Drop Back and Reboot

Lessons learned about computers, and about life

By Paul Somerfeldt, Contributing Editor, p.somerfeldt@genie.com

We interrupt the normally scheduled article to bring you something a bit different. Last month I submitted an article for publication, an article with which I ended up being a bit unhappy, and I wanted to expand the article to cover a few more things. Well, life happened, and I was unable to complete the article. OK, I didn't even have a chance to work on it, due to circumstances beyond my control.

Since the holidays, I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on various things. I've been recalling my hobby of computers since I first started using them, way back in the late '70's. In the February and March 1998 issues of Amazing Computing, Peter Olafson has had an outstanding mini biography of Bill Williams, covering this same era. Thank you, Peter. It has reminded me that it would be good to thank those who influence us in life, preferably thanking them while they are still around to be thanked. Mr. Williams, Thanks for your wonderful games.

Back in 1978 while sitting around in homeroom class in High School, I saw a neat little typewriter with a TV set attached to it. Well, not so much a typewriter, as its keys were not really made for typing. And the TV set would only allow you to see letters and characters, not Happy Days or Soap. This device was a Personal Electronic Transactor, or PET, made by Commodore. I was hooked. It opened a world to me, a world that I never knew existed, except in hushed tones of reverence. I had a computer at my finger tips, and I could carry the whole thing, instead of having to set aside a large room for its storage. By today's standards, the graphics were awful, but at the time, they were great. Men made of the pi symbol underneath a period. By alternately erasing and redrawing those characters, you can simulate movement. Back when 8 k, as in 8 kilobytes, was more memory than you'd need.

In the '79/80 and '80/81 school years I took computer programming courses in that high school, and learned more there than I thought I did. I learned to not be afraid of computers. I learned that for the most part, they will do what you want them to do. I learned that by planning ahead, you can avoid most problems that come up in programming a computer. I learned that without a plan, your work shows it. Most of all, I learned that when you run into a problem, and you describe what you want the program to do, and how you want to do it, you are most of the way through debugging the program. I have expanded this concept to most portions of my life.

Last week I suffered a minor catastrophe with my Amiga. I am a subscriber to the Online Service Genie, and use a program called Aladdin to read my mail, and messages in various special interest groups. While doing one of these "automated passes," I suffered a 'write error' on one partition of my hard drive. It has been happening more and more often lately, and I didn't have any problems before, merely click on a button, and continue with what I am doing. Not this time. I don't know what I did differently, but in the end, I had a validation error. And I somehow renamed my Work: partition to amialad.msg. This resulted in the inability to boot my computer.

No problem, I have been here before, and so I just booted with both mouse buttons depressed, and shortly up would come the "boot options" screen. I selected "Boot with no Startup-Sequence," and reset the computer. Up comes a Shell, and I run DiskSalv. DiskSalv goes to work, and I have done this before. But then I decide that I don't want to wait for a day to get my computer back, so I stop the 'repair' function, and start a 'salvage' operation. Most of the way into this, DiskSalv tells me that I need to use 'repair' because 'salvage' will not work. So I just wasted an hour, as I have to restart from the beginning, not continue from where I left off. During my second 'repair' pass, I get a message that says that my hard drive has a 'hard error,' which means I have to reformat the drive. Problem is, I can't read the drive to salvage the data on it, before reformatting it. I start looking for enough floppy disks to hold all of the data. Then I remember I have a Zip Drive. All I have to do is get the Zip disk to be recognized.

To make a short story shorter, I was unable to get the Zip disk recognized. Not because it couldn't be done, but because I was running out of time before work. I decided that since DiskSalv just decided that I had a hard error, maybe it would decide that I didn't have a hard error when I used it again. It worked. I made it through that part of the operation with no errors. I guess even DiskSalv can be flaky at times. Twenty hours or so later, the 'repair' operation was done. That on a 500-meg partition. I can't wait to see how long it takes on a bigger partition. Once the partition was fixed, and validated, I still had a problem. It still had the wrong name. I had to learn one of the basic AmigaDOS commands, and 'relabel' the partition back to Work:. Once that happened, I was back in business.

Moral of the story? If you don't like the answer you are getting, even from software, ask again. Rephrase your question. Walk away. Reboot, and try again. Eventually, possibly after hours of frustration, you will get an answer similar to the one you were looking for. All of this is basically what I learned in my high school computer programming classes, almost 20 years ago. Thanks to a high school teacher. A teacher who helped prepare me for life, even if I didn't realize it at the time.

Thank you, Mr. Will.