Saturday, 19 September 2015

Don’t talk to me about the sufferings of migrants - I’ve spent the last few days trying to get a new computer up and running

As we use Macs, there’s really no need to replace our computers more than once every five years. When my desktop and my wife’s laptop had their joint fifth birthday two years ago they were both still working well enough to allow us to put off the inevitable upgrade for six months,. But then I became unwell and the task was shunted very firmly onto the back burner. This week, though, I started taking a newish “wakefulness” pill which doesn’t make you feel any less tired, but which restores concentration to pre-illness levels for several hours - and you don’t half need to concentrate when swapping computers.

Last time we did this, we were fleeing from Nerdland, the once-mighty nightmare empire created by Bill Gates, where nobody spoke demotic English, and where all the officials spent their time accusing comrade citizens of committing unidentifiable Kafkaesque ERRORs and punishing them with blue screens of death, endless waits for pages and programmes to load, the regular and permanent confiscation of vital documents, and (by the simple expedient of withdrawing internet access rights) exile from the outside world. In 2008, having eventually been reduced to a gibbering wreck (I was running a business at the time, so this stuff mattered), I loaded our desktop and laptop into the car (our son, having undergone years of brainwashing, refused to contemplate leaving Nerdland and had to be bribed with a new PC not to report us to Gates’s brutal henchmen) and headed for the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, where the government of Calmnos had just opened an embassy masquerading as an Apple store.

Friends who had already emigrated had assured us that Calmos, an immensely wealthy kingdom ruled by Steve Jobs, was a cleaner, more efficient, friendlier, and decidedly more human place than Nerdland. The officials, they assured us, all spoke a recognisable form of English and didn’t behave as if they’d spent their whole lives eating junk food, writing computer code, and masturbating furiously while viewing online porn in Mom’s basement. Everyone at the Apple store was pleasant and well-mannered and sympathetic: they evidently understood the desperation that had driven us to seek refuge in Calmnos. All they wanted from us was a shedload of cash. True, there were indoctrination courses available at the embassy, but they weren’t obligatory, and you didn't have to attend them in order to be granted citizenship.

We left our old computers there overnight and returned to pick up our shiny new Macs the next day. When we got them home, all our old content (well, most of it) was there on the new machines. We had reached a place of safety - and we were able to start a new life free from fear, tyranny, confusion and barked onscreen messages which basically all said the same thing: “You made a mistake, you stupid, incompetent, inadequate asshole. Even if you didn’t, it’s still your fault. And If you think I’m going to help you put things right, you’re even dumber than I suspected. Give up and die before you waste any more oxygen, loser! Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

Well, seven years on and things have changed a bit. Inevitably, mass immigration and the death of its King have changed Calmnos, and not for the better. The Apple Store no longer does that data transfer thing, but you can do that at home by calling up Migration Assistant on the new machine and asking it to grab everything you want from your old Mac. Only, when I tried that, it told me that the software on my old Mac was out of date and that I’d have to update it in order for the transfer to work. But my old Mac has't let me do software updates for well over a year, so I had to dump all my content onto an external hard disk and manually port it into the new machine. Finding out where to stick my old photo library took ages and a lot of experimentation. All 10,000 of my music tracks got across to iTunes - but without any of the changes I’d made to the songs, or ratings, or any of the endless playlists I’d created. And when I ported my self-made music tracks from Garageband on the old machine to the newer version of the digital sequencer on the new machine, it didn’t recognise half of the software instruments I’d used to create them. I’d spent over £200 buying extra instruments from Apple on three separate discs (e.g. better bass guitar and drum sounds), but I can’t import those into the new Garageband, so I’m screwed. Thanks, Apple!

Mind you, those are all very minor problems. Needless to say, the major problem arose from the fact that I was foolish enough to buy Microsoft Office for Mac seven years ago, and now can’t access any of my old emails in a sensible or useful fashion. Thanks, Microsoft! (At least I won’t have to face the wrinkle that Office caused on the old machine - leave any of Bill Gates’s benighted programmes open for longer than five minutes and the whole computer would slow to a crawl only to leap back into life when you quit Office. (Needless to say, we’ve gone Microsoftless this time.)

Having spent the whole of Thursday wrestling with this stuff, we went to dinner with four friends (two couples).  I mentioned what we’d been up to and the hostess groaned and said that she could’t get her upgraded Pages word processing package (Apple’s Word equivalent) to open any of the documents created with the earlier version of the same package (there’s an Apple theme emerging here). And the other couple at the meal also groaned and told us that they’d just bought a new laptop (Microsoft) which took two and a half days to connect to their home network and is now behaving eccentrically in all sorts of other ways - they run their business from home and this is a business machine. The husband, by the way, used to run his own IT consultancy.

