April 25, 2003

"Oh, the Humanity!"

Has anybody tracked how the expression "Oh, the humanity!" because a cliche cry of horror and dismay? I first heard it, so far as I can recall, maybe five years ago, and I assumed that it was a silly riff on "Oh, the inhumanity!" If anybody has any ideas please e-mail me, as I've been curious about this for some time.

But any way, I'm crying "Oh, the humanity!" because Jane's new computer arrived today, and naturally it runs Windows XP, and I'm the guy who gets to set it up.

For the last six or seven years, Jane's been using a Gateway desktop machine. It was bought as "our" computer, and was pretty ritzy when it was new; at that time, it had the best graphics hardware I'd ever seen. Jane used it for personal finance and her tax accounting work; I used it for games, digital photography, and programming projects. We both used it for the Internet. Then I got a laptop and started doing almost everything but Internet access from it. And then three years later I replaced it with another laptop, which I now have, and about six months ago I started doing all of my Internet access from it. Meanwhile, Jane's had this crufty old desktop Windows 98 desktop with all sorts of garbage installed on it, and lots of stability problems.

So, in the interests of conserving space, we ordered her a laptop, and it arrived today.

Windows XP is better than I feared, in most ways; it's certainly more tractable than Windows ME. And the machine's power blows mine out of the water; it's pretty sweet.

But there's a bad apple in every barrel, and the bad apple showed up when I started trying a copy my collection of digital photos (family snapshots, mostly) from my laptop to hers...or, more precisely, from the backup CDs I've been burning to her computer. Every so often it would find a file on the CD that it simply wasn't willing to read. I put the same CD in my old machine, and was able to load the erring files...but the picture was corrupted in each case. So either the CD was bad to begin with, or the new laptop's CD drive was damaging it. The new laptop's drive is a CDRW drive, so the latter is possible, but it seems really unlikely. So I grabbed a couple more CDs I'd burned and checked those; they had problems too. Ouch.

I ended up copying the pictures from one laptop to the other, 100 MB at a time, swapping my external Zip drive back and forth.

All this left me with a question: was it the old drive, the new drive, or the cheap CDR media I'd been using? So I decided on an experiment. I took an unused CDR from the spindle, and burned a disk full of photos using the new laptop's CDRW drive. Then I attempted to copy the contents back onto the new laptop's hard disk. It didn't work! The disk I had just burned was unreadable. OK, says I; I found an unused Verbatim-brand CDR I'd gotten ages ago, and tried it again. It got about a third of the way through the disk, and hung there. I had to reboot the machine just to extract the bad CD. Interesting, no?

That, by the way, is my primary complaint about the new machine and OS so far--it doesn't cope with CD problems very well. Of course, if the CD drive itself is faulty then it's not entirely Windows XP's fault if it doesn't behave properly.

Now, the Verbatim discs are pretty old; they are 74 minute discs while the current standard is 80 minutes; it's possible (though scary) that they've degraded over time. Also, some peculiar things had happened with the first disc, and I hadn't rebooted. I decided, I could easily afford to destroy another disc, so I rebooted and tried it again.

It recorded just fine, so far as I could tell.

I put the new disc in my old machine, and copied its contents to the hard disk. No problems--but then, the new machine had been noticing problems the old one didn't. So I put the new disc back in the new machine, and again copied its contents to the hard disk. My hope was that it would find a bad file, and that checking that file against the copy I'd just made onto the old machine's hard disk would reveal that the new laptop's drive was eating CDs. Then I'd know where I stood.

It worked perfectly.

So now I don't know where I stand, and it's getting late. More tomorrow, probably.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 25, 2003 09:20 PM

Susan said:

"Oh the humanity" originated from the radio announcer that witnessed the crashing of the Hindenburg, as it crashed he cried "oh the humanity" as he watched bodies fall from the ill fated dirigible