How-To: A Luddite Sets up a New Laptop in Five Easy Steps

Fresh Ribbon

Through the miracle of modern shopping (see video), my new Gateway laptop arrived yesterday. Oh, I could’ve shopped and cross-priced mercilessly, checking the latest product info in Consumer Reports and such, but I figure these things are only meant to last a few years anyway. That’s all I got out of the last one, right? In three more years I figure laptops will be small enough to wear as earrings and all the technology that arrived yesterday will be obsolete.

When we buy a new computer, we’re not purchasing longevity. It’s healthier to accept this and move on.

After seven hours setting this thing up, I thought it might be interesting to actually share the steps I go through to do something that sounds, on the surface, so achingly simple, but in reality is not. Besides, I cheated a little on the “How To” assignment by offering up an old post.

Step One: Open the Cow Box and pull out the sparkling new laptop, power cord, battery, and strange conglomeration of free programs so you can later make out your last will and testament while playing golf with Tiger Woods. Plug in the computer, install the battery, turn it on. Lovely. (Time, 5 min.)

Step Two: Get online. This is a no-brainer, especially for those of us with wireless systems. Just click on the little icon in the taskbar, find your wireless network, click to connect. Wait. You need the key (password) this time because the new laptop hasn’t been formally introduced to your wireless system. Put in what you think is the network key. Try seven or eight more. Rifle through your desk for that little piece of paper you know you wrote the key on last time. Aha! Wait – that’s the key you lost three years ago.

Go to your daughter’s computer, find Linksys and try to log on there to find the key. You don’t remember that password either, so you click around a bit on the Linksys site to find their phone number. Call Linksys. A helpful guy named Ron will put you on hold several times, make you crawl around underneath your daughter’s computer to get numbers off of things, then walk you through a password change that sounds a lot like writing a master’s thesis for Advanced DOS. This time you write the new key down on something important and carry the piece of paper like the Hope Diamond back to the new laptop. Enter the key and sign on. Voila! (Time, 45 min.)

Step Three: Time to download. Go get a cup of coffee first. Add a little Bailey’s. And then a touch more. You’ve done this before, so remember to keep your expectations low. Breathe deeply, then attend first to the volcanic eruption of insistent popup messages from your taskbar. Java, Norton, Windows, whatever – they all want to whisper in your new laptop’s ear and they want it done now. Click and sip. (Time, 15 min.)

Now install all the programs you really care about – Firefox, Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, Novell Groupwise (email at work), and such. There are others, nifty little things such as Poladriod and whatever looks interesting from the free programs that came in the Cow Box. Family Tree? You bet. Make a list of online downloads and stack up those cds. Start the first one and refill your coffee. Repeat. Click and sip. (Time, 2 hrs. 35 min.)

Step Four: Now it’s time to add the good stuff. If you’re lucky, shortly before your old laptop started to sing Taps you had the foresight to powersave all your precious documents and pictures to a reliable flash drive. If you’re unlucky, this step is replaced with hours and days of back and forth to friends, old work computers, and tearful, heavenward pleas. Bless your heart. Let’s assume you were lucky. The alternative is unthinkable.

Transfer everything from the flash drive into its proper place. I always begin with my saved Firefox bookmarks, move deliberately through Word documents, and end with pictures. This sounds easy, but in your panic to save all these precious files there was never any cleaning up. Fine. Just be sure to scan that flash drive for any piggybacking virii or maliciousness first. Then get a little brutal when transferring the squeaky-clean files over.

Did you save all those pictures – you know, the top of someone’s head with your crooked finger mysteriously in the lower left corner? Get rid of them now. Any of those document files need updating from Wordstar or worse? Oh dear. Think of those poor people on Dr. Phil who walk sideways through stacks of old newspapers and empty ketchup bottles, the ones hoarding thousands of old butter tubs and groaning closets bursting with Simplicity dress patterns from the 70s. Save yourself and clean out those files. (Time, 3 painful hrs. Maybe more.)

Step Five:
Time to hook up the printer. Maybe when you bought your new laptop you also sprang for a fancy new printer/scanner/fax machine. That’s how they get us with the one-two punch, especially when we’re panicky. If this is you, then no big deal. Follow the bouncing ball and install your shiny new printer.

There are those of us, however, who don’t always buy a new dryer just because the washing machine quit. My HP Photosmart works just fine, thank you, and I’m keeping it. The only problem is that the installation cd has dematerialized. Nothing a spanking new laptop shouldn’t be able to handle, though. Plug the printer to your new laptop and wait for them to make friends.

