Sunday, February 5, 2012

Of Computers - Old & New

This week I experienced one of the apocryphal events of the modern world – the ´´motherboard´´ of my laptop computer had a meltdown.

While I had heard about this sort of disaster happening to others – whispered tales of woe shared behind closed doors – I had previously never experienced the life-as-we-know-it threatening consequences myself – until Monday afternoon.

I was in the Office watching a short video on a website, which I had noticed was taking a long time to ´´buffer´´ when, without further warning, the screen went blank white with hundreds of multi-colored dashes arranged diagonally. Being unable to escape this, I eventually powered the computer down by unplugging and pulling the battery, but when I tried to restart it my trusty HP laptop would not re-boot.

To say that I saw my life flash before my eyes would be perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but I definitely did have a ´´this can´t be happening to me´´ moment as the magnitude of all of a sudden being deprived of such a central part of so many aspects of my life was hard to grasp! Now I realize that all of you now reading this have your own relationship with the devices you are reading it on, but a computer, and particularly internet access through that computer, takes on an even more important role in our lives here in this remote part of the Baja.

In addition to our contact with friends and family, and the rest of the world, through email and other services like Skype which allow us to phone and video conference at little or no cost, there is, of course, the World Wide Web – providing news, entertainment, and access to the collective wisdom of the planet . . . not to mention Spider Solitaire! In my case, add to that running my Real Estate business, and of course, the small matter of this Blog.

To put this crisis into even clearer perspective, as I think I have confessed on previous occasions, I consider myself only barely computer literate. Like a well trained dog I know how to do what I do on a regular basis, but, get me out of my comfort zone and into any of the vast uncharted wilderness surrounding the small well trampled paths that I am familiar with in my day to day routine, and I am lost and afraid – very afraid.

(Being largely self taught, I have often told the story, as an example of my lack of my savvy with computers, of being on the phone with a Help Desk [years ago!] with an apparently young and highly skilled techy Nerd who was attempting to explain some esoteric programming details to me. I was feeling completely LOST so I interrupted him and said: ´´Excuse me, but before we go any further I think there is something you need to know – I saw the Beatles live on Ed Sullivan!´´ Following which there was a long pause on the other end of the phone, and then the Nerd slowly and patiently began again with the explanation on a suitably ´´primary´´ level of complexity!)

So when I was faced with this obviously serious – potentially fatal – crisis I sought out advice from the neighborhood IT specialists, Evan and Fox, who also conveniently run the local grocery store here in Loreto Bay. When I described my problem their initial prognosis was not good – Fox said that it sounded like the motherboard was ´´fried´´ but he would not be able to say for sure until he could take the computer apart and it would be a couple of days before he would be able to do that.

Later in the day, I was telling my sad tale to a neighbor and they suggested calling Francisco Medina, who had a computer service business in town that they had had good experiences with in the past, and see if he had any advice. I called him right away (he spoke excellent English) and made arrangements to bring my ´´dead´´ laptop to him the next morning and he assured me that he would have a diagnosis for me by noon.

I found Francisco´s shop located behind a medical lab near the Police Station and returned a couple of hours later to be told that in fact it was the power converter circuit on the motherboard, and while he could possibly order a new board it was probably advisable to replace the computer, considering it was 3 ½ years old and had reached the end of its reliable life.

Through this process, I have come to understand that most popularly priced laptops, in particular, have an expected lifespan of about 8,000 hours, beyond which they are on borrowed time and can have a fatal failure at any time. Considering my daily usage of up to 12 hours, my computer was well beyond that limit and so I was prepared for this judgment and asked Francisco to quote me on an upgraded replacement that I had been advised was a more ´´rugged´´ model that used better components and would presumably have a longer service life than the standard model I had been using all these years.

In the meantime, I had been doing some research online and knew what the retail price in Canada was for the new computer, but I also had determined that it would have to be ordered from the manufacturer, as I could not find this higher end product available in stock for sale at any of the regular retailers. The next day when Francisco quoted me a price it was about 25% higher than I would have paid in Canada, which was accounted for by the duty Mexico charges on goods from China, but the surprisingly good news was, that if I ordered it that day (Wednesday) he thought he could have it delivered here in Loreto from his Supplier in Mexico City by this Friday!

Having no immediate alternative plan, and not knowing who I knew that would be coming down here in the near future that could be imposed upon to bring a computer with them from Canada, I decided to go ahead and order it from Francisco. After passing a couple of very unusual days without access to a computer, I became very aware of how many ways I had become dependent on it for a large part of my life routines. I was conscious of how my presence in the online world was shut off and my ´´footprint´´ in cyberspace was gone – my unthinking (bad) habits of checking for email dozens of times a day and regularly visiting various websites were stopped ´´cold turkey´´. Snippets from the song: ´´You don´t know what you´ve got ´till it´s gone´´ played over and over in my now strangely quiet brain.

So, to make a short story long, it all worked out! The new computer did arrive on Friday and Francisco transferred all of my files from old to new and then delivered it to my home that evening. A few adjustments were required that he did on a return visit Saturday morning at my Office and now I am the proud owner of a beautiful new Toshiba Tecra 850 – twice as fast, 3 times deeper memory and pristine. One minor and unexpected adjustment is that, since it was purchased here in Mexico, it has a Spanish keyboard (of course) with a few unique features like Ñ, and ¨, and ¿, among others that I´m sure I will eventually find.

But, more importantly, I´m BAAAACK! And through this experience I have come to appreciate how different life would be here if computers were not such an indispensible part of ´´Living Loreto´´!