Yet Another Computer to Setup

When last you heard from me about the ordeal of trashing my laptop, getting it recovered, and buying a new one, perhaps you thought this would be the end of this discussion. Well, not quite so fast. One consequence of Christmas is some presents under the tree that required some more adoption of newer technology.

For a long time I’ve had the problem that the WiFi in our home has poor signal strength in certain portions of the house, especially the room where I am now. This has been a pain but I never did anything about it. Well, under the Christmas tree was a shiny new ZyXEL Wireless Access Point. Huh? I wanted an “extender” not a WAP. But then I learned this is a multi-function device including the “universal repeater” function. Before attempting to install this I ran around the house doing speed tests, as a surrogate for signal strength meter of some kind. To get a baseline I plugged this laptop into the already installed cable modem via Ethernet cable. Well, somehow I screwed that up and broke the connector and even though the modem was working, now my whole setup is broken (this is one of the reasons I’m always reluctant to change things, i.e. if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it). So off the store and now a new DOCSIS 3.0 modem, router, and WAP (all-in-one) followed me home, but missing any kind of directions in the box. Cox claims it was easy to setup, just plug-and-play, so I just tried. Fortunately Cox told the truth and soon we now had replacement for both the modem and the router/WAP and 2X the speed (nice! earlier Cox was out to fix cabling problems and reported our existing modem was obsolete and we had 2X faster service coming in, but couldn’t access it due to obsolete modem, so in essence my destruction of the old modem forced a convenient upgrade). But the new WAP is no more powerful than the old one so signal strength was still an issue, so now it’s one to installing the ZyXEL repeater. Oh joy, it’s “EZSetup” failed, so I just guessed and found the “expert” mode and after some more guesses got that working. Hurray! Now I have not only reliable connection in my room, but much faster speed. But two days gone (interfering with my much needed return to exercise and food discipline to shed the pounds I gained with holiday eating and especially massive football watching, and worse, beer (my new hobby and other xmas gifts) drinking and snacking. Oh well, finally it’s done.

But this was not the end of my days spent fiddling with gadgets. My wife had earlier bought a very high end desktop to replace her old XP desktop. But it sat in the box for nearly two months as she was reluctant to figure out how to get it setup and transfer her stuff from her old machine. I was reluctant to do this for her because, naturally it’s Windows 8.1, which I’ve never used and don’t even know how to use as a new user, much less doing sysadmin stuff. So that was waiting for me.

Meanwhile I discovered, attempting to put software on this machine, that while I had download numerous installers for software (legitimately licensed) I had neglected to save the activation codes, so, bam, now that meant buying new software. I reversed yet another aversion and studied and then bought the subscription (Home, i.e. 5 user version) of Office 365, after I was able to confirm this would still allow me to work offline (I’m resisting both the marketing push for “cloud” and requirement to be online all the time, initially due to my poor connectivity in the house (now solved with the above steps), but also because I take this laptop to lots of remote places where there is NO connectivity, even sometimes using my Verizon mobile WiFi hotspot (4G wireless to WiFi converter, which also doesn’t work well here in this house due to our location relative to the nearest tower). Network connectivity is NOT something I take for granted so I refuse to be dependent upon it. But the decisive factor in electing to go with Office 365 was the bundled 1T (for each of the 5 users) of cloud storage, maybe at least a better solution to backup. So I fiddled with all that on this laptop (another couple of days) and finally felt this was workable, even though I still find it hard to use (not the mechanics, but how to organize my files, now millions of them) and connectivity still is sometimes glitchy and then things work strange (since docs I have in the cloud come up in offline read-only mode if I can’t access Microsoft’s server, even though the doc itself is one my local disk (I get why, but don’t like it)).

So I thought I was done with all this fiddling, but in fact I had too more issues awaiting my time. I’m not a Luddite, but I also don’t adopt all the new technology, either because I don’t need it (and won’t be swept away by fads) or it doesn’t fit my needs or budget. So I have a very old (in time, also in technology) simple feature cellphone with a simple prepaid plan, the cheapest way to have just occasional use, which is all I need (and since I already have the Verizon MiFi I don’t need net access via a phone and I never text). Well, fine, but for some unknown reason, over time, this phone has worked less well, often not connecting in exactly where I need it, i.e. out on the road somewhere in nowhere, even though there are towers. I’d assume my old phone used some out-of-date protocol and newer towers reject it, but it may also be the service provider doesn’t wish to honor my prepaid service – who knows. My wife inherited a hand-me-down cheapo (and broken screen) “smartphone” using the same service (Tracfone) and liked it, plus got tired of hearing me complain about connection problems, so guess what else was under the xmas tree – a new (but certainly dorky and not fashionable) smartphone. So we made a deal, I’d setup her computer, after two months of just sitting there, and she’d fiddle with phone connections to customer service getting my old phone transferred over to the new one (I hate talking to service reps even more than fiddling with new gadgets). So now I have a new, almost up-to-date phone, one more new thing to configure properly.

So now it’s time for my end of the bargain – setup her computer. I did some Net surfing to learn a few basics of 8.1, plus downloaded a couple of books via Kindle Unlimited subscription, so now I decided I’m ready to tackle this, meanwhile also expecting to migrate my wife to cloud, which we’ll then organize sensibly and finally solve our issue of around 20,000 photos scattered on multiple computers and backups with the 1T of cloud storage she’ll get.

