Tuesday, October 29, 2002

DOS-aster Relief

Here's one of those questions that would be good for one of those survey memes in which I used to participate so frequently (has anyone else noticed that, exactly at the time I included permanent links to those memes in my right sidebar, I stopped using them altogether? Hmmmm):

"Have you ever called tech support for your computer hardware or software?"

Up until a week or so ago, I could quite happily and proudly say that I had never done so. I in fact looked with slight contempt upon those who did. When people complained about how inadequate or snotty their tech support reps were, I just said, "Well, what do you expect?" I mean, if you're too stupid to figure out the problem for yourself, how can you expect someone to not treat you as if you were stupid? I mean, you're the one asking for help, aren't you?

But the thing is, I was working in a computer-teaching environment for the first six years that I ever operated a computer, so I knew all about all the programs, and was a whiz at trouble-shooting... and when I couldn't figure out something for myself, such as a hardware problem, there was the computer-lab's Staff Assistant and the roaming Campus Tech guy in the same office as the teachers I was assisting, and during the course of shooting the shit over a cigarette or a bowl of ramen, I could figure it out through them. But for the last four years, I have been in an office where my training was the only technical support in the whole place, and unfortunately my training is stuck in the year 1997... the year when Pentium II and Windows 98 were the top of the line, the year when most people still only had Windows 3.1 or 95 running on 486-mhz processors and you could still buy CPU towers with 5-inch floppy drives... the time when there was no Celeron, no DHL, no 17-inch flat screens, when the iMac was still a rumour and Apple was still in the Dow Jones toilet, only used by hopeless geeks and digital animators.

So then I went and bought my own computer, from Gateway, which has the Celeron processor and Windows XP and three or four other things I'd never really heard about, since I stopped paying attention to all the new things that come out now that I don't have to teach them to others. It took me a while to figure out all the differences in the XP version and the 98 version I use at work (I seldom even looked at Windows 2000, which is on my boss's computer). The most important thing I discovered was the graphic files system where you can launch slide-shows and what-have-you from the Explorer screen (nice... you can view porn with both hands free).

Then I installed the Sims Deluxe Edition, which runs a little raggedly, taking a long long time to load up and apparently using more system resources than the system wants to give; then I plugged in my external Zip 100 drive and let the computer figure out how to deal with it, which it seemed to do just fine; then I started transferring my files (particularly my Sims files) from my kitchen computer and office computer.

Then I was playing the Sims, and the computer crashed... and wouldn't start up again. It just went into this endlessly repeated Failed Startup routine. I tried to start it in Regular Mode, in Last Known Good Configuration Mode, Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, etc. Then I tried booting from the Operating System CD that came with the machine, and promptly became quite confused. Partitions? Recovery? FAT systems?

In desperation I called the Gateway Tech Support number, waited on the line listening to Muzacked lite-rock, then found myself connected to someone named Donny on the Phoenix Team. I understood very little of what he was saying, because the sound quality on my cordless phone is slightly less perfect than one might desire, and because Donny had the bad habit of mumbling while saying things that a layman would never understand. I tried picturing a person to go with the voice, something I always do on the phone, and conjured up a thin, shortish, sandy-colored boy with one of those unfortunate scraggly goatees and a baggy beige-and-red color-schemed outfit that didn't fit him properly. With my unending requests to repeat what he'd just said, he managed to walk me through the recovery setup system until I got a black screen with a "C:\WINDOWS>" prompt, then told me a bunch of things to type in.

"Dee-Aitch-Kay Pee-Aitch-Kay Space T Forwardslash?" I repeated the command incredulously, typing DHK PHK T/ and getting absolutely nothing back.

"No, Mee-Age-Gay Wee-Age-Gay Space Fee Forwardslash!" he burbled correctively, all of his consonants sounding exactly alike and entirely nonsensical.

We went back and forth with this for a few moments until he told me to type HELP to see a list of commands. I did this, and there it all was, CHKDSK /P, clear as day in the long-forgotten language of DOS... a language from which Windows was supposed to liberate us forever.

"Oh, CheckDisk! I remember this from DOS class. I haven't used DOS in, like, seven or eight years!"

"Type that in and tell me what it says," Donny sighed with admirable patience.

Up came a bunch of incomprehensible information regarding my disks and file systems, concluding with the maddeningly vague statement that "one or more sectors may contain unrecoverable errors."

"Okay, now do Mee-Age-Gay-Wee-Age-Gay Space Arrgh Forwardslash."

"Okay... it's checking, now it's doing something, and it's at 12%..." A few moments pass... "now it's 18%." We discuss the hardware and software that I've installed since I got the computer three days ago. He supposes the Zip drive might be the problem, and says that when I get back into Windows I should download newer driver software from Iomega. "It's at 32% now," I update him. A long time passes, I turn the TV on with the mute button and watch Craig Kilborn's cute mugging and quizzing. He's dreamy, Craig Kilborn, so tall and such big hands.

"Where is it now?" Donny breaks into my Craig-revery from Phoenix.

"Fifty percent," I answer, moving back to my desk and watching the numbers ooching up, "now it's 54%. Hey! It just went back to 49!"

"This is probably going to take a while to recover the bad sectors," Donny says... I'm just starting to get used to his strange soft brand of enunciation and understand everything he's saying, "And if this doesn't work you're going to have to format the hard drive and reinstall, and that's going to take even longer. Why don't you call back when it's done?" So he gives me a bunch of numbers, the direct-line 800 number for Phoenix Team and his six-digit badge-number and my twelve-digit order-number.

