Thursday, January 10, 2008

That Does Not Compute

So far we have covered a lot of diverse ground. We have touched on politics, Mardi Gras, and a bit of sports. However, the major reason I started this blog was to consider computing in its literal and figurative senses. So, I should state for the record that I hope to make the world of computing every bit as exciting and enthralling as the other fields we have covered. I understand that sounds bizarre, but I believe it can be done in an intelligent and entertaining fashion. Like life itself, knowledge is key. For example, the other day I ran into a partner of one of my mother's doctors. He was concerned that his server had stopped working. The practice had suffered a loss of power and when power was restored, the server was showing a black screen with an error message. Thinking that the entire office's records and other important data had been lost, he was naturally upset. He was prepared to have a computer consultant or network engineer come to his office and charge him a huge hourly rate to have it fixed forthwith. "It says NTLDR not found," he confided to me. "It sounds very serious." I could feel the smile starting to curl on my face. I wasn't sure if he thought "Oh, no! He's smiling because he sees dollar signs in front of his eyes" or something similar. My advice to him was simple. "Go back to the office and press the eject button on the the floppy disc. Remove the floppy and reboot the computer. It should work fine then," I said. He looked a little unsure about what I was saying, but he did as I suggested and called me back very excited a little while later to leave me a voice mail. "You were right," said the voice message. " There was a floppy disc in there. We took it out and it's working now. Thanks again." Like many things in life, computing revolves about what you know. In this particular case there were several key items he had revealed. First, everything was working until the power failure. That meant to me it wasn't a chronic situtation. Second, the computer seemed to be coming back up, so it wasn't a physical problem with the hardware. That left two solutions. Either a hardware device was blocking the software from engaging or the software was corrupted in some fashion. As to hardware, the boot sector of the hard drive could be the culprit or even the motherboard itself if a surge had somehow passed the surge protector and power supply, which was possible, but doubtful. What brought the smile to my face, however, was the error message. I've seen that error message hundreds of times before and it was always in a situation where I was rebooting a computer following an update to the motherboard BIOS or loading a driver to the operating system that was on a floppy. What the computer is saying is "Hey, I can't find the NT Loader file that I require to boot this computer. Therefore, I will wait until you give it to me." Unlike humans, computers are very patient in design. The motherboard's BIOS (basic input-output system) settings had been set to seek a floppy drive when booting and most likely had the hard drive in a lower priority on booting (typically following the CD ROM). Had the server been set to seek out the hard drive at a higher priority than the floppy or had the floppy seek function been disabled in the BIOS, the server probably would have come back up after the power was restored with no problem. But, then, the doctor would never have known what I knew right away from his description. He had a floppy disc in that drive and he needed to remove it immediately. It's a shame that all of life is not nearly as simple.

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