Well, I’ve bought a new laptop. Technically. The consensus of the people who’ve commented on the matter to me was that I should get a Windows 7 computer, that Windows 10 was still too new and buggy; and my online research seemed to confirm that 7 was the most stable and reliable. But all the stores are pushing Windows 10 now, so the only way I could get one with 7 was to have the store clerk order one for me online and have it shipped to me. I could’ve done that from home, I suppose, but I wanted to consult with someone who could explain things to me. Anyway, I’ve ordered a refurbished laptop of the same brand and vintage as my current one, but supposedly the refurbishing means it’s been tested and affirmed reliable. It was reasonably inexpensive, and it’s better than my current one in a number of respects — twice the RAM, processor about a third faster, hard drive about two-thirds roomier, screen resolution higher, and with a CD/DVD drive that burns DVDs, while my current one only burns CDs. And it’s old enough to have a VGA port so I can plug in my desktop monitor, although I gather there are VGA-to-USB adapters available if I needed one. It doesn’t have a built-in webcam, but that’s fine, since I usually keep it closed and use it as a desktop CPU anyway, and I have a separate webcam/mike that I’ve only really used once since I bought it (and that I keep unplugged when I’m not using it, for fear of online spying). The main thing I need is something that’s stable, that I can write on and browse on without freezing, and hopefully something I can watch streaming videos on effectively. I gather the doubled RAM and faster processor should facilitate that, along with the fact that Win 7 is less RAM-heavy than the Vista I’m currently saddled with. (I tried watching some Hulu last week, but my laptop froze up during the loading of an ad — the first time it’s actually frozen while I was watching a video, rather than later in a session while I was doing something else. The freezes seem to be coming more frequently.)
I also had to buy MS Office separately so I could install Word on the thing, and that was pretty pricey. The place where I bought my current laptop loads various software on their computers for free, including Office 2007, but I don’t trust that place anymore, and I figured it was worth investing in a newer edition of Word. (And my need to have Word for professional reasons limited my laptop buying choices — for instance, I couldn’t get a Chromebook, because they don’t yet have a Word app for the Android operating system they use.) But it’s been so long since I bought a major piece of software that things have changed. They don’t sell boxes with discs in them anymore — I spent a hundred-plus bucks for a palm-sized piece of cardboard with a product key number underneath a scratch-off pad, so I can download the software online.
The problem is, I have to wait for the machine to be delivered, which is expected to be sometime between next Tuesday and December 3. So I have to keep using my current one for another week or two and hope it stays functional. And I can’t trust it to watch videos on, which sucks, because Marvel’s Jessica Jones premieres on Netflix tomorrow. I’ll have to wait a while before I can watch it. (I really, really wish that when I got my smartphone a while back, I’d accepted their offer to add a tablet for another 50 bucks. I could use a tablet now.)
The other downside is that, between the money I’ve had to spend on the laptop and software, the prospect that it might be delivered next week, and the degree to which my laptop troubles have delayed my work on my Star Trek novel, I’ve had to reluctantly decide that I can’t spare the time or expense right now to drive to Maryland and have Thanksgiving with my cousins, aunt, and uncle. It stinks, but the timing just doesn’t work out. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to see them before long.
Anyway, now that I’ve actually bought the darn thing, that means I don’t need to spend any more time searching, so I’ve been able to refocus on the novel and make some real progress at last. And with my online TV-watching options constrained, I guess that’ll be one less distraction from writing. So hopefully I’ll be able to make up for lost time over the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, I’ve seen the recent news reports about how moderate coffee drinking is good for you, so I’m thinking I should drink more of it. Fortunately, I seem to have acclimated to the taste, even maybe kind of started to like it. Yesterday I dared to try drinking my morning coffee black, and it was actually palatable. Or maybe I’ve just burned off enough taste buds to tolerate it.
