love, pets, photography, technology, writing

the death of mini-me, or, how not to be computer blue

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When we emerged steaming from the void,
It was easy to stay warm.
Now we huddle in swarthy clothing
And wait for Summer to remind us
of swimming,
We used to practice acrobatics
in the fluidity of the womb.

I pressed for memory and a new voice came
This new one, she said “yes,
this is the next part,”
But how could you possibly put
a finger on it?
How could you expect to tickle the walls;
to put your hands
through the screen of the red room
and touch the outside
of yourself?

~ Andrea E. Janda

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A couple days ago, the EPoX ex5 barebones case mini-tower (dubbed “mini-me” not by me but the company), the computer i bought piece by piece in 2003 from processor to video card, memory sticks to media, hard drive all assembled, tweaked, pimped, proxied, overclocked, backed up, maintained and restored meticulously, pruned and flourished like my own digital garden, loved and lavished with all the finest software and crammed with all my art, writing, photos, email – an online lifetime of memories – died.

there i was, happily reading email when a snap, crackle, pop came from the direction of my desktop, the monitor powered down, the speakers snapped out a piercing blip and the cooling fans went silent. i went down the list and thought: ok, don’t panic, what just blew up? heat sink fan on the processor or power source? but all fans were running when i restarted and the power source seemed fine, it turned back on. but it shut itself down again shortly after. upon another reboot, i HEARD XP start but didn’t SEE it on the screen. the monitor? nope, that still works. So i reboot once again and the display on the front of the computer which usually shows a bright blue screen with icons for memory, storage, CPU activity and temperature plus a few other nice diagnostics displayed nothing but a blue screen and a little barrel telling me, “hey sister, i see the hard drive, but that’s about it.” So no monitoring, no icon of any part of the system. Which led me to believe the nervous system was shot – the motherboard.

One more restart, and then from somewhere inside the silver shoebox, the dull, distant siren of some internal alarm that sounded like an ambulance in a soup can. i thought, “maybe any one controller, capacitor, even the BIOS might be toast, but more than likely, the motherboard is zapped so – no nervous system (motherboard) means the brains (the processor) can’t fire up and control the rest of the body and the video card (the optic nerve) can’t give me any graphics, but the saving grace, the heart of the operation where all the memories are stored, the hard drive is healthy and intact. i know this . . . because the little barrel icon was there, and i could hear the healthy spin of the disc inside.

So i did some homework, read reviews, watched videos to look at the guts of the computers, went to retail stores to touch them and see how they were built, looked at some sexy systems ranging from sleek laptops to crazy alienware, i even considered building one again but the testing and tuning, time and energy that goes into getting a system up and running just weren’t in my favor. i decided though i like the portability of laptops, i just prefer a full-size desktop at home base. i enjoy my workspace as a creative altar.

Joe brought me home a very old Dell tower from his work to borrow in the meantime of ordering, and as soon as i had it on the floor, i got out my tools and swapped my HDD in. the transplant was a success! in minutes time and two restarts to load up the new brains and nervous system i was running my tailored desktop again, albeit slow as balls on this old dog of a machine. Pentium III 996 MHz and a mere 256 MB of RAM. euughhh! My HDD is all, “WTF, mate?!?!”

i even looked at the Dell XPS and after configuring several systems from several makers from standard retail HP and Sony and all the geek models & makers in between, after getting several ideas in several outrageous figures and quotes ranging up into $1800+, i settled on a Dell Inspiron 530. i tricked it out the best i could imagine with upgraded processor, memory, audio & graphics cards, media hub and other fancies and kept it at $1400. i even checked the benchmarks and it performs better than some systems priced at $500 more. i won’t nerd out and bore anyone with the specific hard specs, unless you ask. it should run blazing fast around my old mini-me. poor little silver friend.

so tonite i will, after work, spend a good amount of time migrating my music, words, photos, email and settings from my old HDD and backup drives. My only concern? Windows Vista. i’ve read it’s buggy. i’ve read it’s chatty. i’ve read it takes about a months worth of tweaking it to settle down and behave the way you like. but i’m ready to explore and tame it. i don’t negotiate with terrorists. anyone have any horror / success stories or advice for me on that front?

