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Compaq Presario 2170 laptop user's log

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This page last updated on or about 9-19-06
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Certain items like embedded web links and documented costs/prices for certain wares discussed below may be out-of-date by the time you read this. This is real world usage rather than a syrupy evangelistic exercise, so you'll find both good and bad things about PCs here.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Table of Contents

9-19-06: The reset button actually did it

The reset button worked! The next time I booted it up, it was just fine. Heck: maybe I should have used that reset thing in some of my previous problem sessions! But I didn't know it was there. I don't think this laptop came with a hard copy user manual in the box when new. And though I almost certainly read any phamplets which accompanied the thing then, I've forgotten whatever they said by now, years later.

But regardless of all that, putting the reset button on the bottom of the case is asinine.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

9-13-06: The laptop comes up with a new, never-before-seen problem

The creative nature of this laptop in producing all new problems on a regular basis despite being barely used or even turned on at all, and treated with kid gloves since delivery, just simply astounds me.

Ever since it displayed scary problems simply booting up months back, I've taken to NOT even turning the thing on at all but mayb once or twice a week, and then updating all my backup files on the machine. I figure the less often I boot it up, the longer it'll be before it blows up again (holding fingers crossed here).

So maybe this last time I went for a full week or so without booting it up from lifelessness.

Oh yeah: about that problem with the laptop losing sight of my desktop on the network, preventing me from copying backup files over. Turns out this problem might fix itself if you give the laptop tons of idle time to get its bearings again. You know, treat it like a modern Mac that seems frozen: be patient to the point of tearing your hair out by the roots.

It seems the laptop will find the desktop again over the net within maybe 20 minutes or so on its own.

Previously I tried all sorts of manual manipulations of the laptop's menus and control panels to make the desktop visible to it again over the net. But now that I know it does anyway after a while, maybe all my previous efforts didn't actually cause the desktop to regain visibility again after all: the laptop had simply sat useless for long enough to regain its net 'vision' again. Oh well.

I'm pretty sure the laptop's biggest problem is running XP with so little actual RAM onboard. My McAfee anti-virus app probably contributed to its problems as well. I decided to let that sub expire recently in order to rid me of McAfee as a problem source, but McAfee surprised me by automatically renewing my sub and charging me, and I had some trouble finding a way to resolve all this by email, but finally managed it. And then UN-installed McAfee off the machine. That was weeks back.

The laptop is used by no one but me, and only to visit a weather radar site and my own sites. Nothing else. It's not used for email either. Or chat. Zilch. It's basically used as a working file backup machine, period. As as all its files come from a desktop which IS protected by anti-virus software (EZ Anti-virus), what does the laptop need with something like that? Especially when it's hurting for RAM anyway?

So I cranked up the laptop yesterday, and noticed immediately that it booted to the user account selection screen way, WAY too fast. Abnormally fast.

These days when something happens really fast on either a Mac or a PC, it's usually a sign something's gone wrong. Agh!

I noted the rapidity of the screen's appearance. But all I could do was my usual practice of waiting long enough for the screen-saver to appear before choosing a user account button (I'd found the extra long wait seems to protect from crashes stemming from actually clicking on a user account too soon after the selection screen has appeared).

I waited. Selected my user account. Everything seemed fine. The laptop saw my desktop over the net. I made some overdue backup copies from the desktop to the laptop.

This turned out to be a bigger than usual backup session: roughly half a Gigabyte. Because I had considerable artwork I'd done since the last time the laptop had been awake.

I did change my routine after this. By telling the laptop to shut down before my desktop. Usually it's the other way around.

After everything had shut down, I switched off all power sources and the office lights, and started to leave.

But something was wrong. The red light of the laptop mouse was still burning. And the blue lights of the laptop I/O indicator light and its power button, too. Otherwise the laptop seemed turned off.

Surely I hadn't accidentally put the laptop into a sleep or stand by mode? I pushed some keys to awaken it if I had. No effect. I pushed the power button. Nothing. Held down the power button. Zip.

Crap. I fiddled with it a bit more, then decided I needed to yank the battery. I'd never done that before. But even those itty-bitty LEDs burning would eventually be a problem for the laptop power-wise, even if they didn't signify yet another Windows XP software or Compaq/HP hardware problem. But as with all today's 'portable' computers, my laptop is attached via various cords to its surroundings. So I had to disconnect the mouse, AC cord, and network cable before doing much of anything physical with the machine.

Then I closed it up and moved it to a surface I could try finding the battery to pull. But along the way I found a reset button on the bottom of the laptop. I had to use a writing pen tip to push it. But that made all the lights finally go out.

As it's advisable not to turn this thing on very often anyway, I'm going to wait until a regular moment of choice to try booting it again-- and see what happens.

Yes, Ubuntu Linx is looking better all the time. As for Mac OS X-- that's sucked so bad since day one that if it was the only choice I had, I might have to give up computers entirely. And I say this after being a major Mac OS evangelist for many years before Jobs returned and screwed us all over. It amazes the hell out of me that anyone buys Macs these days. Of course, I guess I should keep in mind there's always been a hard core of 'hobbyists' out there that prefer tinkering and trouble-shooting to anything higher up the computing food-chain. Heck, that population is a big chunk of Microsoft Windows and Linux support, too!

But if we ever get computers and software that simply work as opposed to accidentally sometimes functioning temporarily, the tinkerers will be vastly out-numbered in no time.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

4-7-06: An early choice in possible Linux distribution for the laptop

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Linux world has changed some since last I checked it out. Now there seems practically universal agreement on the best Linux distribution for non-geeks out there: Ubuntu.

http://www.ubuntu.com/ is the web site, circa early 2006. I may order a CD rather than try the download route for this one.

I'm not sure when I'll actually make my next move on this front. Much has to do with how annoying Windows becomes for me on this laptop. Plus what free time I can scrounge up for such experimentation. I'd also like to first see more info regarding real world experiences of others in my circumstances migrating to the platform. I.e., installing on a laptop, using it to backup Windows files, browsing, etc.

And there's also the fact that while the last few releases have generated ever greater praise in ease-of-use and compatibility for the package, a brand-smacking new (and maybe still better) release/upgrade is due pretty soon (maybe 30-60 days from now?).

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

4-6-06: Living in fear

Well, I find I've become paranoid about even turning on the laptop now. This translates to me not switching it on at all until I've already accumulated several new or updated files on my primary desktop requiring backup, and then when I do switch it on, waiting maybe ten to twenty minutes after the log-in/account selection screen shows up before daring to click on an identity there. For sometimes that's when the awful screwed up screen appears immediately thereafter. The only way I know to respond to this new apparent risk is to wait until the laptop has definitely reduced its hard disk activity to a minimum after booting. So my click on an account now is delayed until the hard drive activity light is rarely flickering anymore during idle.

Yeah. This really sucks. I need to set up a more reliable backup platform than the laptop. But it'll likely be a while before I can do so in a practical manner. All the OS X Macs here can't even communicate with one another over the LAN(!), much less with the PCs. And I'm not too crazy about the idea of backing up files to the PC the kids play with on the internet.

I still have the old overheating Windows ME HP, but note the "overheating" and "ME" caveats there. The old HP has its own intermittant boot up problems these days.

Yeah, I'm still backing up to ZIP disks too. But I much prefer having a live computer online getting across-the-board copies of everything. The ZIP disks only hold 100 MB or so of files, which works out to a couple weeks worth at best.

Yeah, I also have the options of burning CDs and remote storage on my hosting accounts. But both those are still so damn time consuming and inconvenient I don't do them very often.