The local weather has been fluctuating between highs in the 40s and highs in the 60s, which is awkward for living in this apartment building with its strictly binary central-heat settings and its large mass making it slow to change temperature. Last week, it was chilly in my apartment and I had to bundle up and sleep under a heavy comforter; now it’s only a sunny 57 degrees outside but it’s stuffy and practically sweltering inside. So maybe I won’t have another cup of hot coffee just yet…
I’m pleased to say that I got my outline advance for Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown yesterday, just four days after getting my second royalty check for Only Superhuman (which was much smaller, but decent). So I’m now in a relatively more comfortable place financially than I’ve been in for several months.
Which is good, since I’m still probably going to need a new laptop. I thought I’d gotten to a point where the laptop worked fine so long as I didn’t open Firefox, since the freezes only seemed to happen in sessions (i.e. intervals between reboots) during which I’d earlier used Firefox to watch something on Netflix. But this week I’ve had a couple of freezes in Chrome, even though I haven’t used Firefox in some time. In one case, it was when I tried closing a tab, which was what tended to set it off in the earlier freezes; in the other, it was when I hit stop and reload on a page that was hanging. If there’s a common thread, it may have something to do with trying to interrupt unfinished processes. Then again, in both cases I had several programs running at once — and in both cases it was after having hibernated the laptop overnight instead of shutting it down, if that matters. If this is a memory problem, as I suspect, it may be that I was using too much memory and forced the computer to access a bad part of the RAM, or use too many resources, or something.
Anyway, now that I have the money, I guess buying a new laptop isn’t as onerous an option as it seemed before — though I’m still not sure where the best place to shop would be (and I’m open to suggestions from anyone in the Cincinnati area). Still, I think that just for due diligence, I should go to the repair place I’ve been to before (not the same as the place I bought the laptop) and at least get their opinion about the problem and whether it’s worth trying to fix. I do need some way to watch Netflix reliably soon, what with Marvel’s Jessica Jones about to arrive.
If anything, these latest freezes simplify my decision a bit. Before, it seemed that the laptop was functional for everything but streaming video, and I’d been planning to look into whether adding a tablet to my phone plan or buying an Internet-capable TV would cost less than getting a new laptop. Now at least I know that I’m going to need my laptop either repaired or replaced, period. (Although I’d still like to get a new TV sometime.)
On the plus side, I finally found a solution for a minor domestic annoyance I’ve had for a long time. Since my apartment is at ground level and overlooking a row of shrubs, and since the groundskeepers are profligate in their use of (very noisy) leafblowers, my windows and balcony doors tend to accumulate a coat of fine dirt, and when I have my bedroom window open in the summer, some of it gets onto the sills and the Venetian blinds. And keeping Venetian blinds clean is not easy, especially since I’m not all that diligent about dusting. But a while ago, it idly occurred to me to wish I could just take them down and dump them in the detergent-filled bathtub. I had no idea if there was a way to take them down without tools of some sort, though, so it remained an idle thought — until yesterday, when I got sufficiently sick of the problem to look into just how the blinds were attached to the windows. I finally discovered that the brackets holding them had front panels that could slide out, and once that was done, the blinds came out easily. It wasn’t exactly easy to wash them thoroughly, but it was easier than it would’ve been if I’d left them in place. So now, finally, I have clean blinds again.
Physical health: Perhaps inevitably, I seem to have picked up a nasty cold at Books by the Banks, so I’ve been trying to rest all week and have plenty of tea with honey, chicken soup, etc. I haven’t been able to focus much on writing. I’m also behind on my laundry, both from not being physically up to it and not having enough quarters.
Computer health: My computer’s been mostly running okay with Vista, although some sites like Facebook and io9 sometimes show up weirdly in Chrome, with bits of text and picture appearing like patchwork in the wrong places. I can clear it up by hitting Ctrl-A to highlight the whole page and then clearing the selection. Firefox works okay as long as I just use it for Netflix streaming (I’m nearing the end of a Leverage binge-rewatch). But yesterday, my computer froze while I was in Chrome, the first time that’s happened. The freezes seem to happen when I start to load something, though I can’t lock down just what sort of thing is triggering it. This time, it was when I followed a Facebook link to some news site. It may have been an ad or script on that site that triggered it. Anyway, it drives home that I still can’t trust my laptop. But the new mail client is working fine, at least. And fortunately that part where my keyboard caught fire while I was using it turned out to be a dream.
