Monday, February 1, 2010

Try rebooting

Caution: This is another fluff-piece just like "When did Google become perfect?"... it's not in the same league as deep-thought articles like, for example, those by Glenn Paulley and others... heck, it's not even in the same sport.

But sometimes shallow thinking is called for... like when you're faced with some bizarre computer problem that just won't go away when you wave a dead chicken over the keyboard. That's when "try rebooting" comes in to play.

I remember the first time I had reboot power over a computer... it was the mid-1980s, the computer was an IBM 3270 video controller, and the boss said "try turning it off and on" when all the dumb terminals in the office stopped working properly.

Prior to that, turning off "the computer" was a firing offense... there was a big red OFF button on the wall in the mainframe room, and if you pressed that button you had better be on fire... yourself... with no hope of personal survival.

Then came PCs, and rebooting became a regular ritual performed many times a day... folks didn't think anything of it. "Keep your config.sys and autoexec.bat small" was standard advice so rebooting would be fast. The application development life cycle was described as "edit, compile, test, reboot."

And then, fast forward to 2010, computers are much more reliable, you don't have to reboot every time you change a network setting or perform some other minor task, and once again folks are used to long periods of up-time.

Here's another piece of wisdom: "Don't forget what you already know." What you know is that rebooting is a powerful problem resolution technique, and if you don't have a clue about what's wrong then "try rebooting" should be one of the first things you consider.

Example: Norton Ghost crashes intermittently when doing a high-speed backup across TCP/IP to another computer, or via USB to an external disk drive: "Error EBAB03F1: Insufficient system resources exist to complete the requested service".

Solution: After such a crash try rebooting. Norton Ghost will now work... so far, 100% of the time. It took me months to realize "try rebooting" was the solution, and for more months "try rebooting" has proven to be the only reliable solution. Don't ask me about the CAT6 upgrade, the new router, the endless "system tuning" efforts... wasted time, wasted money.
Here's another example: If you install software using an InstallShield setup.exe, and something doesn't work right afterwards, try rebooting. This applies to SQL Anywhere. It even applies to a SQL Anywhere EBF. Something might have been "in use" when the setup ran and Windows is waiting for a reboot to finish overwriting the old thing with the new thing.

Yes, it's magic. So is waving a dead chicken over the keyboard. So is "try rebooting"... except it doesn't just make you feel better, it sometimes actually works.


Dan Konigsbach said...

Glad to hear rebooting actually works.

Any advice on getting chicken feathers out of a keyboard?

Breck Carter said...

Oh, I don't know... I always pluck first :)

Clustered Index said...

When I worked in (telephone) tech support I'd often find that asking someone to reboot was the easiest way to:
i) establish a common starting point for any troubleshooting. Including whether they were actually anywhere near their PC at the time.

ii) ensure they weren't doing something weird which would cause the problem at hand. "Oh I normally disable my printer driver before printing. Could that be causing the problem?"

iii) Find out how many hundreds of dialog boxes they are cheerfully just clicking "Cancel" to every single time their machine restarts.