Tag Archives: Computers

Shiny old toy: today, my Mac Pro Tower turns 10 years old, still going strong!

One of the pictures I took after the delivery of my Mac Pro desktop machine 10 years ago today.
One of the pictures I took after the delivery of my Mac Pro desktop machine 10 years ago today.
My very first computer was assembled from a kit (had to solder some part together myself) way back in the early 1980s, and by default came with only a couple hundred bytes of memory (not kilobytes, bytes!). My first actually useful home computer was an Apple ][e clone, made by one of only two companies to ever get a license from Apple to make OEM machines–and it ran a version of DOS, not Mac OS. I wrote a lot of sci fi and fantasy stories, and more than a few college essay assignments, in Apple Writer on that machine. I also, for a time, owned an Atari 600XL (an 8-bit desktop machine) and did some of my writing it a little program called Paperclip.

Then, when I left college, I got hired by a company that made messaging software intended to run on 16-bit MS-DOS machines with Intel Processors, and since I was doing so much work in WordPerfect and could buy what at the time was a very good Packard-Bell desktop at a (somewhat) reasonable price (only the equivalent of three months’ rent instead of six) because of the company discount, I left the Apple ecosystem for some years. Eventually I moved into Windows, when it came out.

One of the realities of working in all those Wintel machines was that every time I had to upgrade to a new machine, it was a bit of a nightmare. It always took at least a year after moving to the new machine before I finally had everything on it working as I liked. Usually it was because there were always programs that simply didn’t work with the new version of Windows and/or the new hardware. So I got used to the pattern of spending at least a year getting the desktop organized to my liking with all the programs working in harmony, about two more years of using the machine with everything being fine, then a year or so of rising frustration as the machine became slower as some programs were updated, and often simply not supporting the new technologies that the equipment or software I was using expected. Then giving in and buying a new machine, where I would trade the frustration of the slowness and incompatibilities for the frustration of finding much of my existing software wouldn’t work on the new machine.

Another frustration that came in was that my mother started using a home computer, but her machines were always hand-me-downs from another relative. And she had the bad habit for years of clicking on any link that was included in any of the chain emails she received from friends and family (not to mention buying discs of very dubious software from racks on stores). So we got into the habit that every time my husband and I went to visit, my husband would come equipped with a bunch of discs of anti-malware and anti-adware programs, and he would spend more than a day trying to remove all the viruses and such from her machine to get it working again.

Then one summer day my husband called me from his place of work, where he spent his time refurbishing old computers, and proposed that we purchase an iMac he was in the process of repairing, and switching Mom over for her birthday. This required me to also purchase a really crappy (it had a broken hinge) old Mac laptop that would run the same version of Mac OS because, as my hubby correctly predicted, for the first couple of months Mom called every week with a question about how to do something relatively simple, and I would have to walk her through it with such instructions as, “Okay, so there is a white bar with rounded corners in the upper right corner of the dialog box? Can you click in there and then we can type…”

For the next couple of years, we purchased newer refurbished iMacs for Mom, and I kept acquiring refurbed Powerbooks and Macbooks that ran the same version of Mac OS. And eventually I started taking the Macbook with me to conventions because I was remembering all the things I liked about my old Apple ][e—and it was more robust than my Windows laptop.

So, I was seriously looking at replacing my Wintel desktop with a Mac… and I got laid off by the company I’d worked at for over 19 years. So I had to wait a bit. After 7 months at a new job (well out of my probationary period), I started plotting the new machine. My past experiences with the Windows machines made me do just a bit of over kill. I intentionally bought a much more powerful Mac Pro than I strictly needed because I didn’t want to change machines again in five years.

Over the next three years (Apple made it really easy and cheap to upgrade the OS each year) I quickly learned that updates weren’t quite the nightmare they had been before. And as more of my day-to-day writing was being done on the laptop (heck, by then I was doing a lot of writing each day on the bus on my iPod — not any iPhone, and the iPad didn’t exist, yet, but Write Room was a great word processor that worked on the iPod and the Mac!). My desktop was still faster with the layout software (InDesign) and drawing software (Illustrator) than the Mac laptops I owned.

