Computer Purgatory - Geek Confessions V
by (c)Ray Levasseur May 2000

Hell is forever, Purgatory.....well?

I grew up (or was that was beat up) in the Catholic faith, and the concepts of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory were central to most of my indoctrination and brainwashing. Not one was worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. By today's politikally korrect standards, not even Jesus himself could reach the lowest rung of Heaven's ladder. But wait a minute this isn't a Catechism lesson so please forgive me as I wander back onto the topic of this article.

Many times I have thought that maybe computers and the whole digitized age we live in are the works of Satan himself. Some Macintosh devotees would beg to differ, but by and large, computers and software are diabolical. And to think I've been paying my rent and bills for 25 years thanks to the industry. Computers and software are like cars, both have become incredibly complex during the past 30 years. I can remember how simple my old Ford Cortina, VW Bug, Ford Pinto and MG Midgets were to work on. Simple, some knuckle busting bolts here and there, but you did not need a degree in Rocket Science to change the oil, set timing, change plugs, even to the point of some major engine work. Today I leave my car to the care of the garage I've dealt with for many years. Computers seemed to much simpler back then. Almost everything was out in the open and relatively simple (IBM mainframe and Unix aside). There was no object oriented stuff and none of the millions of DLL's, and other files. A huge dos application filled 1 and perhaps "Gulp" two entire 360K floppies. That was then, this is now.

I've had my peecee about 3 years now, when 300MHZ PII's were bloody nose cutting edge. The only modifications I made to it was adding a SCSI card for my scanner, later hanging a zip drive in. Other than that I had no massive backup devices: Jazz drive or tape backup and up until a couple of months ago, my machine was behaving like a good obedient Catholic school student. Paul used to get on my case about doing a full, or at least partial image backup of my system from time to time, but, Oh NO, I could just re-load the programs if something really broke. I will say this: from all the years of application development I've done, I always distributed things around.

My PC came with a 6.5GIG drive divided up into one BIG partition, C:. Before going much further I picked up a copy of Partition Magic and split it into C, D and E drives. Core stuff: Windows, Office 97, Netscape, Mail and Norton System Works reside on C. Other applications like Visual Basic, Graphics editing software, HTML tools, Crystal Reports, etc are on D and I reserve E for all the treasures that I have squirreled away from the net and my own endeavors: Billions of GIF's and JPEG's, a few hundred MEG of documents and other materials, everything supporting Bigboote's Area51, a number of MS Access databases, Excel spreadsheets, a bunch of Visual Basic stuff. At least I did periodically back up some of my treasures on E: to zip drives, but had not been faithful to this for the past year. Taking care of a dying friend was occupying most of my time and mental resources, so a lot of stuff archived on Zip disks was out of date.

Just around the time Paul passed away, I was getting some very weird behavior from the Visual Basic development platform. Oh, as an aside I was always very good at keeping Norton Anti-Virus up to date and never stuck my mouse into places that put me at risk; OK I still scanned for cooties to be on the safe side. Norton Crash Guard kept barking at me to either revive or terminate VB, and perhaps one of more of the 100,000 DLL's got corrupted, so I decided to try an uninstall and a re-install after running a full set of disk diagnostics. Everything looked fine and Norton claimed my registry was OK. Visual refused to uninstall and Crash Guard once again said, "tsk tsk". I attempted a re-install, which partially worked. I could work on VB, but could not add custom controls or add any other references. I could live with that for now, since none of my personal VB projects had any rocket science in them, so added a shortcut to VB5.EXE to my desktop.

Then once in a while Crystal Reports crashed, then Allaire Homesite began acting up. A few weeks ago was the icing on the cake when Crash Guard terminated Microsoft Outlook and it would not run for love nor money....OH MY GOD! I was without e-mail, but could still surf the web. And then Internet Exploder refused to start up.

I consulted with a couple of our desktop gurus at work, who first asked if I go bitten by the I Love You virus. NO, I did download the latest virus list and scanned all files on my entire system twice and everything was clean. I told one of the gurus that I tried uninstalling Outlook and the problems I had so he suggested booting in "protected" mode and deleting the "supposed" files in use, then try un/re-installing again.

This seemed to work; Outlook and Explorer were now behaving normally and I was once again connected to the outside world. Hmmm, If this worked maybe I could fix Visual Basic, so repeated the process, but with no success. I asked one of our gurus, who thought that re-installing Windows might be a good idea. He said that if I did it correctly I should not lose anything and any missing or damaged files should be replaced. I got home that evening and proceeded to re-load Windows-95. Everything seemed to go as planned, Windows told me that it installed successfully and was about to restart my computer. Just as the Windows splash screen came up, I got dumped back into DOS and a series of fatal messages about this and that critical file either being damaged or not found. As I carriage returned through about 30 of these screens, the next screen suggested re-installing windows, then the PC powered down and would not power back up.

