A couple of weeks ago, my main computer started crashing. Sometimes Windows would just hang, not responding to the keyboard or mouse, and sometimes I’d walk in to find it sitting there displaying the Blue Screen of Death. This happened two or three times a day.
I’m running a pair of Seagate Barracuda 500GB hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration. This means that the hard drive controller circuits on the motherboard are keeping duplicate copies of my data, one on each physical hard drive. Windows sees the drive as a single virtual 500GB drive. Every time I change a file on my computer, the RAID controller updates both hard drives with the change.
After some of the crashes, when I rebooted, my RAID controller would tell me that one of the hard drives had failed. Because a RAID 1 set is redundant, my data was still intact and usable on the other drive with no need for me to restore backups or anything like that. My computer ran just fine without the second drive.
I was a little unwilling to believe that one of my 1-year-old drives had failed, so I just brought up the RAID management application and told it to rebuild the failed drive from the intact one. It spent a couple of hours doing this behind the scenes while I worked, and everything was fine. Until the next time the computer crashed and the drive failed out of the RAID set again.
I also have dual monitors on my computer, a widescreen main monitor and a smaller side monitor. A few days later, after restarting the computer from yet another crash, my right-hand monitor came up displaying a pure white screen. I power cycled it, and it was fine for a while and then it failed white again.
My instinct is to ignore problems like this and hope they go away. Sometimes that works, but not this time. I had to figure this out.
I decided that I was dealing with two issues, not some sort of systemic problem affecting two subsystems. By switching the cables to my system monitors, I was able to confirm that the problem was in the small monitor itself, not in the computer controlling it. This meant the hard drive problems were a separate and unrelated failure.
(Any professional IT people reading this are probably thinking “Duh!” but I’m a computer programmer, not an IT support expert, so solving problems like this does not come naturally.)
At this point, I could probably have referred the matter to Dell tech support, but…let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Instead, I went to Fry’s Electronics and bought a replacement drive which I swapped in on Saturday. My computer has been working fine ever since. (I’ll replace the monitor later.)
Now all I had to do was report the failed drive to Dell and get them to replace it under the warranty. Then I’ll use the new drive I just bought for something else. I was home free. Or so I thought.
Yesterday, right in the middle of submitting a trouble ticket to Dell, my Internet connection went down. I called tech support at Speakeasy (my DSL provider) and the technician quickly determined that the problem was a break in the line between my house and the central office.
That “last mile” of wire to my house is owned by my phone company, AT&T. Since they also sell DSL service, they’re actually in competition with Speakeasy. However, since the “last mile” of line is a monopoly, federal regulations force them to lease the line to Speakeasy. But federal regulations can’t force them to make it easy. They have 24 hours to respond to the problem.
I have to wait in my house all day in case they show up to test the line, because if they show up and I don’t answer the bell, they get another 24 hours.
Right now I’ve go the Verizon air card from my laptop plugged into a USB port on my main desktop computer. It’s not as fast as I’m used to. I’m also worried about the cost. Its data plan is not unlimited, and the per-megabyte charges for exceeding it are pretty high. The laptop is configured to minimize internet activity, but my desktop computer does all kinds of stuff by itself, including an offsite backup of important files on my computer. Who know how much data it transfers in a day?
I’ve got my other computer pinging the main internet connection. I’m just waiting for it to come back up.
Or for something else to break.
Update: My new best friend Glen fixed the problem with the line and I’m back on the internet.
While AT&T’s handling of 3rd-party DSL makes me feel unloved, the guys out in the field have always been courteous and professional.