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This page last updated on or about 10-12-04


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Ever wished for something different to shake up your life?
Jerry Staute did, and look what happened to him.

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EDITOR'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NOTE: Certain items like embedded web links and documented costs/prices for certain wares discussed below may be out-of-date by the time you read this.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.

6-19-04: The great backup crisis

Things are getting bad for me here. I can't back up files. Not from my Windows ME HP PC, or my Windows XP laptop. Can't burn CD-Rs or CD-RWs on either. Having major problems writing to 100 MB ZIP disks too.

I'm being forced to use 'sneaker net' to physically carry my laptop to sit next to my HP to copy files between my laptop and my HP desktop to have any sort of backup at all. But this is really scary for an Old Computer Geezer like myself. Both my laptop and desktop have exhibited bad problems transferring files this way. So this is not a comfortable or reliable means of backup whatsoever.

It looks like I'm soon going to be reduced to trying to use 1988-style 1.44 MB floppies to back up on. YIKES!

Thank goodness my individual files will usually fit on such media.

What the heck is going on here? I have no idea. I protect all my Windows machines with anti-virus subscriptions, regular updates of the Windows OS as recommended, maintain a firewall, and even implement special PC magazine recommended measures in email programs to stop other bad stuff there. I use remotely virus scanned Yahoo mail, and don't even have a mail program set up on my laptop at all.

There seems to be some sort of software conflict between Windows XP and my ZIP software. Or a USB glitch. Or the external ZIP drive itself has developed a hardware problem. The Windows XP CD-writing software also seems to have problems.

The CD writing software on my Windows ME PC has always been confusing and hard to use. It continues to bedevil me today. And there seems to be no useful help about the matter from Microsoft or HP in their help software. I've looked and looked and looked.

Just today I tried formatting a CD-RW disk on the HP to use as a letter drive (had to wait almost an hour! Sheesh!). It seemed to be successful, but then a box popped up saying I had to install a UDF reader or something. I clicked OK. Said installation successful. After that I kept getting that same message any time I tried to access the CD. After repeatedly following those instructions proved fruitless I tried other avenues. I think I ended up opening the Adaptec CD Wizard again and re-formatting the disk (this time only one minute required). But the CD name had changed to UDF Reader for some unnknown reason.

The Wizard gave me a message that I could now use the disk as desired, so I tried it. Copied one folder, took forever. Tried copying a second folder, the PC got slower and slower and slower until it finally locked up so far as I could tell. No pointer evident on screen or anything. Of course, I've gotten used to these new computers (all kinds, including Windows XP and OS X on G4) being super-super slow about doing anything, and so they often seem frozen when really they're still running, only at glacial speed, and being utterly unable to respond to the user in any useful manner. So you best wait a while before trying to force a restart or switching off the power-- as then you may simply add more delay (the boot up, even disk scanning or desktop rebuilding) to your wait unnecessarily.

I finally tried CNTRL-ALT-DELETE but couldn't force the HP to restart. Had to figuratively 'yank the power cord' here. Waited ten seconds to clear RAM, booted again. Active desktop problem indicated, told it to restore desktop. But the HP was still abnormally sluggish (a status difficult for the HP to achieve, as even normally it can be hard to tell sometimes if it hasn't already frozen up). So I immediately shut it down, waited, and rebooted. After I removed the CD, or course.

That helped some, but it still seems a tad slower than normal.

All this is especially worrisome right now as I've been toiling away to start up a whole new business on my web site. But if you can't backup your files you're never more than a split second away from disaster.

I'd be having problems even if all the above weren't true. For there's a horrible incompatibility between Windows XP and Windows ME in regards to ZIP disk formats. Right now, any backup ZIP disk from my XP laptop can't be read on any other machine here, if my laptop goes down: so those are very limited backups indeed. And don't get me started with the compatibility problems between newer Macs and older Macs and between newer Macs and Windows stuff. AGH!

There's also the issue of low quality CD media (or is it the drives?)-- no matter what brand you buy. I personally encounter 'bad' disks constantly, as do everyone else I know. So in many cases it'd be tough to determine which elements were truly failing the most frequently-- the drives or the media.

Surely I'm not the only one having backup problems here. My LAN and computers probably get maintained better and exposed to far fewer threats in general than those of most other folks or small businesses. So how the heck is everyone getting by, backup-wise? Could it be both American business and consumers are courting major league disaster these days because none of the widely available means of backup are working any more? YIKES!

Note that I've uncovered mind-blowing backup negligence or other backup-related problems at every substantial size US corporation I've worked at the past 15 years, too. And that was where semi-reliable methods were actually available for the implementation. So it's not just a consumer or small biz issue. An awful lot of the mega-corporations folks have heavily invested in likely possess poor backup procedures-- if they have any at all. The failure of the tech industry to keep their backup technologies working or usable could be leading us to a kind of calamity that will blind-side almost everyone-- and possibly be much worse than 9-11-01 in terms of financial damages. Maybe even worse in human casualties too, as so much these days depends on properly functioning software.