One of the pros of the old Mac Pro towers was that you can do a lot of your own upgrading. So I bought faster and larger hard disks, and then upgraded the memory. Then did a major update to the video card, which helped keep the machine humming when I needed to use those resource-hungry programs from Adobe.

As the computer was approaching its fifth birthday I was finally noticing that when I had a whole bunch of programs open it wasn’t as fast as it used to be, but it was still pretty good, so I mentioned to my husband that I would like to see if I could keep the machine viable for another five years. He scoffed… and then bought me a PCI solid state drive card and a solid state drive to go in it to be my new boot disc. Switching to the solid state drive for booting and for all the applications made the machine screaming fast, again.

I wrote this blog post on the 10-year-old computer, yo.
A couple of years ago we finally hit the roadblock where Apple wouldn’t let me install the latest Mac OS any longer. And the Macbook Pro with touchbar that I bought in the fall of 2016 is faster at some tasks than the Mac Pro. I’ve also replaced Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat Pro with less resource intense (And much more affordable) software which works really well on both machines. I haven’t yet gotten a viable InDesign replacement, but I’m also no longer publishing a periodical zine. In any case, at the moment even though I’m a couple of versions behind on the OS with the desktop, the latest and greatest versions of all the applications I regularly use still run on the tower.

I know at some point I’m going to have to retire it. Maybe it will be replaced with a dock that I can plug my laptop into when I want a bigger screen. I don’t know. But for now, please join me in wishing Fabulosity, my Mac Pro tower, a happy tenth birthday!

More likely to replace than upgrade — confessions of a penny-pinching gadget lover

About to unbox the new and retire the old...
About to unbox the new and retire the old…
On Christmas morning 2009, before my husband and I left the hotel near my Mom’s place to celebrate with the family, each of us had picked out one present for the other to open just us. I don’t recall what I got Michael, but he gave me a new shiny Apple Magic Mouse. Apple had just introduced the new wireless mouse with gesture support two months earlier. And I had played with one at the Apple store. But, I was really happy with my two wired Apple Mice that I used with my desktop and my laptop at the time (and I had a tiny purple wireless mouse that I used with the laptop when I wasn’t somewhere that the wired one would work), so despite the fact that I love cool gadgets, and contrary to the popular myth about Apple fanboys, I didn’t think it was worth spending money on a new mouse when the ones I had all worked just fine.

Once I had the Magic Mouse and had been using if for a while with one computer (getting used to the greater number of options the gesture support provided), by the end of the year next year I had purchased another Magic Mouse so that both of my computers had one.

When the Magic Mouse 2 came out almost three years ago, the most significant change was an entirely internal battery. They also updated the bluetooth chip and processor, and managed to make it slightly lighter. Otherwise it was virtually identical, and I didn’t see a reason to update. Part of the reason for that at the time was my Macbook Pro was over 4 years old, and my Mac Pro was over six years old, and it seemed a little silly to get super shiny new mice for older machines.

When I got my shiny new Macbook Pro with Touchbar in late 2016, I considered buying a new mouse along with it, but then I was dropping a lot of money on the laptop, so my inner cheapskate was opposed to additional unnecessary expenses. And, the old Magic Mouse worked just fine with it.

I admit that last year, when they introduced the new iMac Pro which was available in Space Grey which could come with a Space Grey Magic Mouse (among other accessories), my inner gadget lover went “oooooooo! Shiny! Want!” However, Apple was only selling the Space Grey Mouse (and Space Grey Keyboard and Space Grey Magic Touch Pad) with the matching iMac. So despite that fact that I had a cool Space Grey Macbook Pro, I couldn’t get the Space Grey Mouse.

