Crisis averted

Heather woke me up this morning to tell me that the computer was beeping incessantly and that the image had disappeared from the monitor. This is not how I like to start my morning.

In any case, I thought the problem might be related to our KVM switch. I have a Linux machine (hosting this blog) and a Windows machine in our computer desk and I use a KVM switch to share the keyboard, mouse, and monitor between the two computers. It’s really convenient most of the time, but every so often, it flakes out and has to be reset. So, I tried that (which involves unplugging it from both computers, since it draws power from the computers’ PS/2 ports), but it didn’t help. Then, I cut the KVM switch out of the equation and plugged the keyboard, mouse and monitor directly into the still incessantly beeping computer. This solved the problem of the blank monitor. Unfortunately, the monitor now showed me that my machine was hopelessly locked up.

Seeing the computer frozen was painful because I had been performing a 35GB online backup operation since 3AM last Thursday that was about 90% complete at the time of my rude awakening. With online backup services like Mozy (which I’m using), the first backup takes the longest (often about 1 day for every 3-5 GB being backed up) and I had read some reports online that when these backups are interrupted they often must be started again from the beginning. I was not excited about the prospect of losing 4 days’ progress. Not only that, we’re leaving for the holidays soon and I would have been unable to get things backed up before leaving. Unfortunately, I felt like I had no choice but to turn off the computer and hope for the best.

While the computer was loading the BIOS, the beeping began again, I got an onscreen message: “Keyboard Failure”, and then a blank screen plus lots of beeping. So, I shut down the computer again, swapped out the keyboard (which I had salvaged from the hallway near my office during a building cleanup campaign) and tried again with a different keyboard. I still got the beeping and the keyboard failure. I started thinking that perhaps the PS/2 ports on my computer had failed, so I planned to head into my office to borrow a USB keyboard and mouse. If the PS/2 ports had failed but the computer was otherwise fine, a USB keyboard and mouse would help me figure that out. Before heading into work, however, I took a shower.

I’m convinced that most of my big breakthroughs come in the shower and today was no exception. It occurred to me that perhaps the problem was related to the cheapo optical mouse we have. It flakes out probably twice a week but it behaves itself again if we unplug it and then plug it back in. So, I thought maybe it had finally gone belly up. I swapped it out with another PS/2 mouse I happened to have on hand and restarted the computer (after finishing my shower and getting dressed). It worked! No beeping, no blank screen! Windows booted up fine and I was able to resume the backup where things had left off, rather than having to start over from the beginning. The mouse promptly found its way to the trash and everyone lived happily ever after.

When I got into work, I was talking with a friend of mine about this problem and he mentioned that he thinks his keyboard is failing. Apparently, by pressing the Alt key a couple of times, he can get the X-server on his Linux machine to crash. I guess the moral of the story is that even the most unlikely parts of your system can fail and you need to be careful not to quickly assume that the problem is a part that has a bigger reputation for failure.

1 Response to “Crisis averted”

  1. December 18, 2007 at 7:11 am

    “at the time of my rude awakening”

    I did try to make the actually awakening as least rude as possible! :)

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December 2007

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