Coffee heat rising

Macquisition

So! Yesterday I scored a new 15-inch MacBook from the Apple store, at an educator’s discount slightly lower than the one offered at GDU’s computer store. Not only that, but they threw in a wireless Epson printer, free!

Actually, I upgraded the freebie to a printer/scanner. I’m interested to see how the Epson does: it appears to be much better made than the HP, less flimsy and far more elegant in design. It was only $50 more; I figure I can resell my hulking HP on Craig’s List for that much.

They also threw in a 50% discount on next year’s Mobile Me subscription, a little extravagance that I figure The Copyeditor’s Desk will have to pay for, assuming it earns that much in the future.

In addition, I got a year’s worth of one-on-one coaching. First thing they’ll do for me, they said, is synch up my iMac with the laptop and, if I wish (for a slight extra fee), they will upgrade the iMac to Snow Leopard. The salesman claimed they also would load the $65(!) MS Office for Mac I bought at the GDU bookstore, though I doubt that: normally anything with the letters MS attached to it is as water to oil for the Apple Genius crew.

Snow Leopard is really inexpensive, especially compared to other operating systems. It’s supposed to be the wave of the future, so I think I may spring for the modest cost to do that.

What a beautiful and elegant machine it is! Smooth, rounded, pretty…just like its operating system.

The Mac is such a creature of the Internet! The instant an infant Mac breaks out of the egg, it wants to get online. It’s chirping to be connected to the cable router, but since I don’t know how to accomplish that, it’ll have to wait till M’hijito can come over and set it up. {sigh} Much as I want to play with it, I have no idea which of the half-dozen potential connections that come up is mine. It “sees” all the neighbors’ wireless stuff, but without a little encouragement, it doesn’t see the router. At least, I don’t think it does. If it does, I don’t recognize it.

For $150, I can get an AirPort Extreme, which is said to be superior to the cheapie we bought at Fry’s Electronics. I suppose I can afford it, although we’re pushing the limits of what CE Desk can pay. And anything that’s not sitting in the corporate account is money I’ll have to use for groceries and running the house.

However, it looks like I’m going to spring free of Quicken, whose onerous requirements for upgrades are past due for me. So that will save seventy or eighty bucks.

Uh-oh! La Maya on the phone with an intelligence alert: Estate sale in Richistan! w00t!

Gotta go: we hit the road in 20 minutes.

Later!

Computers

I need to buy a laptop to replace the aging Dell that will have to go back to GDU in the next couple of weeks. I hardly use the Dell anymore, not because I wouldn’t prefer to sit in a comfortable chair or out on the patio, but because it’s a nuisance to operate, and because it doesn’t readily connect with my router.

The one good thing I can say about Qworst is that their online connection was wireless and so I could use the laptop anywhere on the property. My Cox DSL connection comes into the house by cable. M’hijito attached a router so we could set up AirPort and also, putatively, so I could get online with the Dell. But the Dell won’t talk with the router unless it’s in the same room with the thing, and so it’s quite a hassle to get that machine online. And since I live online, that’s why I quit using the Dell.

I’ve been thinking about replacing it with a MacBook.

Before you faint dead away: even though it’s expensive, I can get a pretty good deal with my educator’s discount, bringing the price down significantly. And I can get a new Office for Mac at the GDU bookstore for just $85, which I can use not only  to upgrade the iMac but also to load into the proposed MacBook.

There’s way more cash in savings than I need to survive on, and some of that is in the S-corporation. Indeed, even after the S-corp pays my wages, it still has more than enough to buy a MacBook. That allows me to pay for the thing with tax-free money. Because FaM alone will earn more than the cost of the computer next year (not counting whatever freelance schemes come my way), it’s quite reasonable to run the purchase through the corporation.

The iMac is getting old, as computers go (yeah! more than 18 months!). If it craps out, I’ll need another Mac to run my Quicken, since you apparently can’t convert Quicken for Mac QDFM files to something readable on a PC. When the iMac dies, the MacBook can take its place.

These, I think, are reasonable excuses for buying a Mac over an cheap PC, which is likely to crap out long before even the aging iMac goes.

Then there’s the sheer pleasure of using a Mac. Except for the lack of keyboard commands in Word (actually, they are there: they’re just different and I haven’t gotten around to memorizing them), I’ve come to much prefer using the Macintosh over either of GDU’s PCs.

