The Astral Log

8 February 2016

The Laptop Conundrum

Filed under: Technology — Andrew T. @ 12:48

My Dell Inspiron 2600 laptop from 2002, shown below in better times, finally died.

Dell Inspiron 2600

It was a slow and protracted demise. First, the battery stopped keeping a charge. Then, the plastic around the hinges disintegrated. The ethernet connector became loose. The power cord shorted out, requiring me to splice the bare wires together. The trackpad malfunctioned forcing me to resort to keyboard combinations.

While trying to cope with these maladies one day, I slapped the computer in frustration...and the hard drive immediately fell into the click of death. Turning it off and on generated the on-screen message "Operating System not found." For all intents and purposes, it is kaput.

This brings about a dilemma, though. What do I replace it with? Every option is a poison pill.

Another laptop old enough to run an activation-free version of Windows.

Not a very viable option since the very reason I need a laptop is to forge a link with the current world. That current world would be much better if Microsoft had been broken up in 1998, but there isn't much I can do to alter history now.

Windows XP refurb.

Windows XP is the last Microsoft operating system with an interface that can be configured out-of-the-box to be reasonably usable, with a cascading Start Menu, conventional menu placements, and no unnecessary theming. Every time I use Windows 7, I wish I could be using XP or 2000 instead. Unfortunately, Windows XP is also a ticking time bomb. "Support" for it ended over a year ago...which would be of minimal significance if not for the fact that it's bound and chained by an "activation" system linking the ability to install it or use it to the mercy of its maker. Tracking down a laptop with XP in this day and age also means dealing with seven-year-old hardware from seedy two-bit resellers with bad reviews. When hundreds of dollars are at stake, that's a tough pill to swallow.

Windows 7 32-bit refurb.

Were I to buy a Windows laptop with a post-XP OS, it would need to be the 32-bit version. Under no circumstances do I want the 64-bit version: It would eliminate my ability to run 16-bit applications or 32-bit apps with 16-bit installers, with no net benefit.

Once again, though, that means I'd be limited to refurbished offerings since OEMs have gone gung-ho for 64. The good news is that 32-bit Win7 offerings with warranties are still available from reputable OEM-connected outlets. Windows 7 will also be viable for a number of years to come; in spite of Microsoft's coerced Windows 10 downgrades, telemetry spyware "updates," and the lingering stench of the Product Activation cancer.

New MacBook.

If I'm sick and disgusted with Windows, why don't I "think different," liberate myself from the leagues of Redmond sycophants, take the most obvious option out, and buy a Mac?

Trouble is, I already did that. My iBook G4 in 2004 required a logic board replacement 3 weeks in, and I never trusted it again.

If Apple products didn't fail catastrophically and Apple still offered a laptop similar in design and capabilities to the iBook or PowerBook from ten years ago, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Unfortunately its maker has instead gone mad gluing batteries in place, soldering RAM in place, and removing useful peripheral ports and CD-ROM drives in the Jobsian pursuit of slimness and flimsiness for its own sake. The elimination of Classic and Rosetta from the software side means that I'm prevented from using a version of Microsoft Office without ribbons, activation, or DOCX filetypes, and barred from using any piece of software more than a few years old. Apple is out.

"Just use Linux."

Pre-installed or bundled operating systems would be a moot matter if I didn't have a day job and I had the time and enthusiasm to tinker with computers for their own sake instead of using them productively as a means to an end. But I don't.

I've experimented with Linux off and on again for more than ten years, and I don't have the patience to deal with its case-sensitivity, its Byzantine file paths and multi-user emphasis, the complex rituals needed to achieve the functionality that goes for granted in Windows, or the fragmentation induced by rival distributions and desktop environments frantically trying to outdo each other with functional regressions and bad UI decisions.

"Just use BSD."

Many of the same caveats as Linux, with the added bonus that I know squat about it. Maybe someday...but that day is not any day soon.

So, that's the Laptop Conundrum I'm in now.

1 February 2016

Escape, Part 2

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, Skepticon, US-Missouri — Andrew T. @ 12:01

(Continued from Part 1.)

Teague Texaco

This building in the city of Vandalia falls solidly into the "roadside artifact" category: It's an old Texaco building in the Walter Teague style that was so common everywhere once upon a time ago. It's also unusual for having three service bays (most had two), and for preserving the original porcelain enamel coloring instead of being slathered over in an indifferent shade of paint.

Turnbull Plumbing Inc.

I came upon this billboard somewhere near the edge of Pike County, and felt right at home.

