The golden secrets of diagnosing computing problems

Since that’s what I’m doing this morning–specifically, trying to figure out why Firefox is messing up Castle Age for me, and not for the rest of the world–a good subject seemed to be the things many people don’t grasp about trying to correct, or at least track down, most computer problems.

No result is diagnostic unless you can reproduce it. In order to make the problem go away, you have to know how to make it happen.  In this case, I can reliably say that with all my Firefox paranoia add-ins enabled, both Castle Age (a Facebook game) and Facebook chat are partly broken.  I have had them occasionally work correctly, but in general, it’s about 99% reproducible.  This is good.  It’s the intermittent failures that’ll send you around the bend.

No result is diagnostic unless confirmed from a fresh start. This is especially true of instabilities.  Once you see your first instability or oddity, there is the chance that further instabilities and oddities are consequent from the first one.  The true test is if you get the same reproducible result from a fresh start.  When I was a computer shaman, I can’t tell you the number of people who reported ‘dozens of errors’ without restarting Windows and trying again.  It was hard to get them to understand that only the first error told us anything, and then only after a fresh start.

Change one thing at one time. If you alter more than one thing at once, and the result changes, you cannot know which change on your part made a difference.  Never, never, never go into your Options or Settings and change five things at once–you won’t know what solved it, and you might mess up something else.  In any case, you will muddy the waters and probably forget what all you changed, thus making it impractical to put it back the way it was.  One change at a time, then test.

Therefore, the basic concept–and why computer nerds seem to be able to solve things that mystify you–is not as mystical and shamanic and otherworldly as it may seem.  What they’re doing is just good science–and this is also why all the DSL tech support people first make you reboot everything, in case you wondered.  Restart whatever it is.  Try again immediately, in a deliberate effort to reproduce the problem.  Once you can reliably reproduce your problem, you can begin trying one thing at a time to address it.  If the change doesn’t address it, put what you changed back where you had it, and try something else.  Knowing this will save you headaches and money.

In my case, I strongly suspect that one of my add-ins is preventing CA and FB from doing things.  Thus, the process is tedious but will yield useful information:  disable something, shut down Firefox, restart it, reproduce the problem.  If I can still reproduce the problem, my change didn’t fix it, so I should re-enable what I disabled, disable something else, restart Firefox and test again.  If suddenly I can no longer reliably reproduce the problem, then I have a very good idea which add-in is the culprit.  I then have to decide if it’s one I can live without.

New book: Fascinating Bible Facts

One fact of my work is that I can say virtually nothing about a project until it’s published.  Contractual confidentiality obligations.  However, once it’s published, I have some freedom, and in fact the publisher would like for me to talk it up.  So let me tell you a bit about its making.

First off, here’s the link:  Armchair Reader:  Fascinating Bible Facts.  It will be available in about a week; they’re taking pre-orders.

Those of you who know me well might be pretty surprised to imagine me working on such a book.  I’m Asatru (basically, old-time Germanic religion).  I do not deny anyone’s god or gods, but I’m not a Person of the Book (Christian, Jew or Muslim).  And when pushed, I can be rather strident about it.  There’s a reason there is a placard on my front door that says POSITIVELY NO SOLICITORS, NO MISSIONARIES.  I can get along great with nearly all people of any faith or no faith long as they respect mine.  But a Bible book? Me?

Well, in the first place…suppose you asked me:  “J.K., do you have more in common with atheists, agnostics, Jews or Christians?”  The answer would be that I have the least in common with atheists, since they are convinced there are no supreme beings of any kind.  Next agnostics, who don’t know.  Next Christians, who believe in a supreme being but who in many cases proselytize, an act alien to my thought.  Finally, Jews, with whom I have the most in common.  They are theists, like me, but they do not proselytize.  My point is that because I too am a theist, I’m not so ill-equipped to write about matters of faith.  Just happen to profess a very different faith, that’s all.

The way I get engaged for a project is, an editor contacts me and says, “We’re interested in having you do this.  What do you think?” I usually ask some questions and get a feel for it.  Sometimes it’s e-mail, sometimes a phone call.  Most editors, at some point, seem to like to talk on the phone at least once, just to get a sense of me.  (“Who is this guy, anyway?”) Since turning down work is not typical for me, I usually sign on.  Since it’s a buyer’s market, I really don’t have a strong negotiating position, so I don’t dicker about payment rates.  Some think that’s selling myself short, literally:  “Why not go out and get what you’re worth? You’ve done great for them!”  Answer:  perhaps I have–they keep hiring me.  And I might get more money.  But what then? “Well, we could engage J.K., but it’ll cost more, and we have plenty of others just as capable who cost less.  Sorry, J.K.”  And who could blame them?