And besides, as the inner cheapskate kept pointing out, the old Magic Mouse worked just fine.

And it did.

Until about a month and a half ago, when it started loosing connection with the Macbook a lot more often, but more annoyingly, instead of taking just a few seconds to reconnect when I moved or clicked it, I would have to fiddle with the mouse for at least a minute before it connected again. Two weeks ago, it got a little worse. The mouse would eventually reconnect, but it would immediately disconnect and I would have to fiddle for another minute before it connected and would remain connected for… a while.

I did notice that it was more likely to do this when the batteries were reporting less than 70%. Now I’ve had this bad habit of ignoring all the warnings from my laptop that the batteries are low. Dismissing the alert again and again for days until the batteries completely die. Then I go swap them out (we keep several sets in chargers all the time, because between the two of us we use the rechargables in a couple of wireless keyboards, at least four wireless mice, one wireless Magic Track Pad, and several small motion-activated LED lights around the house). Funny thing is, that when I get the exact same low battery alert on my Mac Pro Tower, and I almost always stop when I’m doing and go swap the batteries.

Anyway, the upshot is that I know the mouse has in the past worked perfectly fine when the batteries are at 1%. Also, because I’m a weird nerd whose past career titles have included quality assurance and hardware qualification engineer, I did some experiments, and confirmed that even when the batteries are low and the mouse is in another room, it remains connected to the laptop and can control the cursor…

It was getting really annoying by now.

Aren’t they pretty together?
And recently Apple has started selling the Space Grey Magic Mouse 2 as a stand alone accessory… so I could get a new mouse to replace the flaky almost nine-years-old one and it would match my laptop. So I did.

Now, a lot of people who have looked at the mouse (but haven’t used it) complain that the lightning recharge port is on the bottom of the mouse. “So if it dies, I have the wait around for it to charge back up! I can’t use it while it’s plugged in.” Bull. Seriously, it’s a purely B.S. objection because here’s the thing: if you connect it for two minutes, that charges the battery enough for nine hours of use. In And remember what I said about about alerts from the computer that the battery is low? I am being serious when I said that I would ignore it and keep using the mouse for days. So, when you see the alert, make a mental note, and the next time you go to refresh your beverage, or run to the bathroom, or get up to walk around (which my Apple Watch reminds me to do once an hour), plug the mouse in for a few moments and you will be good to go.

I know, my use case doesn’t match everyone elses, but I am quite certain that if Apple had put the port where all the complainers want it, that those some complainers would be bitching about how awkward the device which is designed to be wireless and that you use wirelessly all the time is when the attach a wire to it.

Anyway. I am sad that my first Magic Mouse is flaking out. But I’m also very happy with my shiny new one!

Shiny new toy: my new Macbook Pro

I was trying to take a picture that showed the Touch Bar the first night after my laptop arrived.
I was trying to take a picture that showed the Touch Bar the first night after my laptop arrived.
I replaced my 5 1/2 year old Macbook Pro with the sparkly new Macbook Pro with Touch Bar. I’ve been using it for about a month and a half and thought I’d share my impressions. Note: I’m just a queer sf/f writer (who happens to have worked in the tech industry for more that a quarter of a century); I’m not a professional technology reporter, I’m not making any money from this blog and certainly not any money from Apple. But I own and use a lot of Apple products and have been using computers for over thirty years. So take this review accordingly…

Continue reading Shiny new toy: my new Macbook Pro

Confessions of a technology addict

1386838922151614I was voting in the Locus Awards (annual sci fi/fantasy award poll held by Locus Magazine, which is open to anyone who wants to vote), and was completing the survey portion at the end, when I got to the question, “Do you own a computer? If so, how many?” and I paused for only a moment. See, I personally own three right now: my 7-year-old Mac Pro tower (gigantic thing that was way more powerful than I needed when I bought it because I wanted to be happy with it for years), my Macbook Pro laptop (also known as Hello, Sweetie!), and a 6-year old Windows 7 ultrabook (aka Macbook Air knock-off) for those few old programs I have that I can’t find equivalents of for Mac. Those are my personal computers.

