November 13, 2006

BASICly inept

Just like so many others of my generation, I am the in-house IT guy for my family. I cannot visit my parents or other relatives for even a few hours without a, "hey, while you're here, can you take a look at my computer?" or "my ipod isn't downloading right" or "the wireless network isn't working again."

I don't mind being that guy, no, not at all. I enjoy being the one who's knowledgeable enough about technology to be able to repair any techno-issue that arises. When I fix the problem, I get a certain level of satisfaction, success, and a bit of a power trip. Usually it's just a matter of plugging in a cable the right way or editing a configuration page properly. Occasionally I bring in the 'big guns' and use Ad-Aware, Avast, Tune Up Utilities and others to clean up the system to as usable state. I appreciate a good challenge though, and more than once I've been recruited to repair an entirely defunct system.

Last night was one of those times. My step-mom's laptop recently had its hard drive replaced and needed to load an operating system. Easy enough, I thought. Grab a Windows XP cd, boot from CD and in 30 minutes we'd have a fully-functioning computer.

Not so, I found out. The cd-rom drive was on the fritz too, and would only actually access the cd once every 5-7 tries. When I finally was able to start the setup program, i was hardly able to create a hard drive partition before the cd quit, leaving only a few files copied. The cd drive refused to cooperate any further.

To make a long story short, I spent the next few hours trying to find other ways to load the operating system. The floppy drive was no avail- it would have taken over 500 disks to copy the XP cd to the hard drive. Then I created a boot disk and tried to activate the network port from dos- maybe I could install from the network. This seemed feasible at first, but I learned that I probably need Windows Server edition to make that work. Lastly, I copied the entire cd to my dad's external USB hard drive. If I could activate the USB port from dos, I might have a chance.

That was the right track. Using some drivers I found online, I was able to get the system to recognize the usb drive. Unfortunately, it wouldn't also recognize the internal hard drive. I may have been able to force it to work if wasn't for my fleeting dos skills. I couldn't remember all the commands to make the computer change drive letters and do the copying I was hoping for. I used to be quite talented at working with MS-DOS. As a former owner of a 486, I had to be. I could even do some programming in BASIC. It wasn't any prizewinning software, mind you (I was what, 12? 13? years old?) but I could make it work.

So much of those old skills have been forgotten, or more likely replaced by newer XP era skills. What I knew about floppy disk formatting, basic coding, and boot disks has been replaced by wireless networking, graphics cards, and blogging.

DOS was fun though, back in the day. It was a system that you couldn't just figure out on the spot. You had to know the steps necessary to achieve the intended results before you even started. It did so many of the same things that windows explorer does graphically by point-and-click today. However, there was always something empowering by being able to use DOS to its potential when no one else around you could.

It's practically cliche now, but technology times move so fast. Think of the things we do everyday in Windows like downloading, email, and all sorts of media, and how next to impossible it was in DOS. Just look at that picture. There's no way that dweeby little Gates (bottom left) could have forseen that he would have $50+ Billion in assets within twenty years. I should probably start working on my long hair and matching beard soon.

I had to leave the laptop unfixed for now. I'm still working on a solution. Let me know if you have any good ideas. Repairing the cd-rom is an option, but a difficult one as I'm not sure what exactly is wrong with it.

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