Saturday, January 05, 2008

Technical difficulties

Happy 2008!

It's been an eventful week. On the second of January, I bought myself the present I really wanted but wouldn't ever have asked anyone to give me: an iPod. More specifically, I bought a black iPod Classic, with 80 gigs of memory. Rather amusing, really, since the laptop has 120 gigs, divided into two hard drives. This means I can hold more in my hand than I can on my C: drive.

I spent most of Wednesday downloading the iTunes software and then converting my music into the Apple format. Not all of my music would convert, though. The "protected" stuff wouldn't go, which means I had to dig out the CDs and have the program import them straight off of the discs. That's what I did the first half of Thursday. The second half of Thursday, as well as Friday, was spent trying to figure out what's the matter with the laptop. Things were going fine, then suddenly I lost my internet connection. It wouldn't reconnect. Nor would it stop redialing, even after I told it to. Wunderbar.

My first thought was to blame the software I downloaded, but upon reflection I don't think iTunes is to blame. This stuff was designed specifically to work with Windows, and it's from Apple, not some fly-by-night company. And if it was going to cause problems, it would have done it right away, right? It wouldn't have waited a day and a half to give me grief. Or it would have slowed things down incrementally, eventually grinding to a halt. That's not what happened. One moment things were fine, the next moment they weren't.

Next thing I thought was that I needed to defragment the hard drive. I'd been doing a lot of downloading, importing, and deleting, maybe the machine was starting to have trouble finding things quickly. So I defragged it.

Friday morning, when the defrag was finally done, booting up and logging in still took a lot longer than usual. The modem was still having trouble staying connected, and would stubbornly keep trying to reconnect after I'd hit the "cancel" button. Next up: scanning the C:drive for errors and bad sectors. I started that at approximately 11 in the morning. Fast forward to 11 pm (yes, twelve hours later) when scandisk was finally finished, and told me everything was fine. Liar. For one thing, scandisk has never taken that long to get through everything.

So I'm still trying to sort out what's wrong. Right now I'm in Wegman's grocery store, which also has an Internet café with WiFi. The laptop has passed the next test, which was to see whether my wireless modem still works. I've downloaded the most recent set of virus definitions from Symantec AntiVirus, and once I go home I'll run that. I'm hoping I didn't get a virus. I'm also hoping the antivirus program doesn't take another 12 hours to run.

I know that sooner or later I'm going to have to call the Protection Plan people. (I still get the mental image of computer techs in sharkskin suits and mirrored sunglasses. "Nice laptop. Be shame is something happened to it."). I wonder if I'll have to send this machine away, or whether someone is going to show up at my doorstep to work on it. It'd be nice if I had the option to take this over to Circuit City to get fixed, but I don't think I do. Even though I'm pretty sure it's going to be one of those guys who comes over to fix my poor sick machine.

The iPod works just fine, by the way. One little annoying thing, and I think it's something I'm just going to have to get used to: there is no "off" switch. You can stop the music, and eventually the readout fades to black, but the thing is always on. What's that all about? I can't be the first person who ever wanted to turn the thing off to save the batteries. Or can I?

You know, I always assumed that as I got older, I'd turn into my mother. It seems that I'm turning into my father, too. The battery-life thing is just one symptom. Here's another one, and it made me both laugh and shudder when I recognized what I was doing:

I spent about a week at my sister's house for Christmas. I spent a lot of time going around the place turning off lights, TVs, radios, etc. in rooms devoid of people. Muttering the whole time, of course. Things like, "trying to light the whole neighborhood," and "so much for shrinking one's carbon footprint." Good lord! Daddy? Was that you? How did you throw your voice like that?

I sure hope this little wrestling match with my gadgets isn't a sign about how the rest of the year is going to go.


Just Me said...

Oh, I hate computer woes.

Just a couple quick notes. First, are you running an anti-spyware program? Spyware can really bog down your system, although I can't say that would explain the modem problem.

Depending on your warranty, sending it away isn't so bad. I had to have this laptop's motherboard replaced by Dell a year or so ago. Dell sent DSL to pick up my machine, the guy brought an empty padded box for it and sealed it there in front of me. Dell sent it back, signature required, five days later.

To be on the safe side, I took my laptop to my favorite geek in town and had them image my hard drive before I sent it off. I had been told that Dell "wipes" your hard drive as a matter of course, so I wanted to make sure I didn't lose anything. It turns out that my laptop came home with its memory intact.

Either way, imaging your hard drive is something you should do if you find you have to ship your machine anywhere. A&A didn't charge me much, maybe $30 for the service, saving my data on an external drive until I knew my machine was intact.

G said...

I second the spyware suggestion, V. Try AVG (or several other sites) for a free spyware scan - but be wary of Googling for one, because some of the hits you'll get will be spyware vehicles masquerading as spyware removers, and others will scan, report, then make you pay for fixing what they find. Try for lists of good and bad anti-spyware software.

--V said...

The anti-virus software is anti-spyware software too. And AOL also gave me some anti-spyware software back when I joined, which I ran as well. No spyware. No viruses. I talked to someone at Circuit City who said a) he thought it might be the hard drive or the processor; and b) don't call the 1-800 number, just bring it in. Apparently I only have to call in about cameras and iPods and things like that.

Image? I'm not terribly tech savvy, I don't know from imaging. I was going to back everything up on DVD discs before I hand it on over to Firedog (that's Circuit City's tech support group. Their version of Geek Squad, if you will). Is that the same thing as imaging?

G said...

I haven't done these things myself, but I have them on very good authority:
1. Press F1 to get the Help and Support Center and search for "clean environment". Go to the page that says "To create a clean environment for troubleshooting" and follow the instructions.
2. If that doesn't isolate the problem, run a memory test ( and a drive checker such as HDD Health (
3. Also, try the free quick check at by clicking only the Full Tests link on the left-hand side.

All this comes from the Ask Jack blog in the Guardian - usually very reliable.