Then there is my iPad Air 2, which I use for several laptop functions, particularly at work, because it is better at them than the clunky old Dell laptops that my employer provided (though we are finally, finally starting to get upgrades this year!). It is clearly a computing device, and a lot more powerful than many computers I’ve owned in the past. And I’m always pointing out that iPhones and high-end smartphones in general are actually pocket computers that obviate a phone, not merely phones themselves…

And then there’s another way to look at it. I’m married, and we’re living in a community property state, so technically my computers also belong to Michael, but more importantly for this survey, his belong to me and… well, I have no clue how many he owns. I mean, he has his older Macbook Air that he carries back and forth to work, and then there is his much nicer Macbook Pro that he uses for more serious portable computing, and then there are, if I just peek at his desk, four PC towers and mini-towers, and I see at least one laptop, and counting how many things are plugged into his giant KVM switch (that allows all of his desk computers to share his monitors, keyboard, and mouse)…. well, if I’m counting those right, there is at least one more computer in that desk somewhere that I can’t see. Plus the Mac Mini in another room that we use as a media server, and I know there are at least two laptops in his pile of “machines I could make usable if someone we know has a complete computer failure and needs something now” pile…

You can see why I have no clue how many computers he owns. So I asked him, “Honey, how many computers do you own?” To which he frowned, looked at me a little bit sheepishly, and said, “I have no idea. Why?”

I decided since he can vote in the Locus Awards himself, that I could just answer 3 for me, and not worry about the rest. Particularly since I could see that a subsequent question asked whether we owned any of the following: smartphone, tablet, iPod, e-book reading device. So I could count some of my other computing devices there.

Thank goodness they didn’t ask how many of those!

I only own the one iPad, myself. But since I have never gotten around to re-selling my old iPhone when I upgraded to the new one, I technically have more than one of those. And then there are iPods other than my phone: one for the car, one that I use as a watch, one that plugs onto my alarm clock and helps wake me up each morning, and I think four spares for the car (because we’ve had more than one stolen from the car over the years). The spares are squirreled away on my desk, so it would take me a bit to find them.

And my husband is worse, because he has more than one iPad he uses regularly (one lives more or less permanently in his bicycle bag. It’s an older one that he salvaged form a junk bin at work where it had a shattered screen and a slightly bent body; he straightened the body, installed a new screen, and may have done some other repairs to it to make it fully functional again).

So I should clarify, for people that don’t know, that one of the reasons we are over-supplied in this technology department is because he works for a computer recycler/refurbisher, and he frequently acquires dead or damaged computers, iPods, et cetera, and cobbles together working devices by scavenging parts out of them. And, truth be told, he did that sort of thing before he started working at this place, he just has a slightly more ready supply of the damaged tech to choose from.

But none of that explains my headphone collection. Because I have a bunch of those. Way more than I could reasonably use. I mean, I can only use one pair at a time, right? Well, it’s just easier to have one pair of wireless headphones that I wear for riding the bus to work, walking home, and so forth, and a wired pair kept with my desktop computer. And a wired pair with a good boom microphone for my laptop… and then there were those gorgeous purple headphones I originally bought for the laptop, but their microphone has degraded a bit, and they’re no longer really good for conference calls to work on my work-from-home days, or skype calls with friends; so I had to get the newer pair mentioned previously, but the sound quality for listening is still awesome, and they’re gorgeous purple, so I can’t throw them out!