Yeah, I know lots of people attempt to solve these problems by simply starting over with yet another brand new computer: but that often doesn't work anymore, folks. My current laptop is a prime example of this. Plus, if you get any speed advantage whatsoever with a new machine, it's only within certain narrow limits, like maybe the display of web animations: overall the newer machine, applications, and OS will likely be even slower than what you were using before. At least, that's been my experience on both PCs and Macs now since around 1988!

Below are a few related web links to all this:

CD-R basics
CDR Recording Basics
Teach your end users CD-ROM basics

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

6-3-04: My backup media of choice finally transitions from ZIPs to CDs

Well, I'm finally making the move from using 100 MB ZIP disks for incremental routine backups to 650 MB CD-R disks. Yeah, I realize I may be the last person in the developed nations to make the switch, but I had my reasons for the delay.

For one thing, it took quite a while to squelch the problem of too long file names ruining all attempts to back up to CD, when ZIPs would either accept the same files readily, or be easier and faster to rectify any problems on, where they did occur.

There were two breakthroughs for me here: One, determining a rule of thumb approximation for how long a file name I could get away with, and two, realizing I should always go for making CDs accessible by drive letter.

So how long a file name can a combo Windows ME/Windows XP user get away with these days? Something like the string below:

on-going experience accumulation combined with my sub-concious mind gradually crafted a reasonably merciful manual technique for the task, which I got the chance

Now when I research on the web I keep a notepad window open where I can do test pastes of a text string to see if it looks short enough not to cause me problems down the road. I also edit it there if necessary, then use it for both the name of the Favorite or bookmark in my browser, and the name of the file saved to disk. There is one caveat though: it seems like if a text string has too many small words in it the string may look OK in Notepad but still be too long for the Windows OS filename bug to accept later on. I can't define this problem any better at this time, as I'm still vague on it myself. We'll all just have to try try again until we find a suitable way to get around it we can be confident of-- unless and until Microsoft someday removes the bug that allows its OS and apps to save filenames so long that basic file management tasks (like moving, copying, renaming, deleting) can't be performed on them afterwards.

And yeah, I know that I wouldn't have such problems if I'd just name all my Windows files something like dergs or fgsyh or 748378.

Unfortunately, I can't tell what the heck might be in such files named so. And I have zillions and zillions of files. And zero time for merely opening files at random hoping to find what I'm looking for. Use the Windows Find function? Oh thanks for the suggestion! Unfortunately Windows Find often works so poorly I can the files I'm looking for faster the manual way (browsing the lists of filenames).

We're still in the Stone Age of Computing folks.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

6-3-04: Power blink during boot up

I got a scare the other day. The power here at WebFLUX Central blinked just as my HP was booting up, and something bad happened. When I finally was able to get it to boot again, it came up in that awful 'Safe Mode' state, which seems to often be the preamble to death for a PC.

Fortunately it appeared to repair itself with Scan Disk or whatever. But the whole episode was considerably more stressful than the HP's usual schenanigans. It would entail TONS of work to recover from a calamity with my HP, despite my likely having plenty of backups to sustain me. There'd inevitably be lots of things I'd have to leave behind or find a substitute for, in the aftermath.

I'm seriously considering getting a stand by uninterruptible power supply for my most needed desktops (I believe stand bys are the cheapest versions). Note that this may be one of the main good things about laptops: they basically have an uninterruptible power supply built-in (their battery).

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

1-15-04: I overcome the file backup problem: my research archive is saved

Since I learned about Windows' horrific file naming bug (which allows you to give files names so long that those files later become inaccessible to you, as well as impossible to move, copy, or rename-- making them impossible to back up), I've made a conscious effort NOT to allow new file names beyond a certain length.

It's wholly impractical for me to count individual characters in each name, as I may save a new such file on average every couple minutes-- and require that time to determine if the file is worth saving. So I've just developed a general sense of what name length is probably 'safe' on my system (based on my experience of past months), and edit them accordingly.

This new practice of course does nothing to solve the problem of hundreds of folders containing tens of thousands of files with many 'illegally' long names causing the whole lot to be impossible to comprehensively back up.

This meant my research archives were in danger. So something had to be done.

Back in my circa 1990-1995 Mac days the solution would have been simple: create a tiny Hypercard stack that finds 'illegal' filenames and fixes them (or otherwise rid myself of them), and let it do its thing. The scripting required at the height of my HC expertise may have only required five or ten minutes. Then I could have given the stack the overnight hours to process all the files, and viola! by morning the problem would be fixed.

But that was then: this is now.

I don't have the time to learn another programming language, or the idiosyncrasies of the Windows file system right now. There's no suitable built-in Windows utility for this. A web search informs me I'm basically on my own on this, unless I can find a third party utility that does the trick.

I locate and download several utilities. And test some of the most promising of the lot.

