Peculiar Network Problem

This Monday I was called out to fix a computer that couldn’t get on-line. I quickly discovered that the problem wasn’t with the computer itself, but with it’s wired connection. The computer was wired as follows;

Control Room: Computer <-> Jack (unlabeled)

Electrical Room: Jack <-> Jack A1

Switch Room in another building: Jack A1 <-> Port 13 on the main switch

As you can see, it wasn’t very clear what was going on as the first connection wasn’t labeled. Also, the port number on the switch wasn’t that nice either.

Well, I started looking for clues. The weird thing was that both the switch and the computers port lights were on, so the connection was obviously good. Therefore I assumed that the NIC was faulty in the computer, and took the computer to my office to troubleshoot it. This turned out to be the exactly opposite to what I should have done, but more on that later.

So, I took the computer back to my office, and guess what? It worked perfectly. So now I didn’t really know what to think, but anyhow I needed to return it, so I went back there.

This time I checked every connection, and the all matched up, everything seemed to be working properly, but it didn’t. Then I noticed the give-away sign. The activity LED for port 13 was blinking like crazy. Like it was working at max capacity, which I knew that it didn’t since the computer didn’t send or receive any packages. So I figured that the switch might be faulty, and since half of it’s ports was unoccupied, I swapped the cable over to the next empty port, Port 15.

Then the weirdest thing happened. The LED for Port 15 went on, but the LED for Port 13 didn’t go out, it just kept going, blinking like crazy. Later I learned that there had been some tunderstorms in the area during the weekend, which had nocked out the climate control as well. The switched later failed compleatly on Tuesday morning, so I guess a voltage-spike must have fried it.



I don’t know about most IT-guys, but I at least have a profound hate for printers. I just hate them with the very core of my being. And the weird thing is that I’m not sure why I hate them so much. I think it is because that awful Epson “Photo” inkjet that I had (or rather “still have somewhere”) some 10 years ago. I can still remember the woes of getting that evil thing to work with Windows 98 through USB. The problem was that the idiotic thing installed itself on one port, and if you then happened to plug it into another port it would plain and simply not work. And the really annoying thing was that there was no way to check with port it was installed on (as if you then could identify it among the 7 other USB ports at the back of the computer), and what port you had plugged it into at the moment. And even blindly switching between all the ports wouldn’t work either, so if you happened to unplug it and then plug it in wrong, you were stuck with reinstalling the printer, which sometimes didn’t work either. All this nonsense resulted to me switching it over to LPT, which was oh so slow but oh so reliable as well (as there’s only one bloody LPT port on most computers).

I’m not to this day sure if that was due to flaky USB support in Windows 98SE, or due to a bad USB implementation on the Epson printer, as the same computer (a 700MHz Dell) still serves as the printer server in my home network, but the printer is nowadays a Canon Color Laser (very very very good, and ooh so cheap), and the OS is Windows 2000 Pro.

Another reason for why I hate printers and all the problems that come with them might come from my junior highschool years. Back there they had (and still have) an ancient HP laser printer, B&W and very slow. Back then the printer wasn’t really the problem, it was more the extremely flaky printer server box they used to connect it to the network that was the problem. I can’t remember the exact brand of the thing, but it was something like “InkServer” or something. Anyhow, that thing almost never worked properly, and it was amazingly difficult to troubleshoot as the printer only gave numerical error messages (and noone knew where the manual was) and the network box had all sorts of problems of it’s own which you couldn’t get out of it as there wasn’t really any way to access it. In hindsight I probably think you could have telnetted into it and adjusted it’s settings, but I wasn’t as skilled back then to think of that… Luckily that damn box is gone and the printer is merrily connected to the teachers computer, which is a good thing as otherwise they would be calling me every time that awful thing throws a whoopie over something.

Now then, why am I telling you all this?

It’s the introduction to why I wasn’t very happy yesterday morning, and why I was quite ambivalent a short while after.

I was called out to fix a printer that for some odd reason wasn’t working. I didn’t even try to troubleshoot it over the phone as this was one of those old B&W HP lasers with just an yellow error LED and a green OK LED. This wouldn’t make my on-site job much easier either as the yellow LED blinks just the same no matter what’s wrong. This, coupled with my physical hatred for printer troubleshooting, was the reason for why I wasn’t a happy camper when I left the office.

When I got there I first checked the printer’s job stack (full of course), cleared it and then I went to work. After a quick examination I yanked the cover to get to the plate and toner cartridge, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a thick piece of paper (must have been over 150 g/m^2) wedged inbetween the rollers.

When will people learn that you can’t use an old bottom-of-the-line cheapo laser to print on bloody cardboard? Aarg!

Anyhow, as I exited towards my car after a job well done, I felt very ambivalent. First I was annoyed over driving approx. 8 km for such a simple task, but then again I was also extremely grateful for the fact that the error was such a minor one as I have very bad experiences with almost un-fixable printers.


Today I’ve done the “school-run” since 10 AM, and it’s always frustrating. Basically, my co-worker is responsible for all the work that needs to be done to the different schools’ computers, and therefore this is mostly his problem. Unfortunately he’s on sick-leave for the following three weeks, so I have to take on his work. This includes all of the schools’ computer systems. The work isn’t very hard in itself, but it’s the pupils that makes it so annoying. In the Junior High, the pupils seem to have taken it as a personal goal to completely destroy ever computer.

For example, my co-worker replaced a CD-drive a couple of weeks ago because it wouldn’t shut. Upon examination we noticed that it was full of European 5 cents.

So, the reason why today was particularly frustrating. Yesterday I installed 7 new Dell desktop computers in the computer class. These we setup with mandatory profiles (basically it’s making Windows XP load a pre-configured profile for the pupil account on start-up so they can’t mess it up), and a small wrapper program for cmd.exe, which checked which user was trying to run it, and if it was the pupil it displayed a message box with “GAME OVER” and displayed a site.

This was quite a smart move, as the site allows you to track how many persons you’ve “rickrolled”, which allowes us to see how many times the nasty little buggers have tried to run cmd.exe.

So, since 5 pm yesterday (or really 8 am today) until 1 pm today, 11 pupils have tried to run cmd.exe. And since the curriculum doesn’t contain anything about using the CLI or batch-files, I’m assuming that they were up to no good. Yesterday we found a batch-file in the pupils network-drive which was 12 MB big, line after line of “start”. If you figure that every start only takes up 5 bytes, and then add in formating, you’ll see how many lines we’re talking about here.

Anyhow, today I needed to check an error I made when installing the computers yesterday, so I went back. Today there was a class in session when I dropped by, so the teacher told some pupils to move aside so I could fix the computer (somehow I messed up when trying to update the mandatory profile to include a network drive and a short-cut to the drive). A normally behaved pupil would have moved aside and watched interestedly as I proceeded to fix the computer (as I did when I went to the same school 5-6 years ago =).  But this egghead proceeded to hide the task bar (like that would stop me…) and then unplugged the keyboard. WHY? It’s not as if he made sure I wouldn’t be able to fix it, all I had to do was to plug in the keyboard, press Ctrl+Alt+Del, log off and log in again. Just plain old annoying…

Anyhow, now I’m going to do some more tweaking of this blog, look up the cost of a low profile firewire card, email that to the computer-class teacher at the Junior High, and then it’s coffee time!