Sunday, January 07, 2007

Platform Traitor

I consider myself a lapsed Mac zealot. That's right. I used to be one of those obnoxious Mac users who thought PC's were the devil's spawn and ownership of one constituted a deep-seated streak of masochism.

With the introduction of Mac OS X, I took off my Apple-colored glasses as it introduced me to a whole new world of instability and hassle. All of a sudden, the solution to my problems was opening up a terminal window and typing in a bunch of arcane UNIX commands and Mac power users were smugly and snottily telling other less "in the know" Mac users that any instability in Mac OS X was somehow the user's fault. What's worse, I couldn't even empty my trash because somehow I didn't have permission to do so anymore. Mac users had gone from regarding the DOS prompt with contempt to hailing the wonders of the UNIX prompt. We were becoming the enemy.

I waited a long time to fully adopt OS X though I did give it a shot a few more times with no real satisfaction. During that time, I bought a Windows XP machine and then watched as every upgrade to OS X brought the Mac interface closer and closer to the Windows interface and not in a necessarily positive way. All of the interface quirks I disliked in Windows were cropping up into the Mac OS.

What is more, I like to play games and PCs are still better for on-line gaming and torrents, for unknown reasons, always download faster on PCs. It's not that the PC was any bed of roses either. It's just that the Mac's bed of roses was sprouting thorns and looking far less comfortable and attractive as time went on.

For these reasons and more, my husband eventually migrated to using PC laptops rather than Mac ones and I became a dual-platform user opting to alternate new computer purchases between PCs and Macs. While I've had pretty good luck with desktop PCs, my husband's experiences with laptops have been far less positive. His first PC laptop, a fairly nice Dell, died in just under 2 years and spent the latter year having a variety of quirks (like ethernet access that came and went constantly). Eventually, important enough components crapped out that the cost of repair exceeded the value of the computer.

My sister, who knows PCs far better than me or nearly anyone I know, told me that PC laptops commonly die in 2-3 years. Suddenly, Macs started to look better as I've never had a Mac laptop fail aside from a PowerBook 540c which a leaky air conditioner dripped water all over. However, there were still enough positive aspects on the software side that we went for another PC laptop.

This time, however, we decided that, if these things had a short expiration date, we'd go for the cheapest one we could. Unfortunately, at the time, we didn't consider that a cheap one, despite it's adequate CPU, gorgeous screen, and relatively lavish amount of RAM, was going to come with a totally crappy video card and game playing might be a problem.

It turned out that the video card was a problem but not in the way one might expect. It could play games but it pawned off so much of the load onto the CPU that it caused the fan to run constantly and the laptop was constantly overheating and shutting itself off. Enter the device you see pictured at the top. This is a coolpad that we ordered from Amazon Japan. It has 3 little fans that keep the air circulation going sufficiently that my husband's laptop no longer shuts down. It runs off of USB power, is light, and not too thick. It was, however, relatively expensive at 4,400 yen or about $42.

This represents yet another one of those electronic items that you can get for a song in the U.S. but cannot find cheaply in Japan. The friend who recommended this to me (hello, Shawn) said his mother procured one from Amazon U.S. for about $15. When I researched them in Japan, the prices were from $33-70 and there were only about 4 models anyway. I guess Japan just isn't getting enough cheap imports from China or Taiwan or wherever.

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