A sample of some of the many sites/pages I visited includes:

Bulk Rename Utility
Welcome To CKSoft (long filename utility)
Windows Freeware - (File Renaming) - Moochers.com
FileName Pro - Download FileName Pro - Professional grade batch file name utility
Annoyances.org - re Can't copy b-c ''filename or extension is too long'' (Windows 98 Discussion Forum)
Newbie dot Org filename message (unviewed)

Note it was months back when I visited, so the URLS may have broken.

To make a long, long, long story short, it was all a waste of time. Even after determining which handful of utilities out of dozens claiming to be the answer looked most promising, actual testing brought results ranging from alarming (irrevocably file destructive) to maddeningly mediocre (a wonderful interface with no underlying functionality) to finally one interesting renamer which showed real potential-- but only for renaming music files, not scientific and journalistic article titles, as I personally require.

With other matters pressing me hard, I was forced to abandon the file renaming effort at that point, to stew in my own juices.

As often happens in such a case, on-going experience accumulation combined with my sub-concious mind gradually crafted a reasonably merciful manual technique for the task, which I got the chance to implement a couple days ago. It took me about a day and a half. Thankfully the illegally long filename problem was present in only around one year's worth of collected items, and only maybe one to two dozen 'mad' files had to be destroyed in the process. I'd been concerned that the loss might be far higher.

Even these few files I hated losing, as they were juicy indeed regarding certain topics on my site. But I could no longer access them at all via any method at hand. And, thankfully (again), I'd already managed to reap the contents from maybe 15-20% of these particular files before this purge, successfully integrating them into my site. And of the remaining 'lost' files, I may still possess the original URLs to their content in my archives, and so perhaps be able yet to retrieve them from the internet should it become necessary.

There's also the matter of 'an embaressment of riches'. That is, my file archive is so rich and wide-ranging that I likely could lose all internet access entirely, and mine the archive alone for research purposes for several years to come, without feeling too impinged upon.

So for most all practical purposes losing a dozen or so research files should have negligible impact on my site editing.

Keep in mind that I came to the PC only 2-3 years ago; prior to that, I'd been a Mac user pretty much exclusively since 1989. So there's TONS of Windows and DOS stuff I never knew, and still don't today.

I've also been stunted in CD use (as in burning) since the format's inception, for a variety of reasons, among them being no time to dally in music files, and finding ZIP disks much faster, more convenient, and practical for backing up the zillions of tiny HTML files I edit, and the research items I download from the net, than CDs ever seemed to be. I'd bought up a large number of ZIP disks in the days before CD burning was as affordable as it is today-- so the cost of the old ZIPs is negligible to me now.

My first CD burning was done to create research compilation archive disks from my huge stock of Mac formatted ZIP disks. I copied all my ZIPS to the hard drive of an iMac DV I think it was, and then burned their contents to disk. After that I wiped the ZIPs as needed, to begin a whole new backup/archive store process.

Eventually the shrinking functionality, exploding costs in time and money, as well as their growing incompatibility with the world, and worsening reliability in general forced me off the Mac platform. I mainly couldn't take the crashes and constant troubleshooting anymore, and hated most of the bugs and interface changes Apple brought to the OS beginning around 8.0 I believe.

That's when I began my migration to the PC-- which forced me to put my archives onto PC CDs-- only using Macs to burn them. That was an awful process which I've at least partially documented in various logs on-site. During that process I became convinced I ruined the general CD burning sessions preferences on my HP in my long-going (and vain) efforts to make CDs which would be universally compatible with both my Macs and PCs. All that got me was maybe half a million ruined filenames of the sort I was afraid I'd get again in this latest transition, plus maybe making it inordinately time-consuming to get my HP to make standard PC CDs like I'd want after that. Thus, I avoided trying to burn any more CDs on the HP for a long time afterwards.

It seems I also did not have a good understanding of the various CD access modes on the HP, or in Windows generally. For a few days ago when I did all the latest burning I found making the CDs act as a letter drive on the PC was the ticket. I could pop it out and read it no problem on my laptop as well. And the filenames retain their length too. Eureka! In previous efforts I'd always picked instead the modes which described making the disks compatible with all CD ROM drives and many versions of Windows-- which seemed the safest and most advisable course to me for purposes of long term access-- but in practice would truncate filenames to practically unusable length, among other problems.

Perhaps you'll find the above a hilarious example of user incompetence or inexperience. But for me it was a marvelous new liberation from prior constraints.

And yes, I gave my history of the topic first in order to justify why it took me this long to get to this particular CD milestone.

So what about the file re-naming?

I have only anecdotal evidence for this: But I think my 'mad' files which possessed excessively long filenames were occasionally tripping up my PC's boot process (something definitely does). Whatever it is that causes my HP not to boot correctly at times, the HP automatically tries to go into its ScanDisk utility afterwards, which seems basically to rebuild the Windows desktop, similar to what happens on Macs these days if something goes awry with a shut down or crash or whatever (in my worst final days as a substantial Mac user it seemed fully 50% of my time before the Mac screen was spent watching the Mac rebuild its desktop after a crash or involuntary restart-- over and over again).

