The Challenges and Opportunities of Frugal Computing

By , February 27, 2016

Over my years of computer use, I feel I’ve spent way too much time tinkering with the things. Most of this messing around appears to be the price I pay for frugality.

I started years ago with a secondhand Wang. I set a pattern with it that held through all the other computers, new or used, I have owned. Too many work arounds, fixes, and compromises most of the time. Still, I always managed to do the work I needed done at the time, so it paid off in the end.

Now I have a secondhand Macbook that I bought for under $500. I got it three years ago, and lately feared I might have to replace it, just to keep the OS and software up to date. However, I took a risk while in Anchorage, chaperoning the high school DDF team, went to an Apple Store and got the OS upgraded. Doing so saved me over $1000. It also bought me a whole lot of tinkering.

In some ways, I appreciate the opportunity to pare down my computer. With the hard drive wiped by the OS install, I’m trying to mindfully reassemble my tools, discarding the extra data that has accumulated over the years.

First, I had to re-install software. That proved fairly easy, as most of what I use can be downloaded from the Internet. I made sure to do most of this with the motel’s free WiFi in Anchorage. Some of it I have on disc from the first install. I’m cherry picking, avoiding the programs I had but didn’t use. I’m also finding tools I hadn’t installed before that replace ones that Mac chose not to include in the latest OS—that’s handy! I’m also discovering that some of my software won’t work at all with the new OS. This forces me to work with less, learn alternatives, or do without. Some of it, I’m pretty glad to be rid of.

I back up most of my hard drive at the end of each month. Lately, I’ve restricted that to my personal files, which change month to month, rather than the whole drive. This required me to step back about two weeks in time, which hasn’t been too bad. Most of my computer activity centers around this blog. I lost a draft essay on an upcoming project, which I regret somewhat, but it’s not the end of the world. Other than that, I lost a couple of linked phrases and other conveniences I’ve set up for faster composition. I lost a few photos, but most of what I took in the previous two weeks were for the blog, and got posted there.

A bigger issue has been emails. I actually saved the folder that should have allowed me to rebuild my email system, addresses, old messages, and all, but somehow those files did not save with all the others. Now, I feel crippled. I’ve put out a call on Facebook to friends and relatives who have emailed me in the past to send me a message, so I can rebuild my address book. So far, a few of them have “liked” my request, but nothing more. The one friend who responded uses the blog email, which, being Gmail, gets stored online, and has not been lost.

I do have the old laptop that this one replaced, so I can take the address book off of that and install it on this computer. I’ll inevitably lack a few addresses, but I can collect those eventually. If I’m smart, I’ll just wait to email these people until they contact me first. If they never do, I probably don’t really need their addresses, right?

Why do I tell you all this? I’ve spoken before about returning from travel and catching the rhythm of the homestead (see “I Know This Place”). This time around, that rhythm has been broken by the tasks of rebuilding my computer. Luckily, we’ve been getting torrents of rain since I returned, so sitting in the cabin with a cup of coffee, tinkering away at my inexpensive old computer doesn’t feel so bad.

We always say “more calories than cash.” I’m not burning calories taking the frugal route back to computer functionality, but I’m sure burning time and brain cells!

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