The new year and a bit of a holiday lull has given me the chance to work on several different projects around here. I'll have a new article out early next week, for one. But I've also spent some time setting up/cleaning up computers for my family members, which has become a bit of a Christmas tradition around here.

We gave my dad an 802.11b router and adapter for his laptop for Christmas, so I spent part of Christmas day making that work. The experience of using his laptop, which is a 500MHz Celeron system with 192MB RAM and Win98, convinced me once and for all that I needed to¬ófinally¬óreformat the thing and start over with WinXP. He'd had some trouble with XP's upgrade routine from Win98, so I brought the system into Damage Labs for a once-over. I was able to shoehorn WinXP onto it without too much drama, and the transformation of this system was remarkable. XP's boot and app-loading optimizations do wonders for older hardware, and WinXP fixes so many of the things about Win98 that were horribly broken, including the need to reboot fives times per driver install. Not only that, but ClearType raised the effective resolution of the laptop's LCD, and XP's ability to suspend to disk (hibernate) and reawaken quickly made the idea of popping online to check e-mail quickly a reality. It's amazing what happens when you banish six-minute boot times.

Wi-Fi, meanwhile, transmogrified the chassis of this tethered old Celeron notebook into a sleek, 21st-century portable computing device. Gone is the nasty RJ-45 wart for Ethernet, along with the Ethernet cable, and the power cable, for good measure. Once I unplugged everything, the system seemed, as if by magic, to grow a half-inch thinner and shed three pounds of weight. Now this sleek little portable works better on the kitchen table or the couch than it did chained to its usual desktop location before.

Bottom line: add WinXP and Wi-Fi to old laptop hardware of the right vintage, and you get instant rejuvenation.

Of course, I'm typing to you myself from the kitchen counter via Wi-Fi and my spiffy Compaq X1000 laptop with Radeon 9200 graphics. Err.. 9000, really, I guess. Will ATI ever learn not to play these goofy branding games? Sigh.

My other project lately has been getting my kids' computer working better for them. They have a number of kiddie games on CD-ROM, and that number multiplied over Christmas, as has the number of children in our household old enough to want to play games. Having watched my two-year-old daughter handle CDs a few times recently, I decided a change was in order. So I installed some virtual CD software and used it to create images of all the kiddie-game CDs on the hard drive. (That makes it sound too easy. I first spent a good amount of time cleaning the goo off the surface of the CDs so I could be sure the drive could read them.) Now, the kids' PC has something like 11 drive letters, no CD swapping is necessary to run any of the games, and they all load faster. Setting up this sort of thing may seem obvious to tech-adept folks with sane schedules, but I've just never had the chance to do it given my crazy schedule. (For myself, I've generally just used no-CD cracks on the games I've bought, because I like that DMCA-busting charge I get out of it.) For 2004, though, the Blue's Clues games around here will be magically accelerated.

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