Anyway, whenever the PC rebuilt its desktop via ScanDisk, it seemed to 'lock down' any new or still outstanding examples among my excessively long named files, so that I could no longer open them with any of my applications-- or rename them, copy them, move them, or delete them(!) Yikes!

As I don't necessarily try to access a saved file for months after putting it away, I only began to become fully aware of the problem when trying to manipulate entire folders (sometimes folders within folders) of hundreds or thousands of files at once. I.e., I'd try copying them to a ZIP, CD, or over my LAN, and get an error, which aborted the process at some indefinable point amongst all the files. So some foul file deeply nested amongst hundreds or thousands of innocent others, would effectively stymie my file management efforts. Ergo, my backup problems.

Being unaware of the Windows long filename bug, it took me a while to figure out what was causing this, and why.

The solution I finally happened upon was this:

I created a new folder on my desktop named "PROBLEM FILENAMES"

Inside that folder I created a subfolder, and named it the same as whatever archive folder I wanted to 'disinfect' at that time (i.e., "12-3-03".

I then opened the original individual archive folder on disk and selected all files from the edit menu. I next dragged all the selected files to the second folder which I'd named the same as the first.

When I was lucky, all the files would copy over, no problem. Then I'd delete the original folder, and move the second folder to take the original's place in the directory.

But what happened when I wasn't lucky? The selected files for transfer wouldn't budge. Because somewhere among them would be an 'illegally' named file.

In that case I'd scroll through the original folder looking for the longest filenames in that directory. It helped a lot in this task to widen the original folder window to the full width of the screen, and then lengthen the "Name" section of the listings as much as possible too.

Whenever I found a bunch of files sporting relatively short filenames, I'd select just them and drag them over to the second folder. If that failed, I'd know I missed an illegal file among that smaller bunch. When that happened, I'd try selecting and dragging a smaller group of those same files over-- if necessary dragging a single file at a time-- until I knew which file was holding up the party. Once identified, I'd skip the 'bad' file and select and drag the 'innocent' files surrounding or following the bad one to the second folder. As I started this process from the top of the list, this would result in a growing number of 'bad' files at the top of the window as things proceeded.

Eventually all the files would be transferred but the 'bad' ones. There were usually only one to a handful of such 'bad' files in a particular original folder. In order to make sure these remaining files were 'bad', I'd click on the name of each to select it, wait a second, then click the name again to see if Windows would allow me to edit the filename.

If I only got a 'beep' after the second click (signifying I was barred from doing anything at all with this file), that confirmed the file was 'bad' and should be deleted (but I couldn't delete it right then).

Alternatively, if I was allowed to edit the filename, that meant it was a 'good' file, and could be moved to the second folder (and I'd leave its filename unchanged).

Finally there'd be nothing but 'bad' files left in the original folder. I'd then close both the original folder and the second folder of the same name. Next I'd re-open the original folder to make sure there was no mix up of what files were where-- then close it again. After that I'd delete the original folder, and move the second folder to take its place.

This is the only way to delete these bad files-- by deleting the folder which contains them. You can't delete the bad files themselves directly. Thus, the two folder juggling act.

The above is how I'd 'clean up' a single folder at a time. I repeated this process for every folder among hundreds spanning roughly a year in my archives. As mentioned before, it took around a day and a half of effort.

The once endangered files now reside not only on my HP hard drive, but on two separate CDs as well. And I'll likely make a third copy of these just to be on the safe side, when I get the chance. I made sure to make notes about what files I put on which CD (there were several sets of CD pairs required for this archival backup), so that I can easily make another set identical to the first couple. Why the delay on the third set? I've been ill lately, plus had other problems, which all limited how much drudge work I could stand to do, and the time available for it too-- and backups are always drudge work. I look forward to the day that a truly reliable, economical, and easy-to-use automated system for such things comes already built into our computing operating systems. Anything less pretty much demands the manual touch in some form or fashion, in my own opinion. Unfortunately, the manual backup looks like it will be a personal computing necessity for decades to come...being as we remain firmly in the Stone Age of Computing, as of 2004.

Having one full set of my research archive spread out over maybe a dozen and a half CDs at present means performing a reload onto a PC in the event my hard disk is fried-- or being forced to search one CD at a time for some other reason-- would at the least be annoying. So I look forward to the day PCs get writable disks of sufficient capacity that all this could be stored on a single platter. Note such a platter won't be suitable for my archival purposes until well after its format and appropriate drives have become mainstream consumer fare.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

9-23-03: The HP is showing its age (mounting, serious problems)

For the most part this PC has performed well since the last update, with minimal maintenance or repair necessary on my part. This, despite quite a bit of experimentation with new software installs, and rejiggering of its office duties. For example, I now do both my web research/surfing and site editing on this machine, rather than relegating the editing tasks to an off-line Compaq Presario 5151.

