Of Life, Laptops, and Relatives

Sit down right there, and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…
Okay, not quite that much gloom and doom, but this sojourn down to Florida over the last week has definately thrown chaotic elements into the life of this humble (HAH) geek. First though, lets get the important bits covered…

Mom update
First and foremost, Mom is doing better. She went in for surgery on Wednesday to repair an anyeurism on her descending abdominal aorta (for non-anatomy-geeks, this is the main vessel carrying blood from the heart down to the lower extremeties. The anyeurism was located just below her sternum, toward the back). The surgery was possible using stents, a type of metal mesh tube that goes inside a blood vessel to reinforce it. The trick was whether they could find stents small enough for mom. They did, though there was still a chance during surgery of needing to do a full ‘open’ procedure. As it was, they were able to do the entire procedure via endoscopy, so the number and size of incisions were relatively small. She was in surgery for about 4 hours.
As of last night, she’s chatting, eating, and steadily recovering, though at a slower pace than we originally expected. So far nothing unusual has cropped up except a longer stay at the hospital than we had originally planned for. More on the hospital in a moment.
Special thanks to everyone who chipped in for the Harry and David chocolate / pastry gift thingy. She was charmed as all git out by it, and sends her thanks to all involved.
The Trip
The story behind the story is I flew down to Florida on Tuesday evening to be with mom for her surgery (which some torquemada decided to schedule at oh-dark-thirty on Wednesday. This necessitated us checking in at the hospital at 5am. Yeesh). I flew down on Song airlines (which I’ve written about before), and once again had a pleasant experience. Their checkin kiosks let me reassign my reservation to seat 1A both going to and returning from Tampa (I do wonder if anyone was on both those flights -and- playing the trivia game – wondering who this ‘dbs’ in seat ‘1a’ was, and why were they winning half the games? Mwahaha).
I had reserved a car via Alamo. Now, this is an interesting bit. I really don’t care what car I get. I’m only going the 2-3 miles between the hotel, the hospital, and mom’s house, so the cheapest econo-box would be fine n dandy. I do this for most of my trips, but I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern. Either the rental agency will try very hard to upgrade me to a ‘sedan’ or the like, or they’ll just bump me right up with a ‘we’re out of compact cars, how bout an SUV?’. I’m not sure if the checkin person notes my 6’6″ 270lb frame, or there’s a basic sales technique at work here, who knows, but for an econo rate, I had a very nice Chevy Trailblazer for the 3 days I was there.
Driving from Tampa to Lakeland, FL was unremarkable, and I stayed at a fairly generic hotel there that had nice wireless internet (free!), and a decent TV show selection. Because of the scheduling, I only got about 3 hours of sleep on Tuesday night. Wednesday, I dragged myself over to the hospital.
The Hospital
Mom was having her surgery at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, an enormous complex right near her home. For the entire time I was there (about 3 days), I was impressed with their professionalism, modern facilities, and just general organization. One bit in particular surprised me in a pleasant way. The food.
What’s that you say? The food?! Yes! They had a real honest to gosh food court in the main entrance area. It was large, well stocked, well prepared, with foods ranging from omlettes and pancakes during breakfast time, all the way across to a full service deli counter. Salads, ice cream, cereals, hot foods and soups – all had stations that were clean, well prepared, and best of all – were GOOD!
The final bit was the price. I had an enormous breakfast once mom went into surgery on Wednesday (nothing really to do but wait for about 6 hours – I decided to eat and go take a nap). Eggs, pancakes, cereal, milk, juice, sausages – grand total: $8. Wow. I should consider checking out hospitals near here for decent lunchtime fare.
The Crash
No, I didn’t crash my rental. I did, however, manage to take out my precious thinkpad, ‘jboat’. On Wednesday evening, I decided to get some work time in while sitting with mom (who was mostly incoherent – still dealing with anasthesia and recent surgery – she mostly slept. And snored.) Trying to power things up resulted in a completely blank screen – not even a backlight coming on. “Okay, this can’t be good.” No amount of fiddling, reseating, disassembly and reassembly could bring my poor machine back to life. I was adrift. No net. No EMAIL! In Florida. We dug around a bit for a local IBM service center for warranty service, but no one could give us a walkin / couple hour turnaround, so I resigned myself to be primarily offline until I returned on Friday. Alas.
The Treo!
My saving grace during all of this was my Treo 650. Both my mom (once she was lucid enough to notice), and her friend Cindy pretty much took for granted that when I was sitting still, I was probably heads down tapping out things on my Treo. Most of the time I was text messaging friends and family, other times I was working through the somewhat painful process of reading email via Squirrelmail on the Treo’s web browser. Not recommended for long-term use, lemme tell ya. It kept me in touch, but it was surely no substitute for a laptop.
On coming home
On Friday I boarded a flight back home, taking the Logan Express back out to Framingham, where Ben picked me up. I did find out that apparently Delta Airlines, which owns and operates Song, is going to discontinue the Song airlines brand, rolling it back into Delta in general. This makes me sad, as I expect much of the things I liked most about Song will be lost, but we’ll see. (On the flight up, the attendants noted that Song towels and the like were for sale, saying they may become collectors items after May 1st).
State of the Geek
So, it’s now Sunday, and things have settled back into Normal Life [tm] [reg us pat off]. With a couple twists…

