November 23, 2009

Being a Rocket Surgeon

Edited content for clarity on Tuesday, November 24, 2009.

Buon giorno.
Yes, I think my title is funny. This past weekend was an emotional, mental and physical roller coaster.

It was time to reformat my hard drive. Dump the scraps of leftover software and things I really do not need, reload it with stuff that I know is better and go at it with my increased knowledge.

Reformatting has been a source of bad news for me for a long time, mainly from trying to get the computer to resemble what I had before. I have no problem helping someone else with it, but for me, I get anxiety attacks based on experiences with my first Windows computer (HP does this to people). It happened again.

First, I could not get anything to show up on my monitor. After checking some things on Nicky's computer, I decided to reformat it again. Still nothing, just a flashing cursor in the upper left corner. I looked up some more "solutions" online and tried them. No dice. I connected with a Hewlett Packard online tech representative. Oh, boy, this one was a real genius! He? She? asked me questions I had just answered, told me to read things off a screen that I had told him? her? twice before. Then this "technician" told me to take it back to the store. Huh?

However, there was one thing that this alleged technician asked me that caused me to think of my own solution: Was there anything added to the computer? Yes, yes there was. One of the modifications was a new video card. It eventually came back to me that I had this problem when I first installed that card. I had to go back into the computer and change some settings so that the new card would work. To get back to work on the computer, I had to unplug the monitor from the card and replug it into the original equipment. That was my "Duh!" moment; I lost at two or three hours in fighting that machine. If I had not been all agitated about it, I may have remembered and saved myself a great deal of time and anger (good thing nobody was around to learn the new words I would have taught them).

After reinstalling software, including new stuff that is superior to what I had before (extensively using Revo Uninstaller to really rip out the sucktacular crapware that HP bundled with the machine), I decided to make some changes. I used to like Windows Live Mail, it handled IMAP better than Mozilla's Thunderbird (ironic, because I am a big proponent of Mozilla's Firefox), plus WLM had some other features that I preferred. Then they changed it. I decided to try Thunderbird.

It turns out that Mozilla's Thunderbird had been upgraded since I used it last, but I was reluctant to use it now because I was still angry over a previous version causing me to lose a chunk of important mail. But I was in a position (and the right temperament) to try again. So, I installed Thunderbird, and I am thrilled with it! Not only was I able to set it up to use different e-mail accounts and outgoing (SMTP) servers, I had a bonus: Lightning. Stormbringer likes lightning, but in this case, it's an extension of Thunderbird. (Isn't that cool, Thunderbird and Lightning? Ha!)

Wait, it gets better. (Lightning has a big brother named Sunbird. That is the desktop calendar that stands alone.) In Thunderbird, click on the switch for the Lightning extension and you'd think that you were running Sunbird itself. In fact, think of this: Calendar, "tasks" list, e-mail — kind of reminds you of a free version of Outlook, doesn't it? Regular readers know that I am a proponent on using calendars for organization and to get things done.

Brief tangent now. There are bunches of online calendar applications for you to organize your life. Yahoo was one of the early ones. Google has a good calendar going, too. You can subscribe to other calendars, including those of friends, friendly enemies and colleagues. Since my Palm Tungsten E is old and may fail, I started using this one as Plan B. It's available wherever there is an Internet connection.

OK, back from the tangent. Or am I? If you install Lightning and/or Sunbird, you can install the Provider add-on. This will synchronize Lighting and/or Sunbird with Google Calendar. In my case, my home computer has Thunderbird and Lightning. My main office computer has Sunbird Google has its own cranking away, and all three synchronize together. That means you can have this mind-blowing electronical group thing happening.

This is really fun if you want to know about the next level: Thunderbird Portable with the Lightning extension. Be careful, because hooking up portable Thunderbird on a flash drive can cause you some confusion if you do not configure it right, because you can lose track of your mail. (Hint: When you set up the portable version of T-bird, tell it "no" to connect each account at start-up, and "no" for getting mail every few minutes. Once you're sure you can keep track of things, feel free.) This is great to have if you need to send something from a remote location and do not have Web mail (heh, like that's going to happen). If you're inclined and adventurous, you can take a look at Thunderbird Portable plus the Lightning extension. Yes, it works. I have it on a flash drive.

Fortunately, Firefox, Thunderbird and other things can be backed up with a tool called MozBackup. This little dandy saved me a tremendous amount of work in putting my version of Firefox, with all of its customizations and add-ons, back together again. Now Firefox, Thunderbird and company are backed up in case of the next computer disaster.

Addendum 11-25-2009: I just learned that there is a "release candidate", a preview, of the newest version of Thunderbird available. Soon, the new version will be ready for general release and I will have work to do. It sounds good, and will probably be worth it.

Addendum 1-28-2009: Thunderbird 3 is now installed, and we are getting along rather well.


What if it all crashes? My computer is showing signs of death, and I'm hoping to coax a little more time out of it before I have to buy a new one. All that time and effort will be lost. Actually, I have to cling to one positive thing, and that is my learning experiences. After all, nothing lasts forever.

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