ah, but before i go . . . i should mention the cool thing about having to borrow this old computer. it has a 3.5″ floppy drive and a (wait for it) zip250 on it. and why is that good? well, i have this old pile of floppys and zips that had old pictures and writing on it i had forgotten about. stuff i was sure i might never see again after a previous HDD failure, a few computers back. it was an exciting, revealing, amusing trip down digital memory lane. and i encourage everyone to write and save it, even if you don’t think you have a gift for it. even if you don’t think you’ll be published. even if it’s just observations on your own personal drama du jour. it’s informative and enlightening and imperative to “see” old documented thoughts and mindset for emotional growth. to see how the voice inside has changed. if nothing else, it serves as a marker, sign posts for how far you’ve come, or how much further you must go if you intend on doing something more.

i suppose it’s the time of year, as poring over old memories is reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. and having a husband like Joe to love and take care of me and make new memories with me, our first year as a married couple is my greatest gift. well, that and the new computer he just bought me. he emphatically expressed, “no more things beginning with the letter “C” are allowed to break in this house.” It began with the Cat in January when Odin had a few expensive bouts with the vet. Then my Car in April, prompting a new Volkswagen Rabbit purchase. And now, my Computer, which i believe, completes the three in the “C” cycle. We’ll just stay home for Christmas to be safe. No travel ensures no problems.

but yes – the impending holidays are a mixed Santa’s bag of goodies, a sloppy harvest cornucopia of good and bad memories for most. a collection of the joys (and occasional discomfort) of families. so i will leave you with an old piece of writing of mine. a description of a photograph from my childhood with links to the cultural reference for clarity . . .

“We’re standing in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house. It is a room where I spent many formative hours as a child. Behind us is a circle of dark brown cabinets, swirled with the brushstrokes of the original stain, all of which have knobs with a bright orange flower in the center. The dishwasher with its large rectangular buttons sits unused. It’s broken and the dishes dry behind us in a mustard yellow Rubbermaid rack. The counter is crowded with blenders and coffee makers and other appliances, years before the notion of space saving installation. A terribly sad remnant that passes for a radio sits to the left of the stove top and a neighboring roll-top breadbox. It’s placed here where it gets the best reception it can hope for near all the metal and with the help of a bent up blue coat hanger. Blue grass music and talk radio is usually coming out of this nostalgic contraption.

The oven has a large door, big enough to cook two small children and boasts a window to watch cookies and Shrinky Dinks with the light on. My grandmother had the same cooktop and range from my mother’s youth up until I was nearly 14. The same was true about the refrigerator. For years I imagined my grandmother as the Hungarian witch, able to keep appliances running until they didn’t match the décor. Some of the only things to come out of the refrigerator are endless bologna sandwiches with Plochman’s mustard and a never-ending surplus of milk, applesauce, and popsicles.

Behind my mother is one of my favorite cabinets. It looks small from the outside, but once you open it, a round three-tiered lazy susan spins around with spices and baking ingredients. A deep and endless door to magical cuisine. A Narnia portal with my grandmother as the White Witch. i would spin and spin this until glass bottles clicked and metal tin boxes tapped out code until they all crashed together like unwilling passengers on a tilt-a-whirl and toppled like bowling pins signaling my grandmother to come running with the spatula armed and prepared to swat us with it. it is the largest, most fearsome piece of plastic i know; mightier than the paddle, the switch, the belt strap or the back hand combined. It’s called the “pancake turner” and in a German-Hungarian household, it is gainfully employed in the morning with buttermilk pancakes, potato pancakes in the evening and ass-whupping any time it’s called upon.

My mother and father are standing together in the center of the photo. My sister is waist high and under the arm of my father, his hand pressing her against his hip, and I am on the opposite side, my mother’s hand around the little knob of my shoulder.

My father’s arm is draped over my mother like the back of a big armchair, his hand dangles and points to my head like an accusation. “You’re a smart little college-educated bitch, just like your mother.” Around his wrist is a thick leather strap, like the strongman at the circus, but not black. Instead it is the color of honey, with a large watch face in the center. It is the only picture, not taken professionally and posed uncomfortably at Olan Mills Studio where we are all arranged together. We are all wearing shirts in variations of blue and gray like a November Sky. We are all wearing blue jeans from stone to sky blue.

We are all smiling.”

family at Grandma & Grandpa Paull's
Family Polaroid

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