Poking around in my laptop control panels I did find a setting for defining what happens when the power button is pushed on the laptop while it's already running. The default setting was for it to do nothing rather than turn off the thing. Yikes! No wonder it didn't help me when I was crashed! I changed the sitting to turn off the machine from now on.

As there's precious few workable recourses for old glitchy Windows laptops like this which don't involve super geek tricks, I'll probably end up putting Linux on it, I guess. I mean, the only reason I use Windows PCs today is to AVOID being metaphorically forced into a super geek costume. So by God, if I'm forced to anyway, why not go the whole enchilada and go Linux? I'm pretty sure once it was properly set up I'd get a lot more functionality and reliability for my money than with Windows. For instance, almost negligible security risks relative to Microsoft wares. I'm pretty sure there's decent web browser and email wares available for Linux. It'd probably run better than Windows in the RAM currently onboard. Linux will surely provide me with better LAN backup options from my PC than OS X or the current Windows incarnation on my laptop.

Of course, the setting up part might be a b*tch. But Windows itself is giving me fits on this machine. I'm getting tired of wasting so much time on it, just to turn over more of my money to Bill Gates' kid.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

3-28-06: The Microsoft trap

God, but do I hate laptops! They seem to be even more troublesome than desktops! Agh! And that's if you baby them to ridiculous extremes. For instance, my own laptop has almost never been subject to typical laptop environments. That is, it's never left the premises of WebFLUX Central. Only rarely even left my desk. Been handled gently under almost all circumstances. Almost never been used for long on battery power alone. Enjoyed a near continuous broadband net connection through which it could receive every Windows XP update from Microsoft as soon as it became available. Had commercial anti-virus protection from day one. Is NOT used for email or chat or any of that. Isn't even used for web surfing but for occasional visual checks of my own web page formatting, and a look at local radar sweeps on a weather site. The main purpose of this thing has been to receive and hold backup copies of my work files from my desktop over the LAN. A job it has performed fairly poorly all along, and recently got even worse.

Almost anything you do on this machine takes forever, and has since day one. It's slow as the hills.

So just imagine the problems I'd have with this thing if I'd actually been trying to use it as a portable computer(!) Sheesh!

It has over 18 GB free on the hard drive, 192 MB RAM, and runs at 2 GHz. It's running Windows Home Edition XP with service pack 2. Indeed, had a fresh Windows install only weeks back!

So why does this thing run like crap?

Well, it's probably hurting bad for RAM I suppose. But heck, it's not like I tax it with anything more arduous than idling 99% of the time!!!!!

Does the hard disk need defragmentation? Heck no! I almost never erase files-- only add or create new ones. So a defragger would find little to do on my disks. I confirmed this was true for my habits of use years back on a Mac. I told a defragger to go over a disk I'd been using for years already, and it could find almost no fragments to clean up. Because I hadn't created hardly any.

My brother did insist on installing some sort of freebie Oracle database thing and an independent programming language on this laptop when he gave it to me. The Oracle thing is an elephantine monster that probably should never be installed on any machine except as a last resort. And I suspect having any full-fledged programming language installed on a computer increases the risks of problems beyond those typical of more casual end-users.

And there's the McAfee anti-virus app. Every machine I've had it on so far has exhibited problems of various sorts-- sometimes with clues pointing to McAfee as the culprit. My old HP desktop, and now this laptop.

Very recently I had to dig out a generic Windows CD to get this thing running again. Then just today it puked all over itself again. Immediately after I clicked on the username in the middle of bootup, it went to this utterly ridiculous blue screen of text with all sorts of apalling advice on it. It basically told me if I was unable to reboot it, I'd better check to make sure it had sufficient free disk space, look for a BIOS update, and disable BIOS caching or shadowing. It also gave me the tech info of:

"STOP: 0x0000008e (0xc0000005, 0x8054ae2d, 0xf402c6a4, 0x00000000)"

Wow. Isn't that just peachy?

I managed to reboot it, and it came back. But for how long? What a huge load of crap!

I went to the HP site to check out the BIOS update situation. Updating the BIOS is a scary proposition. If anything goes wrong at all your machine turns into a paperweight that you then pretty much have to go through the Supreme Court and then God himself to fix.

After looking at HP's scary instructions for using that metaphorically radioactive thing, I couldn't bear to try it. So instead I decided to order an original recovery CD kit for this laptop instead. Like I did before for my desktop.

But wouldn't you know it? Compaq/HP doesn't seem to offer any recovery kits for this machine online. I'm not entirely certain this is true though, because the site won't come right out and admit it, despite you doing all sorts of searches for such a thing. You just have to keep looking until you reach a critical mass of disgust and frustration and quit.

As it wasn't nearly this difficult to locate a recovery kit for my desktop, I take this to mean there aren't any available for the laptop from HP.

In a later Google search of the entire web I did find a couple of awful shady looking third party web sites offering them, but was afraid to buy anything there.

I decided to try uninstalling the Oracle monster, but it doesn't show up in add/remove programs, and doesn't offer any obvious un-install option of its own in the directories. I did manage to get rid of PureBasic. I also disabled my McAfee anti-virus on the laptop, as it may well be contributing to my problems, plus is due to expire anyway according to a recent email. Good riddance!

As the laptop doesn't receive email, and is almost exclusively used to surf my own web site for visual format checks-- and no one but me ever uses it-- it's not subject to much virus risk anyway.

I haven't tried to make a recovery CD from the laptop since restoring it from a Windows CD some weeks back. I guess I better do that.

Hmmm. The laptop doesn't seem to give me that option. Grrr! Well, maybe PCworld or PC magazine has a tip about it...

Holy crap! I couldn't believe the sh*t I found when I looked this stuff up! Basically it appears you have three options on many PCs both desktop and laptop which came new with no recovery CDs: (one) when it quits, simply trash the expensive box (and your hefty investments in it), (two) buy a new Windows CD and pray it'll bring your box back to life somehow (there's NO guarantee of success here), and (three), try to pretend you're the geek off the old Mission Impossible TV series and spend days kludging together your own do-it-yourself recovery CD from bits and pieces scavenged from here and there (alas, there's no guarantee of success this route either, even if you're super-geek himself, and/or do everything exactly right).

Sheesh! Note that I already had a Windows CD to try number two above, and that apparently only created different problems...

Yeah, adding RAM might help. But I'm on one of the tightest budgets this side of Bangladesh. And adding RAM is no sure remedy. Heck, spend much money on this thing at all and you began nearing the realm of what you could get an entirely new machine for...!

I guess this laptop's not far from becoming a really expensive, really low quality paperweight. Unless maybe I can get Linux to run on it at some point-- but Linux isn't ready for consumer prime time: so it's basically useless to anyone but pedigreed geeks.

It appears Microsoft currently has us all trapped into buying all new machines on a regular basis. Or else turning into super-geeks. Or worst of all: enduring both conditions simultaneously. Urk! Agh! Ow!

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

1-24-06: Laptop hell: good thing I'm not exactly an average user

Today I turned on the laptop, left momentarily to get a drink, then returned to see the screen seemingly locked at the bootup display-- with the usually animated bands at top and bottom ominously not moving.

The hard drive light was still churning occasionally though. And this machine is slow as the hills in many ways. Often it's best to just let it churn for an unbelievable period of time before taking personal action.

But when the display hadn't changed over five minutes later, and the disk churn had practically come to a complete stop, I said to hell with it and tried Control-Alt-Delete. Repeatedly. Nothing happened. I tried pushing the on button again to turn it off. Nothing. Held down the power button several seconds. Nothing. Control-Alt-Delete several more times. Zip. Pushed Escape. Nothing. Pushed the power button again-- and it finally went off.