This all made me feel slightly less inadequate.  I’d been severely doubting myself: I know I’m not much good at IT, even though I worked in new media for years. But, despite my age and my utter uselessness at science, I’ve never thought of myself as a complete duffer. And if everyone else - even people who made a living out of computers for many years - are beset by similar difficulties, perhaps I’m not losing my admittedly underpowered digital mojo after all. Mind you, why it has to be quite so difficult after all these years (I’ve been using home computers for 33 years - more than half my life) remains a mystery.

We now have to go through the same process with my wife's Macbook. Oh, goodie!


  1. I feel your pain! On Friday evening I went against the accumulated experience of a lifetime (ie early adoption is usually a mistake and that delay in these matters is the wise policy) and decided to upgrade my iPad to ios 9 using iTunes. Well, 10 minutes into the upgrade the iPad turned into a brick: despite all my efforts and following the Apple support pages not only was the iPad a brick, I couldn’t even revert to its original state (or any state) despite an existing iCloud back-up.

    As a last resort (and risking £25) I opted to contact Apple Support and ask for telephoned assistance. To cut a long story short, the charming American lady (who phoned within 2 minutes of my request) taught me one practical lesson viz. exiting my Comodo firewall on my Windows 7 desktop does not disable it as advised (you have to click the “disable” button which I hadn’t noticed first time round); and after another half hour or so my iPad upgraded successfully.

    Manifestly the heart-stopping failure of the upgrade process was my fault rather than Apple’s. On reflection though I was, I think, lucky. I subsequently read online that many upgraders to ios 9 have iPhones/iPads which are either bricks or are stuck on a white screen with the instruction “slide to upgrade” which cannot be executed. Needless to say I will probably not upgrade my iPhone until ios 9.0.1 – or 9.1 – is issued and will do so OTA.

    Good luck with Mrs G’s Macbook – you’ll need it.

  2. Thanks, Umbongo - today is changeover day. I've popped a modafinil pill to help concentration and stocked up on extra ecigarettes to steady the nerves. Your iPad experience sounds horrendous. My wife bought one at the start of the year, and, if I'm ever faced with having to upgrade it, I suspect I'll behave like the male models in "Zoolander" faced with the problem of removing a hard disk from a computer - i.e. like the apes encountering the Monolith in "2001:A Space Odyssey".

    It may be false memory syndrome, but, when I first switched to Apple I seem to recall they had a genuine talent for not frightening customers - everything just seemed to work. Judging by my current experiences, that's no longer the case. Their replacement for the excellent iPhotos - the imaginatively titled Photos - is a pig, the Finder has turned into a puzzle, and most simple procedures seem to require half an hour online to discover how to get them to work, and Apple's own site usually provides either incomprehensible geek-speak advice - or no advice at all. Apparently, some of the disimprovements to current apps (iTunes is a genuine disappointment) result from the attempt to make their old apps work across multiple devices. Personally, I'd prefer it if they just worked on the device one is actually bloody well using.


    Okay, deep breath - let's roll...

  3. Until 2 years ago when my son bought me an iPad Air on a trip to the US I’d always avoided Apple. Mainly because I, sort of, knew how MS systems work and, probably let’s face it, sheer laziness. However, having learnt how to operate the iPad and finding it really useful on trips away from home (here and abroad) I became, if not exactly a convert to the Apple religion, a favourably disposed agnostic: so favourably disposed that – on the basis of a good offer from Carphone Warehouse – I bought an iPhone 6 earlier this year.

    Unfortunately, in due course, the trademark Apple arrogance (“our way or no way”) kicked in: in my case it involved a particular app that I wanted but which Apple has refused to recognise/approve. Also, as you note, Apple’s explanations of how particular procedures should be carried out are either ludicrously opaque or, when followed, just don’t end up with the result you want or expect.

    Mind you before the iPhone I had a Blackberry Curve; compared to BB, Apple’s instructions/procedures are a model of clarity. Mrs U still struggles with a BB. She insists that having taken so long to get used to the BB’s funny little ways, the prospect of learning to operate an iPhone or android-based piece of equipment would be just too psychologically exhausting. I sympathise but reckon that her exodus from BB is inevitable sooner or later.

    Anyway, I hope the changeover goes well and that you’re not forced to revert to the real deal on the cigarette front. I remember my father – a car mechanics enthusiast - who gave up ciggies in his late 50s/early 60s briefly taking up untipped Senior Service again when attempting to help a friend cure a Triumph Stag (remember those!) of its tendency to break down randomly on long (and short) journeys. What a load of crap those late Triumphs were!