EDIT: Okay, I just had a second freeze in Chrome. It happened when I tried to close a tab containing an article I’d opened from Facebook. Come to think of it, that may be what happened last time too, since I have a visual memory of the cursor freezing up at the top of the screen. In both cases, then, it would mean that I had Facebook itself open in the first tab and I was trying to close the article in a second tab and go back to the Facebook tab. So could Facebook be the common thread somehow? Perhaps I should avoid going there except on my phone. Or at least avoid opening links from there.
Financial health: One of my overdue Star Trek writing advances is finally on its way to me, and I’m told that the other, larger advance I’ve been awaiting should be coming soon. So hopefully I’ll be able to buy a new laptop before much longer.
Career health: Hard to say. I just submitted my spec novel to an editor I’d really like to work with, but it’ll probably be a long time before I get a reaction to it, since editors are busy people. I’m still waiting for answers about another project I’m hoping to pursue.
Remember how I sent my watch to the manufacturer for a new band and they had it for a month without fixing it? Remember how I ordered a new band from an online company? Well, I got my order today… and they sent the wrong band. My order number ended in 19, and they enclosed the band and receipt that went with the next order, the one ending in 20, which is the wrong size and color. Now I have to find out how to send it back. I wonder if the person this band was meant for got my band instead, or if this mixup extends beyond just the two of us (e.g. everybody in a certain stretch getting the order one digit above theirs). In any case, I still have to go that much longer before I can finally start wearing the right watch again.
Although this is a minor frustration after the day I’ve had wrestling with e-mail clients. First off, I finally figured out how to restore my entire Thunderbird profile from backup, complete with Gmail login info, RSS feeds, the works. But then Thunderbird froze up my computer the same way Firefox (also from Mozilla) has been doing. Okay, not terrible, since I was planning to replace Thunderbird with a different client anyway. I just wanted everything loaded into it so I could import the data into whatever I replaced it with. So I looked around for free options and decided to try Opera Mail, since I used to like the Opera browser. But I couldn’t get it to import all my data. It dumped all my incoming mail from various folders in Thunderbird into a single folder, and it didn’t seem to import my outgoing mail at all. I went looking online for info about how to deal with that issue, and found that apparently it’s impossible to get Opera Mail to import Thunderbird’s folder structure. So scratch Opera Mail. A couple of sites recommended eM Client, so I decided to try that. Lo, it imported my Thunderbird data quite easily, although it doesn’t handle RSS feeds. But for some reason, while I was checking my mail from my main e-mail account, it all got deleted from the server. (I know because I still had my browser open to the webmail page — it’s what I’ve been using in lieu of a reliable client.) Not to worry, it’s all downloaded into eM Client, but I no longer have a backup of it on the server and can’t read the old e-mails on my phone anymore. I’ve contacted the help line to see if there’s any way to undo the deletion, and hopefully I’ve adjusted the client’s settings so it won’t do that again. I think I can provisionally say my e-mail quest has had a tolerable outcome, but it was frustrating getting there.
I don’t know why it is that computers make me so angry and stressed when they misbehave. Maybe because there’s no person to react to and thus no incentive for self-restraint. Maybe my lack of computer savvy leaves me feeling lost and out of control, and I’ve always dealt very badly with that feeling. Or maybe it’s because I’ve become so dependent on my computer, so I’m terrified at the prospect of its failure. I’m starting to see the value of having multiple devices linked in a “cloud.” It leaves you less at the mercy of a single device’s vagaries.
So after dealing with my e-mail and watchband frustrations, I decided to clear my head by going for a walk, including a trip up to the nearby shoe store to get some new socks. And of course, they were out of the type and size I wanted. And the only other clothing stores in walking distance are specialty shops that don’t carry just plain white socks. Of course — why should anything go right for me today?
Well… a nice-looking young woman smiled at me in the park during my walk. So there’s that, at least.
