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The Day My Computer Failed Me

I could make a long list of ways I could have prevented today from being what it was. There were things I could have done differently a month ago or even a week ago which would have made today a much more pleasant place to be. Such a list would only serve as a tool for self flagellation and would do nothing to make tomorrow better, so I will skip that list. In the large scheme, everything is fine. The house is fine. The kids are fine. Really what I have is a big pile of technical annoyance during my busiest shipping week of the holiday season. Sadly it is not a problem more hands can solve. Putting items in the packages is easy. The annoying part is having to set up Calcifer, who is supposed to be my writing machine, to instead print postage because my desktop machine is manifestly unfit for use until I can spend some hours troubleshooting. (The thought of actually shooting problems on a gun range to turn them into little fragments of former problems is highly appealing right now.) But at least I have Calcifer to use instead of being in a terrified panic about being able to get the shipping done.

The calendars arrived on Wednesday. This meant I could begin mailing the unsketched orders, and I did, focusing on the international orders first because they have the farthest to travel. The first batch went out on Friday just before my sister and her kids arrived. Visitors in the house meant no room for Howard to set up and sketch. I sorted invoices and did some preparatory work on Saturday, but wore out quickly. This means I hit Monday morning feeling behind with no sketches done. Then I discovered that international orders all needed to be in the mail by 5 pm for guaranteed delivery before Christmas. I hit high gear, Howard hit hight gear. He rocked through over one hundred sketches so they could go into packages. I was supposed to rock through the matching postage and pack the boxes, except kids needed things. I had an appointment at the school. There were phone calls. After each interruption I knew it would be okay. I would make up the time. I could still do it.

Then my postage printing provider had their own technical snafu. It took them 45 minutes to process my payment and refill my postage account. I had to do that multiple times, and my nerves frayed each time. I tried to fill the dead time with tasks which were useful, but useful is not the same as truly efficient. I was printing up list of postage when my desktop computer popped up a window claiming that it couldn’t print unless I freed up some space on the hard drive. I have a 900GB drive. I have about 250GB of files on it. Yet the drive had only 45MB left on it. Some invisible log file or auto save has been chewing through my hard drive space. Using it up. I identified this as a problem about a month ago. Unfortunately it is a familiar problem. This same issue is half of why I had to abandon my mini laptop and get Calcifer. (The other half being battery issues) I spent hours downloading hard drive analyzing tools, but made little sense of the results. I could not figure it out. None of my tech savvy friends could make sense of it either. I was so glad to leave the trouble behind, but here it was in front of me again. I knew I couldn’t afford to ignore it on my desktop machine. This is the machine I use for book design, accounting, and order processing. Yet I’d hoped I could make it through the holiday shipping first. I was wrong. Within an hour the drive went from 45MB free to 0.

By scrambling to do work from other machines, I was able to get most of the international packages into the mail. I know I’ll solve this issue even if I have to reformat the hard drive and start fresh. Unfortunately the common element between the two machines is me. I don’t know what I did to create the problem in the first place. I don’t know any way to find out. And I still have packages to mail tomorrow. So I despair while simultaneously feeling like everything is fine and will continue to be fine. I don’t want my computers to be fancy. I just want them to be workhorses who keep working without me having to do major overhauls. Is that too much to ask?

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5 comments to The Day My Computer Failed Me

  • CKH

    Sounds like you might have a bit of malware, or possibly a piece of legitimate software that just has a leak from some poorly written code. There are other possibilities, but that’s what springs to mind immediately. The leaky software seems plausible if you had the same problem on a different computer and had the same programs installed on each.

  • CKH

    Whoops, posted prematurely. Anyway, it could also be something like an automated backup process run amok.

    When you say you only have 250GB worth of files, where are you getting that information from? I’m assuming that if you right-click on the drive in explorer and check the properties it shows as full, and you just can’t account for where all the space has gone.

    At work we use a piece of software called TreeSize to break down our file server usage. It has a very simple interface and should help you pin down where all that excess data is hiding. You can download a free version here: http://www.jam-software.com/freeware/index.shtml

    It’s only a few MB, I reckon you should be able to run it from a thumbdrive since you don’t have space to install it on the machine itself. :)

  • Assuming you have a Windows system, I long ago built and have since maintained a page to help deal with issues. though a bit more focused on the performance, it does tend to help clear out a lot of the easy junk.
    http://www.konecnyad.ca/andyk/pcmaint.htm
    One thing you might be hitting is if the space is being eaten up in space that Windows typically hides from users (to try to avoid people shooting themselves in their feet, such as a user that cleaned the ‘junky looking files’ out of the root of C: and then wondered why their system wouldn’t start), so make sure tools you are using does look at those spaces. Windows Explorer does have a setting in Tools, Folder options, View, “Hidden files and folders” that is normally set to keep hidden.

    If your system is to the point you can’t do anything because it is too full, you’ll need to boot off of a live CD or USB key to run through some of the cleanup processes. Some versions of Windows installation disks have allowed for such activity, otherwise you may have to get a Linux live CD of some flavor. There will likely be a stack of such at Howard’s former employer, and it sounds like he is on friendly enough terms with them :)