The Computer in the Closet

I’ve known for a year or more that the City of Houston sponsors an electronic waste recycling drop off in my area once a month—on the second Saturday, when I go to an RWA chapter meeting forty miles away. When I decided to pass on the meeting this month, I remembered the recycling day.

I had two computers, with all their accessories, that hadn’t been turned on in years, the older one stuffed in the storage closet of last resort, the other still set up but gathering dust in the library (that sounds better than the junk room, and there are books in there, on shelves and in boxes, mostly Jack’s).

The computer in the library went out of service in January 2010, when I bought my current system. I kept it set up at first in case I needed something I’d forgotten to transfer. That happened a few times, but the computers couldn’t talk to each other easily. The old computer had only 3.5 inch disk drives for output, while the new one had only USB drives for input. My work computer at the time fell between them in age, and had both, but transferring a file required several steps, three computers and two locations. The library computer stayed set up for another four years because I had nowhere else to put it.

That computer had served me well for seven or eight years, and it still worked in 2010, but its memory and storage capacity, which had seemed vast when I bought it, couldn’t handle most new programs. The jump to my current computer, with its giant hard drive, Windows 7, and a DSL Internet connection, was an adventure.

the current computer, and then some

the current computer, and then some

The computer in the storage closet was even older, going back to the middle 1990s, but it had weathered the Y2K non-event. I have quite a few files on my current computer that I can trace back to it.

I’d owned, and gotten rid of, at least three computers before that one: an early PC clone (which had minimal memory and storage, no hard drive, a tiny gold-on-black monitor, and a daisy wheel printer, and cost about $5,000—a business expense—in 1984) and two Tandy PCs (in which I had installed 32-megabyte hard cards myself). There may have been another one in there somewhere, and Jack had an early (and very heavy) laptop that he never really learned to use. I have no idea how we got rid of those, concern about recycling electronic waste not being a major concern back then. I probably gave the pieces to some computer-tinkering friend or just threw them in the trash.

I had ambitious plans this morning for getting rid of both old computers at once, thus furthering my general, if slow, war on cluttered closets, but even the roomy trunk in my Toyota couldn’t handle that. I’d forgotten how big—and how heavy—that old CRT monitor in the closet was. The tower was big and heavy, too, and then there was the defunct printer. By the time I tucked cables, keyboard, speakers and mouse into the corners, the trunk was pretty well full.

But the storage closet was considerably less so. I’d even thrown out a couple of old pillows, although there were still several of Jack’s old metal detectors, several boxes (some empty, but you never know when you might need a shoe box), a nice wooden rack—for cassette tapes, and a set of dog steps (I don’t have a dog) in there. But there was plenty of room for the smaller library computer and its flat screen monitor.

So I still have a computer in the storage closet, and the closet still needs cleaning, as does the library (more boxes, some full of books, some empty, one full of minor computer junk, two cartons of West Houston chapter archives, and a seldom used vacuum cleaner). But I’m making slow progress, and I’ve done my ecological good deed for today.

Fun with Technology

I seem to be having all sorts of wrestling matches with my computers and related technology lately.  I got a new computer at work in September, with a scanning program that reads documents fed through the fax machine and turns them into pdf files.  It worked without a problem until a couple of weeks ago when it suddenly decided there wasn’t enough memory (somewhere–the program wasn’t specific about exactly where) to scan at 1200 dpi.  Fortunately the two or three documents I scan each week work perfectly well at 600 dpi.  This week the program started randomly producing blank pdf files; now I have to scan some papers twice and check the files before I send them on.  I have no idea what’s going on there.

Then there was the Excel file that suddenly sprouted large, unexplained, and unnumbered gaps the other day.  Fortunately I had the good sense to close it before I saved any of the anomalies.  When I reopened the file it was perfectly well behaved.  Sometimes frequent saves are not the answer.

Meanwhile, the (admittedly old) printer sometimes refuses to print from the sheet feeder (which we use to print checks and labels) and the (also aging) copy machine suffers from paper jams in the morning.  We’re doing our best to work around these problems, because we’re planning to reorganize the office and replace the printer, copier, and fax machine in the foreseeable future.

My computer puzzles at home have been solvable, for which I am grateful.  This morning I found my computer rebooted and waiting patiently for my password, and when I logged in I discovered that Internet Explorer 11 had been downloaded during the night.  It looks exactly like IE 10, but apparently it works on touch screen computers.  I don’t have a touch screen computer.  It didn’t change any of my settings, so no harm, no foul.