So, when I got the approach for what would become AR:FBF, I was pretty straightforward.  “You do realize, I trust, that I’m not a member of any of the faiths represented in this book?”  I did point out however that I had a degree in ancient history (with specific focus on the early Roman Empire, which happens to coincide with the early Christian Era) and read some Hebrew, plus a bit of Latin and Greek.  They rejoined that, as a non-Person of the Book, I didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak.  Not being predisposed toward any of it, I might treat it with more balance.  I signed on.

It turned out to be both a very fun and edifying project.  I had three great editors to work with.  Whether I subscribe to John 3:16 is immaterial to my education; what is material is that the rise of Christianity is an important event in the history of western civilization, and I ought to have perspective on it.  I could not have researched this work without acquiring this.  In short, if you love ancient history, the Judeo-Christian scriptures are among your ancient sources.  You may, if they are not your religious scriptures (or perhaps if they are, or because they are; your call), evaluate their credibility with the same historiographical eye with which you’d examine Tacitus or Plutarch, and conclude what you will.  What you cannot do is dismiss them, even if you’re an atheist.  Not if you are worth a damn as an historian, you cannot.  Whether you believe the supernatural parts is no more material here than if you were studying Native American oral traditions, or even Scientology.

Having not yet received my complimentaries, I don’t know how much of what I wrote and was paid for was actually printed.  I’m pretty sure a lot of it was, and that I did a disproportionate share of the book, because in the Amazon blurb, most of the features they mention, just so happens I authored those particular manuscripts.  The basic process is that I’m either presented with topics, or invited to select from a list, or asked to suggest a list.  Sometimes all three happen.  The editors make some decisions (usually with some input from me, naturally) on length and subjects, and assign me the work.  I do it and turn it in.  The sooner I do that, the sooner I get a new assignment, so it is in my best interests to bust my butt and get all over that.

I am contractually obligated and expected, upon request, to rewrite or edit MS to the editors’ satisfaction.  Sometimes this is wanted, sometimes not.  But once I turn it in, I have very little influence over how the MS is used (if at all).  The publisher may use it in this book, or in a future book, in as many as they wish, with or without attribution to me (though they have historically been quite kind about that).  I have transferred the ownership rights, and in so doing, have warranted that they are rightfully mine to transfer (meaning, that it was my original work).  The publisher’s duty to me ends when I am paid.  That said, I’m very fortunate to write for PIL, because they’ve nearly always been kinder to me than the strict letter of the contract obligates.  They’ve been classy and professional and considerate, and I’m pleased that my name is in over a dozen of their books.  Good advice for ‘lancers:  try and be classy, professional and considerate to your editors.  If you are, you’ll probably be seeing them again.  People prefer to work with people who are easy to work with.

The whole process can take months to a year.  I know it’s going live when they contact me for a contributor bio.  That seems to be the publisher equivalent to a submarine skipper ordering the last man down the hatch to dog and secure it–when that happens, next step is to submerge.

Anyway, if you’re interested in some thoughtful takes on matters Biblical, the new book may be of interest.

Noooooooooooooooo!!!

Just a comical interlude today.  Deb came in from three days on the road, and once she had done all her usual routines to shed the trappings of work travel, came down to ask me something.

Now, Deb has varying tones for yelling at the dog.  Usually it’s Leonidas, the miniature Schnauzer, who is not a good dog.  He knows what he’s supposed to do; he just doesn’t care.  He’s figured out that no matter what he does, he’s not going to get tortured or killed, therefore, he’ll just screw up and take the consequences.  Abominable little animal.  One of his favorite pranks is to take a dump in the house.  Once he did it right next to Deb while she was sorting out Christmas ornaments, unrepentant.  Anyway, I can usually tell from the feminine yelling upstairs what the dog has done wrong.  And there’s a certain high note, an anguished shriek of the kind you’d normally associate with hearing of a death:  “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”  I don’t hear real well in the lower pitched tones, but higher sounds penetrate all the way to the skull.

This time it wasn’t the dog.  Deb recently got a summons for Federal jury service in Yakima, but it hasn’t yet turned into any actual service.  So she’s about to head back upstairs, and I say the magic words to her:  “Don’t forget your jury summons.”  (It was from Benton County, not Federal.)

“I already dealt with that,” she said, annoyed at my evidently lousy memory.

“Look behind you on the cornet case,” I replied.

She picked it up.  “Noooooooooooo!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

You’d think Leo had just decorated the floor again.

I don’t blame her a bit.

Why I don’t wear green on March 17

It’s something I get every year, especially with a last name that’s more Irish than a spraypainted sheep.  It’s easier to just explain it this way.

