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On the Other Hand: Fear and loathing on the computer purchase trail

Never had no store-bought computer before. All my computers since about 1985 have been hand-me-downs. They include: a Radio Shack TRS 80, a couple of desktops, one Mac, then another Mac that put me to where I was a year ago; Looking to actually buy my first computer.

This story about my hate/hate relationship with computers started in college in the early 1970s. Our teacher was trying to teach her students Fortran or Cobol programming, but without an actual book with words on pages that would have actually taught technophobes like me. While most of the students were taking their stacks of punch-cards to the computer lab to add 2+2, I was struggling to figure out how the danged key-punch machine worked.

In the mid-1980s, I bought a $400 printer from Radio Shack in Glenwood. Turned out the printer didn’t work with my Radio Shack computer.

In the mid-1990s, I took that decommissioned TRS 80 out to the Westbank Road and blasted it with a 20-gauge shotgun, after a failed attempt to learn PageMaker (AKA “Rage Maker”) at the old Valley Journal newspaper. It was visceral to feel the gun’s recoil and hear the blast. The thick screen shattered into thousands of diamond-like pieces.

When my hand-me-down iPhone shattered upon impact on a tile floor a year ago, I went to the AT&T store for a replacement. I assumed all cell phones started at about $500 and ended up buying the X because of the camera. I am now much more proficient operating the camera than the actual $1,100 iPhone X, and have also become addicted to Facebook.

At first, I was going to buy a GoMacPro or something like that, mostly because a friend has one and I figured she could show me how to use it. Two incidents ended up steering me to an HP Pavilion: I foolishly thought that Word wouldn’t work on a GoMacPro,: and a roommate told me that for my needs, the HP sounded like the way to go.

Early on, I decided to buy “The Thing” in an actual store rather than online, which led me to Walmart and the nearby Office Depot in Glenwood Springs. I knew I had to confront the beast in person and pet it. I made several visits to each store, first to visually see the unit and later to actually touch it, read the information about it on those little info sheets, plink the keys, then drive home and procrastinate some more.

Office Depot won my business. The old sales guy at Walmart was helpful but the computers are shackled to the counter and aren’t even turned on. At Office Depot, the computers are on and people can click the keys, although I was not sure whether what was coming up on the HP screen was the real deal or a sales pitch. Office Depot is sneaky, however. During my first trips to OD, I checked out the HP Envy. Only after visit number three did I realize the HP Pavilion sat two computers down; OD puts an entirely different brand and color of computer between the two HPs, I guess to discourage one-to-one comparisons.

On OD visit number four or five, I actually asked for someone to answer questions. Out came a friendly, thin, young guy with colorful tattoos on his arms and a nose ring. I confessed to him I’m a computerphobic, “hate it all” and am really ignorant about “this stuff.”

The Pavilion, which I ended up buying, was about $130 less than the Envy. The only difference I could see, was the Pavilion didn’t have fingerprint recognition but the screen was bigger. “What’s the deal?” I asked. I always thought you have to pay more for bigger because it’s better. The young man explained that in the computer world, you pay more for smaller. Who knew? Not me.

On my final visit to Office Depot, a different young guy with an equal number of tattoos but not a nose ring hooked me up. He wrote out exactly what I was buying in the “bundle” so I said, “Let’s do it” and we did.

Picked up the thing the next day and took it home. As of this writing, I still haven’t actually turned it on to see whether I can work it. My shotgun is buried somewhere in my storage unit, but why set myself up for another such episode, right? But I am screwing up my courage to start learning how to operate my new machine and am fairly confident my next column will be written on my very own store-bought computer.

(P.S. – Thanks to the CMC Spring Valley library for being open in the summer).

Lynn Burton is a semi-retired newspaper guy, living in Carbondale.