Having my editing station also possess internet access has significantly improved my editing productivity, as I may now easily click on a link to make sure of its content (as well whether it's now a broken link), where before I had to boot up a completely different machine for the task (and so did less checking).

Of course, such productivity improvements greatly depend upon the reliability and performance of my broadband ISP-- which hasn't been that great for the last couple years.

The shift key has occasionally stuck on this machine since I got it. I must treat the machine with kid gloves for certain operations, to minimize problems. For example, I recently ejected a ZIP disk just a bit too fast after copying files onto it, and ruined the whole disk. It was a backup disk, used for collecting incremental backups of daily work. This forced me to immediately have to format a new disk and copy over a couple weeks worth of files to replace it. I now try to remember to always count off 15 seconds inbetween when the PC indicator lights say files have finished copying to a disk, and pushing the eject button. AGH!

For some reason the PC doesn't like it if I press the same key twice in a row, such as "ee" or "--", so I often have to press such keys three times, with a certain size minimal period in-between the presses, to make them happen. This seems to have only started happening in the last several months, and never before.

Windows Explorer on Windows ME is very fragile and memory leaking-- and boosting the RAM on this PC to 512 MB didn't seem to help much at all. Having very many different windows open at once, or doing much moving of files between nested folders will bring the whole machine down pretty quickly. And sharing files over the LAN with another PC can cause WindowsME to slow down to an maddening crawl.

I've downloaded and installed quite a few things over the past year or so. And installed quite a few programs from CDs as well, in search of solutions to various problems. Very very few of the installs proved worthwhile. I'll try to offer more info on these things later.

The very worst problem on this machine is that I desperately need to save lots of files with long filenames on a regular basis, in my web research efforts. Merely adding the URLs to my Favorites isn't enough, as often my local net access won't work at all for such references later when needed during writing, and even when it does, the link may have broken since I collected it, or point to entirely different content. In many cases the content may have been moved to behind a corporate firewall, with the site now demanding an exorbitant fee to see it again. In all these cases, if I don't have the original page saved on my local disk, I've effectively lost access to the information (I sure can't afford to pay the fees required in those cases! I routinely refer to HUNDREDS of such files over just a perod of days in editing. YIKES!).

I also require the long file names to characterize the gist of file contents, or display a meaningful quote from same, for optimal later reference.

Unfortunately, it seems a major failing of the Windows operating system both past and present is it will routinely allow you to save files with names so long that you cannot afterwards manage those files en mass by moving them between folders or copying them to other disks or over network connections to other machines.


Please forgive the lapse into a string of obscenities: I had to vent some frustration there.

This unimaginably horrific flaw in the Windows OS means that I now am utterly stymied in copying files out of my Windows PC onto a backup disk or to another Windows PC.

By contrast, I was able to copy similarly named files from the Mac platform to a Windows PC.

In other words, I'm now trapped. With no way to properly backup my store of compiled files, sooner or later I will suffer a computer breakdown and likely lose the entire research database I've built up over many years.

I've never before found myself in such a terrible predicament. Even on Commodore 64s you could backup your files. Now it appears it may be impossible.

Oh sure, I can backup the short named HTML files I actually edit and post to my site. But I can't the long named research files, on which my ongoing site updates and expansions are based.

You suggest some manual name trimming and other juggling to get around this? Such a solution would be fine if we were talking about a small number of files. But I'm talking about at minimum tens of thousands of files. Maybe hundreds of thousands.

And even the manual trimming may not be possible on some files. Last night I started trying it and found the system wouldn't allow me to trim such filenames. I'd get one of those beep sounds signifying no-go when I tried to select the name for modification.

I can't copy the files to a CD. Error messages about the long filenames pop up, ruining the session. The CDs seem to require even shorter filenames than the Windows OS too. So I'd basically have to have some automated system rename thousands of files some variation of gobbledygook like "ege838" before I could copy them-- which would pretty much ruin my main way of referencing the files.

For a brief time I thought I was at least getting most of the files to copy over our LAN to another PC for backup. But now I realize tons of files were dropping out of the transfer process, so the backups are terribly sporadic and full of holes. I couldn't very well verify the copying process at the time I attempted it as both machines involved (this HP and laptop mentioned below) were either crashing left and right, or running so slowly as to force me to shut down or restart after almost every other mouse click. Having other matters to attend to at the time, with the machines forcing me to wait for 30 minutes to several hours inbetween actually interacting with them, I also often lost my train of thought, forgetting to verify certain file transfers if and when they finally did seem to take place successfully (and of course the PCs would often crash on me when I DID remember to check on the transfers, preventing validation in that way-- AGH!).

As Windows XP and Windows ME cannot share ZIP disks, that ruins that format too as a preferred backup method. Not to mention the tiny storage capacity of the ZIPs themselves. 95MB is microscopic when you're talking Gigabytes of data.

