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Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Week With Some Computer Problems

If you work with computers, then you have had computer problems. Or you will! There is no escaping computer problems when you work with computers.

Most of my computer problems are self-made. I program computers for a living. As the saying goes, the computer is always right. Programmers are sometimes right. You can't argue with a computer. If it does something wrong, it is because you told it to do something wrong, not because it wants to do something wrong. So, when the computer is right and I am wrong, it is time for me to get into the deep and dark corners of my computer program and drive out the gremlins hiding there.

This past week, was gremlin-fest in program-ville. Especially programs-written-by-me-ville! The troubles started early in the week. The users of my programs are not very technical folks. Most of them have trouble finding their way around a spreadsheet (and I am talking about a spreadsheet with no macros or VBA or anything like that!). So, when something goes wrong with a program I wrote and support, they have no idea how to explain it in technical terms.

When the call comes in to me from the user, the symptoms are almost invariably as follows: The program is doing something wrong. It can take a bit of time for the user to explain to me how he came to that conclusion. If it is a good day for me, the user's conclusion is somehow wrong and I am able to explain that the result produced by the program is the correct result. At least I am able to convince the user that the result is what would be expected given the requirements of the program. That may then lead to the requirements being changed or added to, but at least I don't have to fix anything right away.

This week did not have any good days, unfortunately. I got a call on Monday morning, bright and early. It took a while to figure out what the problem was, but after a bit of investigating, the gremlin showed itself and I gave it the boot. Then another problem showed up on Wednesday. That problem is still being investigated because the users used a set of data to run the program on Tuesday evening that produced bad results. They have not been able to recreate bad results from other data they have had access to since then, and they did not think to save the data that produced the bad results right away. We may have to chalk it up to a gremlin that was passing through my program rather than planning on staying.

Hopefully, there will be no new problems in the coming week, and I can look back on this week and muse about how I earned my full 40 hours of pay, at least for that week!

But gremlins were afoot in other parts of the computing world too last week. My work computer usually stays on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for weeks on end. I don't like logging off all the systems I am logged onto at the end of each day and then logging back on at the beginning of each day. So, I leave my computer on at the end of each day, and when I come in to work in the morning, I pick up right where I left off the previous evening.

This week, for some reason, my email program (Microsoft Outlook, for those that are curious) started misbehaving. It stopped popping up reminders for the meetings in my calendar. I almost missed a couple of meetings because of this. I also noticed that even though I had set my computer up to lock itself after no keyboard or mouse inputs for 10 minutes, it did not do that. For some reason, my computer was lost in some timeless wasteland in the computing world!

In most cases, such lapses by the computer are easily rectified by rebooting the computer. So, when I left for home on Friday, I shut the computer down completely. I will restart it Monday morning and hopefully, the gremlins that have been plaguing it would have starved to death or otherwise decided to leave for warmer and more charged regions of the computing universe.

But things were a little funky at home too. I have three laptop computers at home. One of them is the first laptop I bought about 8 years back. Until then, I had used desktop computers, but I eventually tired of the incessant mess of wires and cords running every which way under the desk. So, I got rid of my desktop and bought a new Toshiba laptop using ebay.

Then a couple of years later, I bought another Toshiba laptop off ebay. My wife and I decided we each needed our own computers, hence the second computer. After a while, I ran out of disk space on this second laptop because I digitized all my video recordings on it. It was time for me to get another laptop and relegate this to a common computer that the kids could use. So, I bought a Gateway laptop with a 100 GB hard drive (the biggest available for laptops at that time).

Everything was fine for a while, but eventually, the second Toshiba's charger connection stopped working one fine day. Since the two Toshiba's used different batteries, there was no way to keep them both charged using one charger. The computer repair shop I took it to wanted $300 to replace the entire motherboard on the computer. I decided it had come to the end of its useful life.

So, I sold that computer on ebay for parts and bought an Acer laptop on sale for a ridiculously low price ($400 after all rebates were figured in). Everything seemed to be fine for a little while, but suddenly one fine day, the Gateway laptop's display went black. The backlight had failed on it. I was pretty close to running out of disk space on that computer too, so it was back to the shopping board for me.

This time, I got a Dell with a 250 GB hard drive. This computer I use as my personal laptop. The Acer is used as a common laptop in the living room by the kids. My wife continues to use the first laptop we bought even though it is showing its age. This week, it had more than its usual share of troubles as I got stuck repeatedly while browsing websites and was very slow overall.

I had to take it over for a good 2 hours, play around with every setting on it several times and reboot it a few dozen times to get it to work decently. My wife will be testing it out in the coming week to see if it continues working properly after this working over. She has a soft spot in her heart for this computer for some reason. It does not even have wireless internet, so it is wired to our home router pretty much on a permanent basis.

It is surprising that this computer has outlasted pretty much every other laptop that came into my home after it in the last 8 years. It has never had serious problems, and though it is slow, it works fine most of the time. If this week's troubles are the beginning of the end for this computer, it will certainly be missed.

Even though its LCD screen is the oldest, my wife and I agree that it looks the best among not just the computers we own right now, but among all the laptops we have owned, ever! And my work laptop is no exception to this either. The colors are bright and vibrant, and videos and movies look so much better on this laptop's screen than they do on the screens of the other laptops at home and work. The sound from the speakers on this computer is much clearer and better-sounding too. I thought technology was supposed to make things better, but I guess this is one more way computers can end up frustrating you! As manufacturers cut costs to make sure people get their technology fix for cheaper and cheaper, quality goes out the door too!!

I guess that is enough about my computer troubles for now. At least none of them affected my blog posting much. I published another post on Access, a short story and another lesson on Vedic Mathematics. After that came a post on PC Keyboards, and then a post on humorous warning signs.

My flag counter hit the magic number 100 this week. More countries keep coming to my blog for whatever reason, the latest being a visit from El Salvador. Maybe 100 is really the magic number where it all stops. Whether it does or not, I will let you know how it went next week! For now, there are chores to take care of, and I have to get ready to go to work for another week of nose to the grindstone!

1 comment:

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