Saturday, September 16, 2006

One Gb of Bliss

We love to hate our computers, don’t we? My most recent computer, which I bought new from Dell two years ago, drove me crazy until last week. The damn thing just ran so slow. I did not notice it at first, but it before very long, I had a problem.

Now, I run a lot of memory hungry software, like Abobe Photoshop Elements, and I have a lot of images on my computer. Over the years, my files have built up, too. There’s a lot on my machine. So I thought that or spyware caused my slowness problems.

I tried everything recommended on Geek Radio (on KPFT, Pacifica, here in Houston) but nothing worked. When I tried to clean up files, the machine said I didn’t need to defrag, or the files were already compressed. When I looked at a system pie chart, it showed that I had over half my memory available – or, I should say, allegedly available, because it didn’t seem to be there for me.

I ran spyware programs and malware programs and nothing turned up worth mentioning. The problem had me stymied and truly frustrated. In the course of trying to fix this, I had the massive computer meltdown that I mentioned here last month. It ended up with the Geek Squad coming out. My agent did fix the immediate computer problem, but I wanted him to do something about the slow, dragging computer, too.

After checking it out, the agent told me that I only had 128 Mb of RAM on my machine!! Who knew? I guess I thought Dell would put in enough basics to run a computer. But they didn’t and I never even checked that out. The Geek Squad agent told me to buy some more RAM and install it, preferably 512 Mb. Now, 512 Mb used to be the most RAM you could put on a computer. Not anymore.

When I started researching this, I discovered that 1 Gb RAM (okay, 1 Gb SDRAM) is now available. And that’s what I bought.

Think about it. One byte is one item of information, on or off, yes or no. One Kb is a thousand bytes of information. One Mb is a million bytes of information. One Gb is a BILLION bytes of information. My computer went from moving data around with 128 million bytes of memory to using one billion bytes of memory. Does it ever zip now!!!

It took me about a week to get the part ordered and a few days for it to arrive. I opened it and checked for damage, but then I just ignored it for about a week. I wanted to install it, but the process daunted me. I would have to pull my computer out from the darkest recesses of my desk – I mean, the farthest left rear corner, where it was STRAPPED to a hanging computer holder from IKEA – and I would have to detangle wires that had spawned offspring since I plugged them in all neat and tidy last year. I would have to face dust bunnies with fangs.

You get the picture. Finally, a frustrating day of waiting more than computing, I just did it. And you know, it wasn’t actually bad.

The last time I installed RAM memory, it was on a Compact computer. There were a lot of very small screws, the whole case had to be coaxed off, the case had sharp edges, and the insides were mostly wires that had to be very carefully negotiated. The documentation was confusing and the writer was definitely not a native English speaker. Is it any wonder I didn’t want to do it again?

But Dell has improved the process greatly. First, I only had to take off one panel, not the whole cover. And there were no screws to undo, not even one. The insides were dusty, yes, but not a jumble of wires. (Perhaps we can thank micro-miniaturization for that.) I could see my target immediately. The directions were clear and written in actual idiomatic English – what a treat.

Bad English Aside: Once, I bought my daughter a plastic wallet, a kid thing you understand. Inside was an identification card. It had spaces for NAME, ADDRESS, TELEPHONE, HAIR (color, I presume), EYES (again, color), and NOSE. What information do you think they expected you to enter about your nose? Perky? Roman? Runny?

Back to the computer. I popped out the old memory – might as well put it in another one of our machines – and popped in the new. Easy as pie. Slipped the cover on, turned the latch, and bingo! I was done.

I set the computer up in the front right-hand corner of my desk where I would forever more be able to get at the back of it without crawling on my belly through dust bunnies. I straightened out the cords and admonished them to stop reproducing. I rearranged the whole top of my desk because the monitor didn’t reach after I moved the computer. It looked perfect and I was ready to rock and roll.

With trembling hands, I pushed in the power button and waited. But what’s this? Zip, zap, zoop – there’s no waiting. It’s Windows in the blink of an eye. The background programs are loaded in another blink. Before I can say, “Hot dog!” my computer is waiting for me.

Well, you can imagine. I have been in computer heaven for the last week. Sometimes I turn it off and on just to watch it. Today we had two – count them – two power failures while I wrote this blog entry and it hardly fazed me. I have found my bliss: one gigabyte of SDRAM memory installed with my own two hands. Can it get any better than this?


Monday, September 11, 2006

"Making a Mark" with Texas Children's Cancer Center

What a wonderful day I had with my Girl Scout Troop on Sunday. My troop is intimate, just two girls, but we have a great time together. Tori (my daughter) and her friend Gabby earned their Silver Award this weekend working at the Making a Mark art show opening at the Texas Children's Cancer Center at Texas Children's Hospital.

The Silver Award is hard to earn. It requires that each girl commit to many hours of service and leadership, earn several badges, including badges on career and business, and complete the 4B Challenge. After all that is done - we spent a year on it - the girls must devise and complete a 50 hours community service project.

Tori and Gabby did their service project for the Cancer Center. Besides helping to set up the art show, they staffed two of the three arts and crafts tables during the opening, helping the most darling children you ever saw create imaginative art. But their project involved more than that. Gabby and Tori assembled 300 kits to make keychain decorations from pony beads and delivered them to Carol Herron, who runs the art program for Texas Children's Cancer Center, on Sunday.

