Posts Tagged ‘upgrade’


Sibling Parity, Take Three

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

In the great rush of things that usually comprises my Mondays, I further continued the saga of my sons’ computers, which started back in March. As you may recall, there has been spirited rounds of “one upmanship” between the two of them over who has the most capable computer. First it was a shared machine, then I built up a computer for the younger son, and finally I tried to upgrade the older son’s machine yet again but it didn’t work out. It seemed we had reached an impasse, and that perhaps everyone would be satisfied at least by all the work I had done to make things even between them.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t satisfied, and looked for a better solution. Without going through a lot of details, three weeks ago my wife and I worked out a way to purchase a newer machine that would give our older son more capabilities, and once again it appeared that the universe was in balance.

But it was not to be.

Both of my sons know their way around computers pretty well, but the younger one is more tech-savvy. He has been fascinated with the newer Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems; his machine has been running the older Windows XP, which is very solid and dependable. When the older son’s newer machine came in, it had Win 7 on it…and by now I’m sure you the reader can see where this story is going. The younger son checked his machine and found it was capable of running Vista, and petitioned me to upgrade it with a copy I had available after upgrading my own machine from Vista to Win 7 earlier this year (thanks to a gift from my daughter). After several requests, I relented on Sunday afternoon and agreed to upgrade it.

I wish I hadn’t been so easy to convince.

Upgrading from XP to Vista is not for the faint-hearted. My son understood the risks and still wanted to do it anyway. So, I made him back up all of his files, and when he was satisfied that he had everything he needed I began the upgrade process. Two hours later, it appeared to have finished successfully, but there were a lot of adjustments to be made and well over 100 updates to be added. I worked on those long into Sunday night, then took a break to sleep and started on them again early this morning.

Because today was also a work day for me, I spent a lot of time shuttling back and forth between my office work and his machine, making changes and downloading updates. By 2pm, it appeared to finally be ready for him to use. I decided to leave it running to “burn in” a little, and when he got home from school at 4:30 he jumped on it and start installing all of his software. By his bedtime, it appeared he had most of his programs reinstalled, with nary a whimper or complaint.

Have I finally achieved a balance between these two? Maybe.

I’m certainly not holding my breath for it.


Sibling Parity, Take Two

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Once again, one of my sons’ computers took the spotlight over the weekend. This time it was the older son, who until recently had a more powerful machine than his younger brother. The older one got a little testy when he lost his “top dog” status, and made sure everyone in the house knew it in no uncertain terms. What he didn’t know was that I had already been working on a solution.

I had anticipated this conflict, and determined there were two things left I could do to his machine to make it more like his brother’s – change the processor and change the video card (the memory is already maxed out). The processor was simple enough; I found the most powerful one his machine could handle, and fortunately for my wallet it was at a rock-bottom price, so I jumped on it and got one shipped quickly. The day it came in I swapped out the old for the new, and made sure everything still worked after I had made the switch. Fortunately for me it did. Every analysis I could find indicated he should see an improvement in the machine’s performance by 30 to 40 percent, which by any measure is significant.

He wasn’t home at the time I made the swap, so I asked his brother to test it for me. His brother found that while it was still a measure behind his in performance, it did run certain things more smoothly than before. Then, when he did get home, I had him try it out. He quickly pronounced that what I had done didn’t make any difference at all; in reality, I think he said that more because he was upset that HE didn’t get to try it out first.

Since that didn’t seem to placate the situation, I moved on to the second upgrade – a new video card. I found one at a reasonable price at my favorite electronics store, and on Saturday I made the long drive down and back to pick one up. What followed that was four hours of the most frustrating nonsense that I’ve ever experienced in working with any computer. The card would go in easily enough, and the computer would recognize it and run just fine as a “generic” video card. When I tried to install the files that would let the computer recognize it as a specific model, the computer went berserk. Most of the time it would get to a certain point in starting up and then reboot itself, and repeat the cycle over and over. Every time I tried something different, it would fail. Searching through online forums and trying other’s suggestions didn’t work either. In the end, I gave up and put the old card back in.

It’s a rare time when a computer completely baffles me like that, but it does happen. At this point, there is nothing left to upgrade short of replacing the motherboard, and that’s currently out of the question. The good news from all of this is, he could see that I was trying, and while I had some success the machine itself set the limits of what I could do to it. He’s a bit more sympathetic now, which is a far cry from where things were a week ago. He has a very solid computer now for doing his school research and class assignments; it just doesn’t play video games quite as well as his brother’s.

He’ll have to get along with what it can do until he graduates from high school in a couple of years; after that, he’ll want a newer laptop to use at college. Will he outgrow the video games by then? Probably not, but at least he knows I did my best to make things work better. Hopefully in his mind that will count for something; it does in mine.


Upgraded Software, Downgraded Minds

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

When it comes to computer software, I suppose I’m a little behind the times. Like a lot of PC users I have Microsoft Office software to take care of all my writing, spreadsheet, presentation, and e-mail needs; in fact, I use it to write and proof all of my blog entries before posting them. Where I’m behind is with the version I’m using – Office 2003. It’s already one release older the rest of the world (Office 2007) and soon will be two releases back (when Office 2010 arrives later this year).

Is being behind the times always a bad thing? I don’t think so. Neither does my employer; we’ve only recently been given approval to upgrade our office computers from Office 2003 to 2007. One of the reasons is that Office 2007 has a significantly different look, and would require a lot of people to go through expensive retraining to learn how to use it. I often enjoy being on the “bleeding edge” of technology, but having to relearn how to use something I already know how to use doesn’t make sense. I’ll have to upgrade it eventually to keep up with the rest of my office, so I’ll have to learn to use it eventually as well.

There’s another element that comes into play here, at least for me: the old adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” For years, the old version (and even the one before it) worked perfectly fine for 99% of the tasks that make up my job. Most of the documents I write or spreadsheets I create aren’t going to dramatically change just because the software I use in creating them looks different. Some of the new features may turn out to be useful, but for the most part I’ll still be churning out the same-looking stuff. Why? Well, that’s what I get paid to do.

Also along with each new upgrade, it seems that designers are moving more toward the use of icons and symbols and farther away from actual words; Office 2007, for example, uses icons and symbols in the place of worded menus. For someone who has made a living designing complex business applications and writing the instruction manuals for using them, the use of icons is a mind-numbing shift in thinking. They also don’t make the writer’s job any simpler; instructional materials are much more elaborate now, adding pictures of each icon or symbol and describing what happens when you click on them. “Type ‘start’ at the prompt and press the Enter key” has been replaced with “Double-click on the square-looking thingy with the red and yellow stripes.” Who could have guessed when PCs were invented thirty years ago that we would go back to using hieroglyphics like the ancient Egyptians?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying all icons are bad. They do have their uses. My kids learned how to start up a drawing program and how to shut down a computer by using icons long before they knew how to read or write. But, I also made sure they understood what the computer was doing “behind the scenes” each time they pointed and clicked on something. I’m sure there are some adults who don’t understand what they’re doing when they use a computer, and probably never will.

But, they do know how to double-click on that square-looking thingy.