And there’s a pair of wired headphones that live in my personal backpack so I have a set of noise cancelling headphones at conventions and such in case I need them. And a backup set of wireless headphones (or four or five, if I’m honest and look in that place on the desk where I keep them) for those moments (which happen with every pair of wireless headphones eventually), when you turn them on and prepare for your commute and you hear that dreaded crackle in one side… or no sound at all from one side. And there’s at least one backup set of headphones in my office bag, in case the wireless ones die while I’m out and about. And another set of wired noise-cancelling headphones that stay at the office so I can deploy them when co-workers (such as certain meetings that happen regularly in the conference room nearest my desk) get too loud and distracting for me to work. And, of course, a backup pair in my “computer things we regularly take to conventions” bag…

See, my headphone addiction is much, much worse than my iPod problem!

And then there are word processing programs! When I counted recently, I had nine or ten on my iPhone, a similar number on my iPad (but they aren’t all the same, because a couple of them are iPad-only, and some that are on the iPhone aren’t on the iPad for one reason or another), and there are way, way, way more on my laptop… Because some of them are better for some kinds of writing than others, and most of them can read each others’ files, anyway, so why not?

And let’s not talk about how many are installed on the desktop computer that aren’t on the laptop, nor why my Windows machine that I almost never use because it’s a backup, really, but it has more than one…

…and there is at least one licensed copy of a word processor that I prefer on my husband’s Macbook Air that I purchased and put on there so I could use his laptop if mine wasn’t available.

At least not all of my addictions are entirely digital. Most of the dictionaries I own are the old-fashioned printed on paper type…


…fast enough?

Just a bit over three years ago I was thinking about when I should update my laptop. I was using a three-year-old white MacBook. It was the low end product back then, but it had been a big improvement over my previous machine. At the time I acquired it, my laptop was a secondary machine, used when we traveled and such, but my desktop computer was still my workhorse.

But over the three years I’d had the MacBook, my writing habits had changed a lot. Most of my writing, and a lot of other computer work, was happening on the laptop. Part of it was simply the convenience of being able to write kicked back in the recliner.

Continue reading …fast enough?

Managing music

Kitten listening to ipod.
I just want to listen to what I want to listen to.
I have just shy of 80 gigabytes of music in my desktop’s iTunes library. I only have 54 gigabytes of music on my laptop’s iTunes library. Managing the two has become just a little bit exasperating, lately.
Continue reading Managing music

Confessions of a packrat

They comfort me… (stockvault.net)
During our recent visit to my Mom’s, one of the new accessories we set up for her was a pair of over-the-ears bluetooth headphones. The headphones required a micro USB cable to recharge, but there wasn’t a cable in the carrying case. So I had to dig around in my computer bag for one, which I did eventually find, but it seemed to be the one and only micro USB adapter cable in the bag.

Which isn’t good, because we have lots of things that use that particular cable to charge. So when we got back I went to a site online where I have previously purchased reasonably priced cables, and I ordered a bunch of one-foot long micro USB cables (they were less than a buck). While I was at it, I tossed a couple of three-foot versions of the cable into my shopping cart (they were more than a buck, but not my much), just to cover all our bases.

I figured I’d put one each of the short cables in my work backpack, my personal laptop backpack, my travel computer bag (which is different), and Michael’s laptop backpack. And then I planned to pull out all of the chargers in my travel computer bag, count up all of the headphones and things we usually take with us on trips that require a micro USB connector, and make sure that I had enough of the adaptors and chargers in the travel bag to charge them all simultaneously.

The online cable source, as these websites often do, offered some suggestions of other items that were similar to the merchandise already in my cart which I might be interested in purchasing. One of which was a long micro USB cable that had flashing LEDs built into the ends. It was being offered as a “hot deal” marked down to less than two bucks.

Now, I know the reality is that the cables were being marked down because no one needs adaptor cables with flashing LEDs on each end, so people were buying cheaper cables without flashing LEDs. So the things had been sitting on shelves unsold for a long time. The company just wanted to get rid of them.

But I looked at the pictures of the cables with the lights on the end, and they looked cool and silly. I just could not stop myself from clicking Add To Cart.