Superstore archesCounty Market, onetime Kroger

As a final treat of the day, while driving through Louisiana, Missouri (see what I mean about being geographically confused?) I glanced out the window and saw some familiar-looking archways on the far end of a shopping center. It turned out to be the calling card of a 1970s-era Kroger store at the opposite end of the artifact of their long-defunct St. Louis division, no doubt. The building itself was now housing a store by the name of County Market, and had a fresh and modern renovation.

In reverse scenario from my drive the other way, the sun set on me as I crossed the bridge into my pictures ended there. I soon found myself driving through utter darkness looking frantically for a spot to take a diarrheic toilet break, since my lunch of the day had not gone over well.

And so ended my conference and road trip repertoire of 2015.

31 January 2016

Skepticon 8, Day 3: Escape

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, Skepticon, US-Missouri — Andrew T. @ 21:25

The long drive home from Skepticon passed without too much catastrophe or incident. Fortunately, I also passed a generous helping of oddities and roadside artifacts along the way...

Ruined Conoco

It seems that the canopy roof on this onetime gas station in Springfield had a little...mishap. Either that, or it lost the will to have any semblance of structural integrity. I believe it was a Conoco originally.

Reagan building

I stopped and stared when I discovered a building by the old city hall in Lebanon, Missouri with the unfortunate name "Reagan" inscribed into it. Oh well...

Insurance Hut

This is the ex-pizza Insurance Hut of Mexico, Missouri. (Yes, I was starting to feel increasingly geographically confused.)

Missouri highways

Like Wisconsin, the state of Missouri refers to secondary highways by letters rather than numbers. Usually this is fine, but once in a while this causes a truly horrible juxtaposition to result.

To be continued in part 2...

27 January 2016

Skepticon 8, Day 3: Success in Springfield

Filed under: Skepticon, US-Missouri — Andrew T. @ 20:09

My third day in Springfield, Missouri began much like any other...but with a few twists.

Over breakfast, I met a pair of non-conferencegoers who asked me what Skepticon was about. So, I explained: "It's a skeptic and atheist conference with discussions about activism, community, and current events. Eight years ago, a few people decided to see if they could put on an event like that here in the heart of the Bible Belt, and it's become an annual event ever since." Surprisingly, neither of their heads burst into flame.

I returned to my hotel room to find the bill slid under my door. I loaded my things, checked out, and walked back to the convention center for another morning of scintillating dialogue.

Niki M.

The scheduled 10 a.m. speaker was pre-empted by a traffic tie-up, so instead we were treated to a presentation by Niki M. about Reproductive Justice: Activism on the Sidewalk. Niki described at length the details of her work as a clinic escort in the Twin Cities area...helping recipients of abortion services make their way to the front doors while hordes of angry Christian fetus-fetishists stand around them and scream. She went on to discuss some of tactics used by opponents such as fake clinics designed to trick and trap pregnant people seeking abortions, and provided an overview of the organizations actively working to undermine bodily autonomy today.

Bo Bennett

Bo Bennett later followed with a lecture titled "The Psychology of Woo," and then it was high noon. Stephanie Zvan and Kavin Senapathy had yet to go on stage (and I would have loved to have seen them both), but the forces of time and distance meant that it was not to be: Getting back to Madison, Wisconsin meant a twelve-hour drive on the road, Monday was an early-rise work day, and the clock was ticking. So I bid a few quick goodbyes, and made my way out the door...happy and satisfied with my convention weekend.

How was Skepticon as an experience? In one word: Awesome. The selection of speakers was extensive, diverse, and exciting. Hundreds upon hundreds of attendees from all over the country were underfoot. The conference had a clearly-defined harassment and conduct policy, and to my delight it was enforced. Another thoughtful touch was a color-coding system for name badges, with different stickers being used to indicate peoples' different engagement and comfort levels. Apart from the untimely Mizzou Q&A and a few moments of confusion, I was very impressed by the conference and its motions toward accessibility and individual respect. And aside from the hotel room, the conference was free.

I was happy to see many people that I had met at cons in the past...including Greta and Ingrid, Stephanie, Benny, Richard Carrier (if only briefly and underwater!), and PZ. I was also pleased to meet many new people for the first time, including Kavin, Niki, Jason, Trinity, and a horde of people I chatted with but shortsightedly forgot to write down the names of. Damn!!

Comparisons between conferences are almost inevitable, and it's probably a good thing that I attended the tiny Reason Fest in Winnipeg before Skepticon 8 was a thing...because it never would have compared. Skepticon feels like the beating heart of skeptic/atheist activism at its best, and it's become the standard by which other cons are judged.

Skepticon T-shirts

Now, if only the T-shirt designs had been better. (I considered getting one, but didn't see much call in wearing an uncaptioned pink blob on a board.)

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