  • The laptop is out of action until I can get it to an IBM service center, most likely Monday. I’m somewhat worried about some unsaved work on the drive, but I feel the problem is not in the hard drive, but in the mainboard itself. I’m considering a trip to the local store to get a 2 1/2″ enclosure so I can mount and copy off my home directory before sending the machine off to be repaired. Getting a copy of the home dir to my new desktop machine would go a long way to keeping me sane and productive (hah!).
  • 2 weeks ago I picked up a Dell GX260 off eBay for a whopping $150. Apparently Dell Financial Services is unloading metric buttloads of these things. They’re a very small case with a decent CPU and drive in them, and frankly are dead quiet. I loaded Debian Etch onto it with virtually no hiccups except for configuring the X-server. Some digging on the net pointed out that the integrated video on the GX260 will not configure properly unless you update the Flash BIOS to A09. After a day and a half of arguing with X.org, I flashed the BIOS with the new version, and the system came up perfectly at 1280×1024 on my nice LCD monitor. This machine (now named ‘yawl’) will probably be my primary desktop system until the laptop is all repaired and I decide The Next Step. For $150? Can’t complain in the slightest, though some more memory (it only has 256 meg in it) is going to be needed.
  • My replacement Treo arrived (to replace the broken one) just before I left on my trip. I was able to transfer all my contacts, games, and photos over to the new unit (yay IR!, boo it took 1/2 an hour, but it worked). I’m going to be picking up a new case for it this week, I can’t afford to break it again.
  • My old Microsoft 4000 keyboard bought the farm 2-3 weeks ago. Another one from eBay also showed up, and I can say I’m typing ergonomically once again. I can’t understand how folks can type on flat keyboards day in and day out, for me this is an order of magnitude more comfortable. It was only $40 too!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled geekdom…

Dave Shevett


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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3 thoughts on “Of Life, Laptops, and Relatives

  1. First, yay that your mom is doing well. Could you send me her address, please?
    Second, damn laptop! Whattapain it’s been.
    Third, I’m glad you got your new Treo so quickly. Suzanne used hers to post on Friday when Comcast went down (a short somewhere this time, the wires were all still attached to the house). I need to reinstall the mail program because it’s really slow… it only takes every 2nd or 3rd letter I type so it’s a huge PITA to use right now.
    Fourth, bummer about Song! It’s hard to find an airline you actually like these days.
    Fifth, that’s a neat keyboard. I’m not sure I’ve seen one like that before. I think I switched to Logitech after I kept having trouble with MS ones. I’ll have to look when I get home and see to be positive though.

  2. Hi,
    Glad your mom is doing well. My dad had surgery for an aortic aneurism more than 20 years ago. It was also in FL but the aneurism burst the night before he was scheduled for surgery! Cathy and I were there and he was in surgery for more than 4 hours, I’ll tell you!And the food was lousy. ;->
    GX620 for $150? Sounds great!

  3. Ok, I’m still using a Microsoft keyboard and mouse. Guess I ended up switching back. I have a Natural Keyboard Pro and a Wheel Optical USB mouse.

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