And once I did, the website (recognizing a sucker when it had one), changed the suggested items displayed. And look! There was a ten-foot long lightning adaptor cable! Ten-feet! We actually had a need some time back for an extra long iPad charging cable, and I’d wound up buying a couple of ten-foot models. They worked great, and it was kind of silly and fun to, when I first got them, set one up on a charger on one side of the room and string it out to plug an iPod or iPad into it on the other side of the room.

And you never know when you might need a cable like that, so of course I clicked Add To Cart!

And look! They were now suggesting I might be interested in white iPod adaptor cables marked way down. I have been worrying just a little bit about those cables, because Apple is phasing them out, but we have several older iPods we use for various things around the house that use that adapter. One of those iPods that we still use (it plays wake up music from the far side of the bedroom at me every morning) is a 2nd generation iPod mini from 2005, and it still works great, so I have no intention of tossing it until it dies. And I fully expect the 2010 model iPod Touch that we use in the car to last at least as long as the mini has. I’m going to need those adaptors for some years, yet, and cables that are used frequently do eventually wear out. I just recently threw away one in the car (replacing it with a cable from my computer desk) because I had to jiggle it to get the connection to work. So stashing several away against the day when they’re no longer sold isn’t a bad idea, right?

Add To Cart.

So the box of cables arrived a couple of days later. I’ve distributed the cables to our various computer bags and such as planned. And I’ve used the silly flashing LED cable to recharge a battery case (it doesn’t just flash at both ends; the LEDs change color as they flash!).

But while I was stashing all those things away, I also pulled out some older adaptors and cables for things that we no longer own. I put those obsolete cables and adaptors in with the pile of dead headphones that I had found stashed behind my second monitor when I cleaned out my desk last month. And I carried them (along with some other things that need to go to the recycler) out to the car.

Did I go overboard with the new cables? Probably. Will some of these cables languish around, forever waiting to be used, and ten years from now get sent off to recycle? Most assuredly.

Am I going to be able to prevent myself from ordering extra charging cables the next time I notice a shortage of a particular type? Almost certainly not.

But you know what? I just plugged in the flashing LED cable, again. And it made me grin. I might have even giggled, just a little bit.

So I regret nothing!

I don’t mean to be a jerk, part 1

Dinosaurs roaring at each other.
What big teeth I have.
Several weeks before Christmas, my aunt sent me an oddly worded text message, “Hi. I need your email so I can send you and mike somewhat of an informative form to fill out and send back please.” It had that stilted construction that makes you think of someone who is not a native english speaker using something like google translate to compose a message, almost, right? Like from a phishing attack.

So for a second I wondered if my aunt had gotten malware on her phone or something. I sent back a message asking if she needed both our email addresses or just mine, along with a comment about our weather and asking how hers was. My intent was to make sure that she had meant to send me that message before I did anything else. When she answered she said never mind, she had found the information.
Continue reading I don’t mean to be a jerk, part 1

We can hardly stand the wait

All: “Want a plane that loops the loop!”
Alvin: “I still want a hula hoop!”
All: “We can hardly stand the wait!
“Please, Christmas, don’t be late!”

Everyone likes something shiny and new, at least sometime. Everyone wants things that they like to remain comfortable and familiar. The struggle between these opposing and seemingly contradictory desires can be used to explain just about everything that happens in the world of consumer activity, particularly in the tech industry. Though sometimes it is a bit of a stretch.

When I switched back to Apple nearly four years ago (after my switch from Apple to PC back in the late 80s), I made my plans based on those decades of previous experience in the computer world. I knew, for instance, that I didn’t like doing a major upgrade of my personal desktop more often than every three years. Because in my experience, it usually took me about a year after switching out a machine to both get familiar with the new system, experiment with both new equipment and software, and to get everything the way I liked it. Having made that investment, I wanted to then enjoy the familiarity and predictability for a couple of years before contemplating the next switch.

