26. January 2005 · Comments Off on Squirrely Problems, Weird Solutions · Categories: General, Technology

Maybe it’s just me. Could it be that I attract these problems? Read on:

I remember the story of the old farmer who lived hereabouts, whose young wife was expecting her firstborn, sometime around 1880. The women from farms all around gathered as labor set in, and found outside tasks for the nervous farmer, to keep him busy. “Boil some water,” said one matronly woman, handing him an iron pot and directing him to the huge fireplace where a roaring fire kept the room just above freezing. He complied, taking the pot back into the room where women seemed to be directing an assault on Hill 180. “Go get more firewood,” another woman directed, as she moved the lantern where it would do her more good. He did, as the squalls of one baby lit up the room.

The husband leapt for joy, but the women told him to get busy with the firewood, shoving him out the door. As the poor farmer stumbled back into the room, laden with firewood, dumping it by the fireplace, another set of squeals and cries joined with the first in a newborn duet. “Get out, go bring some blankets,” said another large, motherly neighbor, as she lit another lantern and placed it strategically. Somewhat dumbfounded, somewhat elated, and yet pensive, the man went to the attic and retrieved a couple of thick blankets, pushing his way back into the birthing room. As he lay the blankets down, he was startled by yet a third cry joining his two newborn daughters. Eyes like saucers, mouth agape, he looked around the cluttered room, past the women, past the lump of his wife under covers on the bed, and his gaze stopped on the lanterns casting shadows into the corners, lighting the scene.

“That’s it!” the man exclaimed, “Now I see what’s the problem! The light’s a-drawin’ ’em! Get rid of those lanterns, quick, before a-nuther one gets here!” The solution: “The light’s a-drawin’ ’em!”

So, my own problem, weird as it was, had a strange solution. A few weeks ago, we noticed the desktop going bonkers. It was loading web pages as fast as it could, all by itself. I couldn’t get it to stop, it was faster than I was. When I finally got things under control, I had a ton of pages to delete, and was wondering what kind of gremlin could cause this kind of trouble. When I started the machine back up, it seemed to work OK, so I sat there watching. Nothing. I opened one of my word processor programs, typed a paragraph or two, everything normal. We went to bed, and a few minutes later while watching TV, I saw reflections from the computer room, a spare room across the hall from our bedroom, jumping across the wall, different colors, varied patterns of reflected light, so I jumped (slowly, remember the BP) out of the bed and ran in there. The computer was loading web pages at warp speed!

Got control again, shut it down, and waited until morning to tackle it again, thinking it may be an overheat problem. I was really puzzled by this behavior as I turned on the system again the next morning. A few minutes went by, and the thing went nuts again. Not a heat problem for sure!

To cut to the chase, I tried a word processor again and this time, I sat there and watched in amazement as the computer started putting !!!’s, 1111’s, and all sorts of letters and punctuation marks, line by line. This time I thought to try something else. I unplugged the keyboard and connected a spare one I had in a closet. Worked perfectly. Cranked up the DSL, everything OK. I let it sit there, all normal. That night, Nurse Jenny got on the internet as she does every night, no problems. The next morning, I re-connected the original keyboard, and in a few minutes, it went nuts again.

So that was it: a keyboard that had a mind of its own. I have never seen a keyboard do such things, but a new keyboard took care of the problem. Disassembly and cleaning of the old keyboard did not reveal any obvious problem, so the malfunction was simply not visible to the eye. Pretty new keyboard with lots of functions is still in place, and the offender is up in the closet.

Next problem: Some of you may remember that I have griped lately about writing posts or comments only to have them disappear into thin air upon attempting to post. I was using an 802.11B wireless connection, and began to be curious as to whether that may be the problem. Last week I picked up an 802.11G wireless card for the laptop, and shazzam, no more dropped comments or posts! I just needed the faster speed of the “G” module, and all now seems to be well.

As I think back to the time when I first started playing with electronics, in my teens, some 48 years or so ago, when I got interested in amateur radio, there have always been strange and thorny problems. And they’re there, no matter what the branch of electronics. I’ve got more than 25 years in avionics, many years part-time in such things as TV repair (UGH!!), two-way radio service, computers, and other branches best forgotten . In each and every one of these fields, there have always been weird and sometimes very surprising problems. Some of them were even humorous, and a few downright outlandish!

So, I tip my hat to those just embarking on a career in electronics: may your weird problems be few and funny! And may you always FIND the problem!

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