I let it be for as long as it took me to find this file, open it, and write the above paragraph on my desktop. Then I pushed the power button once again.

I saw the black XP boot screen. Then the blue XP screen appeared (the one I was stuck on before). The usually animated bands (reminiscent of the back and forth red eyes of Cylon robots) aren't sweeping this time either. I'm giving it time to 'find' itself-- in case that helps. There's disk activity again.

The same crap seems to be happening again. Damn it.

Note that I only use this laptop for three super easy tasks. One, as a backup file repository over the LAN for my desktop PC. Two, occasional internet radar checks in Internet Explorer during bad weather. Three, occasional checks of my own web site pages in Explorer to make sure there's no display problems with my HTML in IE. That's it.

And yet I've had far more problems with this laptop than any Windows desktop I ever owned (and used much more heavily). I truly feel sorry for anyone who must use this model for real work.

Yeah brother: I'm sorry, but it's true (this was gift from my brother).

Do I have an anti-virus program on the laptop? Yes. Up-to-date? Yes. Commercial rather than freeware? Yes. It costs me dearly every year. But I almost never receive email on the laptop. Or visit any web sites with it other than my own personal domains, or a mainstream weather site. So there's almost no way for it to get infected.

I switched it off again. Flipped it back on again immediately. Pushed Escape repeatedly many times during boot up, then began holding it down. I was ignored.

Same crap again.

Went to pcmag.com for help, did a search, found a possibly helpful article. Switched off, back on, pressed F8, chose the option for 'last known good configuration', and then Windows XP Home in the next screen...

The article was What to Do When XP or 2000 Won't Boot by Lincoln Spector; November 2003 PC World ["http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1838189,00.asp"]

I then got a message something like: 'One of the registry files had to be recovered or replaced. This was successful'. Basically the same off-the-wall message I'd gotten several times in the past when this machine had a weird episode, but back then I was able to resuscitate it much easier than this time.

Got the blue XP boot screen-- animated bands still not animating, hard disk churns a while...then the same crap yet again.

I return to the article for the next step.

Went the F8 button route again, only this time choosing safe mode. Ended up screwed once more. Same blue XP boot screen, nothing happening, only much smaller, in the center of the display.

I searched for any XP recovery CD which might have accompanied this laptop originally. I don't think it had one new. Like several newer PCs I believe I'd had personal experience with. I couldn't find one, of course.

My brother though had turned over a generic XP CD to me a year or two ago. So I might be better equipped than the average bear for this. This will be the first time I ever used this CD. My brother doesn't think he installed it on anything anywhere before either (but of course it can be tough to recall things like that).

The first article seemed incomplete in terms of what I needed to know. So I looked up a couple more, opening up fresh browser windows so I could switch back and forth between them. The other articles were:

Install the Windows Recovery Console 06.13.05; By Larry Seltzer "http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1838189,00.asp"

Description of the Windows XP Recovery Console "http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;314058#XSLTH3127121123120121120120"

Using the chkdsk command in the Recovery Console from the CD "found one or more errors" on my disk.

At the prompt's return I typed "exit" to see what would happen (and ejected the CD).

Still boots to the same frozen screen and no further.

Well, I wondered if any of the less drastic manuvers would now work?

Tried F8 and 'last known good configuration'.


Tried F8 and 'safe mode'...


F8, and safe mode with command prompt? Eeek!

Wow! Same XP boot screen as before...well, I guess that saves me from searching the internet for DOS commands...

Going back to the CD boot...

Holy cow! Is there just a tiny couple seconds window of opportunity for CD booting? If so, I missed it. Must try again...

I haven't got time to keep chasing Windows problems like this...I'm going to try re-installing off this CD I think...

Hey! This time I got another, more automated repair option in set up-- so maybe I won't have to install the new XP after all.

Wish I'd tried this the first time(!)

Huh? The laptop restarted, and I got an XP installation type screen saying all sorts of stuff, including that set up would require 39 more minutes(!) What the heck!? This is 39 minutes ATOP a previous 20 or so of installation, which came AFTER an hour or two of previous troubleshooting efforts! Well, at least the process seems automated.

It seems to be doing something; the screen is showing animations and rotating Windows propaganda-- but I'm getting no overt signs of progress.

I did momentarily eject the CD at restart due to boot uncertainties-- but then immediately slid it back in, as it might still be needed during set up, I realized. I did get a screen warning to remove any floppies at restart.

I did NOT have the laptop boot from the CD this time though.

Well, I'm finally getting some progress indicators on screen now.

I hope to heck I haven't lost my backups or custom apps or personal settings like for the LAN and file sharing!

Life is plenty hard enough without your computers constantly crapping out on you too.

The timer on the screen doesn't seem to keep time very well. Let's test it. It now says 34 minutes remaining, at 3:27 PM. At 3:34 PM it says 33 minutes remaining. 3:52 PM; 22 minutes remaining.

Now the laptop screen is periodically going all black in brief stints, which seems disturbing to me. So far it's always came back again...

Well, damn! I had to enter the stupid Windows code off the package! So I guess it sure enough has replaced the legitimate XP OS install that was already on the laptop. So Microsoft's getting paid twice for the same PC here. That sure doesn't sound fair. But of course this is America, where even the most heinous corporations run free and wild, and citizens get stripped of more rights each and every day...

Uh oh. At 3:53 PM the screen disappeared seemingly for good. Hard disk still churning. One of the last messages I saw was something about the Start Up menu being worked on.

3:58 PM, the display returns, slowly doing a reverse fade out, as if this was a prank or something...It's nerve-wracking to have to fool with this stuff, wondering if it's going to come back or not...having to pay close attention all along because the lengthy process can stop dead and demand input from you at any time. It's difficult to work on anything else during this period.

4:09 PM, I'm seeing the black XP boot screen. And waiting...

OH NO! Virgin set up screen! Talking about activation. Am I going to have to enter the code AGAIN? I'm an Old Computer Geezer! It's tough to even see, let alone read and type in the zillion character code! Heck, I have to use a 21 inch display to see at all!

Holy cow! Now I'm set up as two separate accounts here! Hopefully the original one still has all my settings and apps...

Well, it's looking bad. Tried to open my back ups folder, and nothing but disk churning has occured for a couple minutes...well, it finally opened. But that old folder has so much stuff in it it seems to severely tax the laptop to deal with it, and may be contributing to these ongoing problems. So I create a brand new empty folder to take over those duties, to try to relieve the strain. That should drastically reduce how frequently I access the really big folder.

SOME of my stuff appears to be intact. But my file-sharing is definitely not working. My internet is though. And my mouse.

Well, after another couple hours fiddling with it, I still have been unable to get the laptop back to working as well as it did yesterday. Or back to zero. I'm still in negative territory, suffering loss in functionality. How much loss? Pretty much all the value the laptop offers me-- as its purpose is as a machine to back up files to over the net, and I can no longer do that.

I've consulted my old log files for how I enabled it previously, plus done internet searches too, and so far no cigar. The shared folder on my laptop seems stuck in read-only, and I cannot open it at all from my desktop. Rats!

At the moment this Windows laptop is acting exactly like an OS X Mac on the LAN-- completely useless and inaccessible.

I'm rebooting the laptop. This time I'm going to log in with the new redundant account this session created, and see if that one will still share my files.

Yikes! Now I have a desktop theme I never chose appearing on-screen. All my files-- all signs of personalization-- are gone. The network is disabled. Yuck! That's no good at all! Much worse than the other side!

I'm rebooting back to the other account.

