Computing: Wish I could get some work done

Brian Thu, 2016-10-06 19:15
Caution: Characters in photos sometimes younger and better dressed than actual authors.

Sometimes it seems like the majority of my life is spent resolving problems with computers (and phones), problems that seem to crop up for no reason just when I'm about to try to accomplish something.

A few days ago I returned from a sojourn to rural Cambodia, where the wifi was non-existent and the data-mobility was iffy, and I'd forgot to take the power cord for my laptop. I had only my smart-assphone. There were about sixty things I'd saved to deal with when I got home to real internet. I fired up the computer, and everything was OK for a little while, but then it froze. (Windows 10!) When I rebooted ... nothing! The boot-loader didn't even make it to the BIOS "beep."

In trying to figure out what was happening before taking it to a technician, I took it apart and removed the second graphics card, just to see if that was what was causing the problem. (It's Nvidia; they're temperamental.) The computer started up fine. I noticed that the card and the interior of the computer case had quite a bit of spider web and dust, so I cleaned everything up, and booted back up. Great! Back to normal.

But in putting everything back, I'd forgot to replace the side panel of the computer case. So, at a later point, I took everything out to put it back. When I booted up ... I got the following message: "Active partition not found. Press any key." This means the BIOS can't find the disc with the operating system on it. So I tore it apart again, fiddled with all cords to make sure they were properly seated, and started it up again. Same message. When I checked the BIOS, everything seemed in order. After a period of frustration, I decided to "press any key." I should've done that before: the computer briefly said "boot from CD/DVD," which makes no sense at all, and then booted up from the proper hard drive.

Maybe there's a good reason that putting a side panel back on a computer would cause the booting system to mess up, but I'm certainly not aware of it.

So that's where it stands now. Every time I boot it up, I have to press a key so it can tell me it's booting from a DVD, but not really. That took about four hours from my life. I'm pretty sure I don't want it to take any more.

* * * * *

A few days ago, my smart-assphone told me it wanted me to allow it to upgrade with new software.

Wisely, it also told me I should back up my current system. Good thinking, I thought.

It helps to know that my phone is an el-cheapo android Samsung that I bought in Cambodia, and I've no idea if it's a knockoff from somewhere other than Korea. To assist Samsung phone owners, there's an "app" called "Kies 3" that Samsung developed to handle administrative chores/frustrate the bejeezus out of Samsung phone owners. Look it up on the internet, and you'll find a lot of smartphone aficionados call Kies 3 "crap."

Naturellement, when I plugged my phone into the computer, Kies 3 said, "Huh?"

It was then that I remembered that every time I've had to back up my phone it was an ordeal. I usually managed to resolve it by trying every USB cable in the house, till I got one that worked. No luck this time.

It's kind of a funny problem, but apparently not uncommon with these phones. You plug it in, and it will charge, but you can't get a data connection.

So I took the phone down to a local Samsung phone dealer, and tried a brand new cable. Nope. The technician there told me they had to replace the cable connection, that incredibly small opening in the phone where you plug in the cable. "You can do that?" I asked, incredulously. They were surprised by the question, but were kind. (In Cambodia, hardly anyone has any money. "It's too expensive to fix, you should probably replace it," isn't an option.) They told me I had to leave it there for a couple hours.

I realized that before I left the phone with someone I didn't know (or someone I did know, for that matter), I should log out of all the things I'm logged into.

Aacckkk! There're a lot of things you can't log out of on a smartphone. Like the contacts, for example. Any person you leave your phone with can very easily download everything on your phone into their storage. I'm guessing my contacts would not be amused.

Solution: You take it to one of the guys (gals? haven't seen any) who work in little booths in a phone store fixing phones, and stand there watching him while he does the work. I got a recommendation from a friend, and did so. Bonus: You get to watch someone at work who really freaking knows what he's doing.

My guy replaced the connection (amazing!), plugged it into his computer, and Bob's your uncle.

Or so I thought. At home, when I plugged it in, my Windows 10 computer, as is its wont, started "installing" the files for what it perceived as a "new" device. It tried and tried, but the little green line of progress just wouldn't go to the end, and then it would give up. Eventually it occurred to me that I've had problems before with my ISP's system when down/uploading files, maybe I should try my phone's data mobility gear. So I turned the phone off, took out the 4g SIM card, plugged it into the little modem I have for when I'm in non-internet-friendly areas of Asia—there are some—and fired it up.

When I plugged in the phone, zip! Done!

(This is how I convinced my ISP's technicians that they had a bit of a problem with their system. I showed them how it choked when I was uploading a large file to my web-site, and then showed them how easy it was when using the SIM card. Ulp!)

Haha! Success, I thought. Kies 3 said, "Huh?"

Suffice it to say that about 1.5 hours later, I discovered the exact sequence in which computer and phone had to be newly re-started and nothing else done, and then maybe Kies 3 would recognize the phone and let me do some work—which then took about 10 minutes.

If I charged Samsung for my time, I could afford a new phone.

I returned home Sunday, mid-afternoon, and now it's close to Thursday. This has been my life.

* * * * *

(Two days later)

Some time ago, my e-mail software started giving me this message every time I start it up:

The binary component required for Lightning could not be loaded, likely because the wrong version combination is being used. You currently have Lightning installed, but should be using a version from the 4.7 series.

Excuse me? I should be using a version from the series I'm using? But I am! WTF!

("Lightning" is the calendar component for Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail system.)

I have two computers, a desktop and netbook, that I use all the time. The netbook is for travelling, and it's operating system is Ubuntu, with an encrypted hard drive. I keep my e-mail and associated folders on the netbook, so I don't have to make any changes when I leave home. When I get back home, the desktop knows where to find the mail. It took me a pretty long time to figure out how to do that. (Drawback: the netbook has to be turned on and using electricity in order to read my mail.)

The desktop is Windows 10. Makes things complicated.

Anyway, I avoided looking into this problem, partly because it wasn't causing me a lot of pain, and I figured trying to figure out what was wrong would. Plus, it's such a BS problem that I figured Mozilla might correct it without my doing anything. (Sometimes happens.)

But today I had some time free, so I decided to look into it. I copied the above message, and was about to surf around the Mozilla site to see if other people had had similar problems. But for some inexpicable reason, it occurred to me to have a look at the netbook's Ubuntu version of the programs, and see if they were working. It turned out that, for some unfathomable reason, the Lightning add-on had been "disabled" by something somewhere. "I wonder if that might have something to do with it," I thought.

So I fixed that. Then when I went back to the desktop and started Thunderbird, everything worked! Problem solved. (Though possibly in a fit of pique because I hadn't wasted a lot of time fixing it, it took about 10 minutes from when I clicked on the icon for the program to actually start up and appear in a window.)

It was just a dumb error message.