Have you tried switching it off, then on again?

I wrote briefly about it before, but many years ago I used to work as a low-level tech at a virtual reality company. When I wasn’t operating or hacking the system, I was repairing it. These repairs were sometimes a little complex, but 99% of the time, they boiled down to two things. Reboot. If that does not work, turn off the machine, open up the access panel, slide out one of the gargantuan processor boards from the backplane and push on each and every chip. Yep, that’s right. Use my thumb to apply pressure to the chips, ensuring they sit correctly in their sockets. I guess that was a thing. Temperature variations caused the chips and their sockets to expand and contract, eventually working themselves loose. The problems that arose were almost entirely hardware.

I no longer work at that company — it went bust years ago — but I do find myself working again in computer graphics. These days, the problems tend to be a bit more complex than “turn it off, then back on again” or “push on the chips.” Fortunately, it’s not as bad as my last gig, where we developed both hardware and software. When something broke there, it took time to determine if the fault is in the code or the circuit design. With my current work, problems are generally in the code we’ve written or in hardware drivers (code someone else has written, that our code talks to).

Sometimes operating system updates pull in new drivers. When this happens, usually things are okay, maybe requiring a little bit of “jiggling the handle” sorts of operations to make things right (rebuilding from clean code and such).

An OS update came down the wire a few days ago. It included a new Linux kernel, which wasn’t a big deal. A driver reinstall and a recompile of my code should have been more than enough. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Nothing was working and I kept getting the same cryptic error message. This was late in the day. The next day, after a few more hours of troubleshooting, I decided it was time to just wipe my system and return to a known-good state with the original boot disk. Thirty minutes later, I was staring at a freshly installed operating system, but the problems persisted.

On a whim, I tried something. I unplugged power, pulled off the side panel, and then wiggled and pushed on the graphics card. Buttoning things up, I hit the power button and tried again. Everything worked fine.

I never thought I’d be back at that job again. That reboot and push on the chips job. Over the years, I honed my skills and thought I rose above it, but in this high tech world, sometimes the low-tech solutions are exactly what is required.

Posted in: Dear Diary Work

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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

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