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Sabbatical, Day 34: Computer Troubles, The CT Scan, Christian Music And Animation

Recurring computer frustrations this morning. McAfee Security Center is trying my patience. Twice this week it has thrown up warnings, saying the PC isn’t protected. It invites you to click a button to fix the problems, and it doesn’t. Earlier in the week, it demanded uninstallation and an upgrade. That seemed a bit rich, given I was subscribed over a year in advance. That time and today, forcing a search for updates seemed to solve the problem. If it keeps misbehaving, I may write off what I’ve paid ahead of time and replace it with a  high quality free anti-virus offering such as Avast and the excellent if rather talkative firewall from Comodo.

The other sinner this week has been our Canon Pixma iP5200 printer. We keep getting documents printed without that rather crucial colour, black. And that’s a disadvantage with text! Each time, it’s the same fault. One of the two black cartridge nozzles needs cleaning. It has been an excellent workhorse, but I’m beginning to suspect built-in obsolescence. It’s three years old, and everyone knows manufacturers make little money from the printers themselves, cashing in on the inkjet cartridges. And in an economic model like that, the manufacturers are being pushed hard by the widespread availability of compatibles. What a ghastly parable of our whole creaking economic system.

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This afternoon began with the CT scan on my sinuses. Thanks to Olive for her lovely comment on yesterday’s post. It was a strange experience, different from what I was expecting. For a start, I was seen on time, so congratulations to the Radiology Department at Broomfield Hospital! I was taken from the main radiology waiting room to a separate CT scan waiting room.

Asked if I had any jewellery, I mentioned my watch and wedding ring, neither of which I had to remove anyway. And although they are both strictly jewellery, I never think of them that way. ‘Bling’ is not a word anyone who knows me would associate with me. The watch is a tool for a job, and the wedding ring is my visual aid to remind me wherever I am that I have the privilege of being married. 

The nurse also asked me if I had any questions, and I explained my main concern was with lying still on my back, given that’s the position in which I find it hardest to breathe – and ironically the reason why I was having the test. The appointment letter had said the procedure would last between ten and thirty minutes. However, if I was under the scanner for five minutes, that’s all it was. Sinuses are among their simpler cases, apparently – and thankfully!

Lying under the scanner, I had certain expectations of what would happen. I thought it would be one long, steady, slow pass through what the staff referred to as the ‘doughnut’. Actually, I went forward and backward two or three times in semi-jerky movements. The whirring, flashing ring reminded me of something from Star Trek, perhaps a glorified version of the sight gadget Geordi La Forge wore. (No, I’m not a Trekkie: I had to research the character’s name.) When it slowed down, it sounded like a tube train coming into a station. From Geordi La Forge to Underground Ernie, I guess. 

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I’m tired tonight, so nothing intellectually demanding. I’m reviewing some CDs for Cross Rhythms. Every couple of months, they send me four releases to write up, and the musical styles can vary greatly.

First off tonight, a compilation from the now defunct American girl-pop trio Zoegirl. It’s highly professional yet very derivative of other teen pop. Like Andy Crouch, I believe Christians should be Culture Making rather than culture copying. However, it does have the merit of lyrics that attempt to boost the self-esteem of teenage girls. I suspect the members of Zoegirl are utterly sincere Christians, working within a less than entirely honourable industry. Hits: Greatest Zoegirl is their third compilation since 2005. It came out last year, and there’s another comp of them being released next month! It’s hard to have kind words for an industry that behaves like that.

Currently playing while I’m typing is Hold On For Life by the Arkansas Gospel Mass Choir. Right now, I’m only seven tracks out of ten through a first listen, so any opinions now are highly provisional. It doesn’t break any new ground in the black gospel genre, either musically or lyrically, and some annoying pseudo-live sounds are overdubbed, but you can’t get over the extraordinary power and quality of those voices, and a great brass section. 

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I’m signing off tonight with an amazing piece of animation. A friend just sent me the link to Animator Vs Animation by Alan Becker. It’s an amazing treat.

Goodnight!

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Here Cometh The Laptop

To date in my computing life, I have worked entirely with desktops. We have two in the study. One is the old Windows XP machine that so slowed to a crawl despite tripling the memory and regularly defragging the hard drive that it is now mainly the children’s. Their school uses XP, so it makes some sense.

The other is our nearly-two-years-old Windows Vista PC. We bought it a fortnight after Vista was released, due to the dire state of the XP computer. Like many people, we have discovered considerable disadvantages to Vista. We can’t use the quick upload tool to Snapfish when we want to upload digital photos for printing. Having said that, some things are nicer in Vista. What’s more, now I’ve doubled the RAM to a ridiculous 4 gigs, it runs at a decent speed. I can’t put in more RAM with a 32-bit operating system, however.

But in a month’s time, I start a three-month sabbatical. I shall be away for three weeks of that time. One of the places I am visiting, Cliff College, assumes in the emails it sends out that people will arrive with wifi-enabled laptops. Likewise, I shall be spending time at Lee Abbey on a photography course, so having a laptop on which to manipulate some shots will be handy.

Hence I have desired a laptop for a little while. Thankfully, my accountant has worked his usual magic this year and there is enough around in my tax rebate to afford a modest model. This week I paid the princely sum of £341 to Tesco for a machine that was being discontinued, the Acer Aspire 5720. Ideally I’d have liked a bigger hard drive than 160 GB, and I can expand the 2 GB of RAM easily enough.

Tonight I set about beginning to adapt it for my purposes. Off came a raft of software: a load of arcade games for a start, swiftly followed by Microsoft Works and the 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 – I have that on the Vista desktop and don’t intend paying through the nose again. So once I’d downloaded and installed Open Office 3.0 off came the MS products. The only disadvantage to OO is there isn’t a UK English version.

Next stage will be to replace the bloated and expensive trial version of McAfee Security Centre with some free security products. (Not as bad as Norton, I know, but it’s still £50 a year I could do with saving.) Gizmo’s Tech Support Alert website is full of useful reviews. I’ve started to read up on anti-virus, anti-spyware and software firewalls. The XP machine had a number of freebies on it, but I may not choose the same products. I shan’t be downloading emails to the laptop, because that will create a sync problem with the Vista desktop, but I shall read my Gmail on it and use that while I’m away.

I have also downloaded and installed Paragon Partition Manager Express so that I can carve out a separate partition early on where I can install Ubuntu Linux. Having failed miserably to get Ubuntu to run within Windows using wubi.exe on Vista (although it does happily on XP), I’d like to do a proper install, if I’m brave enough.

I shall also buy a large memory stick for moving stuff over to the Vista desktop. (I’ll also sort out the wireless network between them, I trust, but often a memory stick is quicker if the wireless plays up.) 7dayshop have some bargains: this looks like a bargain, 16 GB for £15.49.

Before I go away, I shall probably get some pay-as-you-go mobile broadband. There is a good review of available services in the February 2009 issue of Personal Computer World. Vodafone comes out best for performance, although they charge the earth if you exceed your data allowance.

So that’s my little personal project with which to begin the new year. Any thoughts on my plans are welcome. What are you up to?