Friday, October 12, 2012

Total Loss

Not a great week on the work front, kiddies. As you may have guessed from my blog-silence.

The not-great-ness has derived purely from a technological perspective, mind you. Never fear, I’m not personally in trouble or having collegial conflicts, nor is my gig in danger of going away (any more than usual, at least). But it’s been a bit of a boondoggle as far as my computer-oriented productivity has been concerned.

Ironically, I was all set and psyched to write a little riff on Monday about how it was Columbus Day and I was allowed to come to work dressed down and my contracting boss was going to take us out to lunch and let us go home early. And all of that did in fact end up being true and coming to pass, plus as per my boss’s usual working-holiday tradition there were some presentations of service awards and I got my little (non-personalized, times are tough) Lucite paperweight for five years at the company. All pleasant enough.

But when I first arrived at work Monday morning, after having been out on Friday (we made it to the wedding on time and the kids comported themselves like little angels and the ceremony was lovely and we were all four abed by 9 p.m.; a more detailed recounting of the ups and downs of the trip is perhaps a story for another day) I found that my computer would not boot up. It cycled through the process a bit, stopped, shut down, restarted, repeated, ad infinitum. I tried restarting in Safe Mode, Networked Safe Mode, Last Known Good Configuration, &c. &c. but couldn’t get the box to a happy place. So I called the IT Help desk … which was of course short-staffed due to it being a federal holiday. But someone did answer and start a ticket for me, and I spent the couple of hours before and after our long lunch at Chili’s just sitting at my desk reading a book on graphic design, which is at least glancingly related to my occasional work duties developing new web applications.

I went home Monday night and came back Tuesday morning and the situation had not improved. I let the office manager know where things stood and when an IT person came through our office on an unrelated assignment, she collared him and pointed him my way. It’s always interesting dealing with IT people, I find. I readily concede that they know more about our DoD networks, and networks and hardware in general, than I do. But I do know a little about computers (just enough to make trouble) so when the IT guy asked me if I had tried shutting down and rebooting my computer I thought that was a fairly condescending question, but I understood that he has to start somewhere and it’s not the first time someone has assumed I wouldn’t have thought of that on my own. I brought the guy up to speed on what I had tried to no avail, and he tried it himself just to verify, and then he disconnected my machine and took it away in order to re-image it (wipe the memory clean and start over installing the operating system and programs, basically). The laughable aspect, which I admit ends up being a good thing, is that as you may recall the computer was almost brand new. So I didn’t have extensive amounts of data that would be lost in the re-imaging, barely any at all in fact; I had offloaded all my personal files to my assigned network folder in order to facilitate the recent upgrade, and they are all still there. Because YOU NEVER KNOW.

So that was toward the end of the day Tuesday, and the plan was for the re-imaging (which can take hours) to happen overnight and maybe I’d be back in business in the morning. Meanwhile, my contracting boss had informed me that I could sit in the cubicle next to his, which is where his GFE laptop is docked, and I could log on to the laptop so as not to be completely off the grid any longer than necessary. The laptop didn’t have all the software I normally need to do my whole job, but then again, neither did my new computer right before it died, so it wasn’t that much of a step backwards. And it was just for one afternoon of catching up … right?

On Wednesday morning when I got in (a little late, as I accidentally overslept, which my wife was gracious enough to characterize as a bit more purposeful since there was no rush to get back to a desk without a computer) sure enough my computer had not yet returned from the IT department. I called the tech, got his voicemail, left a message, and sat down to work on the laptop. Occasionally I would cruise past my desk to see if the voicemail icon was flashing. No word by midday so I called the tech again, and actually got him. He said the re-imaging hadn’t worked, because my computer had a defective hard drive (uh-oh) and he had requisitioned a new hard drive, installed it, and found that one didn’t want to boot up either (UH-OH) so he needed to do some more diagnostics to see if I had the improbable bad luck of getting two bad hard drives in a row or if there was actually some problem with the motherboard or other crucial components aside from the hard drive. I stood by until the end of the day, called back again for a status update, got vm again, left a message, and headed home.

