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There I was, sitting in the midst of the glorious new computing environment I had created. My main computer was now running SuSE Linux, I had a windows machine acting as a fileserver and print server, and Becky’s laptop was now receiving network signals through the very aether. It was all going swimmingly.


The Linux box started having all kinds of crashes and symptoms pointed to corrupted files. Reinstalls and reformats weren’t succeeding, and this was happening with multiple drives. It looked like the drive controller, the device that lets the motherboard talk to the hard drives, was flaky.

Back in the day, computer geeks like I was at the time told people to avoid certain companies’ computers, because they used cheap motherboards with integrated electronics. That is, things like I/O ports, drive controllers, and even sound cards, items that existed separately in many machines, were built into the mobo (motherboard). This made the computer cheaper, but at another cost. If your parallel port went bad, you paid ten bucks and thirty seconds to swap out the card. With integrated boards, you were now looking at replacing the entire motherboard. That was then. These days, well, the cheapness has won out, and you can’t buy a mobo that doesn’t have integrated electronics. So I don’t actually have a drive controller problem, I have a problem with the entire motherboard.

I used to work in tech support, way back when, but I quit because I found it frustrating. You had to run as fast as you could to stand still, as the technology was constantly changing. Here’s how the industry works. Let’s say you make one-gallon buckets. You’re doing a brisk business selling them, but you think people want larger ones. So you have the boys in R&D look into it. They come up with several ideas, and eventually develop a two-gallon bucket. Eureka! For the computer industry, that’s unacceptable. That two-gallon bucket might take a couple years to develop, and that’s unacceptable. So they release all the interim discoveries. You can get the 1.1 gallon bucket, the 1.3 gallon bucket, the 1.37 gallon bucket, and so forth, and eventually they release both the 1.97 gallon bucket and the 2.15 gallon bucket. (Oh, did you want one that was exactly two gallons? Sorry.) And every one is, of course, the absolute living end in bucket technology. I got tired of having to learn new equipment that was obsolete the second I closed the manual, so I got out of that business and never looked back. I do not like screwing around with computer hardware.

Where was I? Oh yeah, screwing around with computer hardware. So I went out yesterday and bought an IDE controller card, with the intention of sticking it on my machine and disabling the onboard IDE controller that was bad. No luck. The card sees the drives just fine, but won’t boot to them. Adaptec claims it gives me a menu at boot time that allows me to tell it what drive is the boot drive, but it doesn’t. I tried every setting I could think of in BIOS to get it to work, when I had a sudden revelation:

I have no idea what the hell I’m doing!

So I bundled up the whole mess and took it to a shop to make it into someone else’s problem. Supposedly I’ll get it back by Thursday or Friday.

This sucks for several reasons, mostly because this is my work computer. Right now I’m on the fileserver box, which is slow and doesn’t have anything loaded onto it because it’s not intended to do a whole lot. But the main thing is, I don’t want to spend another dime on that machine. I want to save those dimes for a new computer — a Mac, actually. A new computer isn’t in my near future, and keeping this one on life support is only pushing it further back. Besides, that motherboard is a whopping two years old, and I’m once again sick of buying stuff that isn’t designed to last longer than a pair of socks.

I also can’t believe that it’s almost 2005, home computers have been a reality for 20-plus years and we’re still having to futz with ribbon cables, jumpers, and cards. Wasn’t I supposed to have a cybernetic eye by now? You look at things like flat-panel monitors and USB thumb drives and think, “Yes! now that’s technology! But open the box and there’s cogs and vacuum tubes and tiny orphans with soot-blackened faces actually running the works. If I were the type to name my computers, that sucker would be called the Potemkin Village.

Hopefully when all is said and done, the cost will be minimal, and I can go back to my technotopia and dream of a better day of real technological advancements. In the meantime, I have to read all these punch-cards I got from The Onion’s website.

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