Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Lumps of coal

This Christmastime the universe brought me an assortment of small nuggets of anthracite in the form of annoying and disappointing events. None of them is big enough to justify a whine (so consider this an unjustified whine); they are rather like small, delicate chocolates in the box -- as you bite into each one, you wonder which shade of bitter taste it will leave in your mouth.

Perhaps I shouldn't blame the universe: some of these things were brought about by my own clumsiness. First, I damaged my beloved laptop: not just once, but twice. I spilled coffee on it at a coffeeshop. Only a tiny bit of coffee, but it was enough to do a lasting damage. My 3 years of being very careful with this laptop came to naught. I am usually very aware of the placement of coffee and tea cups within one meter radius of the laptop. :-) I don't put cups with liquid on the table where the lappy sits: I put them on a chair or on the floor, so that there would be no chance of spilling them. But all it takes is one time. My hand trembled, or something, and a few drops of coffee ended up on the keyboard. As a result, the mouse pad stopped working. The mouse acts as if its button is permanently pressed. So if you move the mouse over any window, it will wreck havoc as it "clicks" everything within that window, opening files, launching applications you didn't know you had, etc.

So I took it to Fry's yesterday to see if it could be fixed. But when I showed it to a technician, the mouse worked fine. I brought it back home, and the mouse is back to being unruly. So another trip to Fry's is in the stars for me tomorrow. I just hope the problem won't temporarily go away this time, only to reappear at home.

What's worse, as I was taking the laptop out of the bag at Fry's, I dropped it on the floor! Some parts of it outer shell cracked and chipped, but the fall didn't seem to affect it... at least not yet. I still feel very bad about harming my laptop, as if I had harmed a child.

Or perhaps it's a way my sneaky subconscious was trying to get rid of the old laptop so as to make way for what was supposed to be my holiday present to myself: an XO laptop (also known as OLPC, or One Laptop Per Child). I bought an XO as part of their "Buy 1, Get 1" program (you pay for 2 laptops, and get 1, while the other gets shipped to a child in a developing country, which is what the OLPC program was intended for). It arrived yesterday. My Christmas Eve night was spent on figuring out the XO interface, which is, in Tom Lehrer's words, "so simple, so very simple, that only a child can use it". :-)

And not just any child, but a child who's never been around real computers before. For youngsters in African villages it may be perfectly adequate. But a western child who's been using computers since preschool, may find it about as comfortable as tying her shoe laces with her elbows. Yes, XO is cute. I grant it that. But a cute lump of coal does not a diamond make.

That's my verdict for now. I'll write more about it after I take a few deep breaths and spend hours on OLPC forums and wikis to see if there is even a circuitous way (much less a direct one) to do my everyday computing tasks.

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