I wonder what would happen if I tried a system restore? The laptop seems much slower booting up now than before the fresh XP installation.

Nope! No options there! They were wiped out by the XP CD.

Well, it seemed I had more options available on my desktop PC in this regard, and was able to create a shared folder my laptop could see-- but darn if I couldn't figure out where it was on my desktop PC to use it! Agh! I'm doing a search of my whole hard disk, plus clicking through Windows Explorer trying to locate it so I can install a shortcut to it on my desktop...

Well, I couldn't find the sucker to save my life. So I created a new folder on my desktop right before my eyes, gave it a terribly obvious name, set its properties to be shared...and finally got it to appear online to the laptop, too. I did a test copy of a file, and it worked.

This workaround is far more cumbersome than what I had before, but at least it seems possible I'll be able to back up files again. Sheesh! All day wasted trying just to get this laptop back to the functionality it offered just yesterday! And I only made it to about 95%-- since it'll be far more awkward now. But I guess that's the best I can do at the moment.

Now backing up is going to take at least a half-dozen more additional steps than before. Agh! And I'll have to copy and paste duplicates of the files into the folder, then after copying them over to the laptop, delete them again. And that just creates more problems, as Windows chokes fast on too many deleted files...! Remembering to empty the recycle bin every other time helps, but won't completely prevent a files-related problem in the near future.

I'd sure hate to go down from having three copies of my files to just two!

I returned to the laptop and tried the same trick there, but couldn't even get the new folder to become visible to the desktop PC.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

12-27-05: Inexplicable laptop fits

"Windows registry recovery: One of the files containing the system registry had to be recovered by the use of a log or alternate copy. The recovery was successful."

I've got this notice dialog twice in the last three days upon booting up the laptop.

The laptop seems OK afterwards. But note I use this machine almost exclusively for backing up files to from my primary desktop PC over the network. On rare occasion I use it to either check weather radar over the net, or view an updated page on my site via Internet Explorer to make sure it's rendering properly (since I do NOT use MSIE on my main desktop, but Mozilla instead).

In other words, this laptop does nothing but idle 99% of the time, with not even a single application open.

Of course, I do let the backup folder accumulate a lot of files. So maybe that's it (I have over 2500 files in there at the moment). I'll try winnowing it out a little to see if that improves things. Trouble is, this laptop is so slow about moving thousands of small files around I dread doing it.

Hmmm. Nope. The file number must not be the problem, because a much older folder has over 6000 files in it. So I just renamed the backup folder I'd been using to something else and created a fresh one.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

12-15-05: Be careful turning on your laptop. Very, very careful

Yesterday I pushed the button to turn on the laptop and apparently accidentally pushed a key or two adjoining that one too. It's awful easy to do, as all these buttons are teeny tiny, and in the area of the on switch grouped terribly close together as well. Though I'm not a big guy by any means, my fingers are still somewhat larger than those of most women or children. So I guess the laptop thought I either pushed in combination or in rapid sequence the on button, Esc key, and/or F1 key.

The laptop didn't boot as it should have. Instead giving me a screen I'd never seen before, chock full of options I did not want. And gave me no choice whatsoever I could see about canceling or continuing on to a normal boot up process.

I ended up using CTRL-ALT-DELETE. Repeatedly. Because the computer didn't seem to notice I was doing so (this laptop seems really really slow lots of the time, requiring up to one or two minutes to respond in some situations-- if not longer: very much like many late model Macs I've used, both desktop and laptop models).

Now I'm unsure if CTRL-ALT-DELETE ever did have any effect. For I also began trying other things. I believe by pressing and holding down the power on button for a second or two I finally got the laptop to switch off, so I could then try booting again to try to bypass the problem. I did so, and everything seemed back to normal.

But I'm definitely going to try to be more careful about switching on in the future!

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

8-17-05: America Online ordeal

Crap! I accidentally double-clicked on the America Online icon that came on the desktop of this machine when new and initiated a whole new world of crap to deal with. Agh!

What caused me to click on the icon was the machine's horrendously slow response to user behavior in general.

Note some of this sluggishness may stem from my brother intalling extra apps on the laptop I never would have on my own-- such as free Oracle stuff. But much stems just from the fact it's a portable rather than desktop machine, and so must use much slower hard drives and CPU chips.

Yes, when I actually clicked it my on-screen pointer was NOT over the AOL icon, but a folder icon. I just didn't know my laptop hadn't caught up to me yet, and would on its own move my pointer to the AOL icon before my clicks registered. Agh!

So after waiting for ten minutes to get access to the AOL window to cancel out of it, I then went to program access and defaults in Windows XP to un-install the ten minutes worth of AOL installation which had apparently taken place.

I had to wait more than 40 minutes for the app to search my disk for all AOL related items before I could un-install them(!) Then restart to complete the process.

Needless to say I deleted the desktop AOL icon after this torture, and looked around for any other such awful things to get rid of as well there. To reduce the risk of lagging click mistakes in the future.

On the brighter side the whole ordeal didn't seem to cause any problem with my normal web and LAN access of the laptop afterwards. No reconfiguration of settings were required to get it back to where it'd been before.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

5-31-05: A long overdue update on the laptop

The laptop has basically run fine since the overhaul last reported. Of course I mostly just use it as a file backup machine over the internet from my main desktop. But little kids have also been on it a little since the revamp.

I recently copied over a ton of files from the laptop to my new desktop, as part of a transition from my old over-heating HP desktop.

I ended up restoring a used desktop from my brother for my new primary PC, and buying a 21 inch LCD for my vision problems. You can see more about that here.

These days I also sometimes use the laptop's Internet Explorer to view some of my web pages with IE, as I mostly use Mozilla on my desktop. Sometimes I'll find page formatting glitches present in IE that aren't apparent in Mozilla. When storm monitoring is needed I sometimes use the laptop for a continuous radar screen too.

On rare occasion I might use the laptop for site editing solely on battery and completely unplugged from everything for a couple hours, if we're sorely beset by storms and I have both the need and spare time to perform such a task under those conditions.

I guess if I ever wanted to see web content requiring a flash or shockwave plug-in I'd use the laptop too, as I don't keep such plug-ins installed on my desktop. But so far I've yet to want plug-in content even a single time since the desktop switch.

The laptop now sits on my personal desk alongside my flat screen LCD of my desktop machine. I keep the laptop plugged into the surge protected-only outlet of a UPS, with my desktop utilizing the UPS for battery backup (the laptop has its own battery backup built-in).

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

1-4-05: Laptop update plus consideration of making the machine an improvised desktop

The laptop's run pretty well since the last entry. Of course, I use it almost exclusively as a backup machine. I.e., usually all I do with it directly is turn it on in the morning and shut it down at night. But indirectly I backup files I'm working on and research I compile to the laptop from my desktop almost daily. Over our LAN.

The SP2 update from Microsoft changed the Microsoft logo icon for software updates from the familiar flag icon to something like a medieval shield-- with no explanation whatsoever. Even in many of the dialog boxes/windows you'll see by fooling with the icon. I at first suspected a hacker or spyware had compromised my system when I saw this thing. Agh!

I've managed to avoid letting kids play with the laptop since the SP2 install.

Anyone following my desktop log knows I'm having vision problems using my machines. Plus my desktop now overheats easily. So I'll be forced to migrate off it soon.

I've been researching my best and cheapest options for migration, considering and discarding various alternatives. At the moment I'm considering trying to transform the laptop into something more like a desktop for the feat.

We've done this before at WebFLUX Central, when the user of a NEC laptop over time added a desktop CRT and keyboard and mouse when the laptop interface alone proved cumbersome and inconvenient.

