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Laptop followup: No joy

I just got back from a trip to Best Buy (through whom I ordered my refurbished laptop) to see if they could help me get my headphone/speaker jack working. I would’ve done it days ago, but I’ve been a bit under the weather. According to the tech guy there, the fact that the laptop doesn’t shut down its own speakers when a device is plugged into the jack means it’s not even reading the jack, which is a hardware problem rather than a software problem. Which is very bizarre, because it’s a huge coincidence that a hardware malfunction would happen at the same time I swapped out the hard drive for a new one. Unless I jarred something loose during all the flipping over of the laptop to get to the underside, or something.

Anyway, they said they’d have to send it out for a week or more to get it repaired, and I can’t afford to be without it that long. There is another place about a half-hour’s drive north of me that might have the parts in stock, but the guy suggested (I think, if I understood him right) that I could also get an RCA-to-USB adapter and plug my speakers into the USB port, which seems simpler. Unfortunately the guy said they didn’t sell them there, which seems odd. I looked around when I got home to see if, by lucky chance, I already had one, but I don’t appear to. So I guess I need to get hold of one. That probably shouldn’t be too hard.

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Laptop II: So far, so good…

After I hit a snag with the expired activation key on my replacement hard drive the last time, the refurbishers sent me another key, so I once again wielded my screwdriver to uninstall the old hard drive and put in the new one… only to find that the key I’d been sent used a letter that was disabled during installation, don’t ask me why. So I swapped back to the old drive yet again and informed them of the problem. I got a third key promptly, this one with no disabled letters, but after two failed starts (and an inadequate night’s sleep), I just didn’t feel up to trying again right away. But today, I finally went ahead and reinstalled the new one yet again.

This time, the activation key worked fine… and I found I didn’t need the MS Office activation code, because apparently Office was pre-installed on this drive and I just had to re-enter my e-mail and password. So that saved me some trouble. Then it was a matter of installing all the other basics — antivirus, e-mail client, browsers, Acrobat, and a couple of my other most-used programs, along with Windows security updates. I’m now basically functional again, and it took only about 3 1/2 hours. I still have a few nonessentials to install, but they can wait.

I have noticed a couple of odd things, though. Like, when I installed new programs and tried to put their icons on the taskbar or desktop, they didn’t show up right away, though they did after I rebooted. And there have been a couple of times when I’ve minimized and re-expanded Firefox and the buttons in the top right corner have either vanished or been replaced with fatter buttons. I really hope these aren’t warning signs of something wrong with the new drive or its software. This is my third hard drive from this refurbisher in the year and seven months (almost to the day) since I bought this laptop. I really want this one to work!!

EDIT: Annnd…  there’s already a problem. The headphone/speaker jack won’t work anymore. Hoo boy.

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Laptop: Good news and bad news

Well, since I had a lull between other projects, I decided that today was the day I would finally go ahead and replace the iffy hard drive I’ve been using with the second replacement drive the refurbisher sent me after the first replacement crashed.

First off, though, I decided to try reinstalling the crashed drive, just on the off chance that I could get it working long enough to back up the files I hadn’t backed up at the time of its crash. I wasn’t really expecting this to work, so imagine my surprise when it started up perfectly normally! I wasn’t willing to trust in that, though, so I hastened to back things up onto my thumb drive. The recovered files aren’t anything really urgent, just a handful of pictures and personal documents, but it’s a relief to have them back.

So then I put in the new drive and tried to start it up — and I hit a pretty big snag. The drive came “imaged” with the same Windows 7 copy as the previous drives, so it had the same activation key — but what I didn’t realize was that I apparently had to use that key within 30 days of getting it, and it’s been something like twice that now. I guess I’ll have to contact the refurbisher and ask if they can reset it or something.

In the meantime, I’m making do with the original drive, which has been working mostly fine for the past couple of months, though I don’t know how much I can rely on that. Wish me luck.

What do we do now?

I’m in shock right now. I didn’t sleep a wink last night, yet still I got up hoping that the election results would turn out to have been a bad dream. I thought I was clear-eyed about the risk of this happening — I’ve seen enough works of speculative fiction on the theme of “It Can Happen Here,” and I know from my studies of history that societies don’t remain stable forever. But still, I let myself get reassured every time the probabilities swung away from this outcome and just crossed my fingers. I feel embarrassed about my last-moment, half-hearted post about the election yesterday. I feel that I should’ve said more before now, done more. But I’m sure a lot of other people do as well — and many more will come to feel buyers’ remorse over the months and years ahead.