In the first place, MS Windows is such bloatware. God, it’s full of trash. And I don’t like the new version of Office, which has eliminated the clues to keyboard commands and tries to funnel you toward endless pointing and clicking and forces you to try to figure out how to work it by interpreting pictures. And the damn antivirus stuff is a constant, unending pain in the tuchus. So are the similarly constant, unending updates and patches. Every time I turn around, the laptop is sending me a message than in XX seconds it’s going to shut down everything I’m working on and reboot, so as to install yet another update. The campus laptop nags constantly for updates, too, but at least it doesn’t shut you down in mid-project.

The Mac is elegant, clean, and relatively virus-proof. Yes, I do know hackers have Apple in their crosshairs. But though that’s been true for several years, they still haven’t made much headway. The constant virus and malware attacks on Microsoft programs make using a PC a real hassle.

I’ve never had one single compatibility problem with reading Microsoft programs on the Mac. That is not true with the PC. “Old” (heh!) MS Office versions will not read the infuriating new .docx files generated by the current version of Word. This clearly is a device to force Microsoft users to spend wads of cash for unnecessary upgrades to their software. Well, the Mac will open a .docx file in TextEdit and save it as an .rtf file or as a .doc file, with all the formatting intact. If I hadn’t had a Mac, I would have had to upgrade to expensive new software when the new Office came out.

True, I didn’t like being forced to upgrade to Leopard or whatever cat the current operating system is called. But that flap forced me to move FaM off iLife onto WordPress, a far superior program, and since FaM has migrated to BlueHost, it’s more than paid for the software upgrade. At least when Apple drags you into the 21st century, you get something worth being dragged for.

What’s more, Apple has actual, real live customer support, with “Geniuses” who know what they’re doing.

So it goes. This morning I’m going to make an unplanned trip out to GDU, where the bookstore is selling Office for the Mac for an incredible $85, a nice markdown on the $150 the Apple store sells it for.  Wednesday I have an appointment to buy a MacBook, which provides a couple days to think about it.

Woot! Apple shines!

Hot diggety! In spite of the snit over the MobileMe misadventures, I have to say that Apple’s “Geniuses” outdo just about everycorporatebody in the customer service department.

Think of it: Got a problem? See an actual human being! Not only that, but the human being knows what he’s doing!!!!! What an extraordinary idea. Qworst should hire Steven Jobs as a consultant to advise on how to handle customers.

Today’s Genius, Zachary, instantly recognized the issue with the port connection to the Cox modem. He also knew how the Mac “forgot” my password (noooo, i did not change it and in a senior moment forget it myself), and he was able to make some recommendations about routers to get the Dell laptop connected.

Mac hardware is pricey, no question about it, but for the premium, you get what you pay for: gear that works and techs who will speak to you and actually can help you.
🙂

Lessons learned from a computer crash

First: Don’t believe a Mac is any more reliable than a PC. It’s not.

Second: Never believe what Apple’s sales staff tells you. When I bought the Mac, I specifically asked if the Quicken data the Apple Geniuses obligingly converted to Macintosh format could be converted back to PC format, in case I didn’t care for the platform. They said there would be no problem. That turns out not to be true. A Mac-compatible Quicken data file can not be converted to a PC-readable format. Thus, if you’ve faithfully backed up your Quicken data every time you enter transactions and you own only one Mac, after it crashes you may never be able to retrieve your data-especially if your version is out of date and a newer version of Quicken won’t read it. (Remember, this is one of Quicken’s devices to force consumers to keep buying new, unneeded software: if you decline to buy each bloated new version, when you go to buy a new computer and have to install the current version, you may find all your old data is unreadable.)

Third: However, you can save a Quicken file to PDF format. You can do this with transaction reports and with entire account registers. I don’t know if it’s a function of Acrobat Professional, which resides on all my terminals, or if Quicken will make PDFs on its own, but I think it’s the latter. The process is very easy: simply print to a PDF.

While a PDF of course has no functionality, it does at least save your data in a format readable on both platforms, and PDF files are extremely stable. As such, they provide a last-ditch back-up. If everything in Quicken crashes and for some reason (there certainly are reasons!) you can’t get back into your QDF files, you at least can get at the data so that you can re-enter it in a new version of the program or into Excel.

