Comedy of errors: May edition

Every so often, life gets weird. There are just stretches of days here and there that you look back on and go, “WTF?”

Kat’s birthday was Wednesday, May 7. I had to travel for work that day, and I felt bad, but I’d given her her gift early, and I said I’d take off the next day to spend with her as a make-good. And better still, her brother was supposed to fly out from New York and spend a day or two with her. It was going to be a cool day to hang out.

Her brother canceled Tuesday due to an unforeseen conflict, so I said, hey, we’ll do our thing Thursday anyway. Whatever you want.

I woke up Wednesday from a very long, intense, action-movie dream about the zombie apocalypse ready to catch my flight only to find it was canceled, but the airline was nice enough to call and tell me I was rescheduled on the next flight out. Cool. As I was surfing the web doing a little last minute research, my hard drive crashed. Might as well say my kidney failed — it’s brutal to know that, when you get back from a 12-hour day, you’re going to have to put the pieces of your computer back together.

So I go to the airport, and I find that my flight — the new one, not the canceled one — has been delayed. I’m cutting it closer and closer to the time I’m supposed to be in Los Angeles. Ten minutes before the plane is to arrive, we’re told that the pilot missed his approach and was “in the vicinity.” Basically, he missed the off-ramp. So that pushed our time back even further.

I take my cramped seat between two other passengers on the full, late flight and start reading a magazine when a hand appears over the page. “Hi, nice to meet you, it’s a pleasure to be flying with you today.”

It’s President Jimmy Carter.

I blink twice and give his hand a firm shake. “Thank you, sir,” I stammer. I’d heard someone say something about Carter being in the airport earlier in the day but I was too preoccupied to even consider that, out of the hundreds of flights boarding and departing that day, he might be on my delayed shuttle hop to LA. But there he was, with several Secret Service agents, greeting everyone on the plane personally. That way, I guess nobody will come bother him during the flight. It’s probably easier for security if they don’t try to hide the guy. (I later learned he had done a book signing in San Francisco the day before so he was probably en route to the next appearance.)

The flight lands. I meet my friend who landed on another flight from another airline that doesn’t rhyme with Screwnited and we jump in a cab. We’re still an hour late and everybody else is standing outside waiting for us. We climb in the waiting van and try to leave the parking lot…but there’s a fee of $8 and the driver has no cash and the attendant doesn’t take credit cards. “We take checks,” she offers. “Why would I be carrying checks?” asks our driver, and before I can ask him “Why wouldn’t you be carrying cash?” I offer him the money. “Just gimme the receipt, that’s all I ask,” I say.

We get to our destination and immediately head out to lunch. While there, the radio plays only songs I know, even when they change the station.

I return to the airport, hoping to catch an earlier flight back, and I’m there in plenty of time…to find that my actual flight is cancelled. The airline that rhymes with Fuckyounited has five SFO flights slated for the rest of the day. Three are cancelled, one is delayed, and the other one has 25 people on standby. I’m grateful I’ve been automatically moved to the only remaining on-time departure and sit down to write my story based on the day’s events.

I squeeze between the oversized lady on my right and the drooling sleeper on my left. No heads of state greet me, and my magazine is gone.

When I finally get home, Kat is still out with friends, so I tackle the crashed computer with renewed vigor. No luck. I try several other things the following day — I’ve taken the day off to spend with Kat for her belated birthday. The hard drive looks like it’s damaged when I look at it with one program, but not the other. I can’t rescue data because the registry is toast; any time I try to copy anything from what used to be my desktop, I get a system-halting blue screen error.

(Fair warning — it gets geeky from here.)

I bite the bullet and accept that I will have to reinstall Windows and deal with any data loss — emails, bookmarks, small applications like Microsoft Word. The important stuff — music, pornography, and porn soundtracks — is on other drives…well, other partitions, anyway. But all I have to do is reinstall Windows and move forward.

Hmm. Windows won’t install. It must be a bad drive after all. Kat and I go to Best Buy, where I get her a lovely DS case for her birthday and I get myself a 500GB SATA drive. I’ll show you, computer.

I hook it up. Windows still won’t install. Hmm, maybe the optical drive is the culprit; maybe the laser is misaligned or something. I do use it a lot and they only work for so long before dying. I try from my second optical drive, even though the tray tends to stick whenever I eject a disc. Probably should have picked up one of those, too.

Windows still won’t install. And when I eject the disc, the force of the stubborn tray pops the XP install disc into the air and it jams as it’s ejecting, leaving a cenitmeter-wide scrrrratch so deep that I can see light through the CD. My XP installer disc is irreparably damaged.

I have a backup. I have several computers and have several legitimate copies of XP lying around. I also have a backup optical drive — two, it turns out, when I go looking in the closet of Spare Computer Parts. I quickly install it in the evil drive’s place, pop in the second XP installer disc, and try again.

Windows won’t install. “Maybe your XP install disc is damaged,” offers the setup error message helpfully. Um, no, we’ve ruled that one out.

So now I’ve replaced the hard drive, the optical drive, and the copy of XP. There’s nothing else it can be…except the computer itself. David Murphy at Maximum PC suggests that it sounds like the motherboard itself must be the culprit, since I’ve tried everything else.

I built my PC three years ago. It’s got an Athlon 64 CPU (Socket 754, how quaint!) and an AGP video card. I built it to run Doom 3, which was coming out in six months. It’s an antique that served me well. I knew this day was coming sometime this year and I was hoping to plan for it. But a new motherboard means a new CPU. And new RAM to match. And a new video card now that PCI Express is, you know, the standard. And a new power supply that delivers about twice as much as the one I have now. Maybe a new case. And, um, I just bought a new hard drive this morning. So…I get to keep my two optical drives and my sound card, and that’s about it. Operation Reboot starts Saturday at 11am.

That said, I made Kat pancakes, she got to play WoW for several hours (I played on my laptop while trying to fix the desktop), enjoyed a steak dinner and a delicious birthday cake, and is beyond thrilled with her Kindle. For her, life is not currently weird.

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