No word from IT on Thursday morning, but I spoke to the office manager again and she was not happy about the lack of progress and promised to get some follow-through. I resigned myself to another day on the laptop, which was all right for a couple of hours until (suddenly and without warning!) my access card just stopped working. First I couldn’t send an e-mail, so I closed and re-opened Outlook, which solved nothing so I rebooted my computer, and then I couldn’t log in to the computer at all. So I went down to the building lobby where the access card issuance office is and sat in the waiting room for about an hour and twenty minutes until someone was able to see me. He checked my access card and immediately declared it was working perfectly, told me to go back upstairs, reboot my computer (ahem) and try it again. I did, and everything was back to normal. At my best guess, IT might have been working on my computer and done something to map my access certificates to the repaired machine which interfered with my access on the laptop – but I had no way of verifying that since I hadn’t heard boo from IT, which held true for the rest of the day.

Seriously, what are they DOING to it down there?

Which brings us to today. No computer, no messages, no change. (No surprise.) But still more thrills and chills! There was an automatic software update which required a restart of the laptop (which of course kicked in after I had been logged on for about half an hour, just enough time to have about seven different things open in varying stages of completion) and I obediently closed out of all my applications and allowed the restart to happen … after which the laptop hung during boot up. So I shut it down manually and restarted again, and it booted up and I logged in … after which the laptop froze. So I shut down again and restarted AGAIN all with a growing sense of terror that maybe the laptop was going to wind up broken and in need of repair as well. Which would not be my fault (I’m 97% sure!) but would no doubt be construed as somehow my fault, if not by the IT folks then at least by my far-less-computer-savvy co-workers. Plus I would then have no ability to do any work at all, having burnt out my fallback position. But fortunately the third time was the charm and (obviously, as I type this) the laptop seems to be holding it together … for now.

There’s also an irritating cherry on top of this super-annoying sundae of a workweek, which involves the travails of my commute. No VRE service on Columbus Day, so I had to drive/Metro in and back (not too bad in the morning but irksomely slow as always in the evening). Tuesday was reasonably normal. On Wednesday, as I said, I went in later in the morning, stayed a little later and then tried to return-trip home, only to find the VRE in a state of total disarray due to a “trespasser fatality” (which is a weirdly awful euphemism for “suicide”, I am forced to assume) which meant the train I was attempting to catch was late, and then revealed itself as it finally reached the platform in Crystal City as totally overcrowded with passengers because the trains on either side of it in the schedule had been cancelled outright. And the train was only going about halfway along the route anyway. I had already called my wife asking if she could meet me at the foreshortened terminal point of the line, and had to call her back and say never mind, can you meet me instead at the final Orange Line stop because I can’t even get on the VRE but at least Metro is giving free rides to accommodate overflow. Of course my wife had no recourse but to bring both kids with her, and we thought maybe we could have dinner in Vienna and wait out the westbound rush hour traffic on 66. Dinner went exceptionally well for involving a four-year-old and eighteen-month-old and a sit-down restaurant, but our stated goal proved over-optimistic: there was still a ton of traffic between us and home when we set out. Thursday the trains were running on time again so the faulty cog in the machine proved to be me, as I was in charge of dropping off the kids, got all the way to the daycare, and realized I had forgotten the little guy’s stuff at home, which was kind of crucial as it included his permission slip and bag lunch for his first ever school fieldtrip. So back home the three of us went, I dashed in for the backpack/lunch, back to daycare and onward to the train, and I got to work with seconds to spare before core hours. By the time I worked my eight and got home again it was basically bathtime for the kids.

Today looks to be more normal, but three out of five off-kilter commutes is already a bit much. Fingers crossed it won’t be four out of five by the time I get home tonight! At any rate, my resignation to the computer situation at work is now deeply settled, so even if things continue to drag out I should at least attempt a bit more regular updating next week.

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