Dead Rat fixes computer problem
Wed Nov 24 17:06:20 2004 Dead Rat
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This is a story of how a dead rat solved a problem. Well, maybe.
Actually, at this writing I still don't know what the problem is,
but, thanks to a dead rat or two, I do know what the problem
One of my clients has their offices attached to the warehouse.
Sometime last year, an employee discovered a rat in the warehouse.
I suppose that isn't all that unusual, but it upset the women who
work in the offices, so exterminators were summoned and that's the
last I heard about it. Until this year, that is.
A few days ago, I was asked to look at the owners desktop
computer. The office manager wanted Alphacom installed on his machine.
Simple enough, I said, just download it, buy the license, and
that's all there is to it. "I tried that", she said, "it didn't
work. I also downloaded SP2 and that installed fine, but the
Alphacom didn't work after that either".
Well, OK, I'll take a look. The owner was out but she got the
keys for his office and we walked in.
Oh, my goodness! What a stench! "Oh, no", she said, "another
dead rat in the ceiling!". I held my nose and walked to the
computer. That really wasn't enough. "How can he stand this?", I
asked. "Must get used to it, I guess - I'll call someone to get it
out of here and open the windows".
I punched up IE and proceeded to the Alphacom download site.
Downloading the installer should have taken but a few seconds, but
this hung and chugged along like mud. "Has he had any other
problems?", I asked. "Just with his printer/fax - can't get that
stupid thing to work". I looked at it - USB connection. Nothing to
do with the network. "Any problems with email, browsing?" I
pressed. "No, not really. A little slow sometimes, much much better
since we put Adaware on".
General Internet problems? Nope, tried the download from another
desk and it zipped right down. I also tried some general browsing
from his machine; that wasn't slow. His POP3 account from their ISP
downloaded mail without problem. No, it seemed to be isolated to
bigger file downloads. But Service Pack 2 had installed easily.
That's a pretty big download, and that had no problems. She said it
had taken a while, but it always does.
Hmmm. The Alphacom finally finished downloading, but when I
tried to run it, it crashed. Hmmm. Viruses? Norton AV up to date
and a recent full system scan. Spyware? Adaware had been previously
installed and had cleaned up a bunch of stuff, but nothing new
since then. Hmmm. Windows Updates? No, because the problem existed
both before and after Service Pack 2. "Is this the same as what
happened when you tried Alphacom?" Yes, it was. I shut the machine
down, rebooted, removed the downloaded file, and repeated the
procedure. A little bit faster download, but same crash upon
install. "I tried that too", she said. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, the stench was really getting to me. "I'm really
sorry, but I can't take this. Let me take his machine back to my
office and work on it". Fine, no problem. The boss was gone for the
next four days anyway, so take it away. Good. I was close to
gagging as I disconnected all the cables and hauled it to my
On my way back, I thought about how I could approach this. I
also thought that I could still smell that dead rat. I had visions
of finding something perhaps mouse sized but still very unpleasant
inside the computer. When I got home and took the computer out of
my car, I realized that it was some sort of perfume that had been
sprayed about the room to mask the odor. Some had obviously gotten
on the computer, and that was all I was smelling - the awful dead
rat smell wasn't in the machine, fortunately. That made me feel a
I hooked up the box to my KVM and turned it on. My plan was to
roll back to a System Restore point and see if that changed
anything, but before I did that, I thought I'd try it one more
time. I didn't expect it to work, but I had not written down the
error message from the installer, so I wanted to see it again. To
my surprise, the download flitted right by in the very few seconds
I had expected originally. I cliked on Run and Alphacom installed.
Huh? I removed it, shut the machine off, tried it again. Same
results - quick download, quick install, everything worked
perfectly as it should. No problems.
OK, obviously there is something wrong back at the office. I had
noticed three USB devices plugged in when I had disconnected this,
but I doubt those are affecting network downloads. Maybe, though -
I didn't look to see what these things actually were. It's
obviously not his OS, obviously not his nic card (well, maybe - it
could be slow because of incorrect autonegotiation), so that leaves
his plant wiring Well, there will still be more detective work,
but, thanks to the dead rat, at least I know where not to look.
Which brings up a trouble-shooting technique: moving to a
network port that does work is worth doing even when the problem
doesn't really seem to be the network per se. This still could be
his nic card - just because it negotiated settings in my office
doesn't mean it does it right in his. It could be his port on the
switch, bad wiring, whatever. If his office hadn't stunk so much, I
would have done more investigation there, but the symptoms misled
me a bit, particularly the successful download and install of SP2.
I'll bring the box back Friday, test his wiring, test his switch,
etc. Something is wrong, and it is more than a dead rat in the
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