Well, I did not slow down and rest soon enough, much as I was trying to. I’ve been down with a cold for more than a week. A few things have gotten done; I did meet a deadline, but the work was 99 percent complete, and that was extremely fortunate because I only had to do stuff I can do with a mild, persistent headache and no oomph. I’ve read a bunch of books, which I’ll talk about when I can process photos again (computer problems), and have watched at least one excellent movie.
The documentary Murderball was recommended to me almost exactly a year ago by, as I recall, Richard Cabe, who carves stone into wonderful forms, and Susan Tweit, who writes magically. Susan and Richard have restored a bit of industrial wasteland, making it into a bit of heaven that I got to visit last year when Donna Druchunas and I drove up into the mountains to give a presentation in a library (both of us), a workshop (Donna), and a couple of appearances in some high school classes (me). If it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day weekend, it was just before or after. My calendar’s not accessible right now.
My daughter has not wanted to watch Murderball . . . there’s always another movie she’d rather see. So I asked her to bring it from the library for me when I knew she’d be out teaching fencing and I’d be home working on getting well instead of working at my desk. Her interest has been piqued now that I’ve seen it and told her more about it.
Murderball is about quad rugby—a sport played by quadriplegics in specially constructed wheelchairs—but it’s not a sports movie. It’s a people movie. Well, yeah, it’s a sports movie, But as Roger Ebert said in his 2005 review, linked above, "Although the sports scenes are filled with passion and harrowing
wheelchair duels, the heart of the movie is off the court." It would be good preparation for the 2008 Paralympics. (Turns out there’s also wheelchair fencing in the Paralympics. . . .)
As I’ve regained some energy, I’ve been working to resolve the ongoing computer problems, in large part because now the software refuses to prep a book file to go to press, which means the whole system is useless for an absolutely critical task. It’s a good thing I haven’t needed to send anything to press recently, but because I’m a publisher that’s a rare and unusual situation and not one that can be counted on to last long. In this case, all I wanted to do was get a complete, neat, and tidy backup. In InDesign, which is usually my favorite piece of software, you can do that by "packaging" the document, which is one of the critical things that you do (in addition to preparing a set of specialized PDF files) when it’s time to send a project to press.
But the software wouldn’t package the book. It hasn’t been willing to package a book since some time last fall. I can put together backups manually, and have been doing so since mid-December, but "will not package a document" is not a problem I can afford to have in a month or so. In fact, it’s amazing I’ve made it this far with a tool of this magnitude—the layout software—broken to this extent.
Finally it occurred to me that the problem might not be with the layout software, even though I certainly thought it was and have had similar problems in the past and have noodled my way around them.
Yet if, over the course of about six months, you’ve experienced problems, from tiny to massive, that have affected at least four major application programs from a variety of sources, it might occur to you, while lying in bed looking at the ceiling and spending hours pitching compressed tissues at a wastebasket, that the problems could be the fault of something other than the individual pieces of application software just behaving bizarrely all independently.
In Illustrator, I sometimes lose (and cannot regain) the ability to
alt-drag a symbol to duplicate it . . . which is really, really
important to be able to do if you are making knitting charts. This has
been happening since late last summer. I’ve been working around it, grumbling.
During October, InDesign began to have trouble displaying the laid-out pages. I thought this was because I’d begun using Illustrator files for the charts. I mean, the message I got said "out of memory." I thought that was what it was. I increased the RAM, and this helped somewhat, but not as much as it should have.
Yet since at least December, InDesign, as I mentioned, has not been able to package a document. It starts, but it never gets beyond about 20 percent on checking the links.
In mid-January, ACT! quit working and I totally lost the ability to open and use my address-book database. Gone, all access to phone numbers, addresses, and other pretty important information.
In February, I discovered that in Word, I can put highlighting on text, but I cannot remove it. And I can’t access the "insert symbol" function.
