Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Unbearably Satisfied Ben (or, take your USB and stick it)

My pride was stung by the last post – it finally struck me as ridiculous that my laptop's USB port has never worked.

It now works. The credit is not all mine.

The laptop is an IBM Thinkpad that I bought in January 1999, with money from His Majesty's Starship which had been published the previous month. It was the only relatively high-end machine I've bought yet and of all my PCs it's lasted the longest. At the time I had never heard of USB so as far as I was concerned the funny little slit in the back was just another hole. Nor did I know anyone with the requisite networking skills to hook it up to its predecessor, a Windows 95 PC bought in – strangely enough – 1995. So, transferring data involved floppies. Lots of floppies. Lots and lots of floppies, back and forth, back and forth ... I had a filesplitter program that broke down files too big for a floppy (i.e. more than 1.44Mb) into smaller chunks that could then be reunited on the other machine, but of course that just increased the floppy load. Frankly it's a wonder anything worked.

The laptop remained my primary computer for two years, but the second of those years was the first year of Big Engine and by 2001 it was obvious I was going to need a bigger machine. This was a desktop running Windows ME (which, as I’ve said before and will say again, is named after a painful debilitating disease for a reason) and I hadn't yet caught up with CD-R. At least at this point I was able to find someone who could network the two to copy data over, but it took several wasted evenings to work out that the laptop's USB wouldn’t work. If memory serves over the gulf of six years, it was configured for games, not communications. Or something. Eventually the two machines were connected by parallel ports and the data transfer could commence, very, very slowly. It took about 48 hours. The floppies would have been quicker.

By the time that machine came to replaced, I had heard of USB flash drives, I even owned one, and transferring the data took a couple of minutes. I shed a small tear.

A passing teenage whizkid took the laptop into custody for a few weeks last summer to see if he could unravel the mystery of its USB. He confessed failure but I've since worked out he was doing himself down. He got things to a stage where the laptop recognises it's had something plugged into it – but of course, an eight year old machine won't have the right drivers to make the whatever work. They need to be tracked down and installed. And he was using my old memory stick, something cheap and grotty bought off eBay that insisted on installing its own little program called i-Run in the tray on the taskbar. i-Run served no useful purpose I could ever see except to require turning off before you disconnected the drive. Oh, and it made the laptop crash. But, with a new stick from a decent manufacturer, that supplies drivers on its website, and no i-Run – ta-dah! I have a laptop with a usefully working USB port. My technological triumphs are few and far between so I feel it's worth shouting about.

Which is fortunate, because otherwise this would be a load of wibble about something quite fundamentally uninteresting.

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