Burgess Laughlin

Buying a new computer

60 posts in this topic

Again, I want to thank everyone who participated in this topic. I have gained from the many suggestions made.

Here is what I bought:

- Mac mini, level 1 (1.25 GHz, 512 MB, 40 GB Combo).

- NEC 17 inch LCD display.

- Wireless mouse and keyboard.

- Floppy drive.

- Lexar JumpDrive.

- HP 1022 LaserJet Printer (my HP 1000 had no Mac driver for it).

- Hub to connect all the USB devices.

- Maria Langer’s Mac OS X Tiger, Visual Quickstart Guide, 700 pages.

Installation was not an “out of the box” experience, but it was less onerous than setting up my Dell Inspiron 2500 notebook four years ago. So far, the hardware is flawless. The software works beautifully, once the Mac ways of doing things are clear. The one possible problem is the browser, Safari. It might be the cause of intermittent problems with going to some websites. We will be exploring that next week. (I am taking the Intro course Saturday for the Mac OS X operating system.)

One item of false information from one low-level employee at the Mac shop cost Patrick and me to lose about an hour and half in installation. I also hired a friend, who helps farmers and ranchers install computer systems, to work with me to answer the two pages of questions I have – including a lot of customization. She does not know Macs but wants the learning experience (at reduced rate, of course). Her consultant is a friend who is an EE at Intel and loves Macs.

Also, the Apple help line was very easy to work with and informative. When Glenna called about the internet problem, there was no wait and no English problem. She said it was one of the more pleasant experiences she had had in calling help lines for her customers' problems. She recommended not signing up for the extended warranty -- yet.

I have had no Word-for-PC to Word-for-Mac conversion problems at all. All my Word files work on Mac. I will be looking into Phil Oliver's suggestions for running his research CD, which I have for PC, on a Mac.

For the time being, I will be backing up, once or twice a day, to floppy, CD-R, and JumpDrive. Of course, I am familiar with the floppy, but I still need to learn how to copy to the CD and the JumpDrive. I am sure the procedures are simple, but I haven’t gone that far down my list of about 113 questions.

LESSONS LEARNED

In retrospect, I probably should have followed Thoyd Loki’s excellent advice: Buy an eMac, the educational model more suited to my simple needs. However, I wanted to be able to carry individual pieces to the Mac store for servicing if necessary, so I went with the delightfully small Mac mini. The total footprint of keyboard, mini, screen, floppy, and hub is only perhaps half again as much as my Dell laptop – even less when I stand the wireless keyboard up on its back edge.

I know now that Apple sells high-end for its own products. For example, its own screens start with 20-inch, at about $800! But the local Mac store (one of five or so in Portland) offers much less expensive alternatives from other makers. I have decided, based on several recommendations, to buy everything – from screen to floppy drive and hub -- through the Mac store so I can hold them responsible for compatibility.

Next time I buy a computer, it will be Mac, I am sure, but I will hire the Mac store to install, configure, and customize it for me, as one package. In my effort to simplify my life, by getting a more reliable, easier to use computer, I actually made my life very complicated for the last week or so. For example, installing and learning how to use the Apple wireless keyboard and mouse was very confusing at first. Now they are a delight. Even ejecting a floppy requires a little work beyond pushing the button on the drive, but the procedure is simple (I hope I have it right).

Now that the transition is over, life is good again, which means, in part, it is simpler than it was before. That is the way I like it, because simplicity in the means enhances appreciation of the ends – my three highest personal values: work, friends, and leisure.

I hope others have gained as much from this topic as I have. Thank you again.

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LESSONS LEARNED

More than six weeks have passed since my PC died. As of yesterday, I finally have a new, fully performing computer, a Mac Mini and the peripherals I listed in my last post. I love the system, both functionally and esthetically. However, the process of obtaining my new system was awful. Following is my summary of what I have learned. Perhaps other minimal computer users who are considering buying a new computer will gain from it. I intend to use it as a guide for my next computer purchase – five or more years from now.

WHAT I DID WRONG

- I waited until my old computer died before selecting a replacement. My income will increase this summer, and I had hoped to wait until then, but I should have started the research early.

- I hired help in a “staircase”, beginning with the lowest paid person performing the most straight-forward tasks (the hardware setup). I should have hired the most skilled person (a technician from a computer store specializing in Macs, at $120/hour), to do everything.

- For the first few weeks of dealing with the computer store, I failed to grasp that every employee I talked to was stuck at the product-feature level of FAB (features, advantages, benefits). I finally saw that part of my confusion in trying to communicate with the computer store employees was caused by their assumption that I was automatically translating their descriptions of features into statements of advantages or benefits for me. I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to do so. For example, a processor speed means nothing to me by itself. I now know I need to ask a technical person about every feature statement he makes: How will I lose or gain?

