5x12 pentomino tiling
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A Tale of Misdiagnosis

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My friends on Facebook have probably already seen this tale but I'm posting this to my blog for Google's benefit primarily as it's a cautionary tale.


Dad, with Mom, cutting their cake at their Diamond Wedding Anniversary party this year

The background is that my Dad is now in his 80s. He lives in Hampshire and has a Windows 7 PC which is supported by a combination on my nephew Jamie, who lives locally to him and is about to finish university (which is about 50 miles away from Dad) and me ... who is somewhat further away. Jamie long since put TeamViewer on Dad's PC so we can both remote into it as required.

I should perhaps add that I hardly use Windows at all now. I have one program, Capture One, which runs on a Windows 10 VM on my Linux box and that's about it so it's Jamie who handles any deep Windows issues, but hey it's just another computer so I can normally resolve simple problems.

Anyway, enough background this all kicked off on Sunday when I posted this to Facebook.

It's going to be one of those days. My Dad's PC, which is underpowered and (barely) running Windows 7 appears to be fucked in that it's now pretty much unresponsive for either him locally or me remotely (via TeamViewer).

Earlier today he opened an email from someone he knows who's on holiday in Greece ... go figure.

And, of course, he doesn't have any backups.

I asked Dad if he had a backup. "What's that" he said. Oh bugger.

Jamie and I talked it over and he said he'd pop back and pick it up (he had to come home anyway for other reasons). So he did that on Sunday night. Over the next few days he cloned the drive and then cleaned it up removing a lot of dodgy looking cruft.

Meanwhile we had also discovered that Dad was using POP for email so it only existed on his PC so, as mail to his email address already came through our server before being forwarded to his BT Internet account we took that back in house and also switched him to IMAP.

By Thursday Jamie had the PC working fine, a lot faster than before now all the cruft was removed, and he'd also migrated all Dad's email off his PC onto our IMAP server so we were all set.

The story continues on Facebook:

You will remember that this started last Sunday night. Jamie picked it up that night and took it back to Uni and over the next couple of days cleaned it up and got it working at a decent speed. We also migrated all his email off his PC onto our IMAP server. Dandy.

So Jamie takes it back today, plugs it in and ... it is still barely responsive. Which is just bizarre as Jamie had had it working, and a lot faster than before now all the cruft has been removed, at Uni.

OK, it's got to be either Dad's Internet or peripherals and, by a process of elimination (greatly helped by us having previous put TeamViewer on there so I could control it from here despite it having no peripherals connected) we tracked it down to the one I had suspected the most: the mouse.

It's just an ordinary Dell corded USB mouse but when you plug it in the PC becomes barely responsive. My suspicion, although Windows is not my thing, is that the mouse was generating a *lot* of spurious events and simply overwhelming Windows although Jamie suspects it may be a corrupt driver. Whatever.

Anyway Jamie nipped up to Argos on the high street and got Dad a new mouse and all is well.

What's annoying about this in retrospect is that we now know that if we'd correctly diagnosed this on Sunday we could have saved Jamie a 100 mile car trip and put off the time he's spent getting the PC fettled until after he finished Uni in a few months.

Ho hum.

So there you have it: two people, one with a degree in Computer Science and a lifetime in the industry, the one heading down the same path thirty odd years later both succeeded in overthinking the problem and not trying something simple like replacing the mouse first.

Not that any of this invalidates what both Jamie and I did in terms of fettling Dad's PC and mail ... but we could have done it in a far more controlled manner.

Oh yeah, and we still have the issues of backups to sort out, but that can wait until after Jamie's finals. We're also discussing moving him off Windows completely onto something more bulletproof like a MacBook, iPad or Chromebook, but again that's a longer term project.

Tags: family, internet, Microsoft Written 15/04/18

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