albeit the most nerve wracking: inserting downgradable disk one of two and doing what it said, which was basically to “click here.” Well, before the “click here” part, there were those licensing tomes, likely some blather about making sure you know what you’re doing, and a release waiver claiming it isn't their fault if your heart stops during this maneuver, since you are basically wiping your hard drive completely out before the new operating system installs. Hopefully. PLEASE, GOD!

In hindsight, I now know that perhaps the hardest part was pushing that button. That, dear traveler, takes guts.

I also vaguely recall some fail-safe instruction that said you could always go back to Vista. You had to write some IMPORTANT piece of information down, though, which I think I did. I was so stressed about the click part, I was hyperventilating and therefore not thinking clearly. Truth is, I am a “somewhat savvy” Computer Person, which I realize makes me extremely dangerous. People who are utterly clueless about computers know better than to try stuff like this without a backup team of experts surrounding them. And then, they’re smart enough to hand the computer to them.

I cannot explain to you how fretful I was, watching whatever you call that little thingie that lets you know how far into the process the machine is. (Told you I was dangerous.) The disks should have come with a warning: THIS WILL TAKE A VERY LONG TIME. I’m guessing it was more than an hour for the first disk, maybe closer to two. Why I started this near my bed time, I have no idea--other than BOOK DEADLINES. But no way was I leaving my new traveling mate’s side while it was frying its own brain and growing a new one. PLEASE, GOD! Waiting for the machine to reboot—seeing that it actually had something in its head—was torturous. I was so happy to hear that "delightful" Windows sound, to see the familiar XP graphics, and to watch it come to rest with a desktop full of happy icons and colors.

That, as it turned out, was the easy part. Of course my new machine recommended I go straight to the Microsoft update website (it tried to take itself there—HA!) and update everything. On DIAL-UP?

Oh, my STARS! I have a DUMB machine now!

I went to bed to try to sleep this nightmare off. When I awakened, first things first: I needed to get to a high-speed connection. However, I couldn’t use a public zone ; I wasn’t about to start downloading eons of updates via “unsecure networks,” especially with anti-virus protection not yet in place. Sure, there was a trial 60-day super-duper Norton everything available in the machine, but I didn’t want to unpack all of that into a computer brain dumb enough to try to update Microsoft on dial-up. So I uninstalled it. (Take that!) I already owned a multi-machine license for Norton Internet Security . Still, I needed to get online to download it.

(Let me take a moment here to say how happy I am that I was, as always, traveling with a reliable--HEAR THAT, EQUIPMENT?--HP iPAQ. I sync it with MS Office, so all that account info was with me, even though I was on the road. Something to think about, should you be self employed.)

Luckily, I had a friend in the area whose house was Wi-Fied. But first things first: hold breath, turn on laptop, turn on Wi-Fi and see what happens. YIPPEE! DUMB machine was smart enough to look for networks! My friend gave me her password and I connected right up! With that, I started my endless hours (days, as it turned out—more later) of downloads and updates.

After a brief e-mail exchange on a writers’ loop, I learned most everyone who had MS Office 2008 hated it as much as Vista. I was (still am) in the midst of two book deadlines. I didn't have time for a learning curve that turned out to be a road straight to hatred. So, I uninstalled MS Office 2008 Small Business Edition (another pre-loaded trial version) and popped in my copy of MS Office Small Business Edition 2003 my husband sent from home, then started those updates.

I’m gonna stop now with the “uninstall/install my own stuff" descriptions and cut to the part that made me the most disappointed and insane, and might you, too, should you try this downgrade--at least with a VAIO. It turns out my new machine was designed to work at its optimum performance with Vista. This is a piece of info I did not learn—because they do not tell you—until after the downgrade, and after I started running into things that did not work, at least the way they were supposed to.

For instance, I was unable to independently turn off the blue tooth when running Wi-Fi. (Why waste battery?) A call to CDW’s tech support, where I bought the machine—and their tech support is why I ordered from them, especially while on the road—directed me to a Sony PAGE of downloads, drivers, patches etc. which were created for this Vista-to-XP downgrade purpose. Also on that page (or links from that page) was the first notice I’d seen as to how some things about my machine would not ever work "optimally" with the XP downgrade, even after the downloads, and this included maintaining maximum battery life.