It’s happened. The United States has let an incompetent, abusive, bigoted con man trick it into believing he cares about anything but himself. A stooge of a hostile foreign power will now occupy the Oval Office. Civil rights in this country are likely to be set back by a generation. The economy will likely tank, the world will likely become more unstable and violent. The odds that we can stabilize the planet’s climate will plummet. This is probably the worst thing that has happened in the United States in my lifetime.

Still, I’m looking for reasons to hold onto optimism, because that’s what keeps me going. I was bullied and marginalized throughout grade school, my life was one of constant stress and fear and low self-esteem, but because of Star Trek and superheroes, I had hope that there was a way things could get better. I needed to have hope. It was all that kept me sane.

There is the hope that, now that he has won the prize which is the only thing he cared about, Trump will be completely uninterested in actually going to the trouble of governing. He essentially said in the campaign that he’d entrust both foreign and domestic policy to his vice president. I expect this to be like the Reagan administration squared — the celebrity figurehead will barely pay attention to the work and it’ll be taken care of by the staff and handlers who surround him, who will be working hard to walk back the figurehead’s rhetoric and keep the sharp objects out of his hands, like they did throughout the campaign. Which would mean we’ve effectively elected Mike Pence president, or maybe whoever becomes chief of staff. That’s awful enough in its own right, but at least it might just be an ordinary level of presidential awfulness rather than the authoritarian coup many have feared. There’s also the hope that, since he’s a con artist whose whole campaign was built on lies, he won’t actually try to enact the nonsensical or hateful policies he spent the past year advocating. His supporters will probably get screwed over as badly as the investors in his businesses.

Still, we can’t assume the worst won’t happen; that mistake led to yesterday’s outcome. The fact that there’s a movement that responded to a campaign based on racism and religious bigotry and authoritarianism, and that it was large enough to win the election, is terrifying. That movement isn’t going anywhere, and they’ve been emboldened now. And Trump thrives on their adulation, so he’ll continue giving rallies to stir them up, and that will be even worse now that he has the bully pulpit. So the rest of us will have to stand firm, to keep speaking out for what we believe in, to be a loyal opposition and a check on the government’s excesses and a conscience for the nation. We saw in the 1960s how powerful such protest movements can be even when the government is against them. Things may be bad for a while to come, but I believe it will inspire a counterreaction that will eventually make things better again.

I’ve been thinking, during this sleepless night, about the 1991 book Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The book, and the subsequent ones by the same authors, put forth a generational theory of American history stating that the country has gone through several iterations (“turnings”) of a four-generation cycle lasting about 80 years, give or take. There’s a High period, when society is optimistic and well-off but conformist, afraid of anything that would upset their stable existence; an Awakening, when a new generation challenges the previous conformist norms and restrictions and experiments with personal and spiritual awakening; an Unraveling, where the previous generation’s focus on the self leads to an era when social institutions are weak and the population is divisive and mistrustful, unable to unify to solve its problems; and a Crisis, where those festering problems erupt into a major upheaval, but the generation forged in that crisis unites and rises to the occasion, solving it and building a new order that ushers in the next High. In the most recent “turning” of this cycle, the Depression and WWII were the Crisis, the postwar era through the early ’60s was the High, the ’60s and ’70s were the Awakening, and the mid-’80s onward were the Unraveling. And that would put us in the Crisis phase right about now.

In the 25 years since the book came out, I’ve been startled by how closely reality has conformed to the predictions of this theory, although from a scholarly perspective I know that it would take at least another complete “turning” to confirm it scientifically. But I’ve expected for a long time now that we would enter another Crisis phase around this time, and so far, events are bearing that out. And that means things are going to get worse before they get better. I hadn’t expected it to take this form. But I do believe it won’t last forever. It may be a decade or more before we come through it, but I believe the counterreaction against what’s to come will lead to a better world for the Millennial generation and the one after that. And maybe that generation — so much more inclusive and multicultural than the American generations before it — will begin to find a way to break the cycle of highs and lows. That’s probably a long shot, but I need to believe it’s possible. We all need hope more than ever right now. And not just those of us who lost yesterday. Trump won over his supporters because they already lacked hope and were vulnerable to someone offering them easy answers. Real solutions are never easy, but they can only work if they offer hope to everyone, not just those we agree with.

