Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Computer!

Well, it finally happened: My 7-year old Windows XP Pentium 4 had a total hard drive failure. Fortunately, due to my paranoia mentioned here, I only lost a month's worth of emails and photos. So, if you've emailed me between St. Patrick's day and April at my Comcast address, I probably lost your email and that's why I didn't respond! Well, the computer was beyond old, even with a memory and video upgrade a few years ago, and starting to be below spec even for web browsing. Time to bite the bullet and get a new system.

So, I went to NewEgg and built a computer myself for the first time. I've always had a custom machine, but as computers have transformed from a hobbyist's toy into an appliance, the small businesses that will build machines for you have fallen by the wayside. NewEgg is a pleasant experience - with a little research and a good amount of time browsing and reading reviews, it's not too difficult to find the components you'd need to build your own machine. Plus, it seems more environmentally friendly and responsible to only buy the components you really need replaced. Add in the human time element that it takes for a company to build you a machine and install the software, and building your own box saves at least some money. In my case, the computer case, mouse, keyboard, and monitor were still usable. So, to build a new machine, I only needed: A power supply, a motherboard, a processor (and thermal paste to attach it), RAM, a hard drive, a BluRay drive, a DVD burner, and a video card. Plus, an operating system and other software. Most things today are plug-and-play, so installation has gotten trivial. Not bad. Also, they have a warehouse in New Jersey, just outside of New York City, so they can process your order on the first day, ship it, and it'll arrive the next day. Sweet.

The upsetting thing so far, and this feeds into my paranoia (as a heavy technology user and a history buff concerned about preserving digital media, even stupid personal correspondence), is all the obsolete or pay-through-the-nose-to-keep proprietary formats. In the worst cases, this causes data to essentially be lost forever. My email has been kept in Outlook since 2001. I have backed up the Outlook PST file, but my new machine doesn't have Outlook, because that stupid program is like $150 and the version of Outlook I was running is extremely old and might not have even worked on my new system. Unreasonable price completely if you're just using it for email and not for setting up meetings or connecting to an Exchange Server. So, I went with Mozilla Thunderbird, which is free. However, there is no way to read PST files without having Outlook installed. Since I have it at work, after passing files back and forth for a few hours between my home and work computer, I was able to get my email into Thunderbird's much more palatable for long-term archiving ASCII format. Similarly, the Microsoft Backup Utility for Windows XP produces a file called a .bkf. Windows 7 does not support BKF. To get my files back, I had to install a Hotfix that wasn't available until well after Windows 7 launched. A company not supporting their own backup format in future operating systems out of the gate is upsetting.

Also, now that I have a DVD burner, it'll be easier for me to do optical backups again (as I can probably back up all my photos on say, three DVDs). Given that as a final failsafe, I now have my external hard drive plugged in all the time to do automated, weekly (primary) backups. Of course, that's still in a (different) proprietary Microsoft format.

I should just get over my fear of that current buzzword, The Cloud ;-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Haverhill on Chronicle

I mentioned weeks ago Haverhill's recent fortunes were going to be featured on Chronicle. They were a few weeks ago, but I just watched it today. Interesting stuff (in four parts, you need to search for the other three):