Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tools Of The Trade

My grandfather was a carpenter and he was very particular about his tools. Matter of fact, I still have a wooden-handled screwdriver of his that I use frequently. My father was in air conditioning and heating, and even after he moved to the supervisory level, he carried his tool kit in his car and it always seemed to contain just what he needed for any emergency. As a physician, I was very particular about the instruments on which I depended. Tools are important.

Now that I'm masquerading as a writer, I suppose that my primary tool is my computer. Oh, there are other things, too: a couple of shelves of books on writing, a cabinet full of paper, binders, envelopes, stamps, and supplies. But the computer is where it happens. For several years I've used an iBook G4 laptop, hooked to an external monitor and keyboard. When I bought my first home computer, my son advised me to consider a Mac, "because it has a Jewish mother operating system." At that time, a PC was a complete mystery to me, but the Mac guided me through the process and I soon came to understand some of the nuances of its use.

As a true Luddite, untrusting of new technology, I went for years using Mac's Operating System 9, even after OS Ten (or OS X as they prefer to call it) was introduced. By the time I upgraded, they were calling it Tiger. It took a while to get used to it, but now I don't even recall why I didn't want to make the switch. Then came the latest version of OS X--Leopard. It's been out for quite a while, and I finally bit the bullet and upgraded this week. Despite the fact that the installation took almost three hours, plus another hour or more to install all the updates, I think it was worth it. One notable feature, called Time Machine, automatically backs up your entire hard disk onto an external source (I use a second hard disk) every hour. I hope I never have to use it, but so far it's run very smoothly and I can't even tell it's operating in the background. So, the move from one jungle cat to another has been a good one so far. Glad I did it.

The same can't be said of upgrading my Microsoft Office. I'd been using the 2004 version for Mac and wasn't unhappy, but so many Word documents I was receiving were in the new format I got tired of translating them to my older one. So, happy and trusting, I installed the Office 2008 for Mac. The last step in that installation was putting my faithful 2004 version in the trash, advising me that I could empty it at my leisure. Trusting me...I did. After a few days using the new Word, I discovered that it no longer allowed macros (which I use a lot--especially the three asterisks separated by ten spaces each used to mark a scene break), it kept autoformatting when I didn't want it to, and other deficiencies that hadn't been apparent to me when I was considering the upgrade. I'm happy to say that I've uninstalled Office 2008 and reinstalled my trusted friend, Office 2004. It tells me something that the forums are full of people cursing and fuming about the deficiencies of MS Word 2008, and that Microsoft has included an "uninstall" tool with the disk for this version. In this case, "new" and "improved" are not necessarily synonymous.

So, I'm back at work now. Upgraded operating system, comfortable old utilities, computer humming along with automatic back-up. I haven't done much writing during all this, but I've got some great ideas for a scene involving a writer who goes berserk while installing new computer software. Now if I can just work that into my work-in-progress.


Deb said...

Man alive, you're sure right. They made us install the new MS Office pack at work, and we're all just about ready to set our hair on fire. Nothing works the way it should. They've "fixed" things that weren't broken, and the software assumes you want to do things you never told it to accomplish. Give me the old suite anytime. I will not install it at home...that's where I WRITE! It's important!

Anne Mateer said...

I joined you in the Mac world this week. My kids have an iMac, but my husband bought me an iBook for our anniversary this week! Woo-hoo!! I have Office 2004 and wondered if I should buy the newer version, but I guess not!

Now I guess I need to get writing!