My husband, on the other hand, starts getting itchy for a new system a bit over a year after getting the old one. He disagreed when I told him this. So, after we’d had this discussion a few times, I started putting labels on machines when we bought them, listing the exact date they were purchased. He would say, “It’s been over two years since we replaced that—” and I would show him the label indicating that it had only been fourteen months. He would frown and genuinely be surprised that it was only that long.

It was my reluctance to change out systems so often which I used to rationalize my decision to buy a Mac Pro tower for my desktop system. My other reasons are that while I don’t like to change the system out very often, I like having the option to upgrade monitors, hard disks, and other peripherals along the way, and the Pro tower is the Apple machine most suited to that task.

It was also fun to buy a machine with two four-core CPUs and all the other high-end options.

The truth is, I didn’t need all that power. Sure, because I have this bad habit of leaving open scores of documents in dozens of programs at the same time as I work on projects, and several of those programs will be resource hogs such as InDesign, PhotoShop and Illustrator (yes, always at the same time!), the extra computing power of the pro-level machine comes in handy.

Also, during the first couple years of the switch, I would more than occasionally have to fire up the virtual windows machine to access something from the clone of my old PC, or to use one of the programs that I hadn’t obtained a Mac-replacement for, yet. The extra power made it easier and faster to run a virtual machine within my Mac environment and move data back and forth between the two.

But, even with the massive memory upgrades, larger and faster hard disks, and improved video card I’ve installed, at not-quite four years old, it’s performance is not significantly better than my nearly new laptop. Its newer 2-physical cores multi-threading i7 processor can actually beat the tower’s 8-cores on some benchmarking tests.

The laptop’s close enough in power and so much more convenient to use anywhere I’m comfy, which means the vast majority of my work is done on it. The tower is used more as a support server than a workstation. I only do things on it when I really need both the big screen and the extra graphics oomph. Even the iPad is used for more serious writing than the tower.

So, on one hand, I have a lot of sympathy for the folks who are irritated that Apple hasn’t released a significant update to the tower in a few years. On the other hand, I seriously think that when I next update my laptop, I may find that it, a docking station, and some well-chosen peripherals will meet all my needs.

Though I do still hold out hope that Apple and others will leverage the bandwidth of the Thunderbolt connection to give us a way add additional CPU and gaphics processing power to any computer. Soon.

That would be even cooler than Alvin the Chipmunk’s hula hoop.

One size fits none, part 2

I’ve been working on computers for an incredibly long time.

My first computer was from before the era of floppy disks. Printers cost about the same as a four-bedroom house at the time, so it wasn’t a tool I used for writing. It was a toy.

My second computer could have a floppy drive added to it, but it loaded programs by plugging cartridges into a slot. Reasonably priced printers had come into existence, then, but they were dot matrix printers that produced very low resolution stuff.

My third computer had a floppy drive built in. At the time I bought it, the first consumer-priced 1 megabyte hard disks were just coming on the market. Yes, I said 1 MEGAbyte. And it wasn’t the first consumer-priced hard disk, it was the first that was that large. Two friends of mine who both worked in electronics stores got into an argument in which one claimed that no one would ever, ever need anything that big, the other claimed that lots of people would. They both thought I was insane for saying that anyone would ever need more.

Computers were still primitive, in other words.

Let me describe the process for spellchecking a document on that third computer:

1. Insert boot disk into floppy drive, turn on computer, wait for it to load the operating system from the disk (about one minute).

2. Remove the boot disk and insert the word processing program disk into the drive. Type some commands, wait for the program to open (another minute or two, depending).

3. Type a document. Pull out the program disk and insert a data disk. Save the document to the data disk.

4. Pull out the data disk. Insert the boot disk. Exit the word processing program. Wait a few seconds for the computer to verify that the boot disk was there.

5. Pull out the boot disk. Insert the spellchecking program disk one. Type a command. Wait for the disk to load the spell checking program (this wait was for about four minutes).