Yes, this will be a far from perfect solution-- even if it meets my basic needs. But there's a decent chance it'll work with a minimal cash outlay. And as always cash is in short supply here.

At the moment the project's shaping up like this:

The most painful part cash-wise will be buying a new 19 inch LCD display. This seems the minimum display I might get by with due to my worsening eye problems (see my desktop log for details).

The laptop's built-in display was always too small for me. I can only use it for brief stints.

It appears the 19 inch monitor will plug into a port on the rear of the laptop-- though I may at least have to buy an extra cable or adapter for this.

The 19 inch LCD will offer both DVI and VGA connectibility. Someday I hope to use the DVI option as that's supposed to improve display quality still further. But for now I'll probably have to make do with the VGA, unless and until I locate a suitable PCMCIA DVI card solution for the laptop (or can acquire a DVI-equipped desktop).

One possible bonus here may be that I'll be able to use both the new 19 inch LCD and existing laptop LCD simultaneously for a bigger than normal desktop or whatever. At least that seems to be the case from what I've seen on the web. Windows XP and my chipset seem to support this in theory. Zillions of years back I had access to a multiple monitor setup in various locations and it seemed productive for certain purposes. Now that I must set my display resolution lower than average folks (to make the text lots bigger) this may be even more handy.

I've already got an optical mouse on the laptop. Info indicates I can plug in a desktop keyboard too (all laptop keyboards I've personally ever used were horrific). Yeah, all this makes for a cumbersome mess atop my desk (especially when the two big mirrors are included! (see my desktop log)) but apparently I have little choice.

Like all laptops, mine is lots slower than a comparable desktop due to a slow hard drive. But I may try adding another 256 MB of RAM to see if that'll help. Down the road maybe. A test of the concept is necessary first.

The monitor alone looks like it'll cost around $700, as I'm shooting for the highest reviewed quality for the lowest cost here. It appears acquiring a new or refurbished desktop PC of the necessary specifications (plus possibly having to add a card for certain matters) would run at least another $600 to $800. Yikes! Hence my current examination of the laptop for this task.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

9-22-04: My laptop goes on the blink again: I learn a new restore trick; do a full disk anti-virus scan and install SP2

It was the same problem as before, only worse. This time I couldn't get to System Restore through Help and Support.

The Registry was screwed up again (according to a dialog I saw at boot up) and once again few applications but Internet Explorer could be run via icons or menus.

This time I couldn't get to System Restore at all without more info.

On the web I managed to find a tip for locating the Restore app and changing its name from "rstrui.exe" to "rstrui.com", which I could then double-click to run it.

After I'd restored the system back to its status of a few days past, I first did a manual check for recent updates to my anti-virus wares I didn't already possess (there weren't), and then launched my anti-virus app to scour the entire disk for signs of virus, as both my brother and quite a few web sites indicated my registry problem sounded like virus results (despite the fact I've done almost everything humanly possible to protect my machines, including maintaining active subscriptions to one of the two top anti-virus packages, and automatically updating both it and Windows XP when updates become available).

It takes something like 12 hours to run a scan. DOH!

McAfee found NOTHING.

Well, maybe the new, massive SP2 update for Windows XP will fix it. I downloaded and installed it. It required HOURS and HOURS. On a broadband connection.

The next bootup immediately after SP2 installation took about five times longer than usual. Then McAfee recommended it be the default security center rather then Microsoft's version, and I let it (I know of no one who would say Microsoft has a good security reputation in their software).

I got an automatic new update from McAfee on boot up. Maybe it had to do with the SP2 update, maybe not.

I've lately picked up an unwelcome parasite: Apple's Quicktime player now opens automatically on boot up. I guess one of my little nephews inadvertantly picked it up watching Bionicle video clips. So far I've been unable to rid myself of it. Microsoft's IM or Messenger thing has appeared too like Quicktime, due to me finally opening and configuring Outlook Express on the laptop for contingency e-mail use. So far as I can tell neither are related to my recent problems with the laptop. But I wouldn't mind being rid of them.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

9-6-04: I have to do a system restore

I only had it go back to about two days ago in system status.

I had few choices in the matter. Here's what happened.

The power blinked while I was on the HP desktop. The laptop hadn't even been booted yet, and wasn't even plugged in (I unplug the laptop every night).

The HP went dead and I switched off all power to the machine to prevent further fluctuations from reaching it. I'd been out of my office for a few minutes grabbing a bite. The HP had been basically idling when the power went.

As is my practice, I decided not to reboot the desktop until after an hour or two of renewed power reliability had been in evidence, as outages often come in clusters. In lieu of the desktop I plugged in the laptop and switched it on.

For the past week the laptop had been used for little more than a file backup respository for fresh web site work from the desktop, over the LAN. I've begun doing this so the laptop can serve me as a replacement desktop during storms or desktop problems. So keeping all my work files current is a must.

Of course, I'd also downloaded and installed the FTP program mentioned previously. But I hadn't used it since installation.

I booted the laptop and got some sort of message that there'd been a problem with the Windows Registry, and the computer was going to a backup. I clicked OK and got a desktop where almost nothing but Internet Explorer worked anymore. I couldn't even access the folder where I backed up my desktop files to over the net. Windows told me it couldn't open anything (shortcuts) because it didn't know what app created them. I was directed to a web site which helped me not one iota about identifying the app responsible for 95+% of all the shortcuts on my Windows XP machine(?)

What the hell?

Lots of icons on my desktop were now generic. Even most of the icons in my Start menus were generic. Practically nothing would work.

I thrashed around for a few minutes in Google searches of the net for help, and saw recommendations to do all sorts of really, really geeky stuff in regards to backing up my registry BEFORE bad stuff happened...

So I restarted, hoping the laptop would fix itself. It didn't (My Windows ME HP desktop does though, in similar matters of generic icons anyway; of course, it's older technology; see what I mean about things getting worse?).

Note that I've babied this laptop pretty heavily; always kept it protected by anti-virus software, and behind a router firewall; done an absolute minimum of new software or hardware installs myself, etc. But it has suffered in other ways. Namely, I did allow my teen nephew to download all sorts of weird apps off the net to burn to CD and take home to his own PC. But he never installed the stuff on my laptop, and erased the files after they were burned. And I had him always alert me to strange pop up dialog boxes so I could stymie spyware and other bad stuff coming through, personally. When a particular site proved too frequent in such things, I banned it, and he never went there again. I was usually just one desk over from my nephew during all this, and so could do random visual checks too. I also expected my anti-virus and firewall to protect me.

But maybe I still wasn't careful enough there.

There's also the extra stuff installed by my brother when he gave me the machine. There may have been a few things among it I might potentially use someday-- but most of it was stuff I was sure I'd never use. And as a practical manner I personally would likely never have installed any of it, due to my long experience with the potential troubles stemming from any extra software whatsoever.

But what could I do? He'd bought this thing brand new for me, and badly, badly, badly wanted to install all that extra stuff. Since then I've had him disable some of it, as it was causing me various problems. But for the most part it's still there, doing I know not what.

So why not just do the 'uninstall' thing? That procedure can be problematic too. The very best thing you can possibly do is never install anything new on a PC unless you have virtually no choice in the matter.

So anyway, the reboot didn't help. I couldn't even go to System Restore directly. Luckily, Help and Support still worked, and I reached System Restore through there. Had it go back just a couple days, as I'd seen no indication of a problem this horrendous until today.

After the restore was done most things seemed back to normal. One or two strange icons still existed in my desktop and did strange things when clicked upon, so I hid them in a crap folder. I re-gained access to the last batch of backup files and moved them to a more permanent folder.