Check out this page, then click on, say, the first item on the list. Take a look at the warnings!

Let me be clear here: I love Sony VAIOs. I am happy with my sexy new little (2.8#) Sony VAIO VGN-TZ290, and the two VAIOs I owned before this one. I am glad I am not running Vista. But I’ve lost a little somethin'-somethin' with my machine by "doing the downgrade"—soon to be a new dance craze near you. (Or perhaps a new Olympic event. It SHOULD be!) The first thing I lost after the first direct-from-Sony download was the ability to get on line using the Wi-Fi! CDW tech support rose to the occasion, and we got it straightened out, but . . . not fun.

Just know that should you decide to try to kill the evil Vista with the XP-Pro downgrade, at least on a machine like this, you might have a price to pay in terms of time and makin’ things happen. I have managed to get everything working on the machine that I need to work, and I have managed to get myself back to work, too. There is no going back. But had I known what I was getting into, I might have made a different choice in machine. Maybe. If I could have still found one with XP-Pro already loaded on it.

Then again, I was on the road with a dead machine. I was desperate. So I went with the tried and true: Sony VAIO and CDW. We do what we must and we live with our choices. LONG LIVE MINE!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Death On The Road

I recently endured the terrible death rattle of an intimate friend, a near ever-present sojourner on the highways, byways and skyways I travel. At first, I didn’t realize how serious his affliction was. Looking back, of course I should have seen it coming. There were signs. But when one is often on the road, one has the propensity to turn a blind eye to brewing trouble. After all, what could I—what can any of us--really do about such a terrible circumstance when we're on the road, our bevy of trusted advocates and helpmates left behind?

When I witnessed his first signs of distress, I simply assumed he hadn’t weathered our previous late night out very well. You know how it is the “morning after,” when you’re thinking back on one of those expeditions into unfamiliar territory, and you were in a hurry, and were already exhausted from travel, and you overworked yourself, and now . . . your “systems” (as in all systems that make things “go”) don’t. So, at first I was patient with his predicament. “Just give him time,” I said to myself. "He'll recover. Then we'll get back to go-go-going." But after several more hours of rest, and many attempts to snap him back to normal, he just didn’t. Not only that, his condition worsened.

Even though he didn’t talk about it with me, I could tell he needed immediate professional assistance. I consulted the yellow pages of a local directory and called a vaguely familiar establishment. “You need help,” I said to my friend. “I think I’ve used this outfit before.” He stared blankly at me, not once even blinking. (How/why does he do that?!) Nonetheless, I struck gold with my yellow pages choice. Without even asking my friend to come in for an examination, the yellow pages guy gave me a few suggestions over the phone as to how I might help my friend. I passed them along, and VOILA! Just like that, he was back up and running full steam ahead.

I should have known better.

Later that day, he became sluggish again. Temperamental. The light in his eyes, the one that lets me know he is truly awake, seemed to turn on and off at will. His symptoms grew even worse; at one point he seemed to completely lose his mind! But even though he babbled and stuttered, occasionally, he still acted as if he were back to normal. He’d do so just long enough to make me believe he was. After all, we were on the road! I repeat: who doesn’t want to believe everything will be okay, especially when you are on the road?!

But then, he suffered a complete meltdown. No matter how hard I tried, I could not wake him up. My faithful intimate friend, my good old 3-3/4-year-old Sony VAIO laptop was, for most practical or useful purposes, dead. No matter how many times I removed the battery and popped it in again (yellow pages man), how many efforts he made to crank himself up, or finish booting, he simply would not, could not, stay awake for longer than a few minutes.

I had to face the reality: my machine was doomed, and, therefore, so was I. I was on the road, feverishly working toward two book deadlines. The only good news in all of this? During those brief episodes when he came to life and pretended everything was okay, like a cannibal with no other food in sight, I stuck a back-up appliance in one of his orifices (USB hub, cd tray . . .) and sucked out his guts.