  • St. Patrick’s Day is not merely a Christian holiday; it celebrates a Christian victory over paganism. I’m not a druid (though some of my dear friends are), but I am a Germanic Heathen–thus more akin than not. I don’t think it’s anti-Christian to say I can hardly cheer for its vanquishing of indigenous beliefs. For me to celebrate this would be like UCLA fans getting together to remember and celebrate all the times USC beat them. In what universe would I be glad for this?
  • It’s more an Irish-American holiday than an Irish holiday. I have that on good authority from the Irish themselves, who surely are greater authorities on Irishness than Irish-Americans. One Irishwoman told me about her horror at an Irish festival in California, watching people collect money for ‘the struggle.’ She called them ‘the shamrock people.’ Remember, these are her words, not mine. Her further comment:  “Either the shamrock people are Irish, or I am, but we both can’t be.”
  • Because of that, what you get is millions of people going as overboard as possible on what they see as Irishness: leprechauns, green beer, green stripes on roads, green clothing, red hair, freckles, alcoholism, and so on. There are bits of truth in that, sure, but it’s not how I see Ireland. I see Irishness as hospitality after a brief period of caution, eagerness to talk to strangers, a passion for all arts (musical, literary, visual), and yes, a history of suffering and in some cases terrible violence. Leon Uris got it right: a terrible beauty. To me, St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t look very Irish.
  • Speaking of alcoholism, do we really need to push that stereotype harder? In the past, it was part and parcel of oppressive stereotyping by the British occupiers (and the Americans who looked down upon Irish immigrants: the drunken Mick, face shaped in simian fashion, feckless, slumped in an alley, presented as proof that Irish were a lower form of life. Here’s one for you: alcoholism in Ireland has all the same consequences it has in the United States. Shortened lives, failed commitments, bad decisions, battered wives, beaten kids, damaged families, avoidable road fatalities, cirrhosis, addiction battles, stupid sayings, and so on. It might seem funny from here, maybe not so much so if you think about the families it harms. If a foreign country celebrated July 4 with parodies of random school shootings, would that amuse us? I should think not. It’s not funny at all.
  • What of the Irish whom the orange bar on the flag represents? They are Protestants. They too are Irish; their relatives also emigrated here. How can they be left out? How can one think this will help promote unity in the old country? If you care about Ireland, how can you not want its differing faiths and ethnicities to get along, united in Irishness? St. Patrick’s Day claims to represent all things supposedly Irish, and all the Irish groups make a big deal of non-sectarianism. Ask an Ulster Protestant how really part of it she feels. When she does feel like part of it, it’ll be a win.
  • Finally, I’m not much moved by part-time Irishness. Therefore I am prone to say: “Tell you what. I understand some Irish (Gaelic). If you can lecture me in Irish as to why I should wear green, I may not do it, but I will hear you out. If you want to get down with your bad Irish self, study the Irish language in all its complexity and beauty. And when you do, and you want to pressure me about this, we will have that discussion. In Irish.  Until then, I’ll pass, thanks.”

Not to be a stick in the mud, though. If you’re observing the holiday, have a happy one. Honestly.

Scandinavian metal

Okay, not all of it is Scandinavian.  Not even sure it all qualifies as metal.  My moods are very heavily shaped by music in all forms, but lately people have been turning me on to a wide variety of new music.  Today I’m going to share some tunes with you.

Alestorm:  Scottish pirate metal.  Favorite track:  Keelhauled.

Dalriada:  Hungarian folk metal.  Favorite track:  Világfutó Szél.

Faun:  German/Celtic folk metal.  Fave:  Unda.

Korpiklaani:  Finnish folk metal.  Fave:  Wooden Pints.

Nightwish:  Finnish folk metal.  Fave:  Over the Hills and Far Away.

Turisas:  Finnish Viking metal.  Fave:  Stand Up and Fight!.

Týr:  Faroese Viking metal.  Fave:  Regin Smiður.

Enjoy.

Kvass and socks

Today I was out taking my wife’s ride in for an oil change.  We have a mechanic that actually fixes things (Ralph Blair of Tri-City Battery (509-783-9000)), in a shop that gives him the tools to do so, so it’s not nearly as painful or fearful for me as for many.  On the way, I saw a sign by the street in Cyrillic:  ‘Russki magazin.’  Russian store? I love little specialty ethnic grocery stores, so I swung in and muddled through in my broken Russian.  One thing I bought was a 2l bottle of Kvass, which I’d always wanted to try.

Kvass, at least in the form I had it, was sort of like a carbonated, sweet, tamarindy black tea.  It wasn’t overly sugary.  Frankly, this stuff is delicious.  I never want to drink Coke again if I can get this.  If you get a chance to try some, by all means give it a shot.  If you’re in Tri-Cities, it’s on Clearwater (north side) between Kellogg and Edison.

Had a real adventure making the notes to go with the socks.  Jason would like a note for each pair, which isn’t difficult.  Translating it into Japanese, that’s the hard part.  I felt most comfortable feeding the English to Google Translate, then feeding the Japanese back to GT and seeing what I actually said.  Anyway, a large number of people decided they liked Jason’s idea and are following suit.  Some days, you find out that you know a lot of really wonderful people.

Blogging freelance editing, writing, and life in general. You can also Like my Facebook page for more frequent updates: J.K. Kelley, Editor.