Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

Next Week's Column: Computing the Cost of Christmas


I don’t like to spend money. I don’t even like to spend money when I know I should, such as paying someone to do home repairs, instead of paying the recovery and restoration people later. I’m well aware that you’re sometimes money ahead to pay for something now, rather than pay more later -- I just don’t like it.

Guess I wouldn’t survive long in Congress with that kind of attitude, would I?

Still, I don’t skimp on Christmas, because it’s fun to give loved ones neat stuff. The official term is “tis better to give than to receive”, which works well for gifts if not for organ donations. My finances can be sparse, but I usually manage to find, among other things, a family Christmas present – something everyone in the house can enjoy, like a DVD player, or a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Now, the company I work for gives longevity pay, which employees earn on their anniversary date. This is a great thing from a standpoint of both retaining experienced employees, and giving them a bit of a reward for just plain surviving. My anniversary date is December 13; usually I get the check just after Christmas, too late to spread holiday cheer but in time to cover heat and electric bills.

I like Christmas lights – I even like my inflatable Santa (Did anybody notice the ax I stuck in the ground at his feet this year?) But between the extra lights and the whole not freezing to death thing, January bills can be pretty high. February’s even worse, because by early January I get tired of trying to save money and at some point run sobbing to the thermostat and crank the temperature back up to where I want it. This is how I spend my longevity pay.

But this year the stars aligned just so, and the check arrived before Christmas. You know what I was thinking. I know you know. You know I knew I’d suffer later, when the gas company started sending me extra mail with big red letters on it. But I couldn’t help myself.

It was at this point that I started rationalizing. We’re an online family. My youngest and I – and sometimes my oldest, too – fight over the only computer in the house that’s capable of going online. We all do research, have internet friends, zap e-mails back and forth, and look up the meanings of words as if we didn’t have a dozen dictionaries in the house. That one computer was once a laptop, but due to a broken hinge must remain connected to a BHM (Big Honkin’ Monitor) and so has become a very expensive desktop model.
It’s five years old, which in my old-fashioned Hoosier mind is nowhere near the limits of its useful life. But it’s a computer, and in computer years it’s a model that has to be fed hay and have its stall mucked. But that’s not all: As a writer, I can deduct a computer from my income tax, for a certain number of years. My old Mac has outlived that usable life, too.

So a new computer could make us portable again, cut down on wrestling for the office chair, and save me a mint on taxes. Can I rationalize, or what?

I got a great buy on it, yet it still cost me half my longevity check. I figure I’ll be okay during January, but by February having a computer with its own battery might make it the only working electronic item in the house. At least, until the battery goes dead. (On the brighter side, those things also generate heat.)
I’m still a little stunned by the improvements in computers over the years. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but stay with me while I let the geeks among you know how good (or not) our new laptop is:

The new computer is an evil Bill Gates Windows machine (so Jillian can use certain Windows-only learning software and, lets face it, SIMS 2). It’s the first new non-Mac I’ve ever allowed in my home, and it makes me feel a little dirty. However, Macs are more expensive and I’m on a budget, so maybe an iBook for my next purchase – in another five years.

Now, computer hard drives are measured in gigabytes, which are, of course, a zillion bytes. This laptop is the smallest we could find brand new, and is 80 gigs; my old laptop, which was built for someone who doesn’t like well rounded numbers, is 44 gigs. My original computer, a Model T desktop that was bought less than fifteen years ago, was so small it couldn’t be measured in gigabytes: It was half a gig.

RAM is neither a rugged truck nor an animal, but a type of memory that your computer needs to do its job – my first computer had 96 megs of memory – that’s two hundred million thousand bytes, or something. The box on the new computer advertised it as having 515 megs of memory, but on checking the system after firing it up, I discovered it actually has twice that. This is me, not complaining.

This laptop – a portable computer, mind you – has a 15 inch screen. I was in my late twenties before I had a television with a screen that big.

It also has a DVD drive, which means you can watch – or record – movies right on the thing. It’s official: We can live in our car.

You know what it couldn’t do? Word processing. Yeah. I couldn’t write my column on it, until I got extra world processing software. Right out of the box you can actually make a movie on this computer: You can download the video, edit it, do a music score, dub in sound effects, then plug it into a projector and show the movie right on it, but you couldn’t type.

That’s extra.

Tags: new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column
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