You feel unbearably giddy.
You collapse, unconscious.
Your stamina has fallen from 200 to 1.
These words are not normally seen by an arch-wizard. Yet these were precisely the words I saw earlier this summer; or rather, I would have seen these words if I had been in the Land at the time. But no, this was real life and I was falling asleep because I was about to be placed under a surgeon's knife.
Unlike MUD, this is not something I'd do for fun. Unfortunately, I had no choice! It all began with a recent trip to New York City. I woke up during the night with this incredible pain in my stomach; I could barely sleep and my 400-mile drive back the next day was like hell. A couple of days later, as my condition wasn't getting any better and it was becoming apparent that this is not just a case of stomach flu, I visited my doctor who quickly came up with a diagnosis: gallstones.
Actually, I was relieved. The pain was similar to what I felt before, and I was concerned that it might be a sign of impending heart disease. Thank goodness, this time around the problem was with a redundant component of the human machine: unlike hearts, gall bladders can be removed most of the time without any side effects.
And that is precisely what happened to me one day in early June. It was a surprisingly smooth operation. With laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery it is no longer necessary for your surgeon to cut open your belly; instead, they open a few tiny holes, inflate your belly with an inert gas to make room, insert their instruments, and that's it.
In my case, this meant that although I was rolled into the operating room quite late, at a quarter to one in the afternoon, I was actually home the same evening, at a quarter to seven! The pain and discomfort was gone in a few days, and within a couple of weeks, I have practically forgotten that I even had surgery.
In fact, I must have forgotten because I was apparently ready for more pain to come. For some inexplicable reason, I began messing around with motherboards in my systems. I replaced this with that, upgraded this BIOS and that, switched cards from this machine to that machine... until one of my motherboards gave up and booted no longer. (I still hope to be able to bring it back to life but perhaps it's just not worth it; low-end Pentium motherboards are trivially cheap nowadays.) In the end, I decided that it was time to upgrade to a dual-Pentium system, and obtained a new motherboard and two processors for my primary computer.
Well, motherboard surgery is not something recommend for your vacation. Even when you know what you're doing (and I'd like to believe that I do) it can be painful and frustrating. The motherboard I ordered was quite large; one of the few dual PII motherboards sold these days that are compatible with older systems, not requiring an ATX case and power supply. (In case you're interested, it's a SuperMicro P6DLF.) Inserting it into a case, even the kind of oversize tower case I use, was a challenge by itself. But the real problem began when I was ready to boot the operating system.
Needless to say, not even Plug-and-Play is designed to cope with a change in a core hardware component such as a main system board. That said, Windows NT booted up fine, but of course it only recognised one processor. No problem: the NT Resource Kit contains an unsupported upgrade utility that is presumably quite capable of replacing the required system files.
It did that indeed. So well that my system became unbootable. I was trying a variety of tricks but to no avail: Windows NT refused to boot. This was not entirely unexpected of course; after all, I knew I was inviting trouble when decided to upgrade the system. The fallback option was an attempt to reinstall Windows NT from CD-ROM.
This resulted in a very pleasant surprise. Despite warnings from Microsoft that installing an operating system on top of the same version is not supported, the reinstallation worked very well. NT booted without problems, and once I reinstalled Service Pack 3 and IE4, everything was back to normal. Well, almost; I also had to rerun the Office 97 installation because some settings appeared to have disappeared.
That done, two problems remained, both seemingly more serious than I hoped. First, the new motherboard's serial ports didn't work. Second, it appeared that the upgraded system became unstable: sometimes it took just an hour or two, sometimes a couple of days, but it eventually died with the dreaded "blue screen" of Windows NT.
As it turned out, both these problems were easily fixable. The serial ports were dead because I used the wrong type of backpanel connectors. You see, almost all PC motherboards use the same 10-pin connector on the system board for serial ports; unfortunately, the pinout is not standardised. My mistake was that I continued to use the backpanel connectors that were already in my machine's case, without checking whether they are compatible with the new motherboard. Well, they weren't. As soon as I replaced the connectors with those that came with the new motherboard, both serial ports came to life.
The stability problem, as it turned out, was due to my sound card. Having noticed that the crashes invariably happened after the system emitted a sound, I paid a visit to the SoundBlaster forum on CompuServe. The forum's helpful staff immediately confirmed that there is a known issue under multiprocessor NT systems. As it turns out, the issue is specific to the latest (version 7) drivers; an earlier version (version 5), still available in the forum, solved all my problems without any significant loss of functionality.
These summer successes must have fuelled my optimism because just last week, I performed further computer surgery. I repaired another motherboard with a broken BIOS chip and installed it into the Linux machine some of you know as the "test machine"; testing new versions will be a lot more fun now! I installed a DVD drive in my main workstation (finally Creative came out with a unit that works under NT!) Everything is working fine now, which means that I am ready for the next challenge. What will it be? An upgrade to Windows NT 5? Installation of a new hard disk? I don't know yet, but I am sure I'll find a way to make my life more entertaining. Rest assured though, that I will not subject the MUD server to similar experiments; its case will be opened only in an emergency.
Viktor the arch-wizard
This Web page copyright © 1998 Viktor T. Toth