On about the 10th attempt it came back up with a menu of boot options, so I selected Protected Mode, at which point the machine powered down again. A very cold feeling of nausea came over me, "I think I really fucked something up this time." The best I could do was get into DOS, but the CD-ROM was not visible. Oh SHIT! I found the giant zip lock bag that contained all the disks and documents that came with my PC, but there was nothing about how to totally re-load a system from scratch. The CD's were for Windows, Games, Entertainment and a few floppies that said nothing but "legacy windows diskette" I did find the emergency dos boot disk with the CD-ROM driver, and inserted it "Disk read error, Abort, Retry, Fail". On the 4th attempt the disk was read, and I got a message about drive no longer available. I tried ejecting the floppy, which jammed in the drive....GRRRR! It was about 10:30PM, almost 2 hours past my work night bedtime. I went to bed but was back up at 2AM (could not sleep) and resumed my attempt to resurrect my PC from the dead.

I told the PC gurus at work about my predicament and their suggestion, "blow away everything, re-format my hard disk and do a virgin install, adding, it happens to the best of least once." That was certainly reassuring. So OK, I have never had to rebuild a PC from scratch before and without my trusty and close friend Paul to assist, felt at a loss. Before Paul got sick he was as certified as any multi-vendor engineer could be and excellent at his craft. He had flown through all the Microsoft certification exams as well as being certified in many other areas. Paul could wave his magic wand (in between a few choice cuss words) and have any desktop or enterprise machine back to life in almost no time. I vaguely remember him applying a number of software/driver patches to my machine, but had no idea where those disks were located.

After work on Friday, I came home deciding to blow it all away and start over. Luckily, as I mentioned earlier, almost all of my data and treasures are on the E: sector, so after taking a deep breath, re-formatted C and D. Whew! First thing was re-booting from the emergency Windows boot disk and installing Windows-95, then Plus from their CD's. What a pain in the butt, every setting, etc I had was lost. According to Windows my video supported 16 colors only. Now to go off and locate the video drivers for the board. After much gnashing of teeth I found a small leaflet in about 2pt font. The video drivers were not where I suspected, but on some multi-media entertainment disk (good thing I didn't check that disk out). After many attempts, the video board was now recognized and I was free to set display to True Color at 800x600 (my most comfy setting). The printer and mouse drivers were no big deal, but now where was that modem driver? Windows claimed there was a 300Baud modem attached, but would not acknowledge the fact. Oh yes, left I forgot, the sound card drivers, which were where I least expected to find them.

I had reached the point of just getting a new modem and installing it, but I had a very serviceable 56K modem in the machine. After a day of searching and guessing, I located another scrap of paper that came with the machine, also in about 2pt font. I grabbed my magnifying glass and read the instructions,"ahhh, so the modem driver is on the legacy diskette," and sure enough there it was buried in some cryptically named sub-directory. Getting the modem to work was another issue, but after a dozen or so tries, it would dial out fine. The only thing remaining now was configuring all of my dial up network, email and browser settings after re-installing Netscape, Internet Exploder and Outlook. By late Saturday morning I was back online, sans my personal address book (which got lost) and bookmark file. Since 99.99% of my bookmarks also reside among the pages of Bigboote's Area51, there was no problem here. I was never a mega-popular person, who required 1000's of entries in his personal address book (15-20 is more like it). Mail would have to be built from scratch.

I finally logged into my ISP around noon on Saturday, whew, then installed the freeware FTP client I had on a floppy; ok, can upload/download files again! I poke fun at some people for being computer and network junkies, ok I fess up, I was going into withdrawal and felt the digital monkey on my back. Ahhh, I once again had a steady fix of global connectedness, not that I log in every day, but!

There was still the issue of installing my scanner and zip drive, which used the generic SCSI card that came with the scanner. And wouldn't you know it, the SCSI driver would not work. I have some memory of Paul searching around and finding one on the HP site, but damned if I could locate it. I searched the HP site, then a few web sites dealing with drivers. Well, I was not alone, since the driver I was looking for was also causing a lot of grief to others.

I gave it all a rest. Saturday was such a splendid day, I caught the bus into Harvard Square to browse in book stores, listen to street musicians, guzzle coffee in cafes and generally hang out among the weird and restless. After sitting in the shade at Au Bon Pain drinking a bucket sized Iced coffee walked over to Memorial Drive and visited Micro Center to walk off the buzz and browse at the new machines, that made my 300 MHZ PII look like a museum piece. Nope, can't afford it right now, but almost bought a new 32 bit SCSI card to replace the non name 16 bit card in my PC. After I was all Harvard Squared out, returned home to the task of getting all the minor settings and preferences worked out, first off, getting rid of Active Desktop. I lurked in a few chat rooms, where the denizens asked about my shoe size and age. Funny how fast they drop the connection when they learn the guy on the other end knew Moses personally and came over on the Mayflower :-)

Saturday night I worked on my little VB pet project, a nifty simple slide viewer for people who have vast treasure troves of GIF's and JPEG's they've squirreled away from the net. At some future date I may place the exe and VB project files on my Dreamland Geek page, after I spiff it up a bit more. I'm no Visual Basic demigod, but some may find it interesting or amusing.

So now the old PC is almost back to normal. There are a few minor settings to iron out and for some reason a few of the generic fonts do not look quite right; Comic Sans and Tahoma just don't display the way they should. My sound card is still playing deaf and dumb, but that's not a top priority at the moment.

Overall the ordeal of re-loading everything has been....uhhh, a learning experience, mixed in with a few choice *$%@# words. Everyone should get to do this at least once in their life. One more rite of passage into almost Computer Geekdom.

Cheers, Ray...?