But even though I had fed my need for “my stuff,” now what? Who was I going to call to help enable me to make use of it again? I WAS my I.T. guy! I WAS my purchasing department. I WAS . . . officially hysterical! Without my old friend, I couldn’t even go online to shop for his replacement!

Think. Think. While you’re on the road, Charlene, do you really want to go to a big-box store and buy any old machine ? One already loaded with . . . Vista?


Think. Think. AHA! I used my cell phone to call CDW. They’re located not too far from my home base, and I know they ship all over the place. I’ve purchased through them before, as have a few of my friends. Their tech support is always available and top notch. Although I didn’t buy my last machine through them (I happened upon a really good deal via another local source), I explained what I had (VGN-T150P), what I liked about it, and asked what the next generation of that same machine might be. I also explained that I absolutely for positively did not want to run Vista. (Everybody I know hates it. What kind of doofus ignores the advice of everybody?!)

Turns out they only had four machines left that fit all my “gotta be light--under 3 pounds--and teensy enough to fit in my handbag” criteria, “really want another Sony VAIO,” and for which I could bypass the dreaded V. Well, the four machines in question sort of met this criteria: they were teensy VAIOs loaded with Vista Business--that came with “degradable to XP Pro” software. (Sounds easy, right?) I had them e-mail me a quote.

As if launched into a jealous rage by the mere threat of being replaced, my old death-rattling friend booted up (all the way, this time) and stayed booted just long enough for me to jump on line and compare CDW's price, then he expired again. It’s as if he were surrendering his last gasps, to me. (Who knew a computer could drench you in guilt?)

Turns out CDW’s price for my new machine was very competitive. The description contained words such as "masterpiece" and "luxurious," and "more than strong enough to take the rough and tumble of life on the road." AND, they were offering a $9.99 shipping special for regular DHL ground. Two-day UPS? Twenty-something bucks. I decided I needed some time to emotionally pull myself together anyway, so I went with the $9.99 DHL ground—which arrived in two business days anyway.

Imagine my trepidation as I opened that box. Sight unseen, I had acquired a new and intimate traveling mate, one who would hopefully be with me for at least the next 3-3/4 years. Thankfully, he was everything I dreamed he’d be, and more. He adores me so much that while I’m staring into his brightly lit face, he can even capture my picture and save it in the depths of his whirling hard drive. He can record my words, play my music, store my stuff, connect me to the Internet, and I even adore his shiny looks and kick-butt keyboard!

A week after his arrival, I have, for the most part, completed all the necessary transitions to aim him toward my way of thinking. We are getting to know each other quite well. But let me also say this: advertising that a machine comes loaded with Vista Business, degradable to XP-PRO sounds easier (perhaps less time consuming, would be most accurate) than it turns out to be. It happens there were (sadly) things about my new friend that were built to work best with V and not XP. (Ah, nice if Sony would indicate that before you buy a machine that comes with the “downgrade,” ey?) In many ways, it was kinda like thinking you can change someone after you marry him or her. However, we usually anticipate that “imaginary process” will produce an upgrade, not a downgrade.

Whether machine or human, go figure how dumb we can be!

Next week, I will give you a “technical report” (wink-wink) as to how this Regular Person--a highly creative writerly type, who also has to serve as her own tech support, even though she is not--survived (mostly) such a whopping transition. For now, together my new friend and I must sign off our blog and dive into storytelling waters, where we will, linking fingertips to key pads, swiftly paddle toward the shores of deadlines.

I take that back. Let me rephrase: together, my new friend and I must sign off our blog and journey into the completely dry lands of storytelling. No water for my new friend, lest he short out his brand new brains and take me down with him.

Before we go, I would like to send a special shout out to Joe Brancatelli (if you're not a subscriber and you often travel, click through and take his free tour), who, after he heard my saga, said, “There is nothing worse than a new machine.” Thank you, Joe, for truly feeling my pain. Just don’t let my new friend get wind of our sentiment, though. I’d hate for him to become moody and depressed. After all, we’re on the road together, and I’m depending on him.