Back at so-called work after the trip

posted in: Creativity, Publishing, Web/Tech | 6

The trip was wonderful. I’m back at work, with a deadline, wondering how, or whether, it is possible to be in an independent business that is computer-dependent. Linocuts and letterpress look darn appealing. My daughter, who has observed all this, suggests that hand-lettering and hand-drawing a thousand copies of a book looks darn appealing.

Some of what has been happening

I won’t include every detail because I can’t stand to look at them all at once (and, unlike Western rangeland, this is boring territory to drive across) but will give the flavor of what I’m up against, with a book that needs to go to press in a few weeks.

I have been dealing with these problems since at least October 2007. The problems do not seem to be hardware-related; they have occurred on three different computers. None of the software I am using is truly new (i.e., it all operated problem-free until last fall), although since there are constant updates with everything something may have been updated in one of the programs that now conflicts with one or more of the others.

I have worked with three independent computer consultants, and have long-standing open support tickets with several software sources, including Microsoft (free, because it involves failure of updates), Adobe (fee-paid), font management folks, antivirus folks, I forget what else. The information is in my computer notebook if I need to find it.

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Date indicators are per incident; there was more for 8/9 on the previous page. Notes for 8/19 are all for one series of events, reflecting more than three hours of computer-specific tasks (including five sequential troubleshooting steps, sections of which are documented on the printout clipped to the lefthand page).

PC, Mac, Linux

The operating system is Windows XP Pro, which I have been running for a number of years. I need to have at least one functioning PC because of the business side of the business.

I know that a Mac might solve some of the problems I am having, at least with the design side of the work. Macs are not completely trouble-free either, but I’m told that the types of problems I am having would not be so severe (i.e., the OS is generally more stable). A whole second system requires not just several thousand dollars’ worth of hardware but also several thousand dollars’ worth of design software. . . .

My laptop runs Fedora (Linux) for a reason. It’s not perfect, either, but I have never seen a blue-screen shutdown on it. The layout of the image-laden books I publish would be impossible with the Linux  programs that are so reliable for text-heavy publishing. We have also gone beyond the world of Xacto knives and waxed strips of type, which could otherwise be my link to the world of Linux production. "Camera-ready" is a technology of the past, although I still possess the Xactos and a handheld waxer. Google is not even readily offering me a link that explains how we used to make books that way.

The nitty gritty

Unless you would like to appreciate the fact that your computer system is working better than mine, which it almost certainly is, I actually suggest you skip the bulleted section of this post and go look at this comic instead, sent to me yesterday by a friend, who also sent me lots of positive, cheering quotations and thoughts after I uncharacteristically fell apart yesterday morning. (I’d link to creator Bill Amend’s page, but I can’t locate this particular item there.) Then skip to the end. There are dog photos.
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Samples of my working process (not the full list) in the past nine days alone (8/19 to 8/27, since we got back from our trip):

  • While entering order in publishing-specific accounting software, complete computer crash: blue screen (not the regular blue screen of death but the one with the BIG TYPE that means you’ve gone down to the lowest levels of the system), then black screen and computer reboots itself, followed by message The system has recovered from a serious error. . . .
  • Call to a new (third) independent computer consultant, highly recommended by a friend. After half an hour on phone, including description not only of the most recent problem but an overview of the previous sequences, says, "There’s no point in my charging you for a site visit because the problems you describe are not connected enough to be easy to troubleshoot. Try changing to a different antivirus software, and operating without your font management program, one at a time, and see what happens. I’ll let you know if I come up with any other ideas."
  • Troubleshoot OS suggestions for blue screen error caused by device or driver. (Nothing new here that I haven’t already done, and now do again.)
  • During search of hard drive for a file, error occurs. Unable to close search window, which went blank but couldn’t be removed. Two other program windows could not be closed, even with Task Manager. Hard reboot (i.e., have to close by shutting off power).
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 SP2 cumulative hotfix 3068 fails to install for the umpteenth time. Computer consultant said I probably don’t need it, but the system keeps trying to get it in place and never succeeds. Message: Locked files found. End these processes to avoid reboot. Unable to close processes; not shown in Task Manager. Figure who cares if I have to reboot; I do it all the time anyway. Failed to install. Failed to install. Log: SQL Server not responsive prior to running Repl PostScript procedure.
  • Adobe Acrobat 8.1.2 update followed by forced restart.
  • Uninstall antivirus software I’ve been using for three years (since before problems started). Download, unpack and install another antivirus program. Full scan of hard drive takes 18 hours (previous program took less than 2).
  • InDesign has encountered a problem and needs to close. . . . followed by system not recognizing the active internet connection when it was time to report the error. The latter is a new glitch.
  • Away from the computer for an hour or so and came back to work again. Tried to wake up InDesign, with LONG period of not responding. Closed all other open programs, which took several minutes because they were not responding. Closed InDesign as well. Re-opened it, which took quite a few minutes, not responding. Reboot to clear memory, in case that helps. Shouldn’t take half an hour to get back to work.
  • Illustrator has encountered a problem and needs to close. . . . followed by  system not recognizing the active internet connection when it was time to report the error.
  • Basic items supposed to be on the start menu are not there. Re-connect them.
  • InDesign has encountered a problem and needs to close. . . .
  • Remove font management software. Reboot. Install only mission-critical fonts directly in Control Panel. InDesign says one critical font is missing. Go to Control Panel to install . . . it’s easy to miss one font, even when you’re working with just 30 or so. System says it’s already installed. Close everything and reboot, in case that helps. Same critical font still not recognized. I may have to redesign the book with another font in its place. I have already substituted ALL the primary fonts in this book, i.e., redesigned the whole darn thing, trying to get the system to work without crashing.  (The fonts I pulled out worked fine with the first book in this series, but we’re trying everything.) There is no good alternative for the font that I will need to replace now . . . it took quite a bit of research to locate it in the first place. I will need to reconceive the design to use something entirely different.

