Sunday Nibble #58: Obituary


It is with great sadness that I must announce the passing of Gateway DW4320, who had long been my faithful servant. After a series of minor strokes, DW suffered a major event last Monday evening and, despite valiant efforts to keep them alive, they passed on Tuesday afternoon.

DW did have a long and eventful life, during which time they offered great assistance to their writer patron, as well as facilitated communications between the writer and friends around the world. DW’s research skills were immeasurable, and were instrumental in the creation and dissemination of many of the writer’s works, even right up to the very end.

DW is survived by an external hard drive, laser printer, monitor, and a wireless keyboard, mouse, modem and router. In lieu of flash drives, we ask that you make donations to the Alan Turing Foundation in their memory.

Well… it feels like that when an old and trusted machine suddenly dies of old age. And, yeah, I should have upgraded a while ago, since this box was still running Windows 7. But it was working fine, I had a bunch of legacy software on it, as well as a bunch of online passwords.

Fortunately, all of my writing was on the external drive. I had to Frankenstein data out of the old hard drive using what’s called a USB/SATA/IDE interface. Basically, this involves pulling the drive from the old computer and hooking it up to a connector that in turn provides motive power to the drive. Hardware and software inside the connector make the hard drive look just like any normal external drive at the other end of the USB, and the new computer recognizes it.

So I did manage to save all of my important documents and files, but it’s going to be a bit more complicated to get some of the software back. Fortunately, subscribing to Microsoft Office was a necessity anyway, so Excel and Word are still around.

Side note: Subscribing to Microsoft software? Yeah, fuck you, Bill Gates, or whatever twatmonkey bean counter at Microsoft came up with that shit. This was actually one of the reasons I held out from updating the computer in the first place.

But back to the point… I do still have the discs to a lot of the old software I’d been using, I just haven’t figured out yet whether Windows 10 will like them. Kind of annoying, because the version of Photoshop I’ve been using forever is something like 6.0.

Yeah, I know. Ancient, but I like that for one simple reason. It keeps my skills sharp, because I have to do manually a lot of the things that Adobe has automated over the years. Nowadays, if you want to erase a person from a photo, fill in a gap in a background seamlessly, color-match two images from different sources, or create a cut-our or mask for a figure, those are pretty much all one-click operations in modern versions of Photoshop.

Would it be cool to be able to do things that way? I don’t know. Maybe. What I do know is that by having to do these things in multiple steps, it keeps more than my skill sharp. For example, when it comes to something like dropping a person from one photo into an historical scene taken with completely different lighting, color temperature, film stock, etc., taking the steps to match the coloration and the lighting and the perspective just helps keep my eye trained on the subtleties of that.

A funny side effect: It makes it a lot easier to spot when something has been Photoshopped.

But the two biggest things I haven’t recovered yet are actually the most important. One is that I couldn’t just open and export my Chrome bookmarks from the old computer, because that install thinks it’s still on the C: drive even though the USB ported version was now something like the F: drive. Consequently, when I ran Chrome using the .exe file on the old drive, the startup info it loaded was from the bookmarks and such on the new computer.

Meaning that… I had no access to my saved passwords. Now, I did manage to pull a really sneaky bit by just copying the old bookmark file from the appropriate place on the old drive to the new one and voila! All of my old bookmarks were there.

So I tried the same with the login file for saved passwords and… nothing. And not just nothing updated. I mean, suddenly nothing saved yet again. This will definitely involve me having to put the drive back into the old computer, trying to restart, and then probably manually looking up and copying the essential logins that I do need.

The other unrecovered things is the version of Quicken that I had used for years, which is just gone now. The original came on a 3.5” floppy disc, which I don’t even have anymore – I think it was called Quicken 2000.

Hey, if anybody happens to have an electronic image of that disc that can be uploaded and installed, let me know in the comments!

I may have managed to re-install it from that disc on several subsequent computers – I’d started using it around 1994, and that was after I bought it from the $5 discount bin at some computer store. in other words, it was already old 27 years ago.

But it worked, it was stable, and when you’ve dumped that many years of financial records into something, inertia is strong.

Fortunately, I was able to save the data files and all of the annual backups going to the beginning of (program) time. But this time around, I wasn’t able to just port the program over. I must have somehow done this to get it onto the previous computer, which had no floppy drive.

This time around, though? I couldn’t even get it to start by running it like any other program on an external drive would normally run.

The good news is that I have the latest Windows version of Quicken waiting in the wings. The bad news? The format of my data files is so old that I can’t just open them directly. It’s going to involve a series of installs of (now free online) intermediary versions of Quicken to perform successive updates on the data file as part of the install process, until I get one that will port over.

Oh, joy. Of course, I can only do this if I can shove the old hard drive back into DW and, essentially, pull a JC and Lazarus trick. This might be doable, though, because I think part of what might have caused DW’s death in the first place was that I actually had way too many documents and files on the desktop, instead of just shortcuts and folders.

Yeah, I guess that a folder with a shit-ton of images in it isn’t the best thing to keep on the desktop because it actually lives in hidden space that only the physical host computer can normally see – a little detail that made me shit my pants the first time I connected the new computer to the old drive.

But, on start-up, the OS apparently queries through all of these files, meaning that boot-ups used to take forever and, eventually, the process was just too taxing on the rest of DW’s hardware.

These are things I should have known better, given my decades of computer experience. However, I did clean the hell out of that desktop once I’d migrated all the files and documents, and also jettisoned a lot of crap elsewhere on the drive.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a good defrag or chkdsk going on that drive because my new computer told me, “Hey, no problems, no need to,” obviously thinking of it as always having been a part of its young and invulnerable self.

Oh. Kids. When will they learn?

Anyway… perhaps accounts of DW’s death may be premature. If I do bring them back, will I get rid of the new computer? Oh, hell no. It’s already shown me that, Microsoft BS aside, it’s much faster and more stable. Plus the most surprising part is how really cheap computers have gotten.

This one was under $500 – but was also the one with the most bells and whistles and power among its brand line. I’d tell you exactly when I bought DW and how much they cost but, well, until I rescue that Quicken data, good luck with it!

At the most, I’ll wind up with a second computer that I can still run the old crap on and, if that doesn’t work out, then at least I’ll have another working external hard drive, meaning that I will suddenly have access to three terabytes of storage.

That’s quite a lot, actually. At the time I bought my 1Tb external drive, the word was that 10Tb would hold the entire text collection of the Library of Congress. I’m sure that this figure has gone up in the interim, although if we’re talking just text, not that much.

But I guess if I wanted, I could still have 30% of the Library of Congress just sitting on my desk.

UPDATE: I was eventually able to restore the Quicken files and install the program, and I checked to see when I bought the previous computer. It was on January 6, 2011, at the now defunct Fry’s Electronics in Burbank, CA, for $1,004, including sales tax and a firewire card. Over 10 years of service for a PC isn’t bad at all, really.

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