The Saga of the Laptop

The computer I use to do pretty much 100% of my writing I won through a contest at work (I love free stuff) about 8 years ago. My iPhone4 has a faster processor and more memory, but it has done me well for a long while, so I dealt with its limitations.

1. Being as old as it is, the screen is one of those old-style, almost-square liquid crystal dealies. While my daughter enjoys how the screen reacts when you touch it, it cuts off the right-hand side of websites so, when I’m doing research or relaxing a minute between chapters, I spend more time scrolling left and right than I do anything else.

2. There’s something lodged under the 2 key, so it gets tempermental sometimes, a particularly annoying trait when I’m filling out forms on-line given there are four 2s in my ten digit phone number.

3. If I have more than one program or more than one website open at a time, the thing slows down to the pace of a snail crawling uphill in a stream of molasses in January (no, I’m not sure why a snail would attempt such tom-foolery).

So I finally decided to take the plunge and get a new laptop. I went to my local Future Shop (see? I am Canadian!) and shopped around with the help of a rather un-helpful sales representative. (In my day job, I train sales people, so my expectations are rather high and I’m often disappointed). After tapping a few keys, comparing features and prices, I decided to go with the least expensive model with the most features (fastest processor, biggest hard drive, most RAM) and walked out with an Acer laptop with a 15.6″ screen and full-sized keyboard with numeric keypad. This wasn’t exactly what I wanted because my computer case spends a considerable amount of time haging from my shoulder. I wanted something lighter this time around but felt I couldn’t pass up the deal.

The next day I sat down with my new computer, happy and invigorated, ready to write  and research and enjoy the whole experience on a brand new level.

But wait… the addition of a numeric keypad means the keyboard is off-set to the left of the screen. A small thing, to be sure, so I experimented. Angle my wrists… no good. Move the computer a couple of inches (that term is for my U.S. readers) to the right… looks a little awkward, but I can deal with it. I begin writing and it doesn’t take long for me to see the laptop’s fatal flaw: the left-hand shift key is a single-size button. On my previous computer, as well as the iMac I use at home and the desktop I use at work, it’s a double. Beside the shift on this new laptop is a slash. /

Every time I try to capitalize, I end up with a slash. /

I sit back in my chair, take a deep breath, delete the slash and carefully re-type the capital. Again. “I can do this,” I tell myself. I’m a reasonably intelligent, forty-something man: I don’t fall into that old dog/new tricks category. Not yet.

Do I? I try again. I delete more slashes, correct more capitals. Did I mention the delete button is in a different place than on my last computer, so even the act of correction requires more attention than usual? Try, delete, correct. Try, delete, correct. Slam the computer closed.

I didn’t give up. For another week I hammered away, usually angrily, and when I slashed again and again, I barked and growled and then sat up and shook a paw, just like I always do. And then I made the decision to return it.

Now you may have the same reaction my wife did: “It’s a silly reason to take it back.”

Let’s look a little deeper. In the last four years, I have written three and a half novels. The combined word count of these alone is around 410,000 words (and that only considers one draft and leaves out the 6 short stories I’ve also written). I read somewhere recently that the average sentence runs 35 words (though that sounds long to me). Using these number to extrapolate, I’ve hit the shift key on my computer 11714 times, and that’s not taking into account proper nouns, multiple drafts, blog entries, emails, etc.

I use the left shift key for 80%+ of my capitalizations. That is one ingrained habit. Is there anything else in my life other than breathing I’ve done over 10,000 times? Blinking, too, I guess, but no one has asked my to try breathing or blinking in a different manner. “Blink more with your right eye, Bruce.” Not happening.

As you might guess from the lack of / beginning sentences in this blog, I returned the computer and switched back to the old dinosaur…for now. The shopping began anew and, I’m sorry to say, the majority of laptops in production these days have that tiny shift key. That annoying, frustrating, time-consuming shift key.

But there is good news. It turns out there is one company that appears to still believe in the double-sized shift key: Dell. (I say appears because I’ve only seen pictures of them, not actually touched one of the new line of Inspirions). So I ordered one, ended up spending twice what my budget was supposed to be, but I’m getting a 14″ screen to make it more portable, and more RAM, and a faster processor, and a bigger hard drive.

And a proper shift key, if the advertising is accurate.

Soon this old dinosaur of a laptop will get handed down to my daughter, to live out its final days writing stories about Leo the Lion or surfing the Webkinz site, continuing its duties though I’ve moved on. It’s been good to me, seen plots and characters, excitement and failure.

Did I mention the old dinosaur laptop is a Dell?

Same old dog, same old tricks.

(There are 156 uses of the left-hand shift key in this post)

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