I'm definitely going to have to get a UPS for my desktop.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

8-29-04: I install Core FTP Lite; loading the laptop up to be a contingency replacement machine

These days I'm usually keeping the laptop in my office on a desk adjoining my HP desktop, connected to the LAN and internet the same as the HP. This way I can easily backup newly edited HTML files from the desktop to the laptop, thereby keeping both PCs current work-wise (this is a manual process as I don't trust automatic backup gear). This makes it much more convenient for me to be able to shut down the desktop and switch to off-the-grid and off-line editing on the laptop during storms.

I'm also backing up newly edited files from my desktop to 100 MB ZIP disks-- but that's problematic as there's considerable compatibility problems among my Win ME, Win XP, and Mac OS X computers regarding the ZIPs. All have ZIP drives, but frequently refuse to read ZIPs made or used on one another. AGH! At the moment there's a good chance I'd have to pull the old Compaq 5151 out of mothballs to salvage files from the ZIPs, if the HP bit the dust and no other file copies were available.

I'm trying to set up my XP laptop to be a contingency or transition machine for other purposes too. My HP desktop frequently exhibits worrisome behavior, plus is getting old in computer years. At some point I'll be forced off it. Probably abruptly. So having another machine ready to take over would help a lot.

All this may be especially important in regards to the new e-commerce venture I'm starting. After all, if I got lots of orders and suddenly am out of action for a week or more due to whatever factor, things could get nasty.

Yesterday I sought out a FTP client for the laptop and was disappointed to find that the fabulous and free WS_FTP_LE I've used for a couple years now on the HP desktop is no longer available for new installs. I like WS_FTP_LE so much I was willing to pay for the non-free version. Unfortunately, I've been burned so often with all computer software across-the-board in the past ten years I know that paying for an application is no guarantee whatsoever of its functionality or reliability for your particular circumstances. Sure, big business might pay $500 or more for a package, and if it doesn't work raise holy hell with the developer and threaten all sorts of lost future sales, and thereby get a custom bug fix or at least plenty of attention to figure out a work around. But individual consumers are in quite different straits, often paying through the nose for software that either doesn't work period or is so difficult to use they can't tell if it works or not.

Plus I'm on a frayed shoe string budget here. So I have little to lose by looking for low cost or free alternatives.

One of the biggest potential boons of the internet is it might provide folks worldwide with lower cost or free solutions to more real world problems with each passing day, thereby raising living standards (or reducing their fall) for most everyone in that manner, even if everything else is going to hell. While the net these days is only fulfilling this dream in very spotty ways, certain such niches do exist.

So I did some scrounging around on the net, trying to determine the best all around candidate for a free FTP program for the laptop. For I want this thing to be able to take over site updates if/when the HP desktop gives up the ghost.

I came up with Core FTP Lite. Downloaded, installed. Called up WS_FTP_LE on the HP to get the settings and configured the laptop Core FTP for my domains. Did tests to see if it could connect to both domains, and everything seemed to work OK.

I plan to test with a real upload when I get the chance.

I talked about backing up working files to the laptop. That works pretty much OK, although Win XP often fails to update origin directory windows when you move files from a network shared folder to local folders-- a glitch which is darn annoying and easily may cause you all sorts of further problems.

But copying even just a single folder containing maybe 1400 files, most with fairly long filenames (but definitely short enough to get by the long file name glitch discussed on-site before) is very problem-prone. At least between my Win ME desktop and this Win XP laptop. Crashes and incomplete transfers seem frequent. It's a time-consuming process to manually verify complete transfers every time you need to copy over folders. So I usually just try to get by with making as many backups onto as many different mediums as I can, in the hope that when I need a particular file it'll be there somewhere. Agh!

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

6-16-04: Laptop advantages during storms; problems with backups

Well, die-hard desktop fanatic that I am, I'm finally (begrudglingly) beginning to see some potential upsides to using a laptop.

For instance, the fact laptops basically come with their own built-in uninterruptible power supply means that one substantial source of computer woes simply doesn't exist for them: power outages which cause significant hard disk or operating system problems. Recently my HP desktop suffered a power blink during crucial bootup, that caused the most worrisome problems witnessed to date on that machine. But that can't happen on a laptop with a live battery. Sure, tons and tons and tons of other potential PC problems still loom-- but not unexpected power loss. This built-in protection from brown outs and power outages can be especially valuable in third world nations, and even those developed countries currently allowing their critical infrastructure to decay to third world status (like my own USA, unfortunately; don't take my word for it: read the reports about the recent northeast US blackout which I believe was the worst in history).

I also have a second credit I must give laptops. I live in a region of the US where lightning storms can rage continuously for weeks on end-- and with global warming will stretch to months, I suppose. The only true protection against associated lightning strikes is being totally unplugged from the grid. Now, if you're Bill Gates you can simply set up a half million dollar automated independent electrical generation station with its own superb surge suppression system, and never even notice in your sound-proofed house when a storm comes through. But if you're me, you can disconnect the AC plug and cable modem or network connection from your laptop and continue working for two or three hours during the worst of the storm. Alas, 2-3 hours isn't nearly as good as the 24 hours seven days a week a Bill Gates can have, but those 2-3 hours can successfully get me through maybe 80% or more of the typical storms we get here, even in peak season.

Now for the downsides.

I've been having problems making incremental backups from the laptop. Some folks told me the problem stems from trying to use CD-R disks repeatedly. But it seemed to work 2-3 times, then quit. And I thought you could do multiple write sessions to CD-R-- you just waste some disk space doing so and can't overwrite existing files. But I guess I'll be trying again later with CD-RW disks.

In the meantime I'm using a USB ZIP drive: and having problems with it too! Doh! It seems to have something to do with Windows XP and Iomega stuff not getting along well together(?).

Well, at least I can still plug into the net and copy my files to my HP desktop-- but that entails a lot of extra inconvenience for me.

The laptop also wastes a lot of time goosing the hard drive for some reason when it's not connected to the LAN. I tried reducing this in various preference setting changes, but failed. It's distracting when you're trying to work on the thing. Of course, it may have something to do with changes Scotty made to the machine. He installed some extra software that I didn't actually need or want, months back. He already had to disable some of it, that was acting far worse than this present annoyance. But maybe there's something else he needs to tweak here.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

9-15-03: More modern computer and networking woes

Well, I didn't get around to verifying the archive CDs actually burned correctly, before handing off one set to someone who keeps off-site storage for me. But as we're still in the Stone Age of Computing NOT verifying every little thing your PC does is a big No-No, as invariably LOTS of things just don't work as they're supposed to.

Turns out there was one drink coaster amongst the 'archival' CDs I kept in-house. The number of coasters in the off-site stash remains unknown. (sigh)

Just to be on the safe side, I'm going to have to go through this whole exercise again.

Unfortunately, it turns out the XP laptop and my Win ME desktop interfere with one another over the network when both are running simultaneously with the file sharing turned on (NOT keeping the sharing turned on severely limits the usefulness of both machines, as well as increases maintenance overhead).

So I typically keep only one machine on at a time, unless I need to transfer files. My Windows ME machine will quickly begin running incredibly slowly when I transfer files between machines from any sort of 'nested' folder inside a machine's shared documents folder. I basically have to use the ME machine like a Mac and restart it after a few file transfers, as its speed fast becomes deplorable.

The XP machine acts pretty unstable too, crashing pretty easily when file transfers are underway. When I say crash, I mean the transfer process you're doing aborts and even though the machine's still running and responsive to new input, you really have no choice but to restart it like a flakey Mac and start all over again. At least both PCs usually restart faster than Macs, though.