Fourth: The relationship between Intuit and Apple is tenuous, and Mac-compatible versions of Quicken for Mac are pale (often annoying) shadows of Quicken for PC. Although Intuit alleges that it will come out with a spectacular new Mac version so ground-breaking it must be rebranded “Quicken Financial Life for Mac,” believe it when you see it.

Consider using Excel for bookkeeping. This requires you to forego the swell online communication with your bank and investment brokers…but really. How necessary is that, in the large scheme of things?

Fifth: The capability to back up Quicken data files to MobileMe is dubious. For one thing, it’s unclear whether the file is stored with a .qdf extension, and so it’s equally unclear whether the file can be used to reconstruct lost data. Then there’s the alarming fact that one of Apple’s online support gurus told me flatly Quicken cannot be backed up to MobileMe. The store’s manager denies it, but given the contradictory tales that have come at me from all directions, I believe it’s smart to put that bit of intelligence somewhere other than in the circular file.

For this reason, all QDF files should be backed up to an external hard drive and also to a flash drive. If there’s any chance you will not have access to a second Mac loaded with Quicken, also back up your account registers in PDF format.

Sixth: iWeb’s blogging function is resident on your computer and only on your computer. Thus if your computer crashes, your blog is gone. Gone for good. Unless you’ve backed up the content of your site, it can’t be retrieved; the Genius who revealed this gem was unclear whether saved data can be imported into iWeb on a new computer. If you start anew on a fresh computer without having imported your old posts, even if you can access your blog site (a matter that appears to be questionable), the minute you publish a new entry you will erase all your blog’s archival content.

Never, ever do a blog on iWeb!

More on Mac

Pete visited yesterday and left a comment on “MacHeadache,” apparently in the wee hours of Tuesday morning (hard to tell, since iWeb has come unstuck in time…it no longer knows what time it really is). I started to respond to his, which only just appeared, in a comment of my own and then realized I was going on at enough length to create a new post.

Here’s what Pete observed:

It does seem supremely lame that Apple migrated you to MobileMe without being sure you had a system that was compatible. I don’t know if .Mac is (was) technically aware on an ongoing basis what version of Mac OS you use, but it stands to reason, and they could have been smart enough not to migrate anyone who would break without warning. I’m not sure what the alternative would be, but they could at least have given you a chance to migrate elsewhere if you needed to.

But the rest of this stuff? Having a computer is just about the opposite of simplicity and frugality. In fact, to achieve anything resembling computing peace of mind, simplicity and frugality need to go right out the window. Here are a couple of examples:

Broadband would make those system updates download in a reasonable amount of time. Windows wouldn’t be any better in this respect. For that matter, neither would Linux. All the major operating systems are pushing big updates out to the installed base on a regular basis.

Panther is two major versions of the operating system behind. I realize you’re not the sort who gets jollies from a computer for its own sake, and that’s fine, but in general you would experience fewer crises of this magnitude if you were to keep up with the Joneses. Running Panther today is like running Windows 2000.

As far as iWeb goes, well, given that you’re aware of its limitations, I’m not sure why you torture yourself with it when there are so many free blog publishing solutions out there on the web

My response:

Functionality! Pete, yours is the first comment that has posted in over a week. Yesterday, if you had hit the “Add Comments” link, you would have seen an ad for MobileMe

I downloaded all the most current software, for which I had to pay at a time that was WILDLY inconvenient for me. Even though the Apple store’s manager gave me a 50% discount (turns out that’s fairly common-others have had the same experience), it still put my budget, which had barely recovered from the staggering expense of caring for a dying pet, back in the red. Eventually I would have bought the most recent OS, but when I could afford it, not when Apple ordered me to.

Yes, I know DSL is slower than broadband. I can’t afford broadband. In these parts it’s expensive, and I work for a university…by definition that means you don’t earn much unless you’re a football coach, a full bull in business or engineering, or an upper-level administrator. The cheapest cell phone I could get from Qwest — which I subscribed to only because pay phones are a thing of the past and I have to commute on a freeway that takes me a long, long way from home and from the car mechanic — is a stretch for me. I miss having a phone bill that is not a stinging hit each month.