6. When prompted, pull out the spellchecking disk one, insert the data disk. Pick the document from a list displayed. Wait for the program to load the document.

7. When prompted, remove the data disk and re-insert the spellchecking disk one. Press a key. Wait for it to scan the document (this wait was for about two minutes).

8. The program then would begin showing you chunks of text with incorrect words highlighted, and offer you the option to leave it as is, or re-type it. It did not offer suggestions for how to spell it correctly. Press a key to go to the next word.

9. When it reached the end of the document, it would prompt you to remove spellchecking disk number one and reinsert your data disk. It would save the corrected document, then it would inform you that you had successfully spellchecked words beginning with letters from A-M. Would you like to spellcheck the same document for words beginning with letters from N-Z?

10. If you said Yes, it would prompt you to remove the data disk, and insert spellchecking disk two. Wait for it to load the second half of the spelling dictionary (this wait was for about three minutes).

11. When prompted, pull out the spellchecking disk two, insert the data disk, pick the document from the list (That’s right! It didn’t remember which document was already half-checked!). Wait for the program to load the document.

12. When prompted, remove the data disk and (this is the tricky bit!!!) re-insert spellchecking disk ONE. Not disk two, disk one. Watch it load something from disk one.

13. When prompted, remove spellchecking disk one and re-insert spellchecking disk TWO.

14. Repeat step 8.

15. Repeat step 9.

Now your document is mostly spell checked. I say mostly because, let’s say during the second half of the alphabet sweep it found the work “spplication.” And let’s say you realized that it was supposed to be “application” and you went in to correct the spelling, but you accidentally deleted both the s and the p, so what you typed in to replace “spplication” is “aplication.”

The half of the spellchecker that was running at that time doesn’t know how to spell any words beginning with a… or b, c, d, et cetera, through m, right?

It wouldn’t tell you that you had replaced one typo with another in that case. It was a rare case, but it could happen.

So for a small document of say a couple thousand words, spellchecking was a complicated procedure that took about 40 minutes, all told. And that was if you didn’t screw up and insert the wrong disk at any of the dozen-plus times that you had to insert and remove a disk. Depending on when you did that, sometimes it meant starting all over again.

A second floppy disk drive made that process considerably easier, as there was less swapping out of disks. Unfortunately, a second floppy drive cost almost as much as the original computer had, so I didn’t get around to buying a second drive for at least a year after getting the computer.

In order to use that computer, you had to understand a lot more about operating systems, computer logic, and the hardware than the typical user of modern computers. You had to be comfortable typing commands like EXEC APWTR2 to start a program. Or to format text by pressing the ESC key followed by another key in order to turn on Italics, then moving to the end of the word, press ESC and a different key to turn it off. And programs had no What-you-see-is-what-you-get mode. You had to just take it on faith that: “I read ♦IThe Hobbit♦N in fourth grade.” would print out as: I read The Hobbit in fourth grade.”

Very few people would put up with that. I well remember the strange looks I would get from people when I was trying to explain the process of just getting the program going and writing a simple paper. They would look at their familiar typewriter and tell me the computer seemed like a whole lot of fuss to do a very simple thing.

And that’s exactly how I find myself feeling sometimes when talking to people about some of their modern gadget and computer choices. “Yeah, I had to root the device and sideload some patches to get it to work.” Or “This open-source program does everything your page layout program does… except use real fonts, or allow you to actually layout text and pictures on the page without hacking some of the configuration files, inserting a lot of extra codes, and experimenting for about a half hour per page. It almost looks the same, see?”

I understand that they’re perfectly happy working that way. I understand that it meets their needs. I understand that they think their own time isn’t worth anything. I understand that producing something that looks like utter crap doesn’t bother them.

Those things are their choices to make, and I wouldn’t dream of forcing them to do otherwise.

Now, if they would only allow me to do the same. Because my time is very valuable, and I’d rather spend it producing something I love than trying to make a poorly designed and under-powered tool do it half-assed.