Where that leaves me, the book, and the whole publishing vision

So that’s where I am this morning: working on a book without font management software, with only the essential fonts installed, one of them still not available, and the potential for a crash at any minute.

If I can get this book safely completed (including the total redesign) and into PDF format for transmission to the printer within the next three weeks, the fiercely independent Nomad Press may survive. If not, I am looking for work. I am probably looking for work anyway. I don’t get paid for computer troubleshooting, or for re-doing layout work I’ve already done (repeatedly).

Oh, I still also need to write back-cover copy and arrange for, or produce, several final illustrations, coordinate the proofreading (needs that redesign first, so the text is correct) and indexing (needs the redesign implemented throughout, so what’s on each page doesn’t change), and I forget what else.

Good news: I successfully acquired the Cataloging-in-Publication data from the Library of Congress over the weekend, only possible because I qualified for the electronic beta program earlier this year, and I think I have the most important final illustrations in place now.

Although when I opened the book file yesterday afternoon, a half-dozen of the placeholder images for the technique drawings were inexplicably missing from the file. I had to re-locate and re-plug them in.

Screensaver text: "One thing at a time."

I gotta get out of here

End of day: Take the dogs to a farm pond for a therapeutic swim.

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Ariel (13 years and 10 months old) wears a vest because we’re working on strengthening her arthritic back legs.

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Tussah (about 10 years old) just comes along for the fun.

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Because it was the end of the day, there were lots of mosquitoes, hopefully not the variety that carries West Nile virus. My daughter says, "At least they’re the kind of bloodsucker you can squash." Yes, we had bug dope on.

Now, all we need is computer-bug dope. . . .

And today. . . .

Morning again: Take two Excedrin and sit down at the computer. Avoid most problems temporarily by writing a blog post. Gather courage and click to open InDesign, then the book file. Directly opening the book file, which should work fine, results in more crashes than opening the program first. I’ve learned a few things in this process.

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Copyright 2008 Deborah Robson

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6 Responses

  1. Linda Cunningham

    My Mac is getting to the point where it does, infrequently though, hang, but given it will be seven years old in October, I attribute that to trying to run a few programs and my new printer that really want upgraded hardware.

    So long as it doesn’t die before I get a book out that’s due Monday, I’ll be happy.

    (Even though I also do letterpress and linocuts, I think I’d stick with the computer for anything of more than five pages or ten copies….)

  2. Deborah Robson

    Yeah. I’ve done letterpress and linocuts, and I love them, but I know exactly how slow they are, by comparison. . . . But since I am looking at close to a year’s work here on the edge of a cliff, the problem-solving ideas are reaching very far afield. . . .

  3. Dina

    I feel your pain! I’m sure your distributor will understand if the book is a bit late but hey – good karma plug that it wont be!

    What a week, month, year you’ve had! I’d have fallen apart a loooong time ago!

  4. Donna Druchunas

    I sent 2 responses to this in email. Also, do you need someone to take you out for a nice dinner with a bottle of wine this weekend? If so, call me.

  5. tycho garen

    I’ve been running VM Ware Fusion, this OS virtualization software for intel Mac machines (I think it’s 80 bucks retail.) on my Intel mac laptop for a while and I love the way it works. In addition to allowing folk to run operating systems “inside” of encapsulated environments on your system (and also integrating the operating systems pretty well, particularly for windows), it also lets you take snapshots of “known good states,” which you can restore and start in under five minutes. Here’s one setup:

    get a mac, set up windows in a virtualized machine with all the software that you currently own, and save this state as a snapshot so that you can restore the virtualized system to this state if you have any problems. This way you save on buying new software until the next time that you would have bought the new software anyway, and you get this snapshoting ability, which might help your problem.

    I’m not nearly as familiar with the virtualization tools for linux, but I think the piece of software is called VM Ware Workstation. I think the open source VM of choice is called Xen (or xen.org), but it’s more targeted at running multiple instances of server software on one machine for load balancing, than it is on workstation users.

    In terms of the stability question, Linux and OS X are probably on par with each other in just about every way that you or I would ever notice.

    As I think about it there are probably virtualization tools that will run inside of windows (XP, to be able to virtualize in Vista you need the top-grade package/version) that would let you encapsulate the crashing programs so that they wouldn’t bring down the whole system and/or something that might let you save applications in good working states for backup.

    Just thoughts…

  6. LynnH

    Deb, it’s a good thing you had something like a vacation before all this. Nobody could remain totally sane with all you are experiencing.

    None of my problems seem worth complaining about next to yours. This sounds like old Windows-98 days, where one driver install would make nothing work and you had to reinstall the OS to fix it. Ugh.

    Those were the days I fixed computers for my job. I got paid a lot of times to reboot per Microsoft, a zillion times in a day.

    I’m sending good vibes from Michigan. I have a hint of what you’re going through, and my stomach hurts.

    Remember to nurture yourself as much as you can while you are plowing through this stuff. At least drink really good tea while clunking through the deskwork.

    I’m SO on your team.

    LynnH in Michigan

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