All the rest of my software is up-to-date. The package that includes iWeb, called iLife, is the 2008 edition. I have followed all of the instructions sent by Apple’s support team. My son, who is a great deal more techie than I am, has also tried to make the system work. So far, nothing has succeeded

That you were able to post a comment suggests some functionality may be returning. However, it remains true that iWeb, while it has some attractive features, doesn’t have the interesting features supported by WordPress. I should be able to enter a StumbleUpon button, I should be able to subscribe to Feedburner, I should be able to register with Technorati, I should be able to register with Google, I should be able to ping other blogs. None of these things appear to be possible with iWeb.

I started Funny about Money in iWeb because I had never done a blog before and I doubted much would come of this one. Apple touted its user-friendly simplicity, and it looked like a way to play at blogging without having to put out much effort. I was already paying for Mac.com, which provided an extra e-mail account and which alleged (wrongly, I’m now told) to provide off-site storage space for Quicken backups. Since I didn’t expect Funny would go anywhere, I figured it wasn’t worth the learning curve involved in developing a website on more serious blogging software.

Now I figure Funny does have the potential to draw readers, and it’s kind of taken on a proverbial life of its own. Had I known it could be even mildly successful, I would have started the blog in WordPress, following Jim’s very cogent advice at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

It’s way past time to move Funny to WordPress. It’s going to lose most of its archive, but frankly, little of that is worth storing for the electronic ages. I’ll migrate the key posts first and then the ones I think are the best I’ve done so far. With any luck, once I get the blog on the new platform it will be even better and will have more opportunities to find new readers.

LOL! Yes, computers are the opposite of simplicity and frugality! But they are a part of our daily life. Just as you can’t get by without a cell phone, you can’t live a fully engaged life in America (or the world) today without a computer system and an online connection. It’s just the way things are.

Update: Blog migration project

Between you and me and the lamp-post, I spent most of yesterday fiddling with computers instead of working for the taxpayer. The project to learn WordPress and move Funny over there is coming right along, and in theory I could claim it’s sorta like work, because my EA (editorial assistant, a.k.a. her Sanchita Panza to my Doña Quixote) and I have conceived the idea of creating a blog for our office on the university’s intranet, which happens to use…yes! WordPress! So it’s all stewing together in the same pot

Worked…played…whatever I was doing until after midnight; then up at 5:00 a.m. for the usual round of chores and racing out the door. Labored like Sancho’s mule! But I learned a lot, figured out which posts to copy into WordPress, learned how to insert images (not as easy as it looks), found out some strange things, learned some HTML code (d’you know how long it’s been since I took an HTML class and decided I just didn’t want to know that?), and actually read an entire learned article on feminist epistemology for Our Beloved Employer.

WordPress is so, soooo different from iWeb. If only all the kewl things about each could be amalgamated into one fantastic blogging program. It is, for example, extremely cool that in iWeb you can drag & drop or copy-and-paste Sancho there into your page and he will appear online as he appears in iWeb. But it is also extremely cool that in WordPress you can type in a caption and voilà! the cutline appears below the image, unlike the one I just built in a textbox, which could appear…oh, just about anywhere on this page. We shall see after I (don’t) post it to the Web.

How kewl is it, though, that WordPress works with LaTex? OMG!!!

Apple sent out a groveling e-mail to its paying customers, promising that things are now so much better. Dollahs to donuts when I hit publish I will again be told that iWeb failed to publish, and again a visible but static page will appear online

The new young guru in my building at GDU, BTW, is an Apple acolyte (is that an Applyte?). He was surprised that I had managed to change the language for my Dell laptop’s log-in routine to Arabic. I suggested it was a terrorist plot to blow up GDU’s president, the Raven. He said, “Nevermore!” After some fretting around, we figured out the best way to approach the Arabic invasion was to crash the system, duck for cover, and then reboot. It worked. One shock treatment and Dell speaks English again.

At any rate, the kid couldn’t understand why I would feel any sense of dismay toward the beloved Apple. I offered to pay him to untangle the mess MobileMe has made of my system. He ducked for cover again

In another few days, I hope to complete the iWeb-to-Wordpress migration. Annoyingly enough, our office is getting some work in-house, dead of summer or no, and on the side I’ve fallen behind on a client’s project, so I will be reduced to working for pay. But as soon as the switchover is done, you should be able (I hope) to access it at a funny-about-money.com URL. I do hope.