Some assembly required

November 16, 1998|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

Setting up a computer can be hard work.

Hooking up the wires and cabling, getting Windows 98 to run without crashing, installing a printer and establishing an Internet account can eat up lot of time and energy.

But they're nothing compared to the hassle of assembling the (expletive) computer desk you bought so you'd have somewhere to put the PC. I lived through this waking nightmare last week when I went PC shopping with my mother. Before we looked at our first computer, we stopped at a couple of stores to find a desk or table that would fit into the 36-inch-wide space she'd set aside in her apartment. (This may not seem like much room, but it's about as much as you're going to get in the domicile of a woman who's been collecting bric-a-brac since FDR was president).

Eventually we found the perfect home for her new machine - a 32-inch-wide unit with lower compartments for the system unit and printer, a slide-out keyboard tray, and monitor shelf topped by a hutch with a bookshelf and rack for CDs.

I began to have doubts at the checkout when the salesman wheeled out the desk on a cart - in a box about 3 feet long, 2 feet wide and 8 inches deep. This did not look like it could possibly contain the piece of furniture on the showroom floor. I worried a bit more when it took two beefy twentysomethings to muscle the box into the trunk of my Taurus.

Unfortunately, there were no twentysomethings around when we got our load back to Mom's condo - just middle-aged me. I won't go into the details of how I got the box out of the trunk and into her apartment, but it was not pretty. Mom, of course, kept saying that I was too old to be doing this, which of course made me feel a lot better about the whole thing. She also expressed surprise that I even knew some of the words that escaped my lips during the process.

But that was nothing compared to what I said when when I opened the box. Inside I found 20 slabs of laminated hardboard, and a couple of baggies containing 800 screws, nails, bolts, lock nuts, connectors, hinges, plastic flanges and wooden dowels. Not to mention a bottle of Elmer's glue and a 12-page booklet with assembly instructions in six languages, one of which appeared to be pidgin English.

After four hours of turning screws, nailing, hammering and swearing (punctuated by a trip to the hardware store for the right size Phillips screwdriver), we finally got the desk together. And I only had a half dozen parts left over.

If you're thinking of buying a computer for the holidays, take my experience to heart. Get a battery-powered screwdriver. Beg, borrow or steal a couple of well-muscled teen-agers. And to make sure you get the thing assembled in time, start working on it now.

Speaking of holidays, if you celebrate Hanukkah, check out a delightful, new, $15 CD-ROM called Digital Dreidel, which is available through the Baltimore Center for Jewish Education.

Produced by Maryland FrontDesk - a team of programmers, artists and musicians led by Richard Frankle of Owings Mills - Digital Dreidel tells the story of Hanukkah through the eyes of Ariel, a young girl who lives with her immigrant parents in New York in 1909.

You'll find plenty of beautifully illustrated Hanukkah tales, along with a variety games and crafts projects for the kids. But the most striking about this CD is the music - Hanukkah blessings and traditional songs sung by Cantor Kimberly L. Komrad of Temple Beth Israel in Owings Mills. Thanks to her clear, warm soprano, Hanukkah never sounded so good.

Digital Dreidel will run under Windows 3.1, Win 95/98 and Mac OS 7.1 or higher. You can order from the Center for Jewish Education at 410-578-6952 or surf to

Mysteries of Windows department: A friend who recently upgraded an old computer to Windows 95 told me he was having trouble with his desktop icons.

These are the little pictures that represent your favorite programs, folders and files. My friend had organized his in little groups that reflected the way he used his computer. Any time he wanted to move an icon, all he had to do was click on it with his mouse and drag it to a new location.

One night, after his wife had used the computer, he found his icons arranged in neat rows and columns - certainly not where he'd left them. When he tried to move them where he wanted them, they snapped right back into neat military formation.

"I'm going crazy with this," he said. "I couldn't find anything in the manuals. What can I do?"

Luckily, this was an easy one to solve. Windows is endlessly customizable, and it gives you two choices for arranging your icons. Let's call them "free spirit" and "anal-retentive."

If you put your cursor on a blank area of the desktop and click the right mouse button, a little menu will pop up. Move your cursor to the item labeled "Arrange Icons" and you'll bring up another menu with the words "Auto Arrange" at the bottom. If that item has a check mark next to it, your icons will automatically line up in straight rows. If it isn't checked, you can put your icons anywhere you want.

Auto Arrange is a toggle. If it isn't checked and you click on it, you'll turn it on, and vice-versa. My friend's wife had inadvertently found this menu and put the desktop in anal-retentive mode. Once he knew the trick, my free-sprited friend fixed it with a mouse click.

Pub Date: 11/16/98

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