- I relied on the technical competence of all the employees of the computer store. Two of the dozen or so employees of the store gave me false information – once about connecting a Bluetooth adapter with wireless peripherals, and once about my internet setup (which was dialup at that time). I now know which employees are most knowledgeable. Also, I now know I should ask prompting questions such as, “Is there any other information that a minimal-user like me needs to know before I can do the next step?” This approach puts the burden of information on them, which is appropriate because I am paying them for that service.

- In talking to the phone company that is providing my DSL, I did not realize I needed a special modem. My ignorance caused still another week of delay because I had to place a second order. The computer-store technician advising me in setting up my computer failed to tell me about the need for a special DSL modem; and, in my first call to order DSL, the phone company CSR merely asked, “Do you need a modem?” and I, having been told originally by the store that my computer has a built-in modem, said “No.” I should have probed further, in talking with both people.

- I failed to buy a wireless printer. I didn’t know wireless printers exist, particularly in the product line I considered (black and white, Mac-compatible HP printers), and the computer store employees did not mention it. (I know now that they lack even basic sales skills, such as probing for a customer’s goals and then “selling up.”)

WHAT I DID RIGHT

- I bought the hardware and software from the right company, Apple; and I bought the right model, the Mac Mini level 1, for its small footprint, light-weight, portability, and its operating system, which has many features but is simple to use.

- I switched wholly to the Apple world for all hardware and software I need to meet my three needs: word processing (Microsoft Word for Mac), email, and internet. I even designated my Mac computer store to be my ISP. (Now “ISP” is no longer a floating abstraction.) Some of my peripherals came from other equipment manufacturers, but Apple has approved them and my local Mac store provided them.

- I bought all equipment and most services from one store, thus ensuring that it is responsible for all issues such as compatibility and internet connections. Any extra cost, compared to “shopping around,” was justified by greater simplicity, confidence, and time-savings. (Obviously, I might have picked a better single-source, one of the other Mac stores in town, but the idea of a single-source is a good one.)

- I hired help. I gained from everyone I hired.

- I found a useful introduction to the Mac, for beginners: Scott Kelby, Getting Started with Your Mac and Mac OS X Tiger. I also found an excellent, full-scale, but still tutorial operating-system manual: Maria Langer, Mac OS X, Visual Quick Start series. For both books, I examined every page that applies to my uses of the Mac.

- I bought a wireless keyboard and mouse. In my particular situation, they initially complicated the setup procedure. However, they have physically simplified the back and top of my worktable, a long-term benefit. (The wireless setup procedure was complicated for Patrick and me only because one employee of the computer store provided false information -- later corrected by the store manager.)

- I bought the right printer to match my minimal needs. What a pleasure it is to use equipment that does the job, works out of the box, and has a well-earned reputation for long-term reliability!

- I bought three types of backup: (1) a floppy drive (so I can access the 30 or so floppies I have accumulated over the last 15 years); (2) a USB hub with a convenient top slot for a Lexar Jump Drive keychain device, which functions with the simplicity of a floppy, but more quickly, quietly, and efficiently; and (3) a CD-R drive (built into the “tower”), which I will seldom use.

- I attended the 3-hour “Intro to Mac OS X” class, the purpose of which is to show the range of features available and the basic techniques for navigating the operating system. I took careful notes on the features that will benefit me. The class confirmed that I had bought a system that fits my needs: simple (once system preferences are set up) and easy to use (once common procedures are understood).

- In the moments of greatest stress (as my study group and other deadlines were looming), I decided to turn adversity into opportunity. That is a technique I learned years ago from clients who were professional sales-engineers in the electronics industry. I wanted to raise myself for a moment above the fog of technicalities and seemingly never-ending setup problems (caused not by the hardware or software, but by my ignorance and by false information from a few others). I started by reviewing my three basic personal values (work, friends, and leisure) and the role of a computer in achieving them. With that simplifying perspective in mind, I could proceed productively.

The whole process took six weeks and was about 25% over-budget. Still, I have no regrets about what I bought. I love the system I selected. I haven’t used Restart even once. Nor has the software ever locked up. This is the simplicity and stability that I was hoping for. Now my computer is a trusted tool, instead of a daily adversary.

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I bought three types of backup: (1) a floppy drive (so I can access the 30 or so floppies I have accumulated over the last 15 years); (2) a USB hub with a convenient top slot for a Lexar Jump Drive keychain device, which functions with the simplicity of  a floppy, but more quickly, quietly,  and efficiently; and (3) a CD-R drive (built into

I'm glad that you updated us on your experiences, Burgess.

Just one comment - I might have said this before but it's worth repeating: you really, really should take the time now to copy every one of your 30 floppies onto a folder on your hard drive (maybe you want to create one folder for each floppy beneath *that* folder, if it matters to you), and then copy that folder to your keychain *and* to several CD-R discs, which are quite cheap. If you have a safety-deposit box, put one of those CD-Rs into it. Then retire the floppies. Floppy disks, being magnetically erasable and air-exposed rotating media, are no place to keep data that you care about, given the alternatives today (that you now possess.)

