My computer crashed irrevocably yesterday (I say “my” computer; it was the desktop that Faith got from her dad, but she always uses her laptop, which may or may not soon be confiscated by her former department). I spent most of yesterday trying to fix it. It booted up all the way to Window XP once, after I came home to a BSOD (the first I’ve personally experience with XP). I saved a few files that were on the desktop and hadn’t been backed up earlier this month when I saved most of my important files. I then assumed that the problem wasn’t too dire, so I played Fantasy General (via DOSBox) for a few hours. Little did I know that the next time it froze (not BSOD, but the same freezes that had been happening with increasing regularity for several weeks) would be its dying gasp. All that progress against Aelcar the Shadow Wizard for nothing.

After getting caught in an endless loop of restarts while trying to fix the Windows installation, I went for the reformat. The hard drive, however, did not want to cooperate. I suspect it was the problem all along. Fortunately, there just happened to be a second, unconnected hard drive mounted in the computer case (which had a junky version of Windows 2000 installed). So I spent most of the night reinstalling as much as possible. I think the only thing I’ll really miss (besides videogame saves) is all the digital photos, none of which were saved. But that was a lot of cute kitty pictures, and some very good stuff from California and Nevada.

On the upside, I now have a computer that is running much more smoothly than before (thanks to a properly subordinate hard drive). I also got a chance to put some of my free software ideals to the test. After going through about 5 Windows Update restarts for all the fixes since XP circa 2002, the first hurdle I had to overcome was getting all our mp3’s (which were ripped from my CD’s over the course of about a year, representing much too large a time investment to abandon) back onto the computer. With iTunes, otherwise a near flawless program, your iPod with erase itself to match the computer if you try hook it up to one with less or different contents. Fortunately, a decent, free (as in beer only) program exists that can do just that: EphPod. I wouldn’t recommend it for much else, but it did what I needed it to.

Unfortunately, the anti-virus software CD I got from IT at OU for free a few years ago won’t work anymore. It had given me access of McAfee 7 with a perpetual license, which had been working just fine, with regular updates, since then. But I think only the gradual updates would keep it in business; whenever I’ve tried more recently to install it, it always fails to update it’s engine. Too big a jump from that version to current, apparently. So I had to explore other options, and I settled on AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, which is also not OSS, but still free. It claims to have pretty much all the features McAfee had. Of course, it’s hard to say if it’s working. It hasn’t told me of any viruses I have yet, which is either very good or very bad.

Even though I have Office 2003 (and am quite happy with its functionality, particularly Word and PowerPoint), I thought I would try OpenOffice while I was at it with all this free software. This is what really blew me away. I installed the beta 2.0 version, 1.9.m118, and took it for a quick spin. It does everything that I normally do (or might want to do) with MS Office, and in pretty much the same way. Writer does all the spellchecking, work counting, footnoting, bulleting and numbering, margin fiddling, font switching, etc., and it actually seems to be better at dealing with images in documents. It lacks a lot of the auto-formatting functions, but I would just as soon do without them in Word (I know I could turn them off, but I only get around to it for the really annoying ones. Auto-capitalize is the worst, and all the letter-inversion corrections definitely don’t help my typing or spelling skills). Even more surprising, Impress seems to have all the same bells and whistles as PowerPoint 2003, with an extremely similar interface. And it played my existing PP presentations perfectly, animations and all (which is more than can usually be said for PowerPoint, unless it’s the exact same version as the one the file was created with). In short, I fully recommend to anyone thinking of buying a new version of Office, don’t. OpenOffice can interconvert all kinds of file formats, and if you know how to use Office, you know how to use OpenOffice.

The downtime and download time also gave me a chance to get some reading done in the very interesting Darwinian Heresies, which Intelligent Design philosopher Paul Nelson recommends (he is cited favorably for his treatment of the “strong form of the argument against design”), and now, having read the first three-and-a-half chapters, I do too. Meanwhile, I finished both Kepler’s Witch and The Left Hand of Darkness a few days ago. Neither of them lived up to their hype, but I enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness and I understand much of its appeal. As for the Kepler book (see my Amazon review), I understand all of its appeal (as it does not extend beyond the rather attractive and intriguingly-titled exterior).

Nearly as bad as that book, I bought a six-pack of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer. Not a mistake I’ll make again; it’s almost as bad as the Cranberry Lambic that comes in the holiday pack.

I also downloaded some songs by The Weakerthans, who piqued my interested with the song “Aside” during the Wedding Crashers credits. They’re my new favorite emo band (as long as you don’t try calling anything Chris Staples does emo).

I met with Megan for German again today… highly productive. And it turns out she’s not merely a philosopher: the reason we couldn’t meet last week was because she was in German with her art exhibition. And her husband runs a jazz venue/recording studio here in New Haven. How cool are they?

Reading: Darwinian Heresies, Kepler’s Witch, The Left Hand of Darkness

Listening: Paul Simon, Weakerthans

Watching: Bottle Rocket