I was also amazed to see that burning CDs in Windows XP is even more difficult and inconvenient than it was on ME (when I did the first CD archives session, discussed in the previous log item). The process seems like it was written for a Saturday Night Live sketch.

It turns out that even the latest MS Works on the laptop-- which supposedly includes MS Word-- is useless for spell checking HTML files, as it messes with the HTML tags themselves in a major way, thereby ruining your formatting. Maybe such checking works OK after you buy $hundreds more in MS wares, but I can't afford to do that just as an experiment. Man, I really wish I could use MS Word's spell checker on my files!

I continue to suffer apparent glitches with my McAfee anti-virus ware on the laptop. It simply won't update itself correctly. Manual updates do no better. It always reports an error of some sort and says to repeat the cycle continuously, over and over and over again. Agh! What's up with this? Can't a user buy two separate subscriptions, one for a desktop and one for a laptop, and expect them both to work? Anyway, I worry about using the laptop online as its virus protection seems questionable.

I'd love to create some new 3D graphics for my web site, but can't afford the software, and the free demos available require gear I don't own. Plus, I suspect even if I could get the software, it'd be impossibly difficult for a casual, part-time user like myself to ever learn to use in a cost-effective fashion, as 'user-friendly' interfaces died across-the-board when their main champion Apple Computer turned its back on them, around the time that Steve Jobs retook the helm.

But anyway, I'm no slouch in the old fashioned 2-D realm-- if only I had some decent hardware and software for that as well. But again, everything has become hard as hell to use (I pine for the days of Silicon Beach 3-D and SuperPaint on the Mac), and costly as well. Stuff like Adobe Photoshop, Freehand, Illustrator, etc., represent huge potential wastes of time, money, and effort for someone like me. But the lower cost 'clones' of these things try so hard to emulate them that they've become just as impossible to use as the big biz versions.

It's amazingly difficult just to find and set up a suite of software to do simple animated gif ads or jpegs these days. I've tried a fairly wide range of options for this over the past couple years, and been flabbergasted by the frequent futility involved.

Anyway, I recently tried yet another item in this field. A second-hand scanner and 2-D editing software freed up from duty on other machines at WebFLUX Central: The Epson Perfection 1250 (USB). I tried it on my laptop. I liked it and its software so much that I was soon forced to use Windows XP restore (for the first time in my life) to get the junk OFF my computer again. It was that bad. The scanner basically worked, but was slow as the hills. And once you had a scan in memory, there was almost nothing you could do to edit it in a practical fashion, for the editing software was horrendous. This stuff seemed much like virus software too, with no apparent way to rid yourself of it but for the one-step-below-nuclear-option(that being disk formatting), of Windows restore function. The scanner would also keep its lamp lit all the time, regardless of whether you wanted to use it or not, which was highly annoying.

For some reason copying files to an external ZIP drive on the laptop was interminably slow as well. Or at least it was before I did the system restore on 8-30-03 to the system existing on 8-8-03.

After the restore the hated scanner software appeared to be gone, but my ZIP driver and original McAfee install were still there. I hadn't had the chance yet to check out file copying speed to ZIP disks after the restore.

At the time of restore I thought the scanner ware might have been causing my recurring McAfee problems too, but apparently not, as they continue on.

If I could get some sort of low cost scanner and 2-D editing software which worked reasonably well, I could create lots more artwork for the site. But the modern PC world seems remarkably bereft of such stuff. The modern Mac world seems in just as bad a shape. Almost all the graphics presently on-site were created by pretty old Macs and their software, back quite a few years ago. That hardware/software combination has now become so aged that much previous functionality has been lost to the attrition of time, and what remains requires so many extra hoops to jump through as to greatly discourage such use. So I'm stuck.

It's also risky and costly to experiment by buying new wares to try on either the modern PC or Mac platforms-- as you never know when something will blow your whole system away, bringing about calamity to your daily routine and expected functionality and productivity. These days it can easily take months to salvage just some 80% of your platform's previous functionality and usefulness after an unexpected cataclysm-- and that's if you had dutifully done substantial backup of important programs and files before struck by disaster. Many folks never do fully recover from such debacles.

All the troubles described above exist for me, a pretty experienced and knowledgeable computer geek from way back. So what horrific travails must more 'normal' folks out there be going through? I often wonder.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

8-9-03: Good and bad news on the computer front

My youngest brother Scotty stunned me with the gift of a new laptop, 7-19-03. Partly, it seems, because I'd helped him with a large software download the night before, and partly because he'd like to dispel my current bias favoring old-fashioned desktops over portables. And, of course, we all like to play Santa Claus from time to time, where possible.

It's a Compaq Presario 2170US. 2 GHz Celeron, 15 inch screen, 40 GB HD, 256 MB RAM, DVD/CD-RW. The first Windows XP machine I've ever owned.

A week later I ordered a couple Ethernet cables, an optical mouse, and a network switch, all through Amazon.com. This was the first time I'd ever ordered through Amazon I think. I was surprised to discover that Amazon was only a front for a plethora of different vendors, necessitating a separate shipping fee for merchandise coming from a different vendor. In my case I unwittingly put myself into a 'worst-case' scenario with my order, with each of the three different items coming from wholly different vendors, thereby making for three different shipping fees, which all totaled up ended up just about matching the total retail price of all the items ordered themselves. SHEESH! And these fees were for something like 7-10 business days rate-- NOT overnight, or anything like that. I shudder to think what speedier delivery would have cost.

Oh, for the days when I could order everything from Macwarehouse and pay a total of just $3.00 for overnight delivery (the early nineties).

Of course, finding any of these items locally may well have been impossible at any price in money, time, and travel. And even online or via hard copy catalog I probably couldn't have gotten them all at one place.

So what was I buying this stuff for in the first place? I tried and couldn't use the laptop in any serious manner without a real mouse. The touchpad thing just isn't adequate for much more than watching a DVD or checking email, or surfing the web. If you're going to actually do much writing or other creative endeavor, a mouse is a must.

So why an optical mouse? I hate cleaning mouse balls. I hate the way mechanical mice rapidly deteriorate as gunk builds up inside them from use. Optical mice are supposed to do away with all that, and are now available on the low end for only about twice the price of a cheap mechanical. I bought the cheapest Microsoft optical mouse I could find. From various reviews I'd seen in the past, a Microsoft mouse or keyboard seemed like a reasonably good product for the money.

For quite some time I'd been sharing a single Ethernet connection in my office among at times several computers, connecting and disconnecting as needed. This is tiresome, wears on ports, and is not very efficient. So I bought a network switch to expand the network in my office to several more machines simultaneously. A hub would also do this job, and for somewhat less cost, but would often work slower than a switch.

We already have a Linksys router we've been pretty pleased with, so Linksys had a leg up on their competition here. Still though, I looked around at some reviews before buying, as it's been a few years since the router buy, and I knew circumstances could have changed. Apparently Linksys was bought out by Cisco (if I recall correctly), and I did run across some complaints about lowered product quality or increased usage glitches with Linksys gear from the past few years. But in general it appeared the Linksys stuff was still more or less holding its own with competitors in forums and reviews, so I went with Linksys again.