I posted last month about my computer problems. Since then, I’ve been living with the laptop’s shortcomings as best I could, but this week, I finally decided to take it in to the shop where I’d bought it four years ago, since I had the impression I could maybe get free maintenance there. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone back there, since they haven’t given me a lot of reason to trust in their knowledge or resources in the past. But I was desperate enough to give it a try, and the guy convinced me that I might still be having problems from the malware that infected the laptop a couple of years ago and that I went to another place to clean up. He said the only solution was to wipe the whole thing and reinstall Windows from scratch. I had recently bought a large enough thumb drive to back up my documents and application data, just in case, so I agreed to let him do that, even though it would cost 89 dollars. I asked them not to install Avast as the antivirus, because I had a suspicion it was causing a lot of my problems.
When I got it back, it turned out that they’d upgraded my Windows XP to Vista without asking, since the laptop could run either and nobody supports XP anymore. According to my cousin on Facebook, Vista’s a lousy version of Windows, but I’m kinda stuck with it now. They also didn’t have any antivirus available other than Avast, which they assured me was safe in the stripped-down free version they install, so I reluctantly agreed to let them install that and see what happened. It actually does seem to lack the particular avastSvc.exe application that was demanding so many resources from my CPU before. Still, they waited until just before closing time to tell me their credit-card machine was broken and I’d have to pay cash. If they’d told me when they started to install the antivirus, I could’ve gone to the ATM and back before they closed. Instead, I had to come back the next morning to pay.
And I needed to, because the computer worrisomely rebooted itself spontaneously a few hours after I got it back. I hoped the guy could diagnose the problem, but all he could tell me was that he’d done a hardware check and found no problems. I also later discovered that the scroll bar on the side of my laptop’s touchpad no longer works, although the one on my main keyboard that I plug into the laptop when working at home is still working. At least it hasn’t spontaneously rebooted again.
But last night, Firefox froze my computer again, just like it was doing before. The 89-dollar reinstallation did not fix the main problem I needed it to fix. Even though it’s a completely new installation of Windows and Firefox and everything, the same problem is happening. And apparently their warranty only covers hardware, not software or labor, so I don’t think getting my money back is an option. Which sucks, since my latest novel advance check is overdue and money’s a bit tight for me at the moment. Which is why I’m not just buying a new laptop — though I’m starting to seriously think about it anyway.
Although the freeze didn’t seem to happen until I upgraded to the latest edition of Flash. I’ve heard that Flash is a bad program and should be removed, but I’m not sure how to do that, and several sites were giving me error messages about disabling the outdated Flash that came with the install, so I figured it would work as a stopgap, at least. Now I’m wondering if it caused the freeze, given the timing. But it could be coincidence. Anyway, I need to figure out how to uninstall Flash. I gather that Firefox is supposed to natively support HTML5 to play videos and that I don’t need Flash anyway. But some pages seem to say that there are sites that still use Flash by default and you have to do something or other to force them to use HTML5 and it’s all just so confusing!
Indeed, the whole reason I took it to the shop was because all this computer stuff is confusing to me and I hoped they would have the knowledge to fix my software problems for me. Instead, they just fell back on a few basic, broad-strokes moves, and I’m now slightly worse off than I was before. I don’t think I’d gain anything by going back there to ask for more help. I gave up on that place a long time ago and it was only in desperation that I tried going back there again, and it turned out poorly.
Granted, there was also the problem with the Thunderbird mail client erasing my outgoing mails, which may or may not have been fixed (I haven’t gotten around to testing it) — but I’ve decided I need to get a different client anyway, or just rely on webmail. Thunderbird has never gotten along with Gmail, and I can’t even remember the trick I used to get it to accept my Gmail account the first time. I’ve frequently been getting “invalid certificate” error boxes when Thunderbird tries to access my Gmail account (which I hardly use anyway, except as my logon for Google sites and cloud memory) and it’s very frustrating, because they keep cropping up despite every attempt to get the program to “permanently store this exception.” Plus Thunderbird seems to be demanding a lot of CPU usage. I’ve tried looking into alternative mail client programs, ones I can get for free, but I haven’t quite settled on a good one. (I wish Eudora were still around. That was my preferred client for a long time.)