So what will I do? I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep using my work to portray a better future we can strive toward, and to be as inclusive of diverse characters and worldviews as I can. I’ll keep writing allegories about the problems we face, and hopefully influencing some people to work toward solving them. I know, for example, that my upcoming Star Trek: The Original Series novel The Face of the Unknown, due out at the end of this year, is suddenly much more relevant than I ever wanted it to be. It may be hard to believe in a better future at the moment, but my work, both in Star Trek and in my main original universe, has always incorporated the assumption that the first half of the 21st century would be a time of crisis, but that it would be a catalyst for humanity to find new solutions and make the world better — not completely, not easily, and always with the risk of backsliding, but still better, wiser, more inclusive and enlightened. We need to keep believing in that future, and fighting for it. In the words of Robert Hewitt Wolfe (Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, “Under the Night,” October 2, 2000), “Pessimism is not a survival trait.” No matter who won or lost the election, we still need the audacity of hope, and we are still stronger together.

 

(I’m disabling comments again, because this is hard for me to think about or talk about. I needed to say this, to get it out of my system, but I don’t have the strength for an extended discussion, and I still have writing obligations that urgently need my attention right now. This will be reposted on my Facebook page, of course.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Please vote today!

I’ve been hesitant to post anything about the election here on my blog, in part because I’m really busy with writing right now, and in part because I’m timid and don’t like to invite controversy here on my personal site. Also, I was raised to believe that voting decisions were a private matter. Anyway, I think people familiar with my work will already have a pretty good idea where I stand, and will be fans of other people who’ve made the case quite eloquently.

But today’s election is so important that I had to say something. A healthy democracy depends on informed voters participating in the process. We’re not spectators, we’re the decision-makers, and when too few of us participate, the decisions that get made tend to be bad for the rest of us. And those decisions need to be careful and informed, because an election is a job interview, not a popularity contest. And this may be the single most important election of our lifetimes. Even from a climate-change perspective alone, the fate of the world may be literally at stake today — or at least whether the optimistic futures I like to write about will ever be plausible.

Even if it weren’t so pivotal this time, it’s always important to vote, and to be an informed voter, learning about the issues and candidates rather than just letting rhetoric, partisanship, and propaganda guide you. It’s work, yes, but democracy is like adulthood — with great freedom comes great responsibility. If we don’t do the work, we don’t get the benefits of independence. And not only for the big races, but all the way down the line. The local races, particularly for things like school boards and juvenile court judges, are just as important to our everyday lives as the big stuff that gets national attention.

So please vote, and vote carefully.

Categories: Uncategorized

Up and running again (mostly)

January 2, 2016 1 comment

As it turned out, when I contacted the suppliers of my refurbished PC to arrange for it to be shipped in for repairs, they offered to send me a replacement pre-imaged hard drive that would have a copy of the same Windows 7 operating system on it, so that I could swap it out myself. That would certainly take less time than sending the laptop back in and waiting to get it back, so I went for that. After all, I’d seen the guy at Best Buy take the hard drive out to inspect it, so I knew how to do it. Two weeks passed and no drive came, so I complained, and it arrived two days after that. I was uneasy that it had been sent in just a padded envelope instead of something sturdier, but I installed it today and it seems to be working fine. And since I just did all this a bit over a month ago, I was able to do it more efficiently this time, though it still took forever for some of the software to download from the Internet, so it took all afternoon and then some. (Though this time I backed up and copied my documents with a thumb drive rather than using the network connection between PCs, and it was far, far faster, as I’d hoped.)

Some stuff will have to wait until tomorrow, but I’ve now got the essential stuff reinstalled and working — except for my e-mail client program, eM Client. For some reason, when I installed a new copy and tried overwriting its mailbox data files with the up-to-date ones from the old drive (which I’d copied onto my old laptop as a backup and transferred back from there), it led to some kind of malfunction in the program and it crashed. I still have the data on my old computer; I just need to figure out how to get it working on my new-new computer. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong this time that’s different from when I transferred the data files the other way. I really hope I can get it figured out tomorrow. I need to get past these computer troubles once and for all so I can get back to work on my writing.

