The Shifted Librarian - Shifting Libraries at the speed of byte

On Being the Digital Job

September 15, 2002

Or, why I haven't emailed you back or blogged in weeks.

That's Job from the Bible, not the place where you go to work and get paid.

I swear this is a true (and continuing) story and that I'm not making any of this up.

The night of Sunday, August 4, I came downstairs from helping put the kids to bed to find my computer had frozen. It wouldn't boot back up. After trying all of the tricks I know, I gave up on the simple solutions and used the restore disks to re-install Windows. No go. It was late, so I went to sleep and the next night, I called tech support. Nothing the technician told me to do worked either, so he had me go to my older computer that's running Windows 98, boot it into DOS, and make a floppy boot disk. I do that, but the boot disk doesn't help on the newer computer running Windows ME. He tells me that I'll have to do a full restore and to call back if that doesn't do it. I do the full restore, and it still won't boot.

Meanwhile, I go back to boot up the old PC to read my email, and it won't boot out of DOS. That's two computers down now and wouldn't you know it, but that PC is no longer covered under the extended warranty. All I have left at this point is the laptop running Windows 2000. Thank heavens for the laptop. After a week of trying to fix the other two PCs and getting nowhere, I decide to blog from the laptop, so I install the Zip drive in order to copy my site over. Everything appears to go well, but when I reboot the laptop, I get an immediate error about an inaccessible boot device. Unplugging the ZIP drive doesn't help. It won't boot no matter what I try. Now all three computers in the house are down.

Around this time, we have some new carpet installed in the family room. While the installers are working, they break the plug off the subwoofer, leaving a piece of it embedded in the jack. Now sound won't come out of the stereo. Luckily the subwoofer is still under warranty, but it will take 7-10 days for it to be sent out, fixed, and returned. We're now out three computers and a stereo.

There's one working PC left in the house. It's a 166Mhz Packard Bell running Windows 95. It's the kids' computer, although they rarely use it anymore since it's not on the network and therefore doesn't have internet access. One day Kailee wants to play a CD-ROM game, so I hook it back up since it was taken apart and moved while the carpet was installed. I know you'll be surprised to hear this, but it wouldn't boot. We're now down four computers and a stereo. I'm ready to never touch an electronic device ever again, let alone a computer.

By now it's mid-August, and the techie at my home library is kind enough to fix the laptop. It's booting again, but it's the only working PC in the house. I become overly protective of it and forbid anyone else to use it. I know better than to try blogging on it again, so all I can do is read my email and surf.

While all of this is going on at home, we're going through a LAN migration at work. Suddenly it's my turn and my PC is migrated to Windows 2000, thereby breaking most of the software on it. It takes me a week to restore and re-install everything. I'm really starting to hate computers.

Back on the home front, as one device comes back up, another goes down. The 60-hour ReplayTV decides to stop working. I'm starting to get more than a little freaked out. I can't bear to even try working on it for 36 hours. All I can think of is that our house stands on a sacred burial ground and that I'm going to start hearing voices talking to me from the static on the TV. Eventually I switch out the ReplayTV with our other one, and it magically shapes up and starts working again. Maybe it heard the desperation in my voice, but I come down from the rooftop.

The subwoofer comes back, and it's working. We're now up a computer, a subwoofer, and a ReplayTV, but even reformatting the hard drive on my main PC and re-installing from the recovery disks isn't helping. I buy an upgrade version of Windows XP thinking it might be a software problem, but even this doesn't help.

Tech support finally decides that the problem is a bad hard drive and a bad video card. They send out one of each, and a technician appears on my doorstep several days later. He opens the boxes to discover that they've sent the wrong video card, but he goes ahead and installs the hard drive. We get Windows ME installed and it boots, but it has trouble upgrading to XP and it crashes. He finally get a successful install of XP, though, and he says he'll come back when they've sent the right video card. The next morning, the PC crashes again.

The new video card comes in, and the technician installs it. We start over and go back to using the Windows ME recovery disks. There are problems during the process, but eventually it does boot up. I let it run over night, and it's still going strong the next morning. I pull down my email that's been piling up on the AT&T server. The next day, the PC crashes and won't boot up again. It's taunting me, and I can't take it anymore. I can't even go near it for two whole days. Later, more calls to tech support, and now they finally tell me to take it in to the store for a diagnosis.

The next day, I take it in and the guy there tells me it's either a bad RAM chip or a bad memory slot. But he does some work and feels that he might have fixed it. He says to call him back if I experience any further problems. Of course, two days later, it crashes again and won't boot. I call the guy at the store, only to be told he won't be back for three days. I snap. I can't take it anymore. I've had it. I go out and buy a new PC.

