The Blue Screen of Death

This article originally appeared April 10, 2009, in issue 1714.

I know the signs; I’ve seen them before. In the beginning the hints are subtle; there are slight hesitations before agreeing to do as I ask.

The hesitations last no longer than the taking of a deep breath, but they seem to last for an eternity.

It’s not outright mutiny I’m facing, but an inclination to rebel that lurks somewhere beneath the surface.

When a relationship begins to slide into the abyss there’s a plethora of emotions to endure: frustration, despair, hopelessness, and anger.

Why can’t we agree to exist harmoniously? Let’s try and work things out. Do I make too many demands? I don’t know.

I tinker with the mechanics of our affair hoping for the perfect solution. Perfection is an ephemeral quality that many seek and never find.

Our time together is over when logging on to my computer the monitor mysteriously flashes on, off, turns black for a moment, and I find myself sitting before the ?blue screen of death.? I moan, yell, curse, kick the wall, and throw my hands in the air, but all to no avail.

I contemplate the possible alternatives now that It’s time for a new beginning. I re-evaluate what it is that I’m seeking in a relationship. My conclusion is that I desire a sweet system That’s difficult to find; It’s speed as well as the basics that I yearn for.

Will it drive my peripherals and provide word processing and spreadsheets? Will I be able to enjoy music and movies? Questions, questions, questions, too many questions, but as a part-time student experience has taught me that diligent research provides answers.

Every university student understands the reliance that I place upon my computer in order to function academically. Whatever the age my electronic mate is, I need it to perform flawlessly in order to succeed. For instance, without my keyboard in front of me, I labour under a psychological burden when beginning a critical essay. I’m intimidated by the blank sheet of paper sitting atop my desk.

A computer only does what I tell it to do. Computers don’t possess the cognitive abilities that I have, although they may in the future. An enterprising scientist in Europe has successfully fused ?living brain cells and silicon circuits.? In years to come, my organic desktop system will advise me when our relationship needs intervention, such as a component replacement or a maintenance session.

Throughout these past two years, I’ve managed my affairs with a ubiquitous operating system I’ll leave unnamed (though I quickly conclude that I’m a ?V? victim?). I feel victimized and this recent bout of emotional turmoil convinces me to sever our partnership.

Budgetary constraints decree how exotic my new partner will be. A trip to the local computer store proves to me that purchasing off-the-shelf software and hardware isn’t an option.

For one thing, I’m not certain what the root of our problem is. Did the disk fail? Is there a file corruption disabling the system? Is the CPU long past its prime? How am I, the computer illiterate, able to diagnose an electronic malaise?

The first thing I attempt to do is reinstall my old operating system. However, after a frustrating afternoon I turn to other sources for help. Perusing the Internet, I’m offered several possible solutions; there’s an abundant amount of advice available, but some sources are questionable and caution is therefore advised.

Hours later, after attempting several fruitless procedures, I quit. I don’t count these spent hours as a loss, because I’m now more computer literate than I was before.

I hit on the notion that replacing the hard drive, even if the problem isn’t solved, will be a worthwhile investment. The installation is straightforward and simple. I note how the old drive is connected and duplicate the same with the new drive, taking special care to avoid electrical shock (you can never be too careful when working with electrical equipment). Furthermore, nothing is gained by frying sensitive electronic components.

Harm to myself and the computer circuitry is avoided and the installation is accomplished without incident. The drive is formatted and ready to receive the operating system. However, when I try to install my old system, numerous messages tell me that a particular file is corrupted and must be replaced.

The previous forced shutdowns and restarts, cursor hangs, indecipherable error messages, and other idiosyncratic behaviours have turned me into a thoroughly disgruntled customer already. I now pledge never to return to the fold. I turn to the Internet again.

And I discover Linux. There are numerous Linux-based operating systems available, and It’s a matter of choosing which one best meets my needs. And they’re legally free for the asking. I learn that Linux Ubuntu is available by download over the Internet or by ordering the disk. The disk is mailed free of charge. A disclaimer advises a 10-week wait, but my disk comes within 10 days.

I’m a neophyte when it comes to the Linux-based systems, but there are numerous Ubuntu sites with plenty of information to help me along. I now have a complete system that meets my needs. Not all is perfect, however. There are a few nagging problems for me to contend with.

For example, configuring my printer to work with Ubuntu appears to be straightforward, but isn’t. Although my Brother laser printer is listed in the installation guide, the printer refuses to print. By searching through and trying other printer drivers, I discover an alternative that works. Problem solved.

However, I learn that configuring a wireless device is more problematic. A few devices exist that are Linux compatible right out of the box, but it appears that these aren’t available in North America. There are alternative installation methods, but a perusal through numerous web sites and blogs convinces me that configuring a USB wireless device will be brutal, exasperating work.

I’m not ready for that task yet, but will be one day. Is there perchance a reader out there who can offer a simple solution? This wireless hassle is an unfortunate glitch in an otherwise rewarding experience.

Still, I’m a realist. The honeymoon is barely over, so I’m guarding against my expectations being too high. A month has passed and my new relationship is growing stronger. I’m content and confident that this one will work. So confident, that I rescue an old laptop from the storage room, blow the dust from the keyboard, purge the hard drive, and install Puppy Linux on it.

Puppy is a small distribution, 100 megabytes, that packs lots of wallop for its size; it gives new life to an old PC. Like Ubuntu, Puppy has a full slate of features. The basics are included with the initial download and other complimentary ?puplets? are available through the official Puppy Linux website. Like its brothers, Puppy is free. Puppy is fun to take for a walk and its speed is exhilarating.

Printer configuration is approximately the same as Ubuntu. I’m surprised to discover that my USB wireless device connects to my router automatically. Puppy is friendly to ?newbies? such as myself and has all the applications that I want in an operating system. In my short experience with Puppy, I can attest that getting some of the features to work requires research and effort. There’s a learning curve to contend with, but That’s endemic to every new operating system whatever its profile.

Puppy is a slimmed-down, functional operating system. I’m happy with my new Puppy; It’s helping me meet my career and academic goals.

I’m ready to tackle that essay now, but first I’ll take my new puppy for a run.

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