Friday, September 12, 2008

Computer woes

I've been busy the past few days trying to make our phone system work.

See, the phone runs through the computer. And, despite the fact that we have seven computers, this has been a major problem. Here's the issue:

Computer number 1 is Tim's laptop, and therefore isn't home all day. Plus it tends to run hot, and he runs music software on it, so he can't have all kinds of extra stuff running all the time interfering with the music software. Plus it doesn't have enough usb jacks for his necessary peripherals and the phone.

Computer number 2 is also a mac laptop, but it's the other kind of mac (intel based), so it doesn't support the usb phone. No good.

Computer number 3 has no usb jacks at all and runs happily using windows 98, which is great since the thing is about 10 years old and I use it to do all my writing. But it won't support the programs required to run the usb phone, even if I put in usb jacks.

Computer number 4 also has no usb jacks and was designed for pre-windows 95. It runs windows 98. Barely. It is Benji's computer--we use it to play old dos-based pc games like Commander Keen.

Computer number 5 functions fine, has usb 1.0 jacks, but was built for windows 98, and it has windows xp installed on it. It runs too slowly, even optimized every way I can learn how, to make phone calls possible. We wanted to switch it to Linux, but the usb phone doesn't support Linux yet, and the computer wouldn't load the linux live cd--it said it has an EDID error, which has something to do with the monitor and the BIOS and I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Computer number 6 would work, even though it's just a little slow, but Caleb has claimed that one as his own, and with all his game-development software running most of every day, it is too slow to run the usb phone. Honestly, at any given time, Caleb has 2 or 3 game-creator programs running, plus graphics programs so he can edit and create "sprites" for his games, plus firefox so he can google answers for his questions. He keeps the thing so busy that he does school on the laptop!

So that leaves us with Computer number 7. It's fast enough. It has ONLY usb ports. It has windows xp running. And it tends to freeze randomly. Totally randomly. Sometimes it will run for a day, sometimes for 3 minutes, and then it's totally frozen and has to be completely rebooted. It's been doing this off and on for a while, and I had accepted that it was the way things were going to have to be until I sold my novel or we got a job and could save some money to buy a new computer.

So I prayed for a computer to run our phone. Then I started watching craigslist for computers, and started trying to fix the only one I have or build two of them into one functioning one.

I have tried everything to get this stupid computer to stop freezing. A couple of different tech people told me to try replacing the memory cards. So I did that. Consensus online (and I saw some evidence for this in comp 7) is that computers freeze when they overheat, so we cooled the computer and put it in a cooler room. Helped for a while, but the problem has grown increasingly worse.

I won't go into all the details about everything I tried to fix this computer, but I'll tell you some things I've learned:
--if the keyboard is broken, editing the BIOS is really hard; just using windows you might not know if the keyboard is broken--you have to get out of Windows to find that out.
--if you push F1 when the computer tells you its name while it's loading Windows, it kicks you into this nifty thing called "setup", which is the BIOS. There, there's this nifty thing called "power management". On some of my computers, the power management options look like jibberish (you'd swear computer geeks talked in just the first letters of the words in every sentence, the way they shortcut things!), but in some you can turn power management to "disabled" and the whole computer runs Tons faster.
--if the computer slows down, some updater is probably running, and you can turn it off in the task manager by ending the process. It'll run again later, believe me, but you might get a break while you work on whatever it is you need to do.
--computers come back from screen saver a lot faster if you set the screen saver to "blank" and turn off all the power management options in windows, too.
--I can not only find the processor inside the computer now, I can take it out and put it in!
--That orange goop on the processor is "thermal paste". It's okay. You can leave it there.
--not all processors have the same number of pins on the bottom, and not all motherboards have the same number of holes for pins, so you can't really swap processors willy-nilly.
--I can change out memory cards.
--Computers don't power up properly if you don't have the memory cards pushed in hard enough.
--Linux live cds don't run linux properly if your cd player in the computer runs slowly.
--but I can download linux live cds, now, and I learned how to "burn an iso"
--there is this list of "services" that you can access in two ways from Windows xp, and most of them run all the time but aren't necessary for most people. If your computer is going slow, or freezing, you can turn some of these off and speed things up considerably. Google them first, though, so you know what you're turning off and if you need it or not. On the list, it specifies "necessary" services--and there are only 3 listed. There are also some, like the event viewer, that can't be turned off.
--there is this thing called the 'event viewer' that you can also access in two ways from windows, and it keeps track of everything windows is doing. If there's a problem, you can go there and look for patterns.
--tons of non-geeks online have complained on geek forums about this certain message in their event viewer "computer browser service has stopped", which precedes windows xp freezing up. All the geeks agree that's a nothing, and it must be the computer overheating. Windows, naturally doesn't acknowledge this is a problem. Nobody knows what the heck is going on with that and so it must be you non-geeks not running things right.

Well, that was the problem on my computer, too--same error message, same behavior. So I found the computer browser service in the "services" list and disabled it. I figured it can't be stopped if it never starts, right? The computer froze twice immediately, and then went on and has run smoothly now for over 24 hours--a record! I even talked to both my parents on the phone today, and the phone didn't hang up on them! That's the first time in months we've been able to do that. I gave the usb keyboard a bath because it acted like someone spilled soda in it. It's drying right now, and we'll see what happens. You can run a computer sans keyboard, but it's awfully hard to use the internet that way, so for now the computer is only a phone computer.

It will possibly freeze again, but for now I am once again grateful that my prayers were answered and I was able to learn the things I needed to learn in order for my needs to be met when we have no monetary resources for them.

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