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Dead Rat fixes computer problem

Wed Nov 24 17:06:20 2004 Dead Rat Search Keys: lighter

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 isn't.

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 car.

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 little better.

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 ceiling.



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© Tony Lawrence




Perhaps little teeth marks on the cables? <Grin> Good thing this wasn't at city hall. You would have lost your lunch from the rat stench before you even got inside.

--BigDumbDinosaur

---November 25, 2004

I don't understand. Lawyers and politicians have a quite different stench than dead rats..

--TonyLawrence

Dunno about different. Definitely stronger, though.

--BigDumbDinosaur

---November 26, 2004

Sounds like Usb port and net card are sharing interupts. Some cards don't share very well...

--The DOBC

---November 26, 2004

Nice idea, but how does that explain the observed problems? If there were interrupt issues, SP2 would have crashed and burned, you'd think. Anyway, no interrupt issues observed this morning when I put it back up. I also tested the network line and port; no issues. The only weird thing about this at all was a phantom 2400 baud modem in Device Manager - I deleted it and it didn't come back :-)

I did see that although his Norton AV was up to date, he had it turned effectively off - it wasn't scanning emails or anything - what's the point? I re-enabled those functions.

One minor thing I had noticed when I disconnected it was that the phone line for the fax modem was plugged into the wrong place - people often see the "telephone" icon and assume that's the place. The office manager did recall that he'd been complaining about not receiving faxes too - maybe that's why the Fax Printer didn't work but I had no time to look into that.

And (of course) I couldn't find anything else misbehaving at all now. Everything seems to work, network is crisp, etc. If the machine were human it would be giving me a look of exaggerated innocence: "Me? Problems downloading something? Don't be silly."

Maybe there was an interrupt conflict though I can't imagine it coming and going without equipment changes.

--TonyLawrence



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