Tech notes

I’ve upgraded my computer to run Windows 7, and am pretty happy with it. It’s annoying that most of that happiness comes from the fact that Windows 7 is not Windows Vista, which I misguidedly installed when it first came out. Windows 7 is much better than Vista. It is a little better than Windows XP, but not so much so that it is worth upgrading the two other computers we have that still run XP.

What’s improved in Windows 7? The things I notice are: the taskbar works better; the “smart” selection of programs on the Start Menu is almost smart enough to be helpful; search is very fast; file libraries will probably be helpful if I get around to learning how to use them. Those are all power user things, and if they don’t mean much to you then you should probably save your money, even if you are using Vista.


Our need for a cell phone is minimal, and so I’ve never been happy with the cost/benefit ratio. We had one in Colorado in 2000 when we needed one for a specific reason, but let the contract lapse when the reason went away. A few years later in Bristol I got a TracFone, thinking that pay-as-you-go would work for us, but the cost of minutes was exorbitant (a dollar per minute, as I recall, with the occasional two-for-one minutes deal); when we moved to Kentucky the phone didn’t work here, so we gave up on it.

Two years ago I thought I would be on the road regularly and would need a phone, so I looked around and found a deal that gave me 1200 minutes per month for $40. At three cents per minute, that was a good deal—if we actually had needed 1200 minutes. It turned out I mostly wasn’t on the road, and we only ever used between 100 and 200 minutes in a month. But I couldn’t find a significantly cheaper deal, so we kept the phone.

Last month my provider notified me that they were going out of business and had sold me and the other customers to Verizon, who was eager to set me up with a new phone and a new plan. That was enough to get me doing another round of research, so I looked, first considering the AT&T Go Phone for a pay-as-you-go option, but as I did the math it didn’t seem like such a good deal.

Finally I looked at TracFone again, and found that their deal had improved tremendously—twenty cents per minute with no access fee. Even better, if you took a particular phone from them you could have perpetual two-for-one minutes, making the cost ten cents per minute. That is perfect for us. The cost is low enough that it doesn’t make us hesitate (much) to make a call, but high enough that we keep the calls short and infrequent. We’ve had the phone for a month now, and used about fifty minutes. That’s five dollars. Nice.


The investment in a portable MP3 player and a Rhapsody To Go subscription has turned out well. I periodically download batches of albums by an artist that I want Chris to hear (Ry Cooder was the latest), and we play through them on long drives. The MP3 player doesn’t get used anywhere else but in the car, but we can access Rhapsody on the main computer and the netbook, so music is also portable around the house. Last week when recording some songs Chris and I took the laptop upstairs to where we record, and used it to check melodies of songs we were not completely familiar with.


I use LibraryThing to keep track of books, particularly books that are boxed up and in storage. When I first set up the database I had to type in the ISBN of each book—a lot easier than entering all the information by hand, but still tedious.

I should have taken them up on their offer of a CueCat scanner, only $15 for a gizmo that can scan the bar code of a book and divine its ISBN. And now that I have decided to make most of those stored books, as well as others I no longer want, available for sale on AbeBooks, I thought $15 would be a good investment. I paid them, they sent me one, it really works, it’s pretty cool. I wish I had bought one to begin with.

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2 thoughts on “Tech notes

  1. <T-Mobile to Go is a good cell phone option if you can afford the $100/1000 minute card. Your minutes won’t expire for a year and will extend for another year if you purchase more.

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