Thursday, November 7 2019

power outages, rodney's terms, and Intel woes

1114 words

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! I hope your Thursday is going really well. Yesterday was a very full day - full with highs and lows. Things started off pretty well. I had a very productive day, then went out to lunch with my team at a pretty great Italian restaurant. However once the meat lasagna hit my stomach, things slowed down and I didn’t feel so chipper in the afternoon. I push my change out into production, which went great - absolutely no hiccups. There’s nothing quite like the thrill like moving around infrastructure while people are using it, especially when it goes completely unnoticed. Afterwards, I had some meetings, then jumped on the bus for home.

Marissa had told me that there were a few power outages in our house in the morning, and as a result the dining room computer was no longer booting. When I got home, Marissa also told me that the plex server was down. I trotted upstairs and saw that the LED on the server was turned off. I gently tapped the power button with my toe, and the machine sprung to life. The file server is rock solid, so I knew it was back on without even having to check. I was one for two, so far so good.

Against my better judgment, I decided to try to fix the dining room computer before leaving for Hy-Vee with Rodney. I spent about fifteen minutes rebooting, jiggling the video cable, futzing with monitor settings, and trying to get into the BIOS with sheer luck by hitting random F keys during boot. No dice.

For those who don’t remember, our dining room computer is an Intel NUC. It’s about the size of… I don’t know - maybe the kind of metal box you’d keep your baseball cards in? It’s very small, and as a result of the cozy form factor, the hardware doesn’t give you a lot of feedback when something is afoot. There’s just a pale blue power button that turns off when the computer is powered off, and sometimes it turns orange for some reason.

The computer put me in a bad mood, and probably related, the tiny migraine I had since lunch had escalated. I blame the salty, saucy lunch I had, but Intel made it worse. I popped an aspirin and head out the door with Rodney.

Rodney was in a great mood, and on the car ride over I did my best to match his enthusiasm for where we were going. Rodney told me stories of getting to pet our vet’s cat while taking Ollie, and also getting to see the neighbor’s cat playing in their window when he and Marissa got home. So I gather it was a very cat heavy day.

We also listened to Christmas music - erm, I’m sorry, Rodney calls it ‘santa music’, and I’m trying to adopt the term in my own day-to-day life. I try to make it a habit of using Rodney’s terms for everything. I enjoy the way he sees the world. For example, to Rodney there are no sir’s or madam’s. He simply addresses everyone as officer. And while we’re on the subject, police officers drive ambulances. He gets excited about what he’s getting for chrimbus this year, and in the car we listen to santa music.

So as the santa music played on, I asked him for an update on what he wanted for chrimbus. He didn’t seem to have any new ideas. Parking at Hy-Vee, Rodney suddenly got excited, seeing two officers in the parking lot walking back to their ambulance.

Rodney and I picked up groceries. We grabbed some kale, a french loaf, onions, carrots, potatoes, some bacon, and some yogurt to restock in the fridge at home. I also treated myself to a half pint of Hennesy. In the winter I like to drink it with eggnog. While I checked out in the side liquor store of Hy-Vee, Rodney rearranged the tiny plastic bottles of Schnapps at the checkout. “Thanks for doing that, mister,” said the cashier gesturing toward Rodney. “No prawwwwblem, officer,” said Rodney while flashing a grin. The cashier looked at me, puzzled, and doing my best “sounds-right-to-me” face and we walked away to buy the rest of our groceries.

I cooked dinner while Rodney watched Blippi. We had hutspot, kale, and because I was feeling lazy and still burnt out from the Intel NUC fiasco, a microwaved rotisserie chicken from the counter. For all the chicken I make at home, I still can’t make one as delicious as those little wrapped rotisserie chickens from Hy-Vee. But maybe someday.

Marissa kindly offered to put Rodney to bet while I continued battling the dining room computer. I was relieved to discover that it was just a problem with the HDMI driver. The computer seemed to boot fine (most of the time) with my VGA adapter. I spent about an hour following Intel’s instructions for updating the BIOS (which is the term for the very tiny amount of code that runs just before your computer boots up, and you usually interact with it by hitting F2 or something). I sacrificed a USB drive, downloading a new binary from Intel’s website and rebooting - F7, RETURN, RETURN.

The screen went black for several minutes, and the pale blue power button winked erratically. The computer booted to our desktop. Triumphantly, I switched the computer back to it’s rightful HDMI cable. Blackness. Nothing.

I felt a knotted ball of rage in my throat. After some hushed expletives, I plugged the VGA dongle back into the computer and wrapped the now defunct HDMI cable around the monitor arm. I was done for the day.

And so concluded the day of broken things. Now an hour and a half sunk in my Wednesday chore evening, I reluctantly decided to scrap the night’s Nesting Power Hour. I like to think wrestling with Intel’s BIOS counted toward that somehow.

Man, the words come easy when I’m ranting about broken software. Today, wherever you are, I hope the computers in your life are good to you today. They can be helpful sometimes, but don’t let them off easy. Resist showing gratitude when they simply do their job, because the truth is they’re probably one or two power outages away from inexplicably not booting to HDMI anymore, no matter how recently the BIOS was updated.

Have a great day everyone.