I'd been considering this course of action for some time. I seriously considered getting a Mac, but discussions with a couple of Mac fanatics convinced me that I didn't have the time or money to invest in learning a Mac, moving files, and replacing software. I'm definitely not up for Linux, which leaves me facing Windows again, a most unappealing choice given my recent travils and the fact that I'd be getting a machine with Windows XP on it. I don't like the EULA or DRM options that come with XP, but I'm starting to get desperate. I refuse to buy another Hewlett-Packard, I don't want a Compaq, Gateway, or eMachine, and local stores don't sell IBMs. It would take a week for Dell to ship me a new machine, which means if the point is to get a new PC home now, my only option is a Sony Vaio. When the news hits that Intel is going to start embedding DRM in their chips, I take the plunge, figuring now is as good a time as any before the tech market completely destroys itself. I get the new PC home, although I'm scared to open the box, worried that my very touch will make it explode.

I fight the fear, however, and unpack it. I hook everything up and lo and behold, it works. It even stays up overnight. I slowly add peripherals and it still hasn't crashed. I can't believe my luck and I'm optimistic for the first time. Bad move.

When I try to install the adapter for my wireless network, things go screwy. Even an hour-long call to Linksys can't help, and that's after waiting on hold for an hour. Luckily, blind playing and a change of luck the next day magically get the adapter working. I don't know how, it just started working. We're now up a computer, a laptop, a stereo, and a ReplayTV.

I call tech support about the other PC, and they decide to send out a new RAM chip. I'm still waiting for it (should be here this week). In the meantime, the techie at my home library helps get the third PC up, although trying to add the wireless adapter crashes it. I'm still trying to figure this one out.

I should also point out that during this whole experience, I am leaving my email on the AT&T server. I can read it fairly easily from anywhere, but when I try to compose or reply to a message, I get a "page not found" error about 75% of the time. It becomes so frustrating, that I cease sending out messages altogether.

I feel lucky one day, and I decide to work on the kids' old PC. I turn it on, and it, too, magically boots up. We're now up a computer, a laptop, half a PC, a really old PC, a stereo, and a ReplayTV. I'm starting to feel better, so I restore my blog to my new PC. Unfortunately, Radio wants to re-publish the entire site on what it considers to be a new installation. Because I have so many categories and posts, it takes two days for it to complete this process, although it keeps freezing and I have to continually re-start it to get the upstreaming process started again, something that is impossible to do from work. Radio r-e-a-l-l-y needs a preference to toggle this setting to off, but in all fairness, it turns out that the problem is also due to the fact that we are now experiencing intermittent lapses in internet service at home. I'll be working on the internet all fine and dandy until DNS suddenly stops resolving for 3-5 minutes at a time, after which it magically comes back. The lapses are getting more and more frequent.

Persistence pays off, though, and Radio finishes re-publishing my site. My first post in weeks finally appears online and even goes out over my RSS feed. I'm giddy with excitement, so naturally DNS goes down again.

A couple of days ago, I called AT&T Broadband, and I was told to powercycle my cable modem and call them back. I unplugged the modem, waited, plugged it back in, booted up the PC, surfed for five minutes, and then lost DNS again. My stomach was feeling rather sick at this point and I had to walk away from it. When I called AT&T back the next day, I got bumped up to the second-tier of technicians. After some more fiddling, I'm told that AT&T recently made a change to their network, and routers without MAC addresses can no longer be registered. Of course, my modem is old enough (1999) that it doesn't have a MAC address, so I'm actually lucky to be getting any DNS at all. They're very sorry, but they can't bring a new one out until Tuesday (9/17). Sigh. By now, it's all just part of the big cosmic joke the universe is playing on me. I'm starting to laugh with each new development, because I keep thinking that there's nothing left that could go wrong. Another bad move.

I got off the phone with AT&T and later in the evening I tried to check my email, only to find that I couldn't get in. My user name and password were not valid. After repeated attempts failed, I went to the AT&T Broadband web site and chatted with a rep. He was very apologetic, but it looks like my user names have been suspended for no apparent reason. Or, if there is a reason, he can't tell what it is. Here's the best part - he starts a ticket for the problem, but it will take 3-5 business days for it to be resolved. And not only that, he can't put in an alias since the account has been suspended so all email sent to that address is going to bounce. I'm about to collapse into a fetal position and hibernate for the winter when I realize that I started using my domain name for all email, so I can forward that to my work account. If I hadn't made that change earlier in the year, I'd be totally SOL.

So that's where I stand now. You know that phrase "one thing after another," well I'm going to have it inscribed on my tombstone. If one more thing goes wrong, I'm probably moving in with the Amish. I have a working PC, occasional internet, and I have to use Exchange through work to read my email (which can be an excruciating experience). But the carpet sure looks nice, and my new PC sure is shiny.