I am very proud of Gabby and Tori. They earned their Bronze Award (the Junior Girl Scout equivalent) as 6th graders and their Silver Award (Cadette Girl Scout level) as 10th graders. Now that they are Senor Girl Scouts (effective in October) they can look forward to earning their Gold Award in the next three years. The Gold Award is a major achievement, similar to the Eagle Scout Award.

Congratulations to Tori and Gabby. I am so proud to be their Girl Scout advisor!!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Silver Awards and September errata

September makes me think of cooler weather. As a child, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, September meant jackets in the evenings and early morning hours. Warm sunny afternoons morphed into chilly nights. Schools days began with the exhilarating feeling of sucking cold air into your lungs as you waited for the bus in the morning. By the time you came home in the afternoon, it seemed like summer again. September felt good, not too hot and not too cold.

Of course, living in Houston, the cooling off is marginal and hardly invigorating; however, temperatures did moderate last week, with several days of mere 80 degree weather. That slight cooling off, combined with the lower angle of the sun's rays, remind my body that fall is here and make me long for crisp, clear jacket weather. It will sneak up on us in late October, most likely.

It started raining sometime in the middle of last night, a steady downpour without thunder and lightning, the kind of rain that makes me want to stay in bed and pretend to be asleep. This morning I stayed in bed actually asleep, which I shouldn't have, because I had a 7:45 A.M. date. If my ride had not called me at 7:50 A.M. to say she would be there in five minutes, I'd have been in real trouble.

Tori and I had to go to Texas Children's Cancer Center today with fellow Girl Scout, Gabby, and her mother, Anne. Tori and Gabby are completing a service project for the Cancer Center in order to earn their Girl Scout Silver Award. The cancer Center sponsors and annual art exhibit of works by children/patients at their center and around the world. Gabby and Tori helped set up the art exhibit today and tomorrow will operate the arts and crafts booth during its opening reception.

In addition to assisting with the actual art show, Tori and Gabby also made 300 pony bead kits to give to patients and their siblings at the Cancer Center. If you don't know what a pony bead is, let me enlighten you!

Pony Bead Aside: These colorful beads are the kind that girls use to decorate their hair. Made of plastic, they are 9 mm around and come in every shade and hue imaginable. We ordered ours from a wholesale company I found on the web and got quite a nice price for them. Instead of paying $5.99 for a bag of several hundred, we paid $2.99 per bag of 1000. This is particularly good when you consider that we needed 20,000 beads to make our kits!

The pony beads are strung together on cording or ribbon in, usually, animal patterns, to make keychain decorations and zipper pulls. Gabby and Tori choose to assemble kits for a penguin, a dragonfly, and a lion. In each kit, the girls put the correct assortment of beads, a lanyard clip, a yard and a half of cording, illustrated instructions, and a business card identifying their troop as the donors. They spent many hours sorting beads, creating a veritable assembly line in my kitchen. It's nice to think of 300 children happily making the decorations.

The Girl Scout Silver Award is one of three awards that a Girl Scout can earn. For Junior G.S. it is the Bronze Award; for Cadette G.S. it is the Silver Award; and for Senior G.S. it is the Gold Award. Each one requires harder and harder accomplishments. At each level, a girl must earn service hours, leadership hours, and multiple badges, plus other requirements. A major service project tops off the work. For Bronze it is a 35 hour project, for Silver it is a 50 hour project, and for Gold it is a 75 hour project. Projects must meet certain Girl Scout conditions to be approved.

Earning these awards is a major accomplishment for anyone and very few actually put in the work to do it. Tori and Gabby both earned Bronze Awards in 6th grade and are now finishing their Silver Awards - with only days to spare - in the 10th grade! (The last date before they lose eligibility to earn this award is September 30 because they have now bridged up to Senior Girl Scouts.) Earning their Gold Award comes next, but, right now, neither one of the girls really wants to think about it, and who can blame them?

I am their troop leader and get to go along on almost all of their activities as chaperone and driver. Lucky me, because Girl Scout activities are usually fun. Today, however, Anne was our designated driver and I was supposed to sleep in. That plan came to an abrupt end when Alexandra (my eldest) had another fainting spell at work and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. She ended up at St. Luke's in the Medical Center, certainly an inconvenient location for us any day except today. St. Luke's is across the drive from Texas Children's! So I rolled out of bed way too early on a rainy Saturday morning and hitched a ride in the troop transport.

While Tori, Gabby, Gabby's sister Christa, and Anne worked at the Cancer Center, I visited Alexandra. She is feeling much better, a little disheartened at being in the hospital - which will cost her a minimum of $250 - yet again when there is really no benefit to being there. She has syncope - sing co pee - which is fainting or losing consciousness temporarily. The syncope may or may not be associated with her recently diagnosed problem of complex migraines and her recently discovered friend Larry (a calcified colloid cyst near her third ventricle). An episode of syncope triggered her long summer of ill health, hospitalizations, and related issues.

Say a prayer, light a candle, chant, or whatever it is you do for Alexandra's return to equilibrium. (And I mean that in its broadest sense!!)

I am going to go to the Houston Ballet tonight with my husband for a few hours of blissful removal from reality. Hope your evening is as pleasant.