Moves at work continue, but unfortunately the electrical contractors we have are as incompetent as ever, and of course IT takes the brunt of the attack when computers don’t work. They don’t care if it’s an electrical problem or not; all they know is their computer doesn’t work, and of course it’s always IT’s fault if the computer doesn’t work. And with one person to keep 300 desktop PCs in tip-top shape, I usually can’t be up there and have the problem solved within five minutes.
In the last three weeks, we’ve lost three power supplies, two printers, an expensive proprietary modem, and a network card. In two instances, there was an honest-to-goodness fire, with flames and everything.

I think it’s time we sent an electrical contractor or two packing.

Meanwhile I’ve got incompetent department directors who plan moves without giving more than a half hour’s notice, and of course they throw a fit when the move falls to pieces and I’m off solving another problem. I also find myself not caring. Go ahead and yell. Davey’s not listening, la la la, and his boss isn’t listening, and his boss’ boss isn’t listening, and if his boss’ boss’ boss listens and says anything, he’ll have two, maybe three raving lunatics at his door in a heartbeat and I think he knows it.

Deep breath. OK. I feel better now. Kind of.

Let’s see what kind of hints The Big Guy may have been dropping with the day’s other events, shall we?

I had a meeting at church at 7 p.m. So I headed out to my car at 10 ’til 6, put my key in the ignition, and the engine coughed, and then nothing. No electrical system. Hmm. Time to find out how good Chrysler Roadside Assistance is, eh? Well, I called, waited an hour and a half, and they never showed up. So I paced in the beautiful October twilight, waiting for a driver who’d never arrive, thinking there are a number of things I’d love do at twilight outdoors in St. Louis in October (and waiting for a tow truck is very near the top of that list, let me tell you!) but it sure beats sitting in a meeting after dealing with irate, high-maintenance people at work for 9+ hours.

And I noticed something. I wasn’t at the meeting, and yet the world failed to fall apart.

Finally I gave up on the tow truck driver and asked one of my coworkers for a jump. Maybe the problem was a dead battery, even though I didn’t leave my lights on or anything. Indeed it was. I drove home, and about halfway there my battery light came on. I guided the car home, called Chrysler again, and asked them what to do.

On my answering machine, there was a pair of messages waiting for me. It was actually one message, but my answering machine is extremely rude and cuts you off after about 10.5 seconds. OK, maybe 30. But it seems like 10.5 seconds to everyone else but me. So most people leave a message, get cut off, then call me back. Sometimes they call me back a third or even a fourth time. Usually by then they’re pretty steamed. But I digress, as always. The message messages basically boiled down to, “Hey Dave, I understand you’re planning to teach Friday, but I hear things are really hectic so there’s no need for us to stay on the regular schedule. I’ll teach for you if you want.”

I had no idea when I’d get a chance to put a lesson together, to be completely honest. So I called her back and said if she wanted to teach, she could go right ahead. And I thanked her.

Hints taken. So much time doing stuff for God there’s no time to spend with God. So I skipped out on the meeting and now I’m not teaching Friday. I might even show up a little late, for good measure.

And now something completely different. This is starting to sound like the Stress Underground, not the Silicon Underground. So let’s talk about silicon.

Dan Bowman sent me a link to a suggestion that businesses buy old Mac clones, then dump $600 worth of upgrades into them so they can run Mac OS X and avoid paying $199 for a copy of Windows.

Yes, I know I’m teetering on the brink of mental illness here. So I’m assuming that if I were completely sane, this would make even less sense.

The best-selling software package for the Macintosh is (drum roll please)… Microsoft Office. So all you’ve accomplished so far is paying a little less money to Microsoft.

I’ve seen Mac OS X. I’ve tried to install Mac OS X. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. And this was a copy of Mac OS X that came with a brand-new G4. Mac OS X is not production-quality software yet. Not that that’s much of a problem. There’s precious little native software to run on it. For native software, you pretty much have to download and compile your own. If you’re going to do that, you might as well just run Linux, since it’s free for the asking and runs on much less-expensive hardware.

Most businesses are a bit hesitant to put Linux on the desktop yet. Some are starting to see the light. But a business that’s reluctant to put Linux on brand-new desktop PCs even when they can pay for good support they’ll probably never need isn’t too likely to be interested in buying a four-year-old Mac or Mac clone, plus 128 megs of obsolete and therefore overpriced memory plus a hard drive plus a disk controller plus a USB card, from five different vendors who will all point fingers at one another the instant something goes wrong. (And we’re talking Apple here. Things will go wrong.)

And yes, I know there are thousands of people who’ve successfully put CPU upgrades in Macintoshes, but it’s very hit-and-miss. I spent two of the most frustrating days of my life trying to get a Sonnet G3 accelerator to work in a Power Mac 7500. It either worked, failed to boot, or performed just like the stock 100 MHz CPU. Any time you turned it on, you didn’t know which of the three you would get. The local Mac dealer was clueless. I called Sonnet. They were clueless. I struggled some more. I called Sonnet back. I got a different tech. He asked what revision of motherboard I had. I looked. It said VAL4, I think. He told me he was surprised it worked 1/3 of the time. That accelerator never works right with that revision of motherboard. He suggested I return the card, or do a motherboard swap. Of course a compatible motherboard costs more than the accelerator card.

And of course there was absolutely no mention of any of this on Sonnet’s web site. At least you can go to a manufacturer of PC upgrades and read their knowledge base before you buy. Sometimes you can even punch in what model system you have and they’ll tell you if they work. Not that those types of upgrades make any sense when you can a replacement motherboard and CPU starts at around $150.

Suffice it to say I won’t be repeating that advice at work. I just got a flyer in the mail, offering me 700 MHz Compaq PCs preloaded with Win98, with a 15-inch flat-panel monitor, for $799. With a warranty. With support. Yeah, I’d rather have Windows 2000 or Windows XP on it. The only reason Compaq makes offers like that is to move PCs, so I’m sure they’d work with my purchasing guy and me.

Think about it. I can have a cobbled-together did-it-myself 400 MHz Mac refurb without a monitor for $700-$750. Or I can have that Compaq. That’s like getting a flat-panel monitor for 50 bucks. As far as usability and stability go, I’d rate Win98 and Mac OS X about equal. But for the time and money I’d save, I could afford to step up to a better version of Windows. Or I could bank the bucks and run Linux on it.

If you’re already a Mac zealot, I guess that idea might make sense. I’ve spent several years deploying, operating, and maintaning both Macs and PCs side-by-side in corporate environments. I have no great love for Microsoft. Most people would call my relationship with Microsoft something more like seething hatred.

But the biggest problems with PC hardware, in order, are commodity memory, cheap power supplies, proliferation of viruses, and then, maybe, Microsoft software. You can avoid the first two problems by buying decent hardware from a reputable company. (No, Gateway, that doesn’t include you and your Packard Bell-style 145-watt power supplies.) You can avoid the third problem with user education. (It’s amazing how quickly users learn when you poke ’em with a cattle prod after they open an unexpected attachment from a stranger. The biggest problem is getting that cattle prod past building security.) Microsoft software doesn’t exactly bowl everyone over with its reliability, but when Adobe recommends that Mac users reboot their machines every day before they leave for lunch, you know something’s up. Even Windows 95’s uptime was better than that.