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Computing for the Brain Dead

The TPC VP's "Longest Journey"     Barbara Manning

As I sit and write this at my faster, brighter, smoother recently repaired desktop PC, I have to wonder how it was that I was asked to become the VP of this organization. It's not like I know what to do with the guts of the machine, you know.

But sometimes I forget that I don't know, and I do something foolish. As in most things, it's only after the deed is done that you see how foolish is was, and by then it's too late. That's how I'm learning computing. I'm already up to the stage where I think I should have a practice PC and a "real" one. Let me tell you why.

It all started with a visit to www.funcom.com where I learned about a game called The Longest Journey. Of course I had to have it and the next time I was able to pick up an English-language copy, I did. That was the beginning of my undoing. Well actually, not. I was having trouble with the PC before that, but this was the coupe de crash. The game itself is actually not that difficult, but it is complicated and graphics heavy. It also takes about 30 minutes to install, so having to uninstall it and reinstall it is a time-management nightmare.

The game also requires DirectX7 in order to play properly. Now, this is where I know I was born too early—I need HAL, like NOW, so I can simply ask if I have DirectX7 instead of having to go look for it on my own. But, down the rabbit hole I go attempting to find out if I have DirectX7. The handy "find" feature on the PC helps me to locate three DirectX files, but the properties data doesn't indicate what number of DirectX they are. Hmmmm. So, I go to the MS site to download DX7 thinking that if I already have it, it'll just reload over the old version of DX7, and I'll be ok. Pay attention because this is where the Foolish part comes in. The site entices me to download a newer version of DX—DX8. And foolishly, I do.

So. I load it up and I can open the game but then everything crashes—I can't get past the opening dialog! I try everything I can think of but quickly exhaust my meager supply of quick fixes.

  • I clean the disks. I clean the CD lens.
  • I uninstall and reinstall the game
  • I reduce all the 3D graphics to minimum and am using 16-bit color. April Ryan, the LJ protagonist is beginning to look like Lara Croft in TR I
  • I installed a new CD drive because I broke the disk tray on the old one. Well, all right, I didn't actually install it. I mixed the cocktails while a good friend installed it for me.
  • I went to see if there are any patches (no, there aren't).
  • I shut down Zone Alarm, Norton Utilities, Real Player and everything else that wasn't necessary.

I did everything except press the disk firmly to my forehead and close my eyes in an attempt to do a psychic play.

I did everything except press the disk firmly to my forehead and close my eyes in an attempt to do a psychic play.

The game still doesn't run, although pretty much everything else does. But I'm such an immediate gratification freak that I've just got to get this blasted thing to work. My next brilliant move, (which should have been my first brilliant move), is to post the problem to the Games NG and get some help. This is where I learn about the notoriously unstable DirectX8, and it's "whoops!" Patch DirectX8a. But by this time I've sworn off downloading completely, unless it's bourbon being downloaded from one of those upside-down bottle dispensers; then it's ok.

Prior to installing TLJ, I was getting an occasional run time error. Not having a clue what this meant I of course jump on the net and cruise over to the MS site for help….no help there.

And now a new error message appears upon start up: error message 0210: stuck key. He (the computer) says to enter setup to view. I dutifully went to setup and didn't "view" anything. No perceptions either—not even a hint or a clue. There is no visible stuck key on the keyboard. (Perhaps this is a variation of the "hit any key" joke.)

