Thursday, January 31, 2013

Magnum Opus for Grandkids—Part I

                                 Naturally, I went with the better half to buy this thing. It was spring 2007. The tax return checks had arrived in the mail. I had cased out the joints in the company of the grandkids, who are well informed about these things. Now it was a clear, blue sky day. On days like this, which inspire fearlessness, you get out and buy. Encouraged by the sale papers, we drove through Lewiston and ended up at Staples. An entire wall was burdened with shelves with computers on display.
  I wanted to write something for the grandkids, a magnum opus. Then I could teach them that times change at the same time as times don’t change, that greed prevails, and love is amazing, and night lasts only awhile, a new day comes, that sort of thing. I wanted to have my say! I believed in culture. That's what the computer was all about and the writing class. Go ahead, I told myself, press that button on that funny looking thing. The world is opening in front of you, right? Microsoft, it said, who the hell is Microsoft? I'll tell you I was troubled, but I pushed on with it. I had seen that word before on the machines at work, and nobody seemed that troubled by it.
  Finally, I settled on a 15-inch Dell on sale for $350. In comparison to some of the others it seemed relatively sturdy. No doubt with the cover down the family cat would curl up and snooze. This equipment shouldn't die tomorrow, right? Oh, you can fold it up and carry it around? You don't have to put them in climate controlled, dust free, humidified cubicles any more? That nobody is allowed into except a scientific person with thick glasses?
  The young lady whose job it was to guide me through this confusion hinted, “The CPU on this one is old, slow.”
  Who knows at this point what can be the difference between a Celeron and a Pentium?
  “Oh,” I sighed. “I bought an IBM Selectric at a yard sale ten years ago. Maybe I should stick with it?”
  “I wouldn't know, sir.”
  A tall, energetic young man had come by. He smiled, pitched in, “You want to write, don't you? Keep a journal? You should buy something you'll be happy with. I bet you'll spend quite a bit of time with it once you get going. I bought a used iBook from the schools. It's a great deal. I write on mine all the time.”
  The wife said in a throaty whisper, “That's Apple.”
  I then explained, “At work they gave out these little flash drives. You just stick it in and it saves the stuff. So that's different. No moving parts. How can you lose anything?”
  The energetic young man danced on his toes. “Sure! Backups! It's safe. But you should buy something you'll like.” He then demonstrated how long it took this inexpensive machine I was looking at to get into Word. It took forever, and I mean forever.
  Remember the old joke about the guy who pressed the button to boot up, then went to start the coffee, and by the time he was through and the coffee in hand usually the machine was ready. Course you do, you nerd.
  “The CPU in this one is ten years old.” He explained. “This one,” he brought me over to the $600 machine, “has a Pentium. It'll get into Word in less than a minute.” Which it did. “Much better,” he exclaimed.
  Course, I didn't know if I needed Word. I didn't know what I needed. I did know that $600 was a lot.
  “Try this one,” the young woman interjected. “And it's on sale.”
  The one on sale was $500, but it was a Lenovo, the company that had just bought IBM. I thought of my Selectric and the many hours of bliss I had spent writing on it.
  “I don't know,” I said. It cost more than I wanted to pay.
  Also, I found out a few minutes later, you have to buy the software. The software does not come with the machine! It's $199 plus the computer. Wonderfully, they give you 30 days to pay for the software. Remember those days, you nerd?
  If that didn't seem like highway robbery! It reminded me of a stagecoach stickup, where the people would rather go along with it then end up in the desert. It was Bill Gates, the respected multi-billionaire, sticking you up. Looking back, it has always been a matter of some amazement to me that people like me are so willing, in fact eager, to hand over their money to Bill Gates. They never seemed, except maybe recently, to get mad about it. But the minute I heard this sordid tale, I became aggravated. Poland, my ancient forefather, always in the dark background, was in an uproar. The swords were sharpened and laid out for the battle!
  I left that day without a computer. And I went without a computer for a long time till 2008 when finally I had to break down because without computer understanding I was making a fool of myself in the world. I studied the various manufacturers, and I dreamed.
  I gravitated toward Apple. I went to the Apple store in Portland. Now there are some mighty fancy machines! Something inside me jumped, whispered “yes”. It was as if the devil had offered me a favor. Then I looked at the prices. When I got over the feeling that somebody had just punched me in the solar plexus, and the better half recovered her usual healthy color after turning pasty white, I staggered around the store for awhile in a sweat.
  It just so happened that my grandson was showing up with an iBook he had got at school. It used to be boys had puppies, now they have iBooks. Mine was the responsibility of checking out this newfangled way of doing things. On the Internet I found a website where refurbished iBooks were sold. The company was in California and it had a great reputation, and you could buy one for not too much—$250. The day I got the little white iBook and booted it up I knew I'd have something to amuse myself with for a very long time. And no Bill Gates, there was the other guy instead, Jobs, who was almost as bad, but cleverer about it. I have not figured out yet why Steve Jobs, though equally creepy as Bill Gates, did not disturb me as much.
  After not very long I was experimenting with Linux. If you're a hands on person and mildly curious and you like hanging with similarly inclined people, you should give Linux a whirl. I've played with twenty or so Linux Operating Systems, but I've used seriously about six, and now I have pretty much settled on Xubuntu, at least for the next few years. But if you don't mind getting up off the big money, oh well, be my guest.
  Although the electronics has gone past, the iBook still works. Then a friend gave me an HP DV7 he was junking. Linux runs excellently on generic computers with AMD CPU's.
  So I set away the old Selectric, put it up in the hay barn with the clutter of old stuff, and armed with new found expertise I began work on the magnum opus.

My first desktop build and the 2002 iBook running Debian.

This is a better look at Moe.

This is Another Moe, which was a junker I refurbished. This one is running Xubuntu.

   On these machines I have written a good bit of my magnum opus. But there is more. Wait till you see! But that is another story.

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