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- I bought a wireless keyboard and mouse. In my particular situation, they initially complicated the setup procedure. However, they have physically simplified the back and top of my worktable, a long-term benefit. (The wireless setup procedure was complicated for Patrick and me only because one employee of the computer store provided false information -- later corrected by the store manager.)

[...] Still, I have no regrets about what I bought.

UPDATES

1. I have replaced my wireless Apple keyboard and mouse with a wired Apple keyboard and a wired Kensington Optical Elite mouse. I bought both from my local Mac store. They are an answer to a problem I was having with the wireless peripherals on my particular system: The OEM Bluetooth adapter, which I added (at the store's recommendation) to make the wireless peripherals play on my low-end Mac mini system, was not fully compatible with the Apple wireless keyboard and mouse. I could not use the mouse to wake up the system when it was asleep -- an exasperating experience, at first.

Apparently other Mac minis, levels 2 and 3, have built-in Bluetooth technology. The wake-up problem doesn't appear there -- only with the OEM external adapter, according to a technician at the computer store.

If you are considering buying a Mac mini, buy the level 2 or 3. They are only $100 or $200 more expensive, and you will probably avoid the kind of low-end problems I had with the Bluetooth.

2. Also, I am sad to report that I cannot use the Oliver Computing Objectivism Research CD. The Virtual PC program Phil and others have mentioned would swamp my mini, according to three sources. On a bigger Mac it might do okay, but I don't know for sure. Beware.

Still, despite these problems, I remain satisfied with my system as it is now (finally), even though the process of buying and installing it was awful.

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2. Also, I am sad to report that I cannot use the Oliver Computing Objectivism Research CD. The Virtual PC program Phil and others have mentioned would swamp my mini, according to three sources. On a bigger Mac it might do okay, but I don't know for sure. Beware.

Do you have the brand new Mac-Mini model? The one with a 1.5GHz Intel processor? If so, you should not have any problem running The Objectivism Research CD through Virtual PC.

I have a 1.5GHz PowerBookG4 (a processor considerably slower than the one in the new Mac-Minis), and I can run The Objectivism Research CD perfectly. The overall performance of Windows through Virtual PC isn't very good, but it works fine for programs that are not computationally intensive. The Objectivism Research CD is essentially a text reader, not a major CPU hog.

Of course the simplest solution to the problem would be for Mr. Oliver to release a Mac version :)

As an aside, welcome to the world of Apple. OS X works the way operating systems should work. Here are a couple OS X programs that I have come to love:

Quicksilver - has changed the way I use my computer.

Shiira - the best web browser I have ever used.

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Do you have the brand new Mac-Mini model?  The one with a 1.5GHz Intel processor?  If so, you should not have any problem running The Objectivism Research CD through Virtual PC. 

I suspect, but can't directly confirm at the moment, that that is correct. Bryan is definitely correct about the CPU requirements for my CD-ROM, they are modest.

One thing I would note is that Apple store employees are rabidly anti-PC. They were ready to not sell me a $2000+ monitor because I said it would be used on a PC, falsely claiming that no available PC graphics card could use it, and initially gave me false information about the warranty if I didn't buy it with a new Mac computer (i.e. saying it would have *no* warranty) - an apparent attempt to sell me a new Mac, unnecessary because I have one already. (Which is ok, because Dell now sells a superior monitor of the same size and resolution, with a longer warranty, for less money.) They probably consider Virtual PC to be the equivalent of nuclear waste and offer it out of distasteful duty. None of that ultimately detracts from the niceness of OS X and Apple's elegant PC designs, but there's a significant difference between objectively assessing virtues and drinking Steve Jobs' koolaid by the pitcherful.

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- I failed to buy a wireless printer. I didn’t know wireless printers exist, particularly in the product line I considered (black and white, Mac-compatible HP printers), and the computer store employees did not mention it. (I know now that they lack even basic sales skills, such as probing for a customer’s goals and then “selling up.”)

I do not know if you still have your bluetooth adapter (or if you returned the keyboard and mouse), but for the record there is a way to turn wired printers into wireless ones. See, for example, the HP BT300 Wireless Printer Adapter for example. I believe they require a bluetooth adapter on your computer to communicate with the device, and I would assume this isn't included. The price tends to be cheaper on ebay I think but any link to an auction would not persist over time like the Amazon one should.

This doesn't appear to work with Macs (compatibility certainly isn't Mac's strength), but may be of interest to others reading the thread. Then again you don't buy a Mac for compatibility, so

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Then again you don't buy a Mac for compatibility, so

Sorry I sent this unintentionally before I finished editing the post. What I was intending to say but didn't finish is that you might consider checking at the Apple store or some other Mac avenue whether there is a Macintosh equivalent.

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This doesn't appear to work with Macs (compatibility certainly isn't Mac's strength), but may be of interest to others reading the thread.  Then again you don't buy a Mac for compatibility, so

If it works directly with PDAs and cell phones, why would it not work with a Mac?

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