Mastery Lessons in a Catastrophic Computer Failure

Did you miss me? It’s been five days since my last post but it feels like it’s been forever.

Saturday morning I fired up “Old Faithful” and got the dreaded “blue screen.” It’s happened before, but it’s always given me the “Start Windows Normally” option, which always gave me continuing relief. Until it didn’t.

That morning it gave me a “Automatically Fix Errors” prompt — or something like that — and I felt a little unease, especially when it told me that the scan could take up to an hour. “Wait a minute! It’s Saturday! I’m playing golf today!” The disk continued to churn along.

So my second thought was, “Well, it’s saved me before, it’ll save me again,” and shuffled off to the kitchen…and then to shave. And it was still churning when I got jammed up against my tee time and had to take off. Or so I thought. The screen had gone all black as it sometimes does during the blue-screen dance. 

Okay, since I was playing the course I live on, I’ll just buzz down the street in the cart at the turn and see how it ended up. And there must have been something in that decision, that leap into the freedom of a Saturday morning on a golf course, that allowed me to relax, and pretty much play as well as I had in a year. Even with the turn looming ever nearer with each passing hole, I was flying. But I was also looking forward to returning to my log-in page.

With a 2-foot birdie putt on the par-5 9th after a very long bunker shot — oh, okay, I’m bragging — I scooped up my ball and told the other guys that I hoped to see them on the back…hopped in the cart (having remembered to bring my garage door opener from the car) and buzzed down the quiet street and into my garage. I slipped my golf shoes off and padded into the living room to discover…another black screen and little life.

Okay, it just must be hung up. A kill-the-power reboot could be just the thing; sometimes it just likes to start fresh. And, viola, the “Start Windows Normally” page appeared. Yes! It worked!

But ten minutes later I was staring at another black screen. This was serious. Where do you turn? In seven years, I never needed a tech guy. That old Dell warhorse followed me all across the country on my Champions Tour quest and never so much as chirped.

Fortunately, I had bought a laptop for my wife about two months ago and a wireless printer we both could use just ten days before at the nearby Office Max. I still think of stores like that as a place for office supplies, electronic equipment and office furniture. But in the course of my visits, I discovered that they are working hard at the computer support and repair business. It’s how they answer the phone now. Could be the effect of the merger with Office Depot in November of last year; they just haven’t changed the signage yet.

Anyway, they had a hustling young sales guy experienced and wizened beyond his years in technology and he had been helpful in a follow-up he offered if my wife ever had any problems with her new computer. He was the first person I thought of, despite his years touring with his rock band and arms covered with the requisite tattoos; it gave him a fascinating sense of mystery.

But he wasn’t in that Saturday. But the guy who answered the phone said he could help me and told me to come on down. I was there in twenty minutes. And in the middle of a quiet afternoon, I had him all to myself.

I went through the morning’s events and he said that it wasn’t necessarily fatal and that they could maybe save my data, or some of it anyway. They had had some success, 75% or so he said. But that it would require an hours-long diagnostic test of the hard drive…and that it could run all night long. He was very comforting in his knowledge.

Comforting because although I had an online back-up system, I had grown tired of its resource hogging when I was trying to write at night. I initially set it up to back-up at 4 each afternoon while I was in the fitness center. And by the time I got back at 6, it was done. But then it slowly crept all the way up to 11 pm before it was done. My keyboard turned to molasses and I found it difficult to write in a stream of consciousness.

When they called me to renew my annual subscription and I complained about it, the guy said he could help me with it and he did. It went back to the original two hours, but inexorably crept back up again. Weary at the thought of investigating a new one, I began manually updating it situationally so it wouldn’t interfere with my day. Until I got sloppy a couple of days…and weeks…and finally, a month and a half. It seemed it got less and less convenient and there was always tomorrow…until I stood there in office supplies heaven and it wasn’t.

He asked if I had any system disks and I rushed home and brought three of them back, only one of which was useful. He said he was off on Sunday, but the tech guy would be in at 10 in the morning, he would leave him a note and have him call me as soon as noon with the results. Perfect opportunity to go to Sunday brunch with my girl.

But somewhere in there the note didn’t make sense to the tech guy and when he called me a little after noon, I learned that the diagnostic had yet to be done…and that since it was Easter Sunday, they would be closing at 5 o’clock. He would let me know on Monday…but he wasn’t scheduled to come in until 2 o’clock.

But that potential for aggravation turned into another elixir: I had a 10:40 tee time Monday morning with a good golf buddy and, after watching the finish at the Heritage in Hilton Head, I was itching to play. And now I would be able to.

I told the tech guy that I would come down straight from the golf course so that we could make the decisions we needed to make: it’s toast, you’re screwed; we were able to save some of the data but we don’t know if it will be everything you need; we were able to save the data and now you need to decide to try to reconstitute the system software in a seven-year-old machine or buy a new machine to transfer it too.

And, oh, by the way, I had a meticulous Excel spreadsheet with all my user names and passwords, I just never got around to printing it out. Would that be one of the files they could extract? With the password for this site a clever-at-the-time, 10-figure, randomly-generated characters, would 3½ years of work be entombed forever? While I was fine during the day and could get to sleep instantly at night, that was the one that woke me up  at 4 in the morning. I would just lie there and try to get my mind to concentrate on black.

It all obviously ended happily ever after, but not before deciding Monday afternoon that buying new was better and cheaper than reconstituting — too many costly tech hours with too many missing disks and product codes — and racing down to Best Buy in rush hour traffic to make a choice for the next seven years (a fast, 15″ HP, Windows 8, touch screen, everybody seems to want to know; Office Max only had one touch screen on the shelf).

And not before poring over the data dump to see if the spreadsheet was there. And not before working with a guy in the Philippines until 1 am to configure my various email accounts.

And not before spending an hour and a half today with another guy in the Philippines re-installing the software for the new wireless printer; for some reason my wife’s got corrupted and there were challenges.

The point of all of this is that in the midst of all of this calamity, I was able to bring the same objective view of the world that I bring to a round of golf. I no longer get upset by golf shots. I just take them in and move along. I didn’t like it, but I was not upset by the gaps in the store’s scheduling.

I no longer make myself wrong when I play. I just observe mistakes and move to correct them. I finally printed out my Excel spreadsheet and I’m activating the new back-up software tomorrow.

And I never fail to be amazed by the people who surround me, who they are and what they’re capable of…including me.

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