The Universe in a blink

park-260x300It’s amazing how fast the brain is. A whole universe can be imagined in a thought. You look at your watch, and almost no time had passed at all.

I arrived for my appointment at the Artful Dodger early, and sat outside in the sun on a bench next to a tree, just off Yonge street in  busy downtown Toronto. It’s not quite a park, but the area is a pretty walking path, just behind the main row of commerce buildings. It’s a place where people walk home from shopping or work, or take their dogs out for their afternoon pee.

I sit on the bench watching; observing everyone, including drug deals, conversations with strangers, and casual strolls. The demographic ranges from rich to poor to homeless, both pretty and ugly, old and young.  Almost every is thin. Nobody is fat. At least in this area, people walk.

I imagine all sorts of back stories. I watch, observe, and make things up.

Then I look at the clock, and only 2 freaking minutes have passed.


My Slow Computer

Today an old friend asked me about her father’s old computer, and whether I could come clean it up and make it run faster.  Another techie already tried and it’s not significantly better.  I decided to share my reply here for public awareness.

I do support like this for an hourly wage

A few tips he/you can do first may help enough to make you not require my services.

Secret #1: Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) was HUGE forced upgrade in 2011, and almost every older computer slowed to a crawl when it auto-installed.

Some believe this conspiracy theory that it was designed to obsolete all the older machines and make them slow so people would run out and buy new computers with Windows 7. It’s not my place to speculate.  It does however have the effect or forcing most people with older computers to run out and buy a new one.

You can remove SP3 through a tricky process, and stop it from re-installing, but Microsoft will nag you every so often telling you the SP3 changes are really good improvements and you should do it.  Some new software even demands SP3 be installed before it will run.  Again, whether this is truly required, or part of the conspiracy, I’ll let you decide.

SP3 works “OK” if your computer has 3GB of Ram.  Most old systems don’t, and some CAN’T. Upgrading old computers to 3GB can cost a few hundred dollars, and that’s if you don’t have to pay extra for somebody like me to come and do it for you.

The single biggest factor in slow computers next to RAM, is heat.  A warm computer runs slower.  A LOT slower.  Old computers run warmer for a few reasons.  Often, it’s just dust making a blanket for the components inside. Opening up the chassis and vacuuming it, or using canned air to blast the dust blanket off all the chips and fans, and especially out of the CPU heatsync makes a HUGE difference.  Sometimes a REALLY huge difference.  Laptops are notorious for running warmer as they age. Sometimes they run so warm the metal circuits actually expand enough to separate the solder and fail.  Sometimes they fail when the computer has been in use for a while, and then work again when it cools down. Sometimes it just fails.  It is harder to cool/clean a laptop than a desktop computer.

Second Secret:  The conspiracy/truth that Microsoft windows was designed to get slower with every use. The difference between day 1 on a fresh new computer and day 7 is noticeable. Month 1 and month 4 is less noticeable, but still mathematically measurable. Every time you install ANYTHING or turn the computer on, it slows down.  Within 3 years, it’s so slow you start looking for NERDS to do speed restoration magic… but the truth is, it’s designed this way.

You can restore 80% of it’s speed back (after the clean up described above) only by reformatting the hard drive, and re-installing everything back onto it as if it was day 1.  A brand new hard drive will make it even a little faster – maybe 90% of it’s original speed – at least until you re-install all the Microsoft updates and SP3 that will slow it down again – and then when you actually start to use it – a week later, it’ll be back to 60% speed… and start the slowing down cycle all over again.

     (I made these speed percentages up)


The good news: Better computers than you have are available from off-lease discounters for $150(ish) with 2GB or 3GB or Ram and dual core, faster processors.  The cheapest computer you can find for sale in a discount store, is still better than most of the computers in homes today.  If you’re going to bother reformatting and installing everything anyway – why not just get a newer used computer and start over with better hardware.

Second: Windows 7 really is nice and not at all THAT hard to get used to if you liked Windows XP. I configure Windows 7 icons and desktop to work very similar to XP and people grow to like it. It still slows over time, but much much less-so because you can put more RAM in it, and give it a 64bit architecture to start with. It’s a better OS.

Good-ish Windows 7 computers can be bought new for $250-ish.

In my world, buying new computers is exciting and fun. In the world of my clients, it’s thought of as more scary… but having a speedy fast computer with prettier design doesn’t have to be scary. It just depends on what you use it for, and how much the slowness drives you crazy.  Sometimes buying beats fixing. When it comes to 4 year old (or more) computers, I think it does.

I ALWAYS recommend; buy the cheapest computer you can find every 3 years instead of a costly one expecting it to last 5.

Last option.  A great many of my customers are over 60 these days, since I’ve been doing this for 20+ years.  I’ve actually found a good number of them giving up computers totally and switching to tablets; either the iPad or an Android tablet.  They do email, web, and apps better, and with an optional keyboard, there isn’t much they won’t do.