gripes

Computer buying hassles

Thursday night, tragedy struck the Wandering Nerd househould. Our cat accidentally spilled a glass of water onto my fiancee’s laptop, shorting it out. While we did manage to salvage it by putting it in a pan full of rice, it wasn’t the same afterwards. It went really slowly and kept crashing. This is normal behavior for her eight-year-old laptop, but my fiancee assures me it’s doing it more than usual now. So now we’re looking for a new laptop for her… and boy is it complicated. It used to be that you could just walk into a computer store and buy the one with the biggest numbers that you could afford. Or if you were a Mac user, like I was for years, you could just walk into an Apple Store and buy the shiniest one you could afford. But nowadays it’s gotten so complicated. I mean, how is the average computer shopper supposed to know about:

  • All the different processor types there are now. Currently, Intel sells CPUs with Atom, Celeron, Pentium, i3, i5, and i7 branding. Then they’re split even further into dual-core, quad-core, Haswell, Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Pentium B, Pentium G, Hyperthreading, Vpro… all these terms… It used to be that you knew that a 486 was better than a 386 because it had the bigger number. But how do you compare a Pentium G2020 with a i5-2300? Is an i5 running at 2.5 GHz faster than an i7 running at 1.7 GHz? 
  • And if you shop for an AMD processor, sure they’re all sorted by numbers, but they’ve also gone the Intel route of breaking their product into multiple types. And how do they compare against Intel chips of the same price? Unless you spend your whole life researching these things, you won’t know just by looking at the box.
  • Graphics cards. Everyone knows that Intel integrated graphics are crap for games, but how good is that AMD Radeon or NVIDIA chip in that laptop? Usually the box or ad will only list the RAM it has. But what about clock speeds, number of cores, Vsync, antialiasing, frame buffers? Which version of DirectX does it support? Does it support CUDA, OpenGL, OpenCL, or WebGL? You could buy something that looks great on paper, but when you take it home, it won’t play your favorite game or it might not have any driver support for your operating system of choice.
  • Operating system. It used to be that whichever Windows came with your machine was normally your best (and in most cases, only) choice. But my fiancee is really worried about adapting to Windows 8. We’ve all heard the horror stories. Do we buy a Windows 8 laptop off the shelf, or do we hunt for something still running Windows 7? And do we want to run the 32-bit or 64-bit version of the latter? Do we want Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, Business, or Ultimate? Or should we scrap the OS and build a Hackintosh? If neither of those are an option, which of the thousand different varieties of Linux or the dozen different varieties of BSD do we want to go with instead? 
  • Brands. Well, there aren’t nearly as many companies selling PCs as there were during the tech boom of the late 90’s, but even today, you’ve got HP, Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, Gateway, Samsung, and many others. And they’ve got very little to distinguish them from all the others. If all they’re competing on is price, pretty soon you get into a situation where it’s a “race to the bottom” and you get a lot of products that differ from each other only in how crappily they are constructed.

Choice is normally a good thing, but when there’s too much choice, it can be confusing to the consumer. I think this is why a lot of consumers are leaving the PC market in droves and going towards things like Chromebooks, gimped laptops that only run a web browser, and Android tablets and iPads, devices that lock you into a particular app store, but at least maintain enough compatibility amongst models so that you know you can run whatever new game or program comes out. There’s less freedom in those, but they are a lot simpler to deal with. However, that’s not an option for my fiancee. She still wants a laptop with a full travel keyboard and the ability to play her old Windows games like Cave Story, and Windows-only writing software like yWriter. Maybe anything made in the last five years will do, but I still want to get her the best laptop we can afford. I just wish it wasn’t so gosh darn hard to choose.

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Dear Facebook: I’m Done.

In 2007, I signed up for Facebook. At the time, it seemed like a cool way to find out what my friends were doing. The format was a lot nicer than MySpace and it had some good features. It was neat to find out what my friends were eating for breakfast that morning, and discover what awesome things they were doing in their lives. And it was a convenient way to message all of my friends at once. Facebook was also a way I could reach out to people when social anxiety and geographic isolation didn’t allow me to reach them in real life. If it weren’t for the reassurance of my friends during my hardest times, I don’t know where I would be.

Flash forward to 2013, however, and Facebook is a completely different place. I can’t log on to Facebook anymore without being bombarded with ads, idiotic memes, and constant dispatches from the “culture war.” I scroll down a bit and inevitably I’ll find something a friend forwarded about some right-wing idiot who hates gays, or some bigoted Republican congressman who wants to reduce women into nothing but baby-making machines who need their vaginas regulated by Congress, or some asshole in a restaurant who gave their server a shitty tip, and I will get outraged, and become fixated by the vile injustices being perpetrated by these jerks, and inevitably my anger over something I can’t control and didn’t actually witness will spill upon the Facebook page.

When I put my opinion into the Facebook machine, what happens? One of my commenters will start ranting about how I’m either evil or deluded by the mass media, and then another person will start attacking them and telling them how they’re either stupid or deluded by right-wing talk radio, and then before you know it, there’s a battle going on in my Facebook wall, when all I wanted to say was “Doesn’t it suck how people can be so mean sometimes?”

Our talk has become so politicized and polemicized and commercialized that we can’t even have a decent conversation without drawing battle lines in the sand. I don’t care if my friends are Democrats or Republicans, left-wing or right-wing, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or Cthulhuist. There are more than two sides to every argument, and even if there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to do things, I would seriously hope that we could agree to disagree without resorting to name-calling and hurt feelings.

I still love to come on and read about the good things that are happening in my friends’ lives, but thanks to Facebook’s algorithms that somehow decide what is “most important” for me to see, I don’t even know if I am even reading all my friends’ posts or if they are reading all of mine. I never hear anything from half of the people on my friends list — I don’t know if this is because they’re not posting anything, or if Facebook is censoring their messages from me. And I have no clue who’s actually reading me. Lately people from work, who I didn’t even know were even on my Facebook, have been discussing things I’ve posted on my wall and jumping to conclusions about them, when they could have just asked me about them first.

I have other gripes towards Facebook, namely the whole information-gathering and selling our private data to the NSA and all, but I have no need to go into those now. The important thing is that my continued participation on this forum is detrimental to my emotional health and my real-life social relationships.

I am not deleting my Facebook profile just yet. I have too many friends here and I don’t have emails and phone numbers for all of them. For all its problems, Facebook is still the most convenient way to reach you guys. But I am not going to be posting much on here anymore. I’m going to be doing my blogging on http://thewanderingnerd.com from now on. (It links to https://thewanderingnerd.wordpress.com right now though, because I can’t for the life of me figure out how to run WordPress on my own web hosting provider.) I am also going to be reducing my Facebook friends list to close friends only, but if you find yourself cut out, don’t be too upset with me. You can still join me at http://thewanderingnerd.com.

And if you have some news you just *have* to tell me, don’t trust I will receive it through Facebook, as I will be checking Facebook but rarely from now on. My email is (my real first name) [at] thewanderingnerd [dot] com. If you want to send it encrypted, please contact me for my PGP public key. Anyway, thank you all for your love and friendship over the years, and may you all have a great holiday season.

Your friend,

Jackson (aka The Wandering Nerd)