Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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Chapel Hill, NC, United States

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Monday, August 24, 2009

The Geek Squad

On Sunday, after cleaning up from the cookout/party the night before, I received a somewhat distressed phone call from composer Ezra Sims.

He explained that his five-year old IBM ThinkPad computer is on its' last legs and quickly dying. No smoke yet, but the fan appeared to stop working and it was generating excessive heat.

Sounding rather despondent, Ezra explained that he needed to get the notebook repaired or to purchase a new one ASAP. Frankly, he was in a state of panic and I could immediately relate to his feeling of helplessness. These days, a composer without a computer and Internet access is like a fish out of water. I suspect that the recent heat wave we have been having was a contributing factor as well.

I hopped into my Honda and dashed over to his pad in Cambridge where we then strolled two blocks over to BestBuy at the Galleria Mall to see what they could do for him.

His mission was to discuss his repair or purchase options with a representative of the "Geek Squad" and take appropriate action. My role was to function as his 3rd-party independent computer consultant, translator, and cultural ambassador. I think I was also summoned to act as psychological proxy, since buying modern technology is a daunting task for anyone. It's a major purchase for Ezra, and it involves change and lots of stress.

As Ezra will readily admit, he is in his 80s and could benefit from assistance on some matters. He was concerned that he would have trouble relating to the 20-somethings from the Geek Squad, since the young people wearing the blue shirts on the BestBuy sales floor seem prone to ramble on in an unknown alien language. They are make assumptions about what you need, and jump to premature conclusions. Whatever the language, the Geeks talk rapidly and converse at a decibel level that is far too soft for Ezra to hear. Even in the best of circumstances it would be difficult to hear what they are saying over the blaring rock music the store pipes in through the public address system.

First we brought his terminally ill notebook to the Geek Squad ER for triage. A nice Russian fellow delivered the grim news. It didn't have much life left in it, repairs would be expensive and "not virth it."

Facing reality, Ezra decided to purchase a new PC. The Russian guy referred us to a young fellow with long dark hair who works on the sales floor wearing the requisite blue BestBuy polo shirt. We had a little trouble understanding the sales associate at first because of his tongue ring.

The technical sales guy was very patient with us, and looked at Ezra in amazement as he explained what he needed a computer for. Ezra talked to him about the early days of computing at Marvin Minsky's original MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, and about the one of a kind MS DOS-based microtonal sound synthesis program he would be using on the new notebook. Ezra is also dependent on the IBM "TrackPoint" pointer, and that narrowed down his selection.

IBM ThinkPads are now manufactured in China by Lenovo, and the business division of BestBuy sells them online. The Lenovo product line is not available in the store, but the sales associate led us to a computer monitor where he looked up and displayed nearly 300 options and standard configurations. Ultimately, Ezra, the sales associate, and myself narrowed it down to a model that fits Ezra's modest budget. It comes with Windows XP and appears to have all of the features he will need. Ezra entered his customer information into the webpage at the store, and was told that the notebook will be shipped directly to his apartment.

The next phase of this story will occur later in the week when I head over to assist Ezra in transferring his old programs and data from the dying computer to the new one. It will be interesting to see how easily that goes.