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December 03, 2010

Getting Back Online

You don't want to be without your computer at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare; my computer was stolen the day before in a smash and grab. The hotel has a business center, which is run by FedEx; the charge for using a slow computer there is $.40 PER MINUTE; printing is extra, almost $1.00 per page. This follows the inverse price rule with which business travelers are familiar: the higher the nightly charge, the less amenities like free WiFi, parking, breakfast, and use of computers.

In the sleepless hours before dawn, after changing my passwords, I'd made my plan. Bought a couple of computer mags at SFO to read on the way to ORD to get hints on the latest in laptops. On arrival would go right to the business center and fill out the online accident report for Hertz, order a restore CD to be overnighted from Mozy- where hopefully I'd backedup everything I needed to restore, and I'd shop online for a computer.

In the laptop mags I learned that 15 inch screens don't have any more total pixels than 14, but are harder to carry and – even more important – drain their batteries more quickly, was reminded that keyboard backlighting is a good thing, noticed how much more powerful video processors have become except in "business" machines, and saw that ThinkPads still have the eraser tip cursors that I prefer to touchpads for portable mousing.

OK. Better submit the Hertz form before shopping. It's at https://images.hertz.com/pdfs/VIR20090515.pdf if you'd like to see an example of how NOT to design an online form. In order to enter numbers you put one digit in each space and then click with the mouse to the next space, tabbing gives you an edit error. If you just type numbers they all run together in one number space. Found, reasonably enough, that Hertz wanted me to supply the number of my own insurance policy (I didn't pay for the collision damage waiver, of course, but Visa is supposed to cover that) so postponed completing the form.

Was disappointed to see that Mozy wouldn't promise delivery of the restore disk before three or four business days (but the disk did actually arrive in two days).

Shopping online, even forcing myself to ignore the $.40/minute charge, was frustrating. I'd decided not to buy my third Toughbook in a row even though I'd liked the two I had. Now most boats have a GPS and so does my phone; so I don't really need one in a waterproof computer with a touchscreen. The Toughbook graphic processor didn't let me take advantage of wide desktop screens; the machine is fairly slow; and typing on the waterproof membrane keyboard (optional) made me miss a lot of letters I had to go back and fill in later; the touchpad was so bad that I always carried a mouse. But it was great not to worry about dropping it or getting caught in the rain; and it doubled as a footstool on long flights. Anyway, the decision was easy because it takes a long time to get a Toughbook configured the way you want it and email on my Droid was quickly becoming a pain.

Nothing else I wanted was available quickly either. Dell has a page for machines that can be shipped immediately but all too low end (they ought to let you specify the shipment window you can accept and then search). Thinkpads, fuggetaboutit. BestBuy can tell you when you can pick up a particular model in a particular store or when it will be shipped to you; but none of the specific models I'd been attracted to in the computer magazines were available in any reasonable period of time. Not much luck with a couple of other online retailers. Realized later when I shopped for peripherals that I should have tried Amazon; they do seem to be able to ship immediately even when the manufacturer they're buying from can't.

Anyway, decided to go to BestBuy and search in person. You do want to try keyboards before buying. A cab to BestBuy wasn't much more expensive than shopping online in the business center. Looked at every instock Windows laptop and decided without too much thought (the cab was waiting outside) to buy a 14 inch Toshiba Satellite E205 with 4GB of RAM, 456GB harddrive, and 64 bit Windows Home Premium. It claims five hour battery life, has an LED backlit display and keyboard, USB sleep-and-charge so you can turn off the computer and still charge stuff, and a wireless way to transmit to your HDTV screen. About $800 dollars before tax and including the receiver that plugs into the HDTV.

So now I had my own computer to complete the Hertz form with, although, this being an expensive hotel, I had to pay for WiFi ($10 from t-mobile and it still worked the next day in the airport) . Called my agent and got my policy number. But, even with everything filled in to the best of my ability, each time I clicked the "send" button I got a message saying there was an edit error but not telling me where or how to fix it. Couldn't print and fax (without going back to the business center). So I printed to Microsoft XPS Document Writer which creates a file, and emailed the file to Hertz. Asked for a confirmation of receipt which I still haven't gotten three days later.

Next steps: loading and learning the computer.

Beginning of the story: Blog Blocked by Breakin.

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