So then a half-hour later, after Craig has interviewed Susan Sarandon and some sports star I've never heard of before, the computer finishes it's /R operation. I restart the computer... and am right back where I started with the circular restarting thing. Oy! So I call back all the numbers, leave a message on the Phoenix Team voicemail (and the way the voicemail messager pronounces "Phoenix Team," I begin to wonder if they're located in Phoenix, Arizona, or if they specialize in reviving computers from the dead?) with all of the various numbers that Donny gave me. I wait a little while, enjoying my new Bel Ami video, Frisky Summer 4. One of these days I'm going to have to go to Czechoslovakia. Can the country really be totally overrun with these smoothskinned hotties?

Donny doesn't call back. It's long after midnight, Donny probably thinks I've gone to bed by now. But it's Friday so I plan to be up quite a while longer. I decide to just go ahead and reformat and reinstall without Donny's assistance. I mean, now that I understand that I'm dealing with DOS, and that the reformat and reinstall is my only remaining option, I can do it myself. That takes me about two and a half hours.

I get everything back to the way it was when I first plugged the thing in, fresh out of the box, and go to Iomega's website and download a driver that will make my Zip 100 disk compatible with my XP software. Turns out that Windows XP thought my Zip drive was one of the new 250-MG drives that looks like a space-ship, not the old boxy blue 100MG drive that was au courant back in the Windows 95/98 era. But now everyone is straightened out, and everything runs smooth as silk. The Sims Deluxe Edition still gives me a little grief (it takes almost ten minutes to load, and that can't be right), but nothing bad happens.

Until last night. I'm gleefully manipulating my little simulated Robert Manners, getting him all educated and socialized and entertained, and suddenly the computer crashes. I get the circular startup messages again, except that instead of restarting the CPU each time it fails to start Windows, it goes to a blue screen that tells me there has been an error and Windows has been shut down to protect my computer. There are a bunch of numbers and code-words explaining the error, but they mean nothing to me.

I do not want to reformat and reinstall this time... a week and a half have passed, in which time I have downloaded a number of emails and got all of my favorite sites saved and transferred most of my personal files from my work computer to the new Gateway... I still have them on the Zip disks, but I just don't want to deal with losing everything again. Fortunately, I remember my conversations with Donny, and so I boot from the OS disk, go to Recovery, and perform CheckDisk, both /P and /R, then the FixBoot. An hour later, it's done, and I reboot and everything is just fine, all my files and programs right where I left them.

But I'm afraid to play my Sims again. It's obvious to me that it's the Sims that are crashing my computer. If I uninstall and reinstall, I will lose all ten families I just quite laboriously created. While that's more fun, in some cases, than playing the individual Sim, it's still a lot of work and I hate losing my work. Plus there's all the downloaded skins and objects that I would have to reinstall again, too. On the other hand, I could probably copy all of the files to a Zip disk and then reinstall, uploading my families and houses to the Zip drive or my FTP space. But to do that, I'd have to run the game again, and God only knows what will happen then. 'Tis a puzzlement.

And then this raises the question: what's wrong with the Sims Deluxe Edition? Is there a flaw or bug in the software? Or is it simply not compatible with something on my system? Or am I installing it wrong? Or is it the extra objects I downloaded? Or what? If anybody has any insights here, I am all ears. Please don't make me call a Tech Support number again.

So in other, less technical news, the Galaxy Girls Halloween Show went better than I had anticipated. Our favorite showtune connoisseur, Bill, was there, and so was the lovely and effervescent Kristin (and she posted some fabu pix of me and the rest of the girls, if you want to go take a peek), and my friend Caroline was able to come... a good time was had by all. I was rather impressed with myself, if I do say so... the numbers that I didn't think I'd ever figure out came off quite wonderfully, and the costumes that looked so cheap and cheesey when I bought them turned out rather well when put together with my corseted figure and loads of fabulous accessories.

The most fabulous accessory was the rhinestone spider choker that Caroline picked up for me... though the way it was constructed meant that I could only wear it clamped around my trachea, which looked fabulous but was rather uncomfortable... both because the metal spider-legs gouged into my tender throat every time I moved my head, but also because it kept reminding me of the time I was attacked by spiders when I was four. I remember that instance so clearly, because the only reason I didn't completely flip out over the spiders crawling on my neck and chest was because I'd thought I was dreaming... but then when I woke up the next morning and was absolutely covered with insect-bites, proving that it was in fact real, and I totally flipped out after the fact... which is worse, because you can't do anything to relieve the ooglie-willies, you just shiver and freak.

In other other news, last Wednesday I went out with JB and saw 8 Women, which was totally the coolest film I've seen in forever! It was nonsensical, gimmicky, surreal, and subtitled... but it stars Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant (in my opinion two of the most beautiful women currently alive... making a Mature Goddess Triumvirate with Charlotte Rampling), and they wear fabulous clothes and furs, and even make out rather elegantly at one point (there should be a club for Women Who've Kissed Catherine Deneuve). Everybody sings, too. It's all about Style Over Substance, and that's definitely one of the things that the French do better than anyone else. It's not a film in national release, so you'll probably have to wait for the VHS or DVD release... but I recommend that you do get it when it does come to a video store or online media outlet near you.

Well, that's all for today. Thanks for listening to me rave.

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