I've done some searching for remedies but so far not found much in the way of possibilities:

re: Can't copy b/c ''filename or extension is too long''
FileName Pro v1.1.0
File Renaming utilities

If I manage to overcome this awful problem I'll certainly post how I did it here.

The XE783 has also begun exhibiting lots more boot up problems than before. This is especially worrying since I can no longer do a back up en mass of my files collected from the web.

Keep in mind I switched to PCs because modern Macs were running even worse than this(!) The state of technology these days is sorry indeed.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

11-20-02: A long term Mac user's switch to PCs-- the good and the bad

Wow. It's been almost a year since I last updated this log. I've had no real problems with this machine. Mostly it's hummed right along, while I've gradually learned more about Windows in general. There's been some surprises, mostly pleasant, compared to my previous Mac experience.

For example, I was surprised to learn Windows has offered something like the Mac's Sherlock for years longer than the Mac. Text-based content searches of files on disk. And without the lengthy dedicated cataloging of the disk that's necessary on Macs. Gosh, Apple's even further behind the curve than I thought. You can also multi-task on PCs much more reliably than modern Macs. My Mac use over the years had trained me to avoid trying to do more than one thing at a time on Macs, as they'd almost always crash or screw up in some other way. Macs weren't always like this; back in the late eighties/early nineties they could multi-task fairly decently. But ever since then they just got progressively worse and worse. So getting to multi-task again on PCs has been great!

But even PCs lock up or crash sometimes. Especially Windows ME PCs like mine, which PC users in general seem to sneer at as being too unstable to use (they never used a Mac I guess). Thank God for Control-Alt-Delete! It took me a while to discover that this key combination could be used merely to stop a freeze up and get you back in business immediately. Several dozen times I kicked it twice right off the bat, forcing a restart, as back in the Mac's glory days they too had a keyboard sequence for restarting to get out of trouble. But wow! On PCs you can use it just to quit a frozen application, then open it back up immediately without restarting! I believe really old Macs offered a hard 'programmer's switch' that allowed something kinda like this-- but for regular users it was restart or else. The Mac restarts weren't so bad until the late years, when the restarts began requiring five minutes, then ten minutes, then longer...AGH! Then Macs got even worse, when hard restart buttons were removed from the case entirely in some models I believe, and not long after that even the 'soft' restart key combo quit working. YIKES! The key combo I guess never did come back in a consistent way, but at least the 'hard' restart buttons were brought back-- first as tiny pin holes you had to use paper clips for, then later as real buttons again by popular demand (users had to restart the Macs so often they had to have real buttons!). So gosh, I really appreciate the Control-Alt-Delete in Windows!

HOWEVER...one severe disappointment for me on the PC has been the total lack of a decent, easy-to-use, integrated paint and draw program. I'm talking something like ClarisWorks 4.0, on the old Mac Performas. Or the even older Silicon Beach SuperPaint (I think that was the company name). SuperPaint was so supremely easy my 1.5 year old niece could use it. Of course SuperPaint was no freebie. But ClarisWorks was, on lots of Macs. And it was almost as good as SuperPaint in many ways. By contrast, after much looking, I've found nothing comparable for the PC. Oh sure, there's $500 and up overkill packages which can be incredibly hard to use, like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and similar packages. But note these usually are NOT integrated paint and drawing programs. They contain thousands of features I'd personally never ever use, and all that junk gets in the way of learning how to use the few features I do need. And sure, at the low end MS Works has a paint program for kindergarten kids, with a well-hidden drawing module which will create boxes and circles and that's about it. No meaningful object alignment or distribution options, or other aspects of old Mac freebies like ClarisWorks. Maybe MS Office offers a better draw and paint integration? But we're back into the $500+ overkill zone again there. I recently downloaded and tried RealDraw Pro for a free 30 day demo, which offers really enough font-related special effects alone to be worth its purchase price ($50 if I recall correctly)-- unfortunately I needed the easy to use integrated draw and paint part worse-- which doesn't really exist yet in the version of RDP I tried.

So why don't I use a modern Mac with the modern version of ClarisWorks-- AppleWorks? I've tried. Steve Jobs seems to have essentially killed the old ClarisWorks, changing the interface to something much harder to use, and rendering the program (or the OS, or both) so unstable as to be unusable for serious efforts. The last time I tried it was to create a few simple colored map jpegs for my web site. You'll see them on my Atlantis and Kerguelen pages. These same exact maps could have been rendered in ClarisWorks 4.0 in Mac OS 7.5.3 in minutes. By contrast, they required days using a much newer Mac OS and AppleWorks, in early 2001. Why the huge increase in manhours required? The application and OS kept crashing every few minutes, necessitating constant restarts and frequent saving of multiple file versions to minimize data losses. It was a nightmare. I believe that was the last time I tried to do any significant artwork on any computer whatsoever. This is a major constraint on me, since I possess some artistic skills my web site could sorely use in the illustration department.