I’ve been resurrecting an old manuscript to enter in the RWA Golden Heart contest (it’s an addiction).  My work in progress stood no chance of being finished in time, so I pulled out one that I’ve always liked but haven’t really looked at in some time.  It did well in contests some years ago, so I decided to give it another shot.  And some editing.

I went through the whole manuscript, making generally small edits, and liking what I read.  It had been long enough that I’d forgotten many of the details, and I actually enjoyed reading it, as though it was a novel I’d read (rather than written!) years ago.  But it needed some work, and after sending the first three chapters to a couple of writer friends, I did some more editing, and decided I needed to combine some scenes, split some others, and move some chapter breaks.

It would have been so much easier to do in Scrivener, but the contest deadline is looming, and I didn’t have time to move the manuscript from Word to Scrivener and back.  Fortunately there was relatively little full-scale rewriting to do (for now, at least–if an editor ever says, “I’ll buy this, but you need to turn the time line inside out,” I’m there), and I did it on paper and in the Word file.

But I still had those pesky chapter breaks to shift around, and that’s where my large computer monitor proved its worth (not for the first time).  I discovered that Word could show me at least eight pages at a time at a resolution clear enough to read, which made judging the length and breaking points of chapters surprisingly easy, and perhaps even more visual than Scrivener.


Believe me, I’m really not complaining about any of these little hassles.  I’ve kept records in ledger books rather than Excel, made copies on mimeograph machines after typing the masters without a ribbon, and typed whole novels on a typewriter, so I appreciate everything I do on a computer.  But there are times when I have no idea what’s going on–it might as well be magic.

New Toys for my Computer

A few weeks ago I started having problems with my email program running away with me.  I was sending empty emails, and duplicates, and I had no idea why.  And the problems spread to the web site I usually use to look up the TV schedule.  I’d click on a program description, and the box would snap open and shut too fast for me to read it.  Same thing with Twitter–it took several attempts to open a picture (Twitter was invented to disseminate pictures of cats, right?).

In due time I realized that the problem had to be related to my mouse.  I went to the control panel and tried adjusting the click speed, but that had absolutely no effect.  I tried googling terms like “hair trigger mouse,” and found nothing.  Then last weekend, I finally figured out what was actually going on–the mouse was randomly sending out double clicks when I was sending out single clicks.  Not every time, but often enough to be really annoying.  By then it was even affecting my attempts to select text.

When I googled “mouse sends double clicks,” I found plenty of folks who’ve had the same problem with aging mice (and mine was coming up on four years of steady service).  It makes sense–even optical mice must have some sort of physical mechanism for transmitting clicks.  I found instructions on taking a mouse apart to fix it.  Yeah, right.  Back in the day, I had no trouble removing the ball from the underside of a mechanical mouse to clean it, but that day is long gone.  The obvious solution to this problem, and the most common advice, was “buy a new mouse.”

So yesterday I stopped at the local Office Depot and found myself staring at a display of at least thirty different mice, about two thirds of which were wireless.  I wanted corded–this was for a desktop computer that never moves, and a corded mouse doesn’t require batteries.  I thought I might as well pick out something a bit higher up the scale than the simple mouse that came with my computer, so I settled on an ergonomic critter with some extra buttons and features (Logitech model M500).

The trickiest part of installing it was tracing the old mouse cord to the back of the computer to detach it.  I don’t know what I unplugged on the first try, but it wasn’t the mouse.  Once I had the new one plugged in, Windows took over and made it work.  There were a couple of features that needed the Logitech driver, so I downloaded that, but it wasn’t needed for the basic mouse functions.

The new mouse solved all the problems I had attributed to the old one, and even a few I hadn’t recognized.  It has a control that switches the wheel from free spinning (and very fast) action to line-by-line motion.  And it has two buttons on the side that function as back and forward clicks on web sites.  The Logitech driver lets you program various buttons to do all sorts of things.  Highly recommended for right-handers.  If there’s a leftie version I did not see it at Office Depot.

I have a new piece of software to play with, too.  The folks at Literature and Latte, the source of Scrivener, have released Scapple for Windows.  I’ve been envious since they released it for Mac, and this fall I downloaded the beta version of the Windows release.  The full release came out a few weeks ago for the princely sum of $14.95.  Scapple is a brainstorming, note-jotting, what-you-make-of-it program that turns your computer screen into an expanse where you can make notes, move them around, connect them, and generally play with them.  My first Scapple file is full of plot notes and ideas for the story I’m working on, thrown all over the screen.  A friend recently showed me the extremely neat plot outline she’d made with Scapple on her laptop.  You can pull Scapple files into a folder in your Scrivener project, too.  Here’s a sample:

Scapple sample



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