Thursday, December 20, 2007

OK, I'm giving up -- Oy vey Vista

I tried. Lord knows, I've tried. I took a perfectly decent Windows XP Professional set up and applied an "upgrade" using Vista Home Premium Academic Upgrade. Ever since that moment, sometime in spring 2007, my very decent Core 2 Duo, RAID0 arrayed, HP digital media desktop has given me nothing but heartache.

But I like the challenge, that's why I do these things. You see, I fancy myself a bit of the techy wonk. I'm the guy people call -- offering the requisite bottle of single malt in exchange for an actual paycheck -- to come over and fix their computer problems. (One time I actually was able to "fix" someone's lack of connection to the internet by placing her Ethernet wire in the ethernet jack, because she had loosely inerted the wire in the phone jack on the modem card).

To put it simply, I know how to troubleshoot.

Sometimes I will discover a recently applied update to Vista will cause something to misbehave. No problem -- I've been using System Restore for years without any serious problems. Just to make sure, I recently bought a USB hard drive and Norton Ghost 12.0 (even though I despise Norton products) to make certain I've got a backup in case everything catastrophically fails.

Well, yesterday afternoon, in a cascade of minor compounding stumbles, everything catastrophically failed. It all started when I noticed that my system font seemed "funny." I rebooted. Same weird font appearance. Then I looked at the recently applied updates (I learned about a month ago to quit automatically upgrading Vista -- now I look at the pushed files one at a time and only selectively update my installation). I decide to use System Restore to bring my computer back to the state it was in 4 days ago. And then all hell broke loose. When the time travel "restoration" was finished, my user account files (with my administrator level password) were gone; there was no way to enter my operating system and no way to turn the clock back. I was cooked. Thank God, said I to myself, I had started using Ghost!

And guess what? Norton Ghost 12.0 doesn't restore my computer. I've reached a point now where -- having decided, a la the funny Mac commercials, to downgrade back to Windows XP -- I can't even install Windows XP. The nice polite on-line support guy at Norton (named David -- is that an Anglicization for Devdas?) told me to essentially wipe out my partition table. Sounded reasonable. Now I can't even format my hard drives. I think my Master Boot Record is a goner. Essentially, I've now got a 35-pound fan with little lights. OK, I do have all my data on the USB hard drive, which I'm starting to move over to my laptop (ironically pre-loaded with Vista). But the experiment with Vista is now officially over.

Avi, you were right.

Update (Dec. 26): I had a set of system restoration DVDs which brought me back to the pristine Windows XP Media Center system I got when I bought my desktop. It took a few days, and it turned out the Norton Ghost files were very useful, but I am now running everything just fine under XP. There is no doubt in my mind that Vista is a disaster, akin to the unspeakable piece of crap that was Windows ME. Lesson learned: never try upgrading to Vista. I guess if it comes pre-installed it might not be that bad (as in my new laptop) -- and I do miss the much better Search Files function and Widgets in Vista -- but I'll do without, just happy to be back in business.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


You've got to see the new Bollywood block-party Om Shanti Om, starring SRK/King Khan in a role that plays to his comic side perfectly. OSO is a love poem and parody of Bollywood in the late `70s, with a ridiculous set of plot contrivances and an only mediocre musical score. But, oh! the dancing, the "special appearances," the send up of the first-day shooting ceremony, the Filmfare Awards event (making fun of Abishek, Hrithik, and DDLJ), the CD release party! So filmi!

I just received from eBay via India a perfectly preserved humongous Hindi film poster of my all-time favorite SRK extravaganza, Veer-Zaara. I can't wait to have it framed -- it will be the dominant hanging in the living room.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mike Zoss Pharmacy

I finally got a chance to see the much-heralded No Country for Old Men yesterday. Expertly crafted, it had just a bit too much home-spun meandering for my tastes, probably because Texan is a foreign language to me. But in the theater I immediately perked up when a scene took place in front of a drugstore (supposedly deep in Texas) with the sign "Mike Zoss Pharmacy." For those of us who grew up in a certain part of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, Mike Zoss Drugs was an amazing drugstore, situated just down a strip mall called Texa-Tonka Shopping Center, and not far from Penny's Grocery Store where my mom shopped (The picture shows the ethnic restaurant that now is situated where Mike Zoss Drugs once stood). Zoss Drugs was nothing like the chain drugstores of our modern times. Can you imagine today buying plastic model airplanes and battleships (and all the requisite paints, thinners, and brushes) at a CVS?

Those Coen brothers are always dropping little things into their movies from St. Louis Park. And now they are slated to make a new movie, their first full-scale return to Minnesota since Fargo (1996), currently entitled "A Serious Man," to be set in Jewish St. Louis Park in the summer of 1967 -- no frigid snow swept long shots in this movie. The movie is set to shoot beginning April, 2008. Reports the Minneapolis StarTribune: "Their film concerns a university professor in midlife crisis seeking answers from a succession of rabbis. 'He's going through problems with his kids, his wife and his marital relations' as a sunbathing neighbor attracts his eye,' Joel said. 'The character and the story are completely made up, but it's drawn directly from experience' from the local Hebrew school the brothers attended as kids to the mid-century office buildings and neighborhoods along Hwy. 12."

I'd love to tell the Coen brothers a story or two from the summer of 1967. My Bar Mitzvah was June 10, 1967, and it was the practice of my Rabbi to insist that Bar Mitzvah boys would attend morning services the week preceding their grand event in order to learn how to properly put on tefillin. So on the morning of June 5, I awoke early to the local CBS radio affiliate, the powerhouse WCCO, to listen to the price of hog belly futures at the St. Paul Stockyards interspersed with garbled reports of distant Israeli attacks in the Sinai's Mitla Pass. At the time, I had no idea how important those far-away mispronounced Middle Eastern geographical terms would become in my life, but I will never forget the bizarre juxtaposition of farm reports and battle descriptions. It changed my life. My subsequent obsession with all things Minnesotan and all things Israeli (which has been represented throughout my blog) was probably unconsciously fixed that week in June 1967.

So here it is: an open offer --

Dear Joel and Ethan,
Joel, I'm the same age as you. We went to school together. I went to the Talmud Torah, just like you. I hung out at Zoss Drugs, and Texa-Tonka Lanes, just like you. And before the grocery store at Texa-Tonka Shopping Center became a Red Owl, it was a Penny's. My Bar Mitzvah occurred in the summer of 1967. I'm now a professor of Jewish Studies, specializing in Kabbalah. (I hear you already have a scene involving a dybbuk -- I worked briefly with Tony Kushner as technical advisor to the Hartford premiere of his re-working of Ansky's The Dybbuk). I've got the summer free. I've got funny stories to tell, including stories galore about the local rabbis. Do you need a technical advisor? I'm available.