So in short, my computer problems have not been fixed. I still don’t trust Firefox, and Netflix and Hulu videos play even worse on Chrome than they did before the reinstall. Ideally I need a new laptop, but in the meantime I’d appreciate any advice my readers could offer.
As if the computer woes weren’t bad enough, I’ve been dealing with other frustrations lately too. I finally found out that the watch manufacturer hadn’t repaired my watch band yet because they couldn’t find a replacement. I knew that type of band was no longer being sold separately, but I saw that new watches with that band were still being sold, so I expected the manufacturer would be able to supply a band or maybe just substitute a new watch. But they’d gotten nowhere, so I just asked them to send my watch back as it was. I got it back a week later, with the band even more broken than before (in transit, I guess). And I shopped online for a replacement band. The ones the company still offers for that model are the same kind of resin band that I disliked on my old watch (which I’ve been wearing as a stopgap for the past month or so) because they’re so fragile and prone to breakage — which makes no sense, because it’s supposed to be a super-durable, shock-resistant watch. The one I had before was a nylon band, but with resin attachments to the watch body, and it was the resin part that split. So I went shopping for nylon bands of the right size from different manufacturers, and I’ve ordered one that looks pretty good, though it won’t merge as smoothly with the “lugs” of the watch (the sticky-out metal bits that the band attaches to). I’m still waiting for that to arrive.
Also, I’ve been trying to rework an old, unsold original story for the umpteenth time. I’d given up on it years ago, but since I was able to salvage and sell a couple of other old unsold stories in the past couple of years (“The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” and the upcoming “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”), I figured maybe I could save this one too. But so far, it’s still frustrating me. I was trying to tighten it up, both to make it flow better and to make it short enough for markets with a 10,000-word cutoff, but my attempts to combine scenes somehow ended up adding length, so I didn’t trim as much as I’d hoped. I tried cutting out the first scene and starting deeper in the story, but the new first scene has too much telling and not enough showing, and it needs a lot of work to function as an opening. Last night, I decided to abandon it and move on to another project. But maybe that was just my depression about the computer talking, because this morning, I thought of some fixes that might work. Still, it’s an iffy proposition, and I’m not in a great mood to tackle it right now.
Well, tonight is a reception for the author guests of Books by the Banks, and the public event is tomorrow. Hopefully getting to meet some of my fellow authors and readers will cheer me up.
Well, it’s finally happened. A few years ago, I made a post called “Murphy’s Law of glassware,” talking about how every set of drinking glasses I bought tended to suffer breakage until there was only one glass left, which then continued to survive indefinitely. I talked about how the oldest tumbler in the set, a black-tinted one with a narrow base, had lasted just about forever, since well before I moved out on my own. It was part of a set that I also have a few smaller glasses from, but it was the only tumbler-sized one. I had my morning orange juice in it every day as a matter of long habit, and I was rather attached to it for its sheer longevity. I knew it would probably break eventually, though, so I took a picture of it for reference in case I ever figured out how to search for a replacement online somewhere:
Anyway, after lunch today, I was rinsing out an empty pickle jar, and it slipped out of my hands and caused a chain reaction that led to this:
Now I have nothing left but the picture. All these years together, and one clumsy moment cost me my most stalwart and loyal beverage receptacle. And now I’m sad.
Sure, it was just a drinking glass. And I still have a few of its smaller siblings. But I take comfort in familiarity and habit, and this is the loss of something that’s been with me nearly every morning for as long as I can remember. It was my favorite glass and now it’s gone. (Though at least this time I was wearing shoes when a glass broke on the floor.)
I’d be glad to track down some replacements of the same design if I could. I like the design. It’s simple yet distinctive, it’s got a nice dark hue, and the thick bases provide a lot of stability. But I have no idea how to search for replacements. Unlike the teacup I broke a while back, these glasses don’t have any label printed on them, so I don’t know the name of the design or the manufacturer. And the set is so old that I don’t know if they’re still being made. I tried an image search for similar glasses some time back, but had no luck. If there’s a way to refine or narrow the search, I don’t know how to do it. That’s part of why I’m posting this — I’m hoping someone will recognize the design or be able to point me in the right direction.