I probably have one or more low end photoshop clone apps laying around here. But they're just paint programs. I need something that integrates drawing and painting, and offers more than just the kindergarten drawing of MS Works, but much less than the overkill of an Illustrator.

Am I going to be forced to set up an ancient Mac just to run an ancient ClarisWorks in order to regain this functionality? At present it looks that way. ACK!

Another PC-Mac difference: The number of files you can have in the root directory of a disk (no matter its size, apparently). On a Mac there's no limit under normal circumstances. Even pretty old Macs I believe. By that I mean maybe if you put thousands or tens of thousands of files in the root directory, you might run into a limit. But I never did. But on PCs somewhere between 100 and 200 is a hard limit. Your PC starts acting weird when you get to that limit, with missing files and folders, and maybe a puzzling error message or two. As the error messages don't really tell you what you're doing wrong, I had to figure it out myself by trial and error.

When I have to use a Mac now I find the absence of the right mouse button very annoying. I also constantly wish for a Control-Alt-Delete key function, as Macs freeze up amazingly often (and I'm talking about a modern G4 with OS X here).

I do have a new machine on the premises: a Compaq Presario 2170 Laptop. But it has problems too. Plus, as mentioned before, I have no good way to move my files from the older machine to the newer one.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

12-28-01: I add a CTX 17 inch monitor to my PC

The RAM upgrade turned out to only speed me up slightly-- and Roger has informed me that in some Windows OS versions more than 256 MB RAM can actually slow your system down rather than speed it up (DOH! as Homer might say).

The RAM did seem to reduce my crash frequency, as well as cut back on the slow downs I experience when I have lots of windows open at once.

The ZIP drive is helping tremendously in reducing the hassle of transferring files between my iMac and my HP. I haven't burned another single CD since installing the ZIP (though I do expect to burn CDs occasionally for archival reasons).

My new CTX 17 inch monitor is easier on my old eyes than my previous HP 15 incher. Details of the purchase can be found here.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

12-01-01: I consider upgrading from Windows ME to XP

Hmmm. Turns out my XE783 is apparently one of those models which could be a bear to upgrade. I looked up the option on HP's own web site and found info indicating that not only would I have to buy Microsoft's pretty expensive XP CD, but I'd also need a supplementary $10 CD from HP, and perform enough manual operations on the machine to build my own stealth bomber(!) Sheesh! You ought to see the amazingly long list of tasks HP recommended be done to get XP working on my PC! They did manage to put everything in one page apparently-- but it's a very, very long page, filled with often tiny print.

I've also been reading horror stories around the web of upgrading PCs to XP. The moral of the stories seems to be DON'T. If you want an XP PC, it's best to buy one new, with the beast already trapped in there, instead of caging it yourself.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

9-26-01: I add an internal Panasonic 100 MB ZIP drive and upgrade the RAM to 512 MB

I've also bought a full year's subscription to the MacAfee anti-virus software that came bundled in a 90 day sub with my HP from the factory. I like how it auto-updates about once a week to protect me from new viruses.

I got all this (except the MacAfee) from TigerDirect for around $141.10, including shipping.


I did some shopping around for prices, and research into exactly what RAM type I could use, before settling on Tiger.

I received and installed the ZIP drive first.

There wasn't much in the way of installation instructions with this stuff when it arrived. In the computer biz over the past 30 years the trend has been that the lower costs you get, the less hand holding to go with it. Of course, anyone with any geek at all in them doesn't mind a bit of a challenge like this-- at least once in a while.

Apparently installing the ZIP was something like adding an internal IDE CD ROM, according to some info I found on the web via Google.

The HP has a primary and secondary IDE interface: the ZIP needed to be the secondary.

Naturally I used a wrist ground strap plugged to a power cord plugged into a grounded outlet, and regularly touched the metal disk cases and PC frame while working inside the PC, to minimize static electricity problems (and of course there was no way power could reach the PC while I had it apart and totally unplugged from everything).

Upon opening up the HP drive bay, I found three connectors hanging loose in the vicinity. From the looks of the back of the ZIP drive I only needed two of the connectors though. One appeared to be a power plug with 5 prongs, while the other was a hard drive-like plug.

I believe I was putting the ZIP in essentially as a slave hard drive. I encountered some trouble getting the HD plug to reach the drive around and through all the interference from other PC components and the cramped space in the case. The drive itself had to be slid into the case most of the way, and then the cables had to meet it inside. It was somewhat difficult getting things to come together as they should.

The hard drive cable had to be wound around the PC internals just so to barely reach the drive. I had to temporarily unplug the power to the CD drive to work in the area. I used a flashlight, clamp on light, standard screwdriver and needlenose pliers in this session.

Your PC docs will sometimes come in handy for stuff like this, showing you how to best open the case and remove front bezels, etc.

The ZIP didn't come with any screws to fix the drive in place inside the PC. It does have a snug fit, and would be pretty difficult to slide back out again, but it also can easily push backwards into the case a little when you insert a disk too firmly. It's not a big problem, and since I had no screws the size required at the time I left it like it was. However, if I was turning the PC over to someone else or going to ship it somewhere I'd want to try to make the installation more permanent and unyielding.