But, to my surprise, the new computer booted in Win7, despite claiming to be 8.1. Actually this is fine with me as having just setup this Win7 laptop (that I deliberately picked so it would be Win7, not 8.1), now my wife had her hopes up of getting brand new OS (skipping 7 while migrating from XP). So now it’s an hour or so on the phone to figure out why the machine was preinstalled with 7 and how to switch it to 8.1. Another day gone before I finally get hands-on with 8.1 (it’s not as awful as I expected, unlike many users I kinda like the Metro UI).

But the machine is still a bit strange so the steps I used for this new machine (to also be more organized and up-to-date, i.e. setup users and security and backup to modern standards) didn’t work there and often I was left guessing what to do. Plus once the basics were working my wife was completely mystified by the “Store” and Apps (vs just plain old software) and such. I kept saying, it’s just the same as Apple (details different, paradigm is the same), but she’s also skipped using tablets (I don’t like iPad either, but get the same exposure via iPod Touch, which again, is what I want, rather than iPhone or iPad and I won’t let Apple’s trendy marketing persuade me to buy fashionable gadgets instead of what I really need). So Win8.1 makes sense to me, but not to her – oh, terrific, she’s the one who wanted that. What really baffles her is now connecting local users on her own machine with the cloud identities need (and of course this now means she has multiple emails and worse, many new login ids and passwords).

But finally I got this working, got the Facebook App (after trying to explain to her the difference between apps and using browser, i.e. web services vs HTML webpages) and she liked that, so we’re over the hump. But I had the confusing situation that even to setup an 8.1 machine requires (not absolutely, but hard to avoid) having Microsoft identity plus the free OneDrive (15Gigs). BUT, what happens now when I try to install Office 365 – does it’s promised 1T of OneDrive replace the free one already setup and/or do I use the identity I created when bringing up 8.1 machine or do I get a new one (to avoid conflict between the paid and free subscription). So I created yet another new identity and thus avoided that problem, but now she’s baffled. I just tell her, don’t worry about it, it all works (of course with much newer software, different UI (esp. from XP), and so forth.

So four more days spent on all that.

So basically, since trashing my laptop about a month ago, we’ve replaced almost everything we have, all our networking, our phones, both our computers, applications (or apps), and it seems to mostly be working.

BUT, now the big issue remains. How to migrate from our messy, single-user, offline mode of keeping files (scattered everywhere) and have a more sensible organization, some offline, some online, some shared, some private. Millions of old files (from at least five previous computers for me, my old style was just to copy everything since typically new machines have way more storage, but this means never really cleaning up and organizing). So that’s the big challenge – upgrading the technology, while it can be frustrating and painful and certainly time-consuming is the easy part. Changing decades of patterns of usage to now fit the more modern structure – that’s the hard part and still just barely started, so stay tuned for that (I’m writing some new code to help the migration as doing it manually is basically impossible).

But, the point of all this is it amazes me how complex this has all become. In case you haven’t deduced this from other postings I’m been building software from the real early days, i.e. the 1960s. I’ve done it for a living and had to migrate, at least for my work. But my pattern of actually using the technology is not much different than when I got my first Mac, now about three decades ago and connected to the pre-Web Net via a modem. Each incremental step in technology I’ve adopted without really changing the way I do things (still thinking single user offline PC mentality). And so now it’s time to change and it is a bigger change than just bringing up new gadgets. But what amazes me is how other people do this. This is my profession and I’ve worked with complex architectures (loved VMWare and setting up multi-server solutions, then building our software to use all that). And I have a great friend who understands lots of bits of this I don’t understand (like a lot of developers I’m better at creating new messy stuff than administering other programmers’ messy stuff). So I have tons of resources and knowledge, yet this is fairly hard. What do the amateurs do – just ignore the complexity and do ad hoc installs of the latest and greatest. Or, perhaps this is why so many people just want a phone, learn one gadget, not a whole bunch, and use whatever that phone’s vendor wants you to do, esp. in using the cloud. Easy, sure, but are they really getting what they want, much less what they really need. OTOH, doing all the bits and pieces yourself is a real mess, lots of time spent, many mistakes made, and still compromises. In my view, setting up a home environment for multiple people and multiple (and disparate) devices is now as complex administration as you only saw in enterprise just a few years ago. That’s a lot for non-techies to do. But, then OTOH, maybe it’s easier for them because they really don’t know how it works and so they just follow simple cookbook recipes and go with it. I think this will be particularly interesting to watch the public stumble (and the disasters I forecast) trying to adopt Apple’s latest fad, i.e. Apple Pay – do its users have any clue what the possible ramifications (esp. downsides) will be? IOW, is technology getting too complex for people to really manage? Am I blinded by decades of doing things other ways and thus troubled by unlearning what I know (which is not a stumbling block for a novice user) or are they fools for not learning how complex, esp. security and privacy, now are. We’ll see.

But now, for me, maybe I can go back to using all these new gadgets rather than fiddling with them to get them setup right.



About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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