Rant: The Rise of the Machines

I don’t remember who (for reasons explained shortly), but some blogger I read recently said “It’s sometimes difficult to remember that Technology exists to make things possible.”


This phrase is echoing through my head right now, as I watch my primary work machine slowly image a backup of its hard drive onto another machine, since the hard drive just crashed.  First strange sounds, then periodic freezes, and an hour later my screen is vivid abstract art.


Of course the drive’s S.M.A.R.T. status is still “OK”.


Better than this, it took about two hours to find the right combination of BIOS settings, network boot disk, and Ghost disk before I could even start the imaging process.


This has been a very bad technology year for me.  Ugly details below (including grammar, I’m sure), but here’s the gist: 



  • Computers do a lot less helping me these days, and I do a lot more helping them
  • They are much more prone to problems.
  • Even when they’re working “by design,” they are configured with stupid defaults and limitations which I have to fix (e.g. Windows Explorer).
  • They claim to be smart, offering to configure, automate, or fix themselves, but they create more problems, or actually worsen the problem in the process!

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In January, a previously stable workstation had its hard drive die, or so it seemed after 6+ reinstalls.  See, when I replaced the drive, the installation would freeze randomly.  Turns out the BIOS was misdetecting the replacement drive’s geometry, so I got to find and manually input heads, cylinders, etc — something I haven’t done in at least 10 years, and not my idea of a “trip down memory lane.” 
    That fixed the install, but the same spontaneously corrupt files issue has continued with the new drive.  ….I know drives die (moving parts & all), but drive controllers??


In May, the problems with my file server started.  It has mirrored drives.  One drive had a problem, the mirror broke, and the other kicked in (hurrah).  When I let the HighPoint RAID manager software fix the mirror, it “fixed” it alright …in the wrong direction! (since previously visible partition info disappeared afterwards). 
    Drive now non-bootable, with much research I restored the drive’s partitions with BootPart, and (hurrah) it booted, but Windows wanted to “fix” all the errors on the drive.  I let it do so.  Not until later did I realize that it was disconnecting most every file and subfolder from its parent folder, making them all Now “lost”.
    Oh, and Windows just “fixed” itself out of working.  So, time for a reinstall, happy that I keep the OS on its own partition, and careful to leave the others alone.  Ah, something worked, now about those files…
    Half a dozen file-restoration utilities found nothing more than a big jumbled mess of files without structure (and often without names).  At the end of that track, and crossing my fingers, I remembered I’d been doing nightly backups of important data…
    Whadya know, the backups are corrupt!  Again, very much effort to restore (so glad it was a zip file), and hurrah, I see files.  In fact, I think I’ve restored most of them, but we’ve discovered at least one missing, and I’m still wading through the “lost” files for possible luck. 


In the midst of the file server’s woes, my web server’s Windows Product Activation spontaneously went nuts.  At login, it would insist on activating Windows (which I’d already done), but when I said go ahead, it would say it’s already activated and boot me out.  Much research, booting to safe mode, fiddling with files, finally a Windows installation “repair” operation.  Success?  I login once, twice to check, and stuck again! 
    I gave up on it for a while.  A server mostly doesn’t need console access, so I was able to do a lot of things by other means.  The repair had made it completely unpatched though, which worried me since it’s by necessity exposed as a web server.  Eventually I did fix this, but only because of research on another machine’s WPA woes…


See, I was doing some “quick” troubleshooting of a friend’s laptop.  Windows search didn’t work, and there were a few other quirks, so I quickly ran System File Checker to fix possibly corrupted files.  No idea if this worked, because the subsequent login gave me the required WPA re-activation dialog, and again WPA was broken!  (blank this time).
    SO, I ran another Windows “repair” process, and it asks for a product key?!   (Duh, it’s a repair, not a fresh install, get it yourself!).  I got the key, tried it and it didn’t work. 
    Turns out it didn’t match the CD — there are OEM CDs, Volume License CDs, Retail CDs, and probably other flavors.  They’re all the exact same OS, but with different classes of keys.  I have no idea what this accomplishes for the licensing folks.
    So I restart the repair with a different CD & key.  It works, but then I get mysterious error dialogs with sentence fragments “could not complete the file copy operation, you may need to retry or“ — yes, or what?   I check and clean both disc and drive, but with no luck.  Fortunately it let me cancel that specific copy but continue the rest of the install.  I got the same error about 5 more times, but it worked.  Much re-patching ensued.
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Aside: System File Checker is good.  Windows Product Activation is bad. 


I know drives fail.  I know software sometimes gets confused.  I could handle these much better if I still trusted the other software which is supposed to prevent, fix, or mitigate such problems. 


….And I’m seriously fantasizing about becoming a farmer. 


Have we reached the point of unsustainable complexity??


 

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