Windows ME appeared to automatically configure itself for the ZIP after I got everything re-assembled and turned on again. I did have some momentary consternation about not getting the 'safe to shut down your computer message' after switching off the PC, but things returned to normal again after a few restarts/shut downs (the message started showing again).

I also discovered the fairly small limit on the number of files you can have in the root directory of removable media in Windows. The number appears to be 135 or so. Thus, you gotta create lots of folders or sub-directories on your ZIPs here (the Mac allows practically unlimited numbers of files in root directories). I'd previously noticed the limit with PC floppies, but wasn't sure what was happening, as Windows doesn't explain this to the user. I thought it was a glitch in the OS or corrupted disks for a while. Oh well.

While the case was open I noted that it appeared the RAM would be some work to install.

The RAM arrived later.

I definitely needed some documentation to explain to me how to open the case for RAM installation. Installing the ZIP essentially required only lifting off the one piece top and sides of the PC (after removing three screws), and a front bezel. But for the RAM the top/sides had to be lifted off AND two other screws removed from the back panel, and the right side of the case pivot out on a hinge or special flange in the back of the machine.

9-23-04 UPDATE: In a much later re-opening of the HP I referred to this log item for reference and found I'd neglected to mention a couple more screws I had to remove along the right side of the steel box encountered after the outer case shell has been removed. These other two screws fasten the swing out right side at the end nearest the front bezels of the PC. The two screws I DID mention before are near a pivot point in the rear of the machine for this large side plate. END UPDATE.

[Note when I say right side of the machine, my perspective is standing in front of the PC with its removable drives like CD and floppy panels facing me, as they would be if I was just using the PC rather than upgrading it]

The right side of the case, along with the motherboard, can be completely removed if you unplug several cables first. The docs warn to sketch the cable locations first though.

I did NOT completely remove the side of the PC, but rather just pivoted it out as far as I could. Thus, I didn't have to disconnect a bunch of cables from the motherboard either.

Even though (if memory serves) I had to install the RAM into the slots of a board which was sitting vertically rather than horizontally here, it was one of the easiest slot insertions I've ever done. The rocker switches helped of course.

OK, I seemed to have everything done, so I buttoned up some things and switched on the machine.

Uh oh. It shows 511 MB RAM now (Windows apparently uses 1 MB for something else), but is NOT detecting the CD or Zip drives.

I restarted. Didn't help. The CD had power, because pushing the button would cause the door to open. But the PC couldn't see it. I shut down, waited ten seconds, cranked up again. Still no go. Tsk tsk.

I powered down, disconnected, and opened up the case again. And discovered a drive cable was loose from the motherboard! Apparently the way the cable had been routed through the case at the factory had caused it to pop off immediately as I opened the right side of the case, even before I could see inside, and so I didn't realize what had happened. There was no way to reconnect the cable while the case was open, in its current routing. However, it was simple to reroute the cable a different way from the factory practice so that opening the side would NOT cause it to pop off like that. And it could be easily re-connected that way too.

PRINTER NOTE: I was away on a job for four months, during which time my HP and printer sat shut down and unused. Apparently this was long enough for the ink cartridge in my HP printer to dry completely up. I'll have to replace the cartridge to get the printer working again. END NOTE.

Some links I consulted in all this include:

Zip-Jaz Questions & Troubleshooting
HP Pavilion PCs - Instructions For Taking Apart The System
10 Minute Guide to PC UpgradesAdding a Removable Drive

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

Sometime in early 2001: Roger installs a fast Ethernet card in my PC

There's not much to tell here; Roger's so experienced doing this that he diassembled the PC, stuck in the card, and had it back together again in about the same time it took me to type this sentence.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

January 2001: My dad surprises me with a new Hewlett-Packard XE783 PC+monitor+printer

I'd actually suggested it to him as a possible system for him to buy for himself. It appeared in a Wal-Mart flyer and seemed an especially good deal for a low end or newbie machine. And I've wanted to get dad on the net for quite a while now.

But when he bought it, he gave it to me! All I can figure was he was wanting to reward me for helping out in past months.

This is actually my first PC. I've used all sorts of computers, from ancient Commodore 64s and 128s, to Apple IIs, etc., and then for over ten years Macs almost exclusively. I'd used and troubleshot others PCs for various reasons, and recently got hold of an old one to fiddle with, but I'd never had my own up-to-date machine. I was considering buying one recently, though, with all the crap Steve Jobs has piled onto Mac users since he returned to Apple. I just hadn't gotten around to it.

Well, now I have one! It came with a 15 inch monitor and HP 610CL printer. 64 MB RAM, 30 GB hard drive, CD-RW, and 56k modem. Windows ME and Works.

I believe it cost around $800 plus whatever sales tax there was.

Hewlett-Packard Pavilion XE783 User's Log Contents

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