Now in March I’ve been experiencing all of these problems, and I’ve tried everything I can think of. I’ve installed even more RAM in an attempt to get the packaging process to work (RAM capacity now maxed). I’ve uninstalled and reinstalled the application software, created new files, removed all extraneous data, and broken down big files into collections of small files, to see whether a smaller file would not invoke the problem or whether I might be able to isolate an offending image or other link that might be causing the hang-up. I’ve mostly done this type of experimentation with ACT! and InDesign, since those have been the places I’ve seen the biggest (although not necessarily the most annoying) glitches.
Possibilities, according to tech support:
- RAM failure. (Already changed RAM. Problem persists.)
- Corruption in operating system.
- Incipient hard-drive failure.
Below is one of the exciting views that you will get to enjoy for quite a long time if you choose to wipe everything off your hard drive and reformat it (that’s what’s happening here . . . thrillingly entertaining) in preparation for re-installing the operating system from scratch:
So I did that. EVERYTHING gone from the hard drive: operating system (OS), applications, documents. Total brain-wipe. Reformat. Twice, for reasons I am currently forgetting. This took a while, and several bouts of booting from the Windows recovery CD while hitting the F10 key repeatedly (several times a second for multiple minutes) while the files were loading in order to access some menu that apparently can’t be reached another way, or reliably that way.
Then I installed the OS. Then I installed the most basic drivers, the ones for things like the chipset and the graphics card. Then I ran checkdisk (CHKDSK) to see if the hard drive is okay (apparently yes). Then I installed more drivers, for things like the printer and the Wacom tablet. Then I started installing the application software again.
It takes a long time to re-install major software programs. After you install each of them from the original CDs, the newly installed stuff insists on retrieving massive update files from the web and letting them install (which repeatedly requires restarting the computer). Getting the operating system, Microsoft Office, and Adobe Creative Suite reinstalled and correctly updated (with security patches and bug fixes) takes a very, very long time. These incremental updates happen about once a week under normal operation and they’re not a big deal. When you start back from the baseline again, they are a big deal.
It’s also necessary for the operator to re-register each piece of software (look up long strings of characters and digits and key them in, then wait for the computer to connect to the net and confirm that yes, this entity still has a legal right to use this software). Fortunately, I’ve got a good organizing process for software and hardware additions to the system, and I have no problem actually finding the original installation disks and the registration codes. That’s a blessing.
Late this afternoon, when I hadn’t quite gotten to the point of reinstalling the fonts (fortunately backed up in a way that makes them relatively easy to put back in place), and definitely before I’d even begun to think about getting any real work done. . . .
The system started hanging again.
On attempting to install a piece of software, I was stuck for more than ten minutes with a message that said "checking space requirements." (I have to look at the screen during these reinstalls because most of them won’t proceed if unattended. They keep wanting minimal but essential operator input. Windows open that you have to click buttons in or the whole process stops. I can knit a little bit on something simple. I can’t read or do anything else.) When I tried to close down the installation with "cancel," nothing changed. When I opened Windows task manager and chose "end task," it wouldn’t. Some additional auxiliary program I’d never heard of also wouldn’t shut down with "end task," although about twenty minutes after the request it did, suddenly (I’d gone off to have dinner). And then the regular shutdown screen with "saving your settings" appeared but it sure took a lot of time for the setting-saving . . . .after a good thirty minutes of no change. . . .
I decided that enough was enough. Time for emergency action. I held down the power button until the system shut down and the screen went black.
And I drove to a coffeehouse and ordered a mug of green tea. I could fix myself tea at home, but I needed to be elsewhere. There’s 24-hour phone tech support for the computer, which is still under warranty with on-site service (although I have no idea what good this is), and the folks I’ve talked with this week have spoken pretty good, if accented, English (Daniel, Stephanie, and Eric), but sometimes it’s good not to call while you still feel like dropping the computer in a frozen lake.
A night’s sleep may help . . . if it doesn’t help the computer, it might at least help the person who juggles the CDs and pitches wadded-up tissues and just wants to get back to doing something that feels productive, like real work.
And now I am thinking of Annie Tremmel Wilcox‘s A Degree of Mastery: A Journey through Book Arts Apprenticeship, which is a far better thing to be occupying my brain with than a recalcitrant computer.
Powering down for today.