Monday, November 03, 2008
Blog Entry #126
My first computer
In December 1994, I bought my first computer, a Macintosh Performa 200 - it was used, and I paid $450 for it. I learned how to use a computer on a Macintosh (either on an SE or an SE/30, can't remember) during my graduate school years, and I never gave any serious thought to getting a PC.
My Performa 200 sported a 16-MHz processor, an 80-MB hard disk, and 8 MB of RAM - how's that for some computing power? As computers go, it was fine for writing letters and for creating basic spreadsheets, and I could even do some simple graphics work with it, but it was not exactly suitable for surfing the Web. (Mind you, HTML was very much a work in progress back in the mid-1990s.)
I actually still have this computer, but it is broken - years ago it conked out in the process of reformatting/erasing a floppy disk, if I recall correctly. When turned on, it displays a 'chessboard' pattern and not the normal Macintosh desktop. I'm not quite sure what to do with it; even if I could find the necessary replacement part(s), an hour's worth of labor to fix it would cost well in excess of what it's worth. However, the packrat in me says, "It would be really cool if you could somehow get this computer to work again someday," so I continue to hold on to it.
In November 1999, I upgraded to a G3 iMac; I bought it new and for $1000 from MacMall, which had been recommended to me by a colleague at work. My new iMac had a 350-MHz processor, a 6-GB hard disk, and 64 MB of RAM; it didn't have a floppy disk drive but did have a slot-loading CD-ROM drive. Its hard disk went kaput about two years later; I bought a replacement 40-GB hard disk (an operating system upgrade came along with it, taking me from the original OS 8.6 to OS 9.1) for $200 from The Computer Shoppe in Metairie in January 2002.
This iMac was fine for surfing the Web when I first got it, but as time marched on, more and more Web authors began creating pages that were, shall we say, 'beyond the capabilities of my system'; these pages either looked awful or wouldn't display at all, and I literally had to fish their contents out of their source codes if I wanted to read them - can you believe that?* It was clearly time to upgrade again, and I had plans to push the RAM to 512 MB and then take the operating system to OS X (specifically the 10.3 "Panther" OS), but then circumstances forced me to take another route...
(*I am reminded of a recent "Zits" cartoon in which Jeremy complains to a friend that his household is technologically "like the Amish" - I can relate, Jeremy.)
The end of an era
As noted in the previous entry, my 350-MHz iMac died a sudden death about two months ago. I was reading on the Web in the early afternoon of September 4 when the screen display began to 'wobble'; the computer began to emit an acrid, ozone-like smell, and then shut off completely, as though I had unplugged the power cord, and I was unable to get it on again that day - it did turn on briefly the following day but it shut off again, and for good, within 20-30 minutes of use.
I take my iMac to The Computer Shoppe on September 12; the guy there says, "We'll look at it, but you should think twice before sinking any money into this machine." On September 20, I get a phone call from one of The Computer Shoppe's technical people. He tells me that my computer is toast - specifically, its logic board and power supply are fried - and that Apple doesn't carry the relevant parts for my iMac model anymore, and that what I really need to do is to get another computer. I ask, "Is it possible to rescue the contents of the hard disk?" It turns out that the hard disk is still OK; for $70 I have it extracted and then encased in an OWC (Other World Computing) Neptune "External Data Storage Solution" that will interface with a computer via a FireWire 400 port.
My new computer
So it was time for me to get a new/different computer - a task much easier said than done if you do not have Internet access and are not a motorist.
I still have the packing slip from my 1999 MacMall purchase - I told you I was a packrat, didn't I? I call up MacMall to request its most recent catalog; getting that catalog strangely** proves more difficult than expected, and it eventually arrives after I have my new computer (**"strangely" in the sense that MacMall dutifully sent me catalogs for years after that 1999 purchase).
The "Computers-Dealers" section in the Yellow Pages has an Apple listing with a phone number for Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California. I call to see if Apple publishes a hard-copy catalog of its product offerings; "No, but you can get that information online," I am lamely told. Guys, my computer is dead and I don't have access to the Web - that's why I'm calling you. The Apple Yellow Pages listing has the chutzpah to boast, "The world's easiest-to-use computer is now the world's easiest-to-buy computer." Not at all, Señor Jobs, not at all.
So by hook or by crook, I somehow have to get on the Web in order to shop for a computer, and I give thought to renting a computer for this purpose. Accordingly, I turn to the Yellow Pages' "Computers-Renting & Leasing" section. In the course of several phone calls, I learn that
(a) some computer rental companies do not (or do not want to) rent to individuals, and
(b) computer rental companies typically do not rent Macs.
I ended up not renting a computer, but FYI, regarding PC rentals, Rent-A-Center offered me the best rates.
It occurs to me that I can access the Web at my local library. I traipse over to the New Orleans Public Library's Latter Branch (which I encourage you to check out if you're planning a visit to New Orleans and are into libraries) and go online on one of the computers on the second floor. I look over the new iMacs at the Apple Store and also spend some time in the Deals section of Low End Mac. Low End Mac warns here that the latest iMacs do not support the "Classic" (pre-OS X) Mac environment, so I call Apple later that day to ask about new/old Mac software compatibility, more specifically, if the programs on my old computer's hard disk would or would not be recognized by a new iMac. The person I speak to is not particularly helpful in this regard, but during our conversation she does at least alert me to the Apple Store's refurbished Macs that sell for hundreds of dollars less than their 'new' counterparts. I pick out this refurbished iMac at the library the next day and order it over the phone on Friday, October 3; it arrives not quite a week later via FedEx on Thursday, October 9. (I was not at all fazed by the computer's refurbished status - I once bought from Iomega a refurbished CD burner that worked just fine.)
In sum, my new computer has a 2.4-GHz processor, a 250-GB hard disk, 1 GB of RAM, a CD/DVD-writing "SuperDrive", and a very nice 20" flat-panel screen, and I bought it for $1000 ($200 off the 'non-refurbished' price) - cool, huh? One thing my new computer doesn't have (but that my old computer had) is an internal modem, so for $50 I also bought from Apple a USB modem for my EarthLink dial-up account, speaking of which...
Getting back online
Reestablishing my Internet connection on my new iMac was reasonably straightforward.
(1) Apple's USB modem is not a "plug-n-play" device: after connecting it, a message box pops up on the computer screen informing me that 'a new port has been detected' (or something like that); the box doesn't ask for any input but tells me that I have to restart the computer, and I do so.
(2) The computer does not have a separate Remote Access-like application for dialing a modem; rather, this function is now handled by the Network pane of the System Preferences application (pictured below), which now sports an "External Modem Not Connected" option in the port selection list on the left-hand side. I couldn't remember my Internet access number, but I was able to fish it out of my old computer's Remote Access Log file, which was openable via the TextEdit word processor; I enter the number into the Network pane's Telephone Number field.
(3) I enter my EarthLink username prefixed by ELN/* into the Network pane's Account Name field.
(*This is how it appeared in the Name field of the Remote Access control panel, which I fortunately had a screen shot of on my old computer's hard disk.)
(4) Finally, I fill in my password and click the Connect button.
Success! I never had to contact the EarthLink people or deal with any TCP/IP settings (e.g., name server addresses).
I'll have more to say about some of the software on my new iMac in the next post.