Glass is so frustrating. It’s such a marvelous material in so many ways — strong, stable, versatile, clear — and yet it’s so fragile at the same time. I wish someone would invent a way to modify its molecular structure so that it would briefly turn soft and flexible upon impact — sort of the opposite of those non-Newtonian fluids that turn semi-solid when struck. If glass would only bounce when dropped or struck rather than shattering, but remain just as strong and rigid the rest of the time, it would be perfect.
My faucet was going pip.
When I first noticed the faint, repeating sound from my kitchen sink, I thought it was a drip, but there was no drip. Just a faint, recurring pip sound from somewhere inside the faucet assembly. I could sometimes get it to abate by adjusting the knobs just right, or maybe it just seemed that way through random variation. But though it was quiet, it was enough to be distracting to me, because I’m easily distracted. (Oh, look, a shiny thing!) It sounded like maybe some kind of air bubbles forming and popping inside a pipe or gasket somewhere, but I couldn’t be sure.
So at one point last month, I mentioned it to the building manager, along with the fact that there tended to be small amounts of water leaking around the edges of the faucet assembly from time to time — which, in retrospect, was probably the more important thing to mention. Anyway, the maintenance guy came in and put in new valves or whatever they’re called inside the knobs. The pips stopped, but the knobs became stiffer and hard to turn. This is a problem for me, since I like to turn the knobs with my forearms in order to keep my hands clean after washing them. It was hard to apply enough torque with my forearms with the new knobs. So I happened to mention to the manager that the knobs were too stiff.
So the maintenance guy came in again a few days later and tried installing a different kind of valves or whatever in the knobs. He also put plenty of grease on them to lubricate them. But afterward, the knobs were even stiffer, and seemed to get harder to turn by the day. The maintenance guy couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Although I did learn more than ever before about the anatomy and functioning of my sink knobs.
But that knowledge quickly proved moot, since the maintenance guy decided just to replace the whole faucet assembly, and that’s what he and the senior maintenance guy did today. The old assembly proved difficult to take out, since the nuts were so old that they’d become stripped or worn or something and the senior guy needed to use a drill to break them open (they were plastic). Apparently, I’ve been living here so long that they haven’t had a chance to renovate the kitchen in over a decade. (I could ask them to, but it’d mean a rent increase, and, well, I’m a writer.)
Anyway, he gradually made progress, and it was fun watching the effects up above as he wrestled with the pipes below. It was like the faucet was dancing in gleeful anticipation of finally being freed from its bonds. (Hence the post title.) But I happened to be looking away at the moment it finally came loose, so I missed its triumphant leap into the sink.
So now I have a gleaming new faucet assembly, and the best part is, it has a single lever rather than separate hot and cold knobs! That’s the kind of kitchen faucet I used to have before I moved here, and it’s the kind I’ve always wished I had again, because it’s so much easier to turn on and off and adjust the temperature with, especially without using my hands. Come to think of it, it’ll probably be easier to keep clean as well. It wasn’t easy to clean underneath the old knobs, and they tended to accumulate mineral deposits or gunk of some sort. (The water in this neighborhood is alarmingly hard. I’d make some geeky joke about it giving Jay Garrick superpowers, but the science of that is so dreadful that I just can’t bring myself to do it.) Now I’ve just got a nice smooth plate with the faucet and lever in the middle, and fewer places for water to leak from.
EDIT: I just remembered the most important reason I prefer a single-lever faucet. In this building, in the winter, the cold water gets really cold, and the hot water tends to get really hot to compensate for it. So while in the summer, I can get by comfortably using just one or the other, in winter I need to find a tolerable mix of the two, and that’s a lot easier to do if I can just nudge a lever, rather than having to constantly use both knobs and try to find a good balance between them. At this time of year, when both hot and cold are at more moderate temperatures, it doesn’t make much difference, but I’m sure I’ll be grateful for the change come winter.
So all in all, I’m very pleased with the end result of all this. I guess it pays to mention it when your faucet goes pip.
Although I still wish I knew what that sound was.