James Cassell's Blog

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

An Unexpected Adventure

This past Saturday, I woke around noon to the sound of my cell phone. Strangely, it wasn't a telemarketer calling to tell me that the non-existent warranty on my non-existent car was about to expire. One of my friends was having a computer problem, the likes of which I had never heard before. One thing that I have noticed semi-recently is that it is difficult to troubleshoot an unknown computer problem over the phone. (If it's something I've run into before, that's a different story.)

Technical Aspect

Not that it will interest the reader, but I'll describe the symptoms of the problem anyway. (Maybe someone who has a solution will post it in a comment.) Windows Vista would boot fine to the login screen. After typing the password was when the problems started appearing. The "Welcome" message would show for a few seconds, then, when the desktop should have appeared, only a royal blue background appeared. At this point, the mouse was functional (i.e., it moved around,) but there was nothing to click on. It seemed as if explorer had never started. All of the normal approaches to diagnose such a problem (e.g., Ctrl+Alt+Del, Ctrl+Alt+Esc, etc.) were useless. I asked on IRC, but no one had any solutions. Neither did Google. As a side note, it would boot into safe mode.

Eventually, we were able to get the desktop to come up by going into msconfig and disabling all of the startup items as well as all of the (non-essential) services (as defined by msconfig.) Upon re-enabling the services, we were able to get a functional desktop for about one boot, but when we rebooted, the initial problem re-appeared.

I didn't want to try the same solution again because, as Einstein said, it is insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. My next suggestion would have been to get the computer re-imaged. We had been working on this problem for over five hours by this point, and I didn't want to send my friend away having wasted so much time. Since the Help Desk wouldn't be open until the following afternoon, I proposed another solution. Last year, I had taken a backup image of my computer the day that it was issued. I still had this backup, (that consisted of six DVDs,) and proposed that we do a restore from this image. We did so, followed by downloading all of the updates that had been released since. This second option took about six hours. The system was now in a pristine state.

Human Aspect

As can be inferred from the above, this ended up being an all-day event. Some may exclaim, "what a boring way to spend one's Saturday!" I look at it differently. In addition to the fact that "...we know that all things work together for good to them that love God..." (Romans 8:28, KJV), I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday than getting to better know my friends. In case you know nothing about humans, people don't sit and stare blankly at one another for more than eleven hours, while waiting for a computer to do its thing. Another of my friends joined us about half-way through, and hung out until the end. I met both of these friends at Silver Bay, where, many will agree, the best times since heading off to college, have taken place. This opinion was voiced several times through the day.

While this day may have been a bad day for the victim of the computer problem, it was one of the best days that I have had since returning to Rensselaer. The only thing that I would change about the day is my allowing the conversation to be steered to my planned activity for the day: sleeping into the late afternoon. This caused my friend to feel bad for waking me, and, in turn, made me feel guilty for causing this bad feeling. This could become a vicious circle. Aside from that, I'd say that the day was an excellent unexpected adventure!

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  • Your friends shouldn't feel bad about waking you up at noon on a Saturday. You would have been aroused from your sleep anyway by my call.

    Your Dad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 02 September, 2008 17:35  

  • Did you solve the problem?

    By Blogger V, at 03 September, 2008 21:56  

  • Yes and no.

    I solved it in the same way that the Gordian Knot was solved. I basically sidestepped and subsequently erased the problem, which isn't a solution any more than Alexander's cutting of the knot was a valid way to "undo" it. Both my solution and Alexander's were destructive. (Though I made sure that the destruction in my case was an acceptable loss.)

    So, to properly answer your question, I'll say that the problem no longer exists in the particular incarnation that I was trying to solve. I gained very little from my solution, and wouldn't have a spectific solution if I were to come across the same problem again.

    A very long answer to a very short question, I know. :)

    By Blogger James Cassell, at 03 September, 2008 22:07  

  • I looked up the longer version of the Gordian Knot story in case it interests anyone.

    By Blogger James Cassell, at 03 September, 2008 22:20  

  • Your outlook is very sweet and optimistic. People are lucky to have you as a friend!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 September, 2008 15:58  

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