So if you're one of the many gracious people who has been so supportive during this dark time, that's why I haven't emailed you back. Between all of the hard drive re-formats and switching out my original drive, I've lost a lot of email. Hopefully the last three weeks of email sitting in my suspended account will still be there when AT&T resolves whatever issue they've conjured up with my user name, or else I'll have lost another huge chunk of messages. So please accept this as an apology for my lack of reply, and if you really needed a response from me, please re-send the original message.

I'll try to do some blogging during the next couple of days, but it will depend on how well AT&T internet service behaves. In the meantime, I suggest you go out and buy some flowers and chocolate for your computer and talk nicely to it. I know I will be.

Update: October 8, 2002

It took a couple of weeks, but by the end of September, I had two computers and the laptop back up on the network. I'm still working on the kids' PC, and we were still experiencing random lapses in internet service for 3-5 minutes every hour or so. But overall, the situation was much improved.

However, just when I thought things were finally getting back to normal, the universe decided to have some more fun with me. On Thursday, October 3, I again started having problems with my internet access at home. I couldn't reach my home PC remotely, because as I came home to discover, there was no internet service what-so-ever coming into the house. I spent all night trying to call AT&T Broadband support, but I kept getting "All circuits are busy - please try your call again later" responses from their automated system. I figured it must be a service outage, so I finally gave up and went to bed.

The next day, I went to work and chatted online with an AT&T rep. He said there were no reports of outages in my area and big surprise, he couldn't ping my cable modem, either. Luckily, he gave me a different toll-free number to call when I got home. So Friday night, I finally talked to a tech support person, who rather quickly decided that there was something wrong with the [two-week old] cable modem. Expecting to have to wait 3-5 business days for a replacement, I was pleasantly surprised when he set up an appointment between 3-5 pm on Sunday, a mere two Earth days later.

It was difficult being without my blog AND my news aggregator again, but I distracted myself with lots of SSX Tricky and Brent's birthday party. Kailee kept asking if she could go on the computer, and when we reminded her that there was no internet, she'd say, "Oh. Forget it then." In fact, at one point, her response was, "Still?!"

So imagine my shock when two AT&T technicians showed up at the door two and a half hours early on Sunday. I was thrilled, and we were all grinning, expectantly awaiting our return to the ethereal internet cloud. Yes, I was thrilled... until they started working. They installed a new cable modem just fine, but that's about where their knowledge ended. They had to call home to get someone to walk them through registering the modem on their network, something I could have done after my recent experiences. I knew I was in serious trouble when they pronounced "LAN" as "L-A-N" and when they asked if the URL went in the "address" box or the "port" box.

At that point, I crumpled into a chair and tried to determine what I'd done to so anger the internet gods. Perhaps the resulting prayers helped because somehow, a miracle occurred and the two techs got everything working. For the first time in four days, I was able to access my email from home. Just as I was starting to read actual messages, one of the techs came back in the house after looking at the box on the side of the house. He said they needed to put "digital fittings" on it, and that our internet service would be interrupted briefly while they did this. He said it might help with those lapses in service we'd been experiencing, so I agreed to the procedure. Mistake #1.

By now, the family needed to leave the house and run an errand. After all, we hadn't been expecting the techs to show up for another two hours (at best). So I asked the guys if we needed to be there, if they needed to be inside to test the service when they were done, and if there could be any conceivable problems that would result from their current work. The answer on all counts was no. So we closed up the house and left, even as they were still working. Mistake #2.

You already know this is coming, but I'll put it in writing anyway. Of course we came home to find the techs gone and no internet service what-so-ever. I could tell by the way the lights on the cable modem were blinking that it wasn't getting anything from the network. Big surprise. I immediately called AT&T, but it turns out that this huge telecommunications company claims to have no way to reach folks at the local offices, and even if they did, they're "not allowed to contact techs directly." Even if they could, it was a Sunday, so there wasn't anyone to reach anyway. And even though SOMEBODY knew these two techs because SOMEBODY walked them through registering the modem online, NO ONE could even TRY to get in touch with them or anyone else in my area. I found all of this out after talking to three tech support personnel and two supervisors.

Why two supervisors? Because I was so fed up that I demanded a credit for the last month's [lack of] service. The first supervisor refused to credit me for the week I had no email when THEIR mistake suspended my account for NO reason. Luckily, his supervisor heard the fury emanating from my voice and gave me the full credit.

So, what's my current status? Internet service appears to be restored at home. I have six days worth of news to catch up on (like that's gonna happen), plus a lot of email to which I need to respond (yet again). I'm still waiting to see if the random lapses are gone. Wish me luck. I really need it. No, really.