by P.R.Banks

It has been a long and nasty two weeks thus far, and it doesn't show any signs of letting up easily.

Well actually it merely has been annoying and frustrating, but I decided a little hyperbole couldn't hurt, right? Let me chronicle for you the woes that ail my machine and generally make life difficult for me.

For those that read my Infodesk page might remember that I was hinting at an upcoming ramble about the end of the world being nought. Well I was planning that and preparing a nice page, with scanned pictures, about the visit of the full scale Endeavour replica. I had just done the initial scanning, planning of the pages and placed the pictures on my machine at home for drafting it all up. With a weekend rapidly approaching I thought it would make an excellent time to do all the twiddling and HTML markup required.

And, aside from a puzzling crash on Wednesday afternoon, all seemed fine. Till Thursday morning, I woke up to the delightful sound of 'whrrrrrrr... Boing! whrrrrrrr... Boing!...' and a locked up machine. Resetting, rebooting and even turning the machine off entirely didn't help. The hard drive just refused to come back and play. For the more technically inclined out there the drive refused to even identify itself to the SCSI bus or respond to a reset signal.

So, turning my machine off for the day and heading in to work, I reflected happily on the fact that I am glad the drive comes with a five year warranty. Returning home from work and powering the machine up again reveals a working drive. Acting quickly I used that happy event to backup my drive to tape, thus avoiding the loss of a weeks worth of data. (I do weekly backups.)

Deciding that perhaps yesterdays failure might have been triggered by a glitch in the power supply [1] I resolved to leave the machine running and watch it for a few days to see if it behaved. A few days weren't needed as the very next morning I awoke to joyous chime of the hard drive. Ringing up the people I bought the drive from I was assured that they had a replacement drive in stock and that if I had my receipt [2] from when I purchased the drive then they would give me the replacement on the spot.

I spent a tense day trying to remember whether I had saved the receipt or not. [3] As it turned out I had saved it, pretty much as expected, and I decided to give the drive one last chance before I mercilessly took it back and traded it in. Sure enough it failed again over night, so I remove it carefully from the innards of my machine and drop into the store I bought it from.

Only to be told they don't actually have any drives of that size in stock to replace it with. Contrary to what I had been told yesterday, I am begining to suspect that there is a fair degree of sales hype and optimisitic thinking involved when this store quotes on the availability of replacement parts. However they did tell me that they should have a replacement by Tuesday-ish next week, which was fast enough to be acceptible.

As it turns out it actually arrived Wednesday and upon collecting it I find that it is a different model of drive and physically quite different. Now the contortions I pulled to fit the drive inside my machine simply won't work. Fortunately, or so I thought, I had entertained the possibility that this might happen and had ordered a slice [4] upgrade for my machine.

After a degree of grumbling at people the upgrade duly arrived Saturday morning and I busily went to work fitting all the bits together. All seemed to be going well. Aside from one piece of metal that I wasn't too sure where it went, everything else was in it's proper place. It even seemed to work fine with my machine warming up okay and starting to boot.

Then it froze.

And on subsequent power ups it refused to even think about booting. Panic began to set in, then annoyance and finally a state of resignation. Careful checking enabled me to discover that the fault was related to the new backplane board supplied with the upgrade. Put that in my machine and it wouldn't boot, use the smaller board that came with the machine and all was fine, without the SCSI card pluggged in.

Panic really set in. I deliberately have chosen to use SCSI peripherals, even though they are mildly more expensive, because I wanted the ability to keep those items in the event of upgrading the main machine itself. That and the ease of expansion and sheer flexibility the SCSI bus gives you.

Of course what all this means is that my setup has a critical point of the SCSI card, if that fails then pretty much everything I normally do with my machine becomes impossible. All the software that I normally use is stored on SCSI media, including the communications software. And that means that I can't read my email, post the FAQ I maintain to news or even do a spot of programming on my projects.

Essentially computer wise I am dead in the water.

Which means that updates to these pages are gonna be rare for a while, email sent to me will go unanswered for a while and generally things take a different tack for a while. On the upside however it has given me some spare time to persue other hobbies like reading and to help around the home a bit. But still, I want my computer back and working again.

[1] Such are fairly rare here in NZ. Our power supply is fairly good and on top of that the PSU in Acorn computers is a very robust beasty. I have had brief power flicks that cause PC and Macs to reset that didn't even bother the Acorn I was using at the time. I presume there simply is a smegging large capacitor somewhere in there that is used to smooth out the fluctuations.

Also the reliability of the power supply here means that the stories from the US of brownout conditions is something that I have problems visualising and understanding. Power is very much a binary affair here, we have it or we don't and there is no inbetween state.

[2] Receipt? What do they need that for? Surely they can track me through their order records and the product part number... Still who knows why companies do virtually any of the strange things they do at times.

[3] I am fairly fastidious about such things. But everytime it comes to having to find the things I am reasonably sure I carefully saved I always worry that this will be the one time I haven't been sensible and saved the receipt. Admittedly with smaller items I don't bother too much, certainly not for the long term. But for things like computer or hard drives I keep the receipts.

Curiously though I have lost the receipt and manual for my SCSI card.

They must be around somewhere as I know I wouldn't throw them out. The old joke in my family is that they are in a safe place - so safe even I don't know where they are. (The I being the owner of the item who put it away.)

[4] One of the really nifty and nice features of the Risc PC is that it is a highly modular design. You can keep adding slices until you have enough room for whatever you need to store inside the machine. There is an upper limit of eight slices but when the machine was being launched Acorn tried to cram everything they could think of into one machine.

They ended up filling seven slices with drives and scanners and odds and ends. In order tofill the eighth slice they did a mockup of a toaster with a cooked slice of bread poking out of it. The presence of the 'toaster' slice has been the cause of many a joke and a long line of suggestions for what can put in slices.

Philip R. Banks
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