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!

<DETAILS type=“ugly”>
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.

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??



Speaking of Vacations, during my 400-mile drive I noticed several semis/trailer-trucks with this bumper sticker:

It’s not a Choice.
It’s a Child.

I wondered why I’ve never seen anything like the opposite sticker, which of course would be

It’s not a Child.
It’s a Choice.

Then I realized, that’s the basic difference: Pro-Choice folks prefer to avoid addressing the larger issue of What it is (a life).  The two sides aren’t having the same conversation. 

I’ve heard it said that we have the right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, in that order.  This means my right to Pursue Happiness stops at the point when it would interfere with someone else’s right to Liberty, which in turn stops at the point when it would interfere with someone’s right to continue Living.

So it’s an easy call to me: prove it’s absolutely not a human life, and Sure, do what you want.  But if there’s even a slight chance that it is a human life (and Biology 101 makes me think so) …do I want to risk taking it?

Hm, maybe there’s a bumper sticker idea:

Take a Chance.
Take a Life.

How do you decide?

My friend Mike Butler posted a thought-provoker about blog self-censorship and choosing topics.

I’ve struggled with that dilemma too.

One one hand, I want my family, friends, and strangers to be able to read my blog without being offended or bored.  On the other, I need to express myself freely.  I realized early with this blogging venture that I have a habit of putting on personas for each situation.  That bugged me since it seemed disingenuous, and it was making me second guess myself.  I think I settled on making my blog just For Me (at least as far as topics) — including the tech-geek, the father, the immature Jr. High dork, the business man, the music-fan, the navel-gazing philosopher, etc.

If a subject bores or bothers someone in real life, they have to grit their teeth.  Here at least they can ignore me without worrying about my feelings :>

I think my goal is no longer about avoiding boring/scaring people away, but rather trying to attract people by giving each of my facets a balanced representation.  For example, Me-the-father hasn’t really posted yet (mostly due to the sheer magnitude of the thoughts I want to distill into a post), so there’s a whole audience I’ve missed so far. 

Good food for thought.  Thanks Mike.

One more: Motives

Introvert I am, I’m also analyzing my motives for how I’m blogging, and why I’m blogging at all.

My space.  Life gets crowded sometimes.  Work and family roles fill up most of it.  I guess I’m seeking a space all of my own, a “studio” (even if just a virtual studio) where I can work on being (and figuring out) Me.

Publishing.  This is the biggest motivation.  As a web developer, I’ve built a ton of stuff I want to share with the world.  I started doing this a couple years ago and self-publishing it in a section of my business site.  It’s always seemed a bit odd, though, since it wasn’t really business.  (Giving away stuff for free doesn’t pay the bills now does it?).  Furthermore, if that business ever went away, I’d still want to keep doing and publishing that stuff.

Self-Unification:  Sounds weird, and it is.  It falls somewhere between the first two, and has bothered me recently.  It was the final straw that got me here typing now.  I tend to cope with the complications of life by compartmentalizing my life, but many things fit more than one compartment.  The aforementioned publishing issue is one major symptom of this.

I guess these are all facets of the same issue.  I’m a developer at heart (I’d keep coding even if I was suddenly independently wealthy), and that creates tensions I have problems rectifying.  If I was only a developer by day, it’d be fine — I’d leave work at work.  I can’t leave it there though.

Heck, the reason I chose this profession is a story of its own, but one highlight is this:  I was just starting my 4th year of an English Lit degree circa 1997, and still didn’t know what I was going to do with it (and was not a little panicky about that).  I was wrapping up my 2nd or 3rd website when my “A-ha!” moment happened — I realized that a) I loved what I was doing, and b) I could get paid to do it.

I think my second “A-ha” has been more gradual.  A major part of it has been the blog phenomenon (I’ll never forget my confusion at how google suddenly started returning a bunch of schmo developer’s personal sites when I was doing work research, and how it was not only extremely pertinent, but often better than the official documentation!).  Another big part was reading the fairly amazing Cluetrain Manifesto (read it now!), which pretty much just verbalized what had been churning.  This “A-ha” is basically that business is about people, including me, and so I can’t treat my career (my calling?) like a job.  It’s not just what I do, or where I spend 8hrs/day — it’s part of me.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found a profession I love (even if it’s still by the “sweat of my brow” ), but I guess that love needs its own space.

I love to code.