UPDATED: Okay, I figured out what I was doing wrong with the mail client. I had to delete the entire application data folder before copying the entire old one into its place. When I tried to overwrite the existing folder, it somehow created duplicate files in some weird way (even though I clicked on the replace option in the file manager), and when I tried to just copy the .dat files, I guess it created a conflict the program couldn’t resolve. Once I wiped the whole database folder and replaced it with the old one, the program worked fine.

So now I’ve got all the essential stuff reinstalled and some of the less urgent stuff. There are still a few things left to do, like reinstalling my printer drivers from the CD, but I’m basically back on track after less than 24 hours.

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Or does it…?

Well, here is what I posted on Facebook this past Tuesday:

“Okay, that’s worrisome… I turned my new (refurbished) laptop on this morning and it just made this repetitive clicking noise for a while, and after the initial pre-Windows startup text and a black screen for a while, I just got a cursor blinking in the corner and more clicking. I finally turned it off and back on again, and it booted up fine. Is this potentially serious?

I was told this could be a sign of imminent disk failure, but checking online about clicking sounds indicated that it could be anything from normal operational noises to a harbinger of doom. I ran a disk check on bootup and it showed no damage, but I decided to take it in to Best Buy today and see what they could tell me. According to their Geek Squad guy, the sound is definitely a hard drive noise that it’s not supposed to be making. He couldn’t find any clear sign of damage aside from a slight dent in the drive’s casing, and the diagnostics showed no problem. Still, with his input, I concluded it was probably best to send it in for replacement or repair. It turned out they had no others of this model in stock, so it would have to be repair. We were just about to send it out when I thought to show the guy the paperwork that had come with the laptop, including a sheet revealing that it was covered under a different warranty than their usual, so they couldn’t do the repairs themselves. Instead, apparently, I have to arrange with the specified company to handle the shipping and repairs. Which means I still have the laptop with me now, until I can arrange that. It’s working fine, and I’m almost tempted to keep it around, but that’s tempting fate.

Although it’s somehow not quite working fine. When I got it home and tried plugging my external keyboard back in, it wouldn’t work. The touchpad built into the keyboard eventually started to work, but then the keys wouldn’t work. The computer seemed to be having trouble finding the drivers, even though it worked fine this morning. I’m using the laptop’s own keyboard and screen for now, but I don’t know what the problem is. This is the first time I’ve disconnected and reconnected the keyboard and monitor since I first plugged them into this laptop. It’s a pretty old keyboard, and I’ve been afraid it might be close to giving up the ghost, but the backup keyboard and mouse I have on hand wouldn’t work either; the computer took too long to search for driver software for the mouse. Which I’ve just realized is because it’s on a CD that I still have, so I guess I can install that later if I need to. The keyboard is another matter, though. The problem might be with the adapter I’m using, since both keyboards use those old circular purple connectors and I only have the one adapter from that to USB. If that’s the source of the problem, then I’m sunk until I can get a new one or a new USB keyboard. Still, it seems unlikely that I’d have a hardware failure with the keyboard or its connector at the same time I’m dealing with a laptop problem. It seems logical that the problem is with the laptop, but I’m not sure what could’ve changed since this morning.

So this is a mess. I guess I just need to send it in for repair and hope my old laptop survives until this one comes back. Or, according to the guy at the store, I could potentially trade this laptop in for a different one, but it’d probably cost more. In theory, they could install a new hard drive and Windows at Best Buy, but the cost of the drive, OS, and labor would come out to about the same amount I spent on the laptop itself. So that’s probably off the table.

And even in the best case, I’ll still have to reload all my data and reinstall all my software all over again. At least I have recent practice at it. Sigh…

EDIT: Oh, I don’t believe this. No sooner did I publish this post that I received an order from Amazon including two coffee mugs… and one of the mugs arrived broken. Arrgghhh! And the socks I ordered from Amazon and received a few days earlier were the wrong size. That’s three things I’ve bought in the past month that have turned out wrong! Am I cursed or something?

EDIT 2: Well, my external keyboard is suddenly working again, which is something, I guess.

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