Back to the Games post I go, trusting that someone out there has the key to unlock my unruly PC. Norm Diamond, Sam Julien, David Bernat and Roy Rice all rode to the rescue with sage advice on what was potentially wrong and what I could probably do to fix it. I even tried some of the advice. I uninstalled the MS trackball and reinstalled the wheel mouse, but the game still crashed and I still get run time errors. Other advice I must ignore—I think installing W2K or downloading the patch for the dreaded Direct X8 will only add to my problems not solve them, although Roy points out that if I have DirectX8 it makes more sense to download the patch than not.. Roy is also most thorough with his mini-dissertation on the "Five Most Common Reasons Why Games Crash, and What You Can Do About It". I actually printed it out and followed the step-by-step detailed instructions. At last! Help that really helps! I am now wiser about computer innards, but alas the game still won't play. As the discussion rages around me, I decide to sit this one out. Frustration reigns and I retaliate by dropping a bundle at Yurindo on books. They don't crash. The worst thing that can happen is I will fall asleep. I'm happily reading while the discussion in the Games NG rages on—topic drift creeps in, and before I know it, we're discussing technical instruction manual writing and the stability of Windows 98 vs. 98SE and 2K, but I don't mind. Determination returns and I dive once more into the arcane and just plain weirdness of the PC attempting to figure out what's wrong, and trying to have fun while I do it. I fail at the fun part, but do find some weirdness. It appears that he (the computer) thinks that it's a laptop and wants to know where the PCMCIA card is. This gets folks back on topic as I post this new bit of information. Roy comes through with the best advice yet: "Seek professional help." I do.

About this time I get an invitation from a friend of mine to visit her in Hawaii. Who can resist? Not me. So I take her up on her generous offer and (are you ready for this?) pack up my desktop Gateway Performance 700 model—mini tower CPU, flat screen monitor and keyboard—and take it with me. It's all carry-on and despite my flight status as a peon with the lowest class and price ticket to Hawaii, United (surprisingly) lets me board with all this paraphernalia. And I'm surprised that it still works when I plug it all together in Honolulu. Although not online, I'm able to get quite a bit of work done cleaning up and adding to an Act! contact database I use and generally getting some other household work done. Ten days later I press the big gray button to fire her up and nothing happens. Nothing like in, nothing. No click, buzz, whirrs, no ‘on' light indicators. I'm sure I've killed it. This is all my fault.

But, I don't panic. I simply dig out the yellow pages and find the answer to my prayers: Supergeeks: the essential Mr. Gadget meets Mr. Fixit and all I have to do is write the check. Now, I know good customer service when I see it, but my doctor could take some lessons from these guys. I telephone and explain what seems to be the problem and he diagnoses it, on the phone. And, as it turns out, he's right.

Once again I unplug everything and wrap up all the pieces and parts for the journey to the Supergeeks store. Once there, he plugs it in and confirms his telephone diagnostics - the power supply is dead. "Doesn't the power come from the wall?" she asks innocently. He politely but firmly explains that it does not, and that the likely culprit of my power supply's untimely demise is a power surge. I nod understanding but am really thinking that this is the first time that too much of a good thing has harmed me. Good things are well, good. And electricity is a good thing, yes? Well of course lightning is not such a good thing but it's also not a controlled thing and unlike Lee Trevino, my PC did not get struck by lightning. Mr. SG tell me it doesn't really matter, that any number of electrical irregularities could have shortened the live of the power supply, but it will have to be replaced.

Because it's a Gateway PC, it won't accept a K-Mart power supply and so I must wait for the proprietary part to arrive before Supergeeks can run the diagnostics necessary to rid me of that troublesome run time error and stuck key syndrome and game won't play nightmare.

The invoice says that they "tuned up windows and reconfigured some resources" among other things. I wish I had a more detailed description of exactly what they did. As it was, I had to call them when I returned and ask what they did. By that time, David, the repairman, didn't exactly remember what he did to my PC. He was able to tell me that the run time error was caused by the incompatibilities of two copies of Norton Anti-virus. I thought I had uninstalled NAV before I installed Systemworks, but no, there are all those .dll files that "could be" shared with other applications that get left behind. I did have to reinstall Win 98 and I wish now I had done a custom installation rather than the standard install. But the re-install gave me what I needed to finally, finally re-install The Longest Journey and actually play the game.

And the PC does run a bit faster and I'm no longer plagued with run time errors that crash the system and require a restart. But I don't think I like hauling a desktop around on international flights. I think my next PC will be a laptop that I can hook up my MS Natural keyboard to so that my fingers don't cramp up. Much easier to store "under the seat in front of you" than a mini-tower, neh?


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

August, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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