By David Shapiro

Monday, August 26, 1996

Laboring hours
to save a few minutes

I'm not obsessive - except when it comes to my computer. Every little thing has to be just so. I demand maximum speed from every application. I justify it on the grounds that I'm a busy guy and I need every minute I save when the computer is humming perfectly.

The flaw in my logic is that I waste hours tweaking the brute trying to gain a few seconds in performance time. I fail as often as I succeed. It makes me insane.

Last year, I was delighted to get a new PC with a speedy Pentium processor. Where my old computer took a minute to open a word-processing document, this baby did it in 10 or 15 seconds.

Then the speed began to degrade. It started taking 15 or 20 seconds to open the word processor. Then 20 or 25 seconds. I became possessed. I ran Scandisk. I defragged. I tinkered with the swap file. No improvement.

Finally, in a fit of frustration, I copied my data files, reformatted the hard drive and reinstalled the operating system and all the programs. It got it back to 15 or 20 seconds.

I figure I open my word processor an average of three times a day. So I saved myself 15 seconds a day, a minute and 15 seconds a week and an hour and five minutes a year. And all it took to achieve that was two weeks of sporadic fretting and puttering followed by a solid half-day of reformatting and reinstalling.

I ought to patent that thought process.

More recently, the PC stopped giving me the option to save my password for my Internet connection. It meant the password no longer would automatically appear when I logged on to the Internet. I had to type it in.

I spent most of the afternoon and all evening trying to figure out what was wrong. All to save the two seconds it takes to type in my password - four seconds a day, 20 seconds a week, 17 minutes a year.

I gave up and forgot about it for a couple of weeks. My new concern was that my Internet provider changed its access phone number and the new number didn't work with the old configuration on my computer.

I spent a fair amount of my vacation going back and forth with the provider's technicians trying to figure out the problem. The information they gave me was half good and I figured out the other half and got it running.

When I returned to work, my boss was having the same problem so I wrote him instructions on how I fixed it.

A half-hour later he called. 'Funny thing about these instructions you gave me,' he said. 'When I try to log on my password shows up in the 'user name' box and nothing shows up in the password box.'

I didn't fear retribution, but he's a nice guy and I felt bad about giving him a bum steer. So I stayed up half the night trying to figure out what was wrong. I couldn't find a clue.

THE next morning he called. 'I don't know what was wrong, but the next time I tried to log on it went away by itself,' he said. 'It's working fine now.'

What's that they say about never being able to make up for a lost night of sleep?

His problem with the login box got me thinking again about why my password won't appear automatically. I've checked the properties, the dial-up networking connection and the Internet setup in the control panel.

I don't know how far I'll go to save those two seconds of login time. Meantime, I lay in bed every night with a TV commercial playing over and over in my mind. The one where someone shouts from the back of the room, 'Get a Mac.'

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at
Volcanic Ash runs every Saturday in the Star-Bulletin.

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