25 April 2009

American Expatriate takes on a Russian computer...who will win?

Russian Vista Adventures

Part 1
the search!

Leaving America, we bought a Compaq Presario laptop at Flemington Staples. It lasted from May 2000 to September 2008... not bad. It's wiring gave up the ghost, and we began shopping for another. The only category of shopping items much more expensive here than in the states is technological, such as computers... which are cheaper than in 2000, but still my purchase set us back around $750.00.

My list of must haves included webcam, Microsoft platform, and English operating system.

A trusted friend said to stay away from Samsung, and be sure to buy an English operating system. Easier said than done! We shopped Mediamart (expensive), Kay (better prices) and Techno Cila (best prices for the best selection... with tricky rebate card).

We studied the advertising circulars, made phone calls, talked to people. The result? We couldn't find any English speaking laptop for sale in all of St Petersburg!

I was eager to connect to the internet after being away at the village and having problems with the old computer before and after the summer. One option was to get a laptop shipped from America, another to have an English operating system loaded by download or disc. These options were chancy as a shipment could be damaged or stolen, and a new program a corrupted or pirated one.

Finally I decided to buy the computer with all the features I wanted, except language. After all, I had been reading Russian for nine years, and have an intelligent Russian wife. With this path the computer would be in our home and working within a day or two... and my technical Russian was bound to improve!

Russian Vista Adventures...
Part 2
the keyboard

Back in New Jersey in early 2000 I had the both sinking and exhilerating feeling that soon we would have to leave everything behind and fly to Russia. I liked visiting the Russian section of Brooklyn, and one night there we bought a Russian keyboard.

Looking back it should have been obvious that the keyboard would be imperfect as people love to swindle there, but it was good enough for learning how to type a little in Russki. I used it in St Petersburg until I found it was easier to switch languages and follow the smaller letters on the Compaq keyboard.

While typing a Russian English computer glossary, I have noticed how very different the keyboard layout is for Russian. Why? It goes all the way back to the several inventions of the typewriter in the 1870s.

Mechanical typewriters often get keys stuck, and the QWERTY keyboard... an acronym for the first five letters on the top row... was designed so frequent stroke keys were unlikely to hit near each other and jam. Cyrillic typewriters were designed later when jamming was less of a problem, so the Russian keyboard has frequently used letters in the center. Cyrillic has 34 letters, English 26, so some of the infrequent Cyrillic symbols are located on the same keys that carry punctuation marks.

Recently I was grumbling it would be much easier to type Russian if all the English and Russian letters matched, instead of just the soft c. But a letter may be used less in Russian, or the other way around. Remember, some letters have different values, or pronunciation, and are used in different ways. When typing Russian I try to think of this layout as sensible and push away memories of the Latin QUERTY keyboard.

Russian Vista Adventures...
Part 3
surviving with some help from Google

The first few weeks with a Russian operating system were difficult, especially for my wife Larisssa. I had experience with computers, she with Russian, but the application of Russian with computers often veers off from standard usage... so we were often at an inpass with the commands and explanations. My salvation was using Google!

By entering well phrased questions as to what I wanted to do on the computer, I was able to get some clear answers from English internet computer help blogs which I then followed, sometimes guessing at the Russian on my computer.

I hate the automatic cursor which clicks, deletes, and travels where you don't want to go. This innovation is a blessing for some users but a curse for me. I want a cursor that only does what I mechanically click it to do!

Solving the Automatic Cursor Curse has taken months but finally I think I have killed it! With commands and explanations in another language, you have two hurdles to clear instead of one. It's hard enough for a 66 year old to compute, without having to first, and often simultaneously, translate the ersatz Russian of computer speak!

I have six cards for компьютерная помощь на дому, computer help in your home, collected from bulletin boards, shops, and the metro. Instead of getting some help, I fix the problems myself as I used to do with my taxes. I realized it would take a long time trying to explain my computer problems from English to Russian, and the fix might not be what I needed.

So, what is the best way to deal with foreign computers? My best advice is to get a computer in your own first language. A foreign operating system works for me only because I have the time, interest, and perseverance to figure out with Google's help the commands and problems of my Russki computer.

Plan ahead and arrange to have an English speaking computer from the get go!

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