If I was going to connect my single office Ethernet cable to the new switch, and then connect the switch to two or more computers downstream simultaneously, I also needed at minimum a couple straight-through Ethernet cables, preferably around 8 to 10 feet long. I do possess the info, tools, and supplies to make these cables myself I believe, left over from my original LAN construction. But by golly, terminating those Ethernet connections is really, really annoying, especially for someone with bad eyesight. Plus, such Do-It-Yourself termination results in cable ends which are very vulnerable to adverse conditions, such as frequent connects/disconnects, or other movement of the devices they are attached to, such as laptops. WebFLUX Central has already seen cable ends in such conditions break off and require redoing at least twice.

So I'm not too keen on the DIY route for cable-making, where I can avoid it. I ran across some 10 foot cables made by Linkysys at Amazon and ordered them.

About a week later, everything had arrived. I installed the mouse per instructions: it worked fine. Making sure the switch and both PCs it would connect to were turned off first, I then plugged everything in. I took the Ethernet connection I'd previously been using for my HP PC and plugged it into the 'uplink' port on the switch. Then I used the two new 10 foot cables to connect from each of two PCs to the switch.

Note that it wasn't spelled out in either the router or switch docs as to how exactly the user was to connect the two devices to one another. Indeed, some of the info seemed downright contradictory. Searching the internet for more info didn't help either. Yeah, maybe I was being way too cautious here-- but I'm an OLD computer geezer, and seen way too many GOTCHAS! erupt out of nowhere in many cases where I or others jumped into various technical tasks with inadequate preparation or information. I didn't want to damage any of my equipment, among other concerns.

After considering the matter for a while, I decided on just trying the normal PC-end of one my network's straight-through wired Ethernet cables plugged into the uplink port of the switch (leaving the opposite end in the same router port it was before), and leaving the uplink port on the router itself empty as always.

I turned on power to the switch, so it could establish a connection to the router (which had remained on throughout the process). I then turned on the two PCs.

Both PCs could now surf the web simultaneously. Yay!

A few days later I finally had the time to try getting the two PCs to share files. This turned out to be pretty much as hard and frustrating as on an Apple Mac OS X machine trying to share files with older Mac OS 9 computers.

After much fiddling with various settings on both the HP and Compaq, plus web searches for tips, I finally honed in on the problem: the Windows XP internet connection firewall on the laptop had to be disabled. That firewall isn't as necessary for us here as it might be for some other folks, because we already have a router with a built-in firewall between all our computers on the LAN, and the cable modem.

But even after this I couldn't access the HP's shared folder from the laptop, because the HP was demanding a password for 'guest' access, and wouldn't accept anything I gave it.

I was able to access the shared documents folder on the laptop from the HP, however.

At this point my notes get a bit unclear. But I believe what happened next was I copied roughly 90 MB of files from my old Compaq 5151 desktop to a 100 MB ZIP disk, then stuck the disk into a USB ZIP drive connected to the laptop to transfer the files to it (the 5151 you see is not on the LAN, due to having fried both its onboard slow Ethernet port and a later inserted fast Ethernet port card, and I haven't tried putting another in since).

Surprise, surprise. A GOTCHA!

Turns out ZIP disks in formats compatible with Windows98 or Windows ME are totally and utterly incompatible and unreadable by Windows XP, no matter what you do. And vice versa. It took me a while to confirm all this, via searches on the internet, downloading and installing the latest Iomega ware for drives, etc. So the old standby 100 MB ZIP disk format that served me so well in transferring from ancient Mac Quadras to iMacs, and then to Windows98 and WindowsME PCs (when burning CDs for such tasks was VERY problematic, by comparison), has run its course, and will no longer be of any help whatsoever in such migrations.

Goodbye sweet ZIP. But at least I can still use your format for incremental backups on all my machines-- even if now each of those backup disks will be incompatible with the other operating systems involved. UGH!

So I was forced to transfer all my files from the Ethernet-less 5151 to the HP desktop via ZIP disk about 90 MB at a time, and after that transfer was over, from the HP to the laptop via Ethernet network (through the switch). All this worked out to around 1.4 GB I believe.

I ran into another snag whenever Windows encountered text files that had originally been created on a Mac and transferred to a PC, years back. At that point network copying would often get agonizingly slow, with the Windows ME machine gradually slowing to a crawl, unable to even update its display more than once every 15 minutes or so.

I managed to speed this process up somewhat by breaking the copy tasks down from single monolithic folders to a single folder at a time from within that large folder, and often reboot the HP inbetween folder copies. Of course, that meant I had to perform much of the copying manually, being tied to the HP for several hours in the ordeal.

Ahh. This part reminded of my iMac and OS 8 and 9 days. AGGH!

Another tip on such copying: Drag and drop the folder or file to be copied to the shared documents folder itself, rather than a nested folder within that folder. For some reason copying to a nested folder wreaked havoc with WindowsME.

OK. That being done, I needed to equip my laptop with anti-virus protection. If you're on a Mac, and not using Microsoft Office or Word, you're quite a bit safer than the typical PC user. But any Windows user who surfs the net these days or uses email without virus protection on their machine is just asking for trouble-- and will likely get it within 90 days.

Mcaffee virus scan has worked well for me on my HP. It came as a 90 day trial version on the new PC I believe, and I bought a subscription after that. It's saved me from attacking viruses at least several times, from web sites, email, and even old infected files from archives.

I did a Google search to find a handy place to buy and download it online, and got directed to mcafee.digitalriver.com

I bought it for $34.95. Note that someone like me only needs virus scan online, and none of the other bells and whistles mcafee would like to sell us.

I bought it on 8-3-03 and dutifully jotted down my order number and saved to disk various web pages which I knew from experience might be essential later on.

Then I ran into another GOTCHA!

The site instructed me to click the download button to get what I'd paid for. BUT THERE WAS NO DOWNLOAD BUTTON. Only buttons whereby you could spend more money to get the program on CD through snail mail, or get an extension to the normal 30 day period you had to download the software. BUT THERE WAS NO DOWNLOAD BUTTON. And yes, I had already paid for it with my credit card. I just couldn't have what I'd paid for.

I consulted the site help and FAQ, which all pointed me back to the same page with no download button again. I entered my order number into a blank provided to get another chance to download, and still all I got was the same page with no button.

OK, I thought. Maybe the laptop has some new version of Windows XP that prevents the download button from showing. So I surfed to the site on my Windows ME PC, figuring I'd save the download to disk if possible (sites don't always offer you that option), and then transfer it to the laptop via LAN to install there.

But when I visited the site with Windows ME, again, THERE WAS NO DOWNLOAD BUTTON.

I looked up a form or email contact for Mcafee and wrote them about the problem. Meanwhile, I was afraid to do very much with the laptop, as it possessed no virus protection.

FIVE DAYS LATER I finally got a reply from Mcafee. They told me to try downloading from http://us.mcafee.com instead.

It apparently worked. I immediately had the new software scan the laptop for viruses. None was found (the process requires HOURS).

After being sure the laptop was virus-free, I surfed over to a couple sites offering free 3-D rendering software that me and a niece and nephew have been wanting to try out for ages. Last time I checked both required Windows XP or a certain version of Mac OS X that we didn't have (even our G4 Mac was running a version of X too new according to the specs).

Unfortunately, it appears it's Windows XP Pro that's required for PCs (plus some other fancy gear) that I still don't have. Sigh.

So we checked to see if they'd updated the package to run on our version of Mac OS X yet. The site said they had! But when we went to download it, it just said they would have it, sometime in fall of 2003. So no 3-D for us!

So instead I burned two CDs worth of data files from the laptop, three CD copies each, for archival purposes. It'd been quite a while since I did this, and it was way overdue. One copy of the two CDs I'll keep handy in my office for reference, another in a safe elsewhere, and the third at a remote location, in case of major disaster at WebFLUX central.

Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop User's Log Contents

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