(Perhaps that should by my blog tagline?)

Blah Blah BLAH! (aka Goals)

Sheesh, it’s been mere minutes, and that opening post already looks to me like verbal-diarrhea!  That’s the problem with thinking while you talk.

I know I said it was “about me” and all that junk, but what’s the point if even I don’t want to look at it?!?  This is the web after all.  I’ve been reading almost 200 blogs for a couple years now, and I’ve gotten to be a way better skimmer than I ever was in school. 

So: why say it if nobody read it?  

It’s a battle between Expression and Communication.  To define: Expression is about simply “getting something out”.  Communication is about “getting something in” — into someone else’s head.  Apparently I look at language and the web as a medium of communication, but not expression? 

Is Expression of an idea valid on its own, even if nobody hears it?  Why do we speak?  (If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it….)

I dunno.  Perhaps I should just boil stuff down anyway. 

I’ll try a list — they’re hard to make wordy. My intentions:

  • Voice: be open and uninhibited, but succinct
  • Subjects:

    • talk about big web/dev/tech news
    • publish lots of my existing web/dev/tech-related tools/code/articles
    • thoughts on life (if you haven’t noticed yet!)
    • obligatory fun/funny links
    • some sort of music features (as-yet-undetermined)

  • Means:

    • That’s just it, though, I’ve got enough means.  This is about the end.  Therefore, Keep It Simple Stupid!
    • And to that end, I’m self-hosting (yes, I am a control-freak), but building atop the .Text blog engine (to avoid creating yet another content mgmt system — done enough of those thanks!)

Works for me.  Heh, I’m sure you care :>

Batter up (aka Voice)

Check check, “sssibilance”

Alright, “hello world” woulda worked too, but I hate clichés.  Now pardon me while I find my own voice…

Reluctant as I am to get near what seem like cliché opening posts, I now understand why they they’re popular.  In particular, the usual statement of intentions — such as “I plan to talk about technical things and my seven beautiful schnauzers” — now makes sense to me.  It’s a way of setting a goal and reminding yourself to pursue it.  The “yourself” part is what’s weird tho…

See, blogging rubs against several parts of my social conditioning — inhibitions in fact.  One is manners: it’s rude to talk about yourself too much.  The other is the avoidance of seeming like a “know-it-all”:  I learned to wrap statements in phrases like “I think” or “that’s my opinion.” 

Blogging is pure vanity,” and vanity is bad, right? 

Those inhibitions just don’t fit here, though, which I realized the moment I started typing.  Basically, a blog (mine anyway — there I go already, case-in-point) is about me, it’s all about me.  Terms like “I think” and “that’s just my opinion” do belong in a conversation (they’re certainly conducive to a friendly one, tho perhaps not as lively of one :>).  Yes, they have their place in a dialog, but not in a monologue.

(Aside:  apparently we Americans aren’t consistent in our -log/logue spelling?  I’m not, anyway.  I never noticed that before.)

So there should be a time and place to be completely self-centered, and it’s more commonly known as introspection.  I am definitely an introvert, so I do plenty of that.  The difference here is that doing this in a blog is introspection-out-loud.  I’m used to filtering what I express, all the way from my grand secret plans for world domination, down to simple parts of speech, which just happens to be conversational-lube.  …Not that I plan to give away my secret plans (suffice it to say it begins just after “get stinking rich”), but I don’t wanna sound or feel stilted either.

This is a journal/log, though, and more personal expression than I’m used to lately.  However, y’all would get bored quick if it was always this verbose.  I just had to get that out of my system first. 

I guess that’s another issue: I do want to take a dump-it-out-first approach here, rather than the filter-and-refine-it for the audience style I learned as an English major.  It’s a forest-for-the-trees situation: I feel like my unwavering focus on succinct expression has made me miss larger ideas. (Ironic bit here: I just spent a lot of effort expressing that very thought in language — hopefully it’s not always a catch-22).   *

Anyway, hopefully saying it out-loud and without reservation will pave that road for an interesting journey.  …So that’s my intention for this blog: to express myself without the cruft of social inhibitions. 

That’s one intention, anyway.  I’ll get to the other(s?) shortly…

* (Ironic bit#2 here: I just re-edited the post for succinctness anyway, so perhaps the old-school first draft/final draft approach is the answer to my bad edit-as-you-think habit).

So, is this thing on?