The one thing you can count on with a personal computer is that eventually you won't be able to count on it at all. As a practicing Late Adopter, I'm not in the habit of buying these things on a regular basis: my desktop custom-built by a local shop, now defunct dates to 2006, and my notebook/laptop is even older than that. Both will be forcibly retired this spring, what with Microsoft finally pulling the plug on Windows XP; there is no chance of updating the notebook, which maxes out at 512 MB of RAM, not enough for any post-XP Windows, and the desktop has trying to commit suicide or something.

To elaborate on that: For the last week or so there have been random reboots, which became more and more common; at their peak last night, there were reboots in the middle of reboots. This, in a Windows box, is the very definition of Not Good. The Blue Screen of Death was conspicuous by its absence, despite my best efforts to encourage it: a BSOD, at least, would carry a bunch of meaningless codes that aren't in fact all that meaningless. I called the sysadmin, which I never do on weekends, and told him of my plight; he was sympathetic, but he didn't know where in the heck I got the idea that it might have been a drive issue.

I shut the box off, slept fitfully at best, powered the machine up before hitting the shower, and got the first of several dozen BSODs. The first string of gobbledegook gave it all away: NTFS problem. So it was the drive. I duly dug out my saved-for-all-these-years floppy to boot the box, and discovered that the BIOS didn't allow for booting from the floppy: it had to be hard drive, CD-ROM or USB. Somewhere on the laptop I have a copy of Windows Server and an executable for BART-PE, so I could have made the USB, maybe, assuming I wanted to wait for the USB 1.0 port to take the rest of the day to fill a flash drive. Somewhere there had to be another solution, and while sorting through piles and piles of files, I found it: the original Windows XP "recovery" CD for this box. I watched, spellbound, as several dozen sets of drivers and whatnot loaded, and finally I was presented with a prompt.

Short version: CHKDSK with maximum fix options (the /R switch) took four hours and forty minutes, the last hour of which I spent at the grocery store. (Which in itself was a bad idea: it's the first of the month, several winter storms are queued up waiting for their shot at us, and tomorrow is, as the ornithologists say, the Superb Owl. They were not out of bread or milk, but the supply of ramen was severely depleted.) To top off the day's work, I ran both BOOTFIX and FIXMBR; the latter, I was warned, could hose up a partition worse than an injection of saline solution into the drive's innards. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, and let 'er rip.

The machine has run properly ever since. I'm thinking I may need to run the diagnostics more than once in a blue moon. Still, it's a candidate for replacement: while Microsoft has kindly offered to keep sending antivirus updates for Security Essentials for another year, I expect that a day-zero exploit will be forthcoming from the Usual Suspects the moment Redmond officially pulls support for XP in April. Between now and then, I need to find, or to have built, a box that will accommodate my weird collection needs and that still runs on Windows 7 of some sort. (I am not touching Windows 8; I'd wait until 9 if it were imminent.) My old wooden desk will be knocked on at regular intervals.

The Vent

  1 February 2014

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 Copyright © 2014 by Charles G. Hill