Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bolting the stable door

I know I haven’t been quite as regular with my Blog this year. My excuse reason has been Computer problems. I have been straggling to get to the bottom of what is known as Blue Screen of Death problems (BSOD).

When I say struggling I have been trying to isolate the problem for around 6 weeks. I still don’t fully understand it but the computer had been stable pretty much during February. I won’t go into the boring history but I am convinced it is a software problem and possibly an interaction between two bits of software.

The good thing is that I have in the process speeded up my computer considerably I have also sorted out backups and generally spring-cleaned so various old programs of the computer as well. I have been thinking of building myself a computer for a while. But in the darkest depths of despair thought I would have to change to Plan B and buy an off-the-shelf computer. The challenge of working from home and being self-employed is that you can’t just ring up the IT department to switch you stuff from one computer to another. I am the IT department.

So during these still dark winter evenings I have been thumbing through my Haynes Build Your Own Computer manual and browsing various websites for hints and tips on choosing and building a PC that will be right for me. As a young lad my brother and I used to ride motorbikes and the Haynes manuals were a necessary part of the toolkit. when i switched to cars, I also acquired the relevant Haynes manual. Even in those days garages weren’t cheap. (All my manuals pretty soon acquired greasy fingerprints.)

My plan is not to build some incredible Gaming rig – but rather a straightforward but still powerful computer for the next few years. The one I use at the moment is a Dell Dimension 9200 and it has been pretty solid and reliable. I have upgraded the disks twice, the first time to put in a bigger disk and the second time to install a RAID drive system (2 x 2TB drives). I have also upped the OS from Windows Vista to Windows 7 – which definitely gave it a new lease of life.

The trouble is it only has 4Gb of ram, which was fine when I got it, but is not fine now as I process larger pictures and run lots more stuff at the same time. But I digress. I had to prepare for a meeting in Bath on Friday and using JIT principles (Just-in-time) was busy writing the stuff on Thursday the day before.

Now Sod’s law being what it is something went wrong. We had a power glitch, the lights went out briefly, say a second and of course my computer crashed. It re-booted, and ran like a drain (checking the disk drives – the downside of RAID).  A quick Google search shows the term used by Computer people and in Horse racing, but no definition – it means very slowly.

The last thing you need when trying to get some work done against a very tight deadline is a dodgy computer. Especially since I was getting up at 4.30am the next day to be on-time for my meeting.

Anyway I did finish the work and had a day trip to Bath (post to follow) and then we had another power glitch on Saturday. Arghhhhhhhhhh.  This time it also ran like a drain and the RAID disk checking program ran once, twice three times a lady always reporting problems. It also seemed to get slower and slower. So I re-booted the computer which caused it to crash with my old friend the Stop 7F, 0x00000008 double-fault error, when I logged in.

At this point the people who supply my electricity (or not) must have felt their ears burning mightily as I was not a happy camper. So to cut a long story slightly shorted. After a bit of study I have bought a UPS. An Uninterruptible Power Supply. It has just arrived (Tuesday) and I will charge it up and see how it does. The slight worry is that it doesn’t actually prevent an interruption, but just keeps it to less (6-10mS)  than a PC power supply will be troubled by (spec 16mS) . The other issue is the shape of the waveform it outputs. 

In the meantime I have also been trying to get my computer not to crash as soon as I log in. Fingers crossed it has been “up”  and in use (writing two posts, ripping two CDs, processing and up-loading 50 pictures and backing up the new pictures and … and some work) for the last 8 hours.

So I will charge up my UPS and try it out tomorrow. I’d better get on with ordering the bits for my new computer as well…

And finally..  My son works in the Agri-Science business and was sporting a new hat. It looked ideal for cycling as it was warm but not too warm and light and quite large. So I asked him where he got it. It was a freebie from an Agri-business. So I signed up for their newsletter and mine turned up in the post two days later.  Well I do pay close attention to the crops growing in the fields when out cycling after all.

I have used it several times over the weekend for long trips (posts to follow) and for my early morning cycle trips to the shops.  It is a really good hat. What’s more the hat also provides some sound muffling so the traffic noise isn’t quite so piercing.

My new Cycling Hat

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