Lacrima Christi

It’s been a pretty poor Easter, on the whole. First of all, our weather was drab for all but one day (Easter Monday). Drab seems to be the most appropriate word in that we didn’t get dreadful weather but it dripped frustratingly with rain for most of the time. Perhaps this was the tears of Christ? Anyway, we thought it was a good time to do indoor things like renew some technology. How wrong we were.

Carol has been harbouring concerns about her existing laptop dying for a while now (the screen flashes off occasionally) and she’s been fancying a new, smaller, more portable device. After a few visits to a few purveyors of such devices, Easter weekend saw her return excitedly sporting a new HP machine with a 12 inch widescreen, 3Gb of RAM and, of course, Windows Vista. I’ve been studiously avoiding Vista for some time but there really isn’t much else available now so the first step was taken. This was a very neat little machine and all seemed well. Installation of some useful software proceeded.

The first glitch was nothing to do with the new machine. I’d heard vaguely about problems connecting Vista and XP machines and here they were in all their gory glory. I run an XP desktop with a shared folder for our photos etc and a shared, attached printer. Carol’s new machine was wired into our router but couldn’t “see” my machine. That is, it couldn’t see it for a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g time. According to the Vista documentation it can take 15 minutes for a back issue of Windows to become visible to Vista. 15 minutes! That’s an absolute eon when it comes to computer time; what on earth could be going on for 15 minutes? The estimate was accurate, though, that’s about how long it took. So, the shared printer is effectively pointless and a different solution involving data transfer on USB memory sticks would have to be employed. Whereas XP will run happily on 500Mb of RAM, Vista seems to require at least 2Gb – four times as much. Other than being practically unable to communicate with older systems, I’m yet to see what it actually constructively does with this vast memory increase. One small step for Microsoft, one giant leap backwards for mankind.

Downloads of various system updates were eventually complete and it was time to reboot and go wireless. Has the router broken? No. Well, why are web pages now taking minutes to appear, then? Beats me! The wireless connection was fluctuating to as low as 1 m.b.s. After some checks and a support call to John Lewis, Carol grabbed and installed a new driver for the WiFi card. No difference; graphics were still painting their way across the screen in strips in much the same fashion as a slow dial-up connection. The new driver now displayed the maximum expected wireless connection speed but it still performed like crap. Maybe the fix was just to display an optimistic number. Cynic! Wired speed fine, wireless speed utterly useless.

Easter Monday saw a very disappointed Carol back at John Lewis, where it “performed” similarly. She swapped it for her money which would prove much more useful. Judging by all the heaving crowds spending in JL, the recession is a media-induced myth. They could all have been there returning stuff and taking their hard-earned cash back, though.

We have now found pages and pages on an Internet bulletin board of other poor folks suffering similar/identical WiFi problems. It may or may not be related to clashes/incompatibilities between various WiFi cards, routers and the multiplicity of wireless protocols (a, b, g, n) but we found nothing definitive. It’s clearly a current nightmare.

A brief aside: we learned something fascinating on our way back home having detoured into PC World for more laptop pain. There were lots of laptops of various sizes on display, some of which, courtesy of the modern, and in my view idiotic, widescreen approach, are now so big that they would more appropriately be termed foldable desktops, or some such phrase. Anyway, having engaged a nice Hewlett Packard man in conversation, he showed us that some prices ended in 99 pence whilst others ended in 97 pence. Items with prices ending in 97 pence typically also had a label saying “temporarily out of stock”. 97 pence is, apparently, PC World code for “and we aren’t getting any more”. Half the shelf space must have been displaying unobtainable items. Wonderful! Assuming this is true, I just wanted to share it because I didn’t want anyone else to agonize for hours prior to making a pointless selection.

Further disappointment arrived on Tuesday in the shape of a purchased previously-owned (by Carol’s niece) but posher mobile phone which was said to be “unlocked”. SIM card inserted, power switched on and, of course, a raspberry was blown in the form of a message requesting a valid SIM. My recently acquired new 3G SIM produced the same result. The phone wasn’t unlocked. However, after another day’s worth of a little more frustration with a local mobile phone shop, mercifully it now is unlocked; furthermore, it actually works. It also appears to take half-way reasonable photographs which was Carol’s main point behind getting it. (Useful for photographing dusty documents in records offices.)

I must purchase a wig just so that I have some hair to tear out. What have we done to the world to create such technological trauma? Never mind Christ, it’s enough to make anybody weep.

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