Except they don’t, do they? No, you’re redirected to a frightening website where nothing makes sense. Tech-speak and numbers. Pick up your printer/scanner/whatever and turn it upside down to find the numbers it wants in response. What exactly is a driver? Does it have anything to do with that Tiger Woods game you didn’t install? Doesn’t matter. Just click where you’re supposed to and download it. Eventually, your printer will be installed. How or why just isn’t important at this point. Remember – eye on the prize. (Time, 45 min.)

There you go. It only took a little over seven hours to set up the laptop and install all the goodies. You’re back in business now, so go email someone, write a blog post, cruise Ebay. You may be sick of the new laptop for a bit. Nothing like Steps 1-5 to take a little glamour out of your big-ticket purchase. You’ll feel better tomorrow. I promise

In the meantime pull out one of your old manual typewriters, roll in a sheet of paper, and leave the world behind. (Set up time, 20 seconds, tops.)

8 thoughts on “How-To: A Luddite Sets up a New Laptop in Five Easy Steps

  1. It\’s like trying to zine on a computer vs. a typewriter. I just knocked out a whole zine today in less than eight hours on two typewriters with a friend. Smaller zines have taken me much longer to do on computer. Cuz there\’s the diddling with the margins, and then you get the widow/orphan control that wants to mess everything up, and then by the time you actually get anything to be the right size or resolution–much less what you want it to say–you\’re gnashing your teeth and foaming at the mouth and demanding somebody smash Bill Gates about the head and shoulders with his own infuriating product.Or, just slide a sheet of paper in the typewriter and wind it through. Type. Need something in a different spot? Cut and paste, literally. I\’d imagine it\’s like giving a cat a bath, vs. giving a goldfish a bath. Not Luddite, I\’m too entrenched in my computers, but they certainly suck sometimes.

  2. Step 2 had me laughing, \’cause I not long ago went through the same experience when my wireless router died and I had to configure the new one *exactly* like the old one (lest I also have to reconfigure every device in the house).Those new GW2K laptops sure are classy. Somewhere I still have the tech documents and pilot\’s wings for their very first laptop, the Solo. Not quite as spiffy-looking, that one.

  3. Being technically-minded, new machine setup is one of my favorite things. Opening the box and seeing all the virgin plastic, all wrapped and twist-tied. Ah, good times. On the other hand, my folks bought three new laptops a couple weeks ago, and promptly informed me that they had no idea what ther WPA key was, where their driver disks were, and what files they wanted off their old machines. That meant hunting down a paper clip to hard reset the router, a bunch of driver downloads, and massive backups. Sigh…

  4. Step 4: My old computer is totally one of those dig-out homes. My mind is kind of like that too. When I bought a new machine, I just left the old stuff on the old one. It was too much to cope with. Julia, what kind of zines do you make?

  5. Julia, I\’d love to see your zine! I realize that scanning and posting it kind of takes the \”zine\” out of the zine, but I\’d love to see.Olivander, I\’ve got the red one, mainly because its strange sparkliness reminds me of a tuck-and-roll upholstered booth back at the Cinderella Cafe, circa 1960-something. Yowza.Mike! What\’s this about a paperclip? Don\’t tell me you have some 20-second fix for my 45-minute wireless router problem. I could cry.Strikethru, most of the time my computer crashes and the lost files are casualties of an undeclared war. Sifting through and deleting is a luxury.

  6. Strikethru, I make all sorts of zines. This one's called Note To Self, and is a reflection on high school and the wisdom I've gained during it. Monda, I was planning on scanning it as soon as I can figure out how to make my scanner stop sucking so hard. But as-is, everything I scan is a hair blurry/pixelly and just gross looking no matter what settings I put it on. It's why typecasting is futile at this point. I think I need to turn up the DPI or something, or call my boyfriend to fix it. He knows these things. I'll have links when it gets scanned though. It's difficult being a zinester anymore in the old-school sense of the word cuz of the world's shift away from print media of all types, but there are still a few of us. And those that don't embrace the digital age to some extent and offer scans or arrange trades online are essentially doomed to whatever audience they can find in their local high school and/or coffee shops–which if it's anything like mine, is quite limited. Point of the comment is, I offer real paper copies, of a free zine, shipped free, to anybody that cares to send me their address. Yes, it loses money, but it keeps the art form alive.

  7. I think you're right about the DPI, Julia. Your scanner may also be doing some kind of auto-sizing that needs to go away. You might think about setting up your zine on Etsy someday. I've seen a few on there. In the meantime, email me at and I'll trade a lit magazine for one of your zines.Deal?

  8. I think I'm just gonna call Brett on it, we have all day to kill on Friday and he loves this techno-voodoo stuff. And he made his own scanner stop sucking, haha. Emailing now cuz that's an awesome deal.

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