My tech nightmare

This week I offended some ancient technology demi-god somehow, and I paid the price.

It all started Wednesday when folks were talking about LOTRO. I was wondering if my old characters still existed so I fired up Steam and installed the game. When it finished installing through Steam I fired it up and it did that thing where every damned Steam game seems to need to install C++ libraries and assorted other things. In this case ANCIENT versions. Then it had to patch. Then I let it download high-resolution textures.

When it was finally done I started the game, with the intention of literally taking a screen shot of my characters to share on Imzy. I had no intention of actually playing the game. LOTRO started, my primary monitor when black. Stayed black. I could hear sounds but they were broken and stuttering. So I jumped over to monitor #2 and right clicked LOTRO and picked Close Window and nothing happened. So I hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE and nothing happened. Task manager wouldn’t come up. Vexed, I held down the power button on the machine to kill it. And that’s when trouble really began.

When I restarted the machine it blue-screened with an error of BAD_SYSTEM_CONFIG_INFO. Someone suggested this could be a video card issue, so I dragged the system out and swapped it with an old card I had. No help there. Swapped it back and started googling solutions. Tried various things for the next day or so. Some of them, like an extended chkdsk, took hours and hours to run. Tried to restore but Windows said it couldn’t find any restore points.

Finally found this solution online and it got me back to the desktop. Basically you’re replacing a bunch of files in C:\Windows\System32\config with backup copies.

So now I was at my desktop but my Start menu wouldn’t come up and everything felt really slow and sluggish. Virus maybe? Ran a bunch of checkers but found nothing. That was another few hours gone. Ever since installing LOTRO when the system starts up, about 20-30 seconds after I see a desktop, one of my monitors goes black for a few seconds. I see a ‘loading cursor’ and then the desktop appears, but with limited functionality (no Start menu, can’t open more than 1 file explorer window from the task bar, and some other stuff). I kind of feel like whatever this is, it’s undoing my fixes.

But at least I could get to my files. First thing I did was check to make sure my backups were up to date and…my backup system had quietly stopped working last June! Nothing since then was backed up. OK well I decided to back stuff up manually. Starting copying stuff to an external USB drive and it was going at like 18 Kbs and was going to take two days to copy, then it crapped out completely. USB was apparently out, but I could still copy across my home network to my Linux server. But first I had to clear out a bunch of stuff from that to make room.

I had to blow away a bunch of dev sites but freed up the space and starting copying my files to the Linux server. That was going to take a couple hours. 25% of the way through, I get an error that the PC can’t talk to Linux any more. I look at the Linux box and it was frozen. It has never done this, and had been running flawlessly for months. NOW it decides to crap out. So I reboot THAT and when I get it back online, the PC can no longer see it.

Interspersed with all of this I’m trying a bunch of things to repair the Windows installation but nothing is working. OK time to Reset the machine. By this time it’s about 4 pm Thursday. I start the reset process. It gets about 40% done and reboots to a black screen with a circle of dots indicating some process is happening. I let it sit like that for 7 hours. At about 11:30 I manually restart the machine and I get a “Loading Windows…” screen. Yay! I go to bed. In the morning I find that same black screen with the circle of dots. I reboot again and I get “Restoring files” and when that finishes I’m right back to where I started. The Reset failed.

At some point you start trying crazy shit. I read somewhere to unplug all USB devices. I do that and try the Reset again and it fails again. And for some reason when I re-attached the external USB drive I plug it into another USB port and… it works perfectly. So apparently one of my USB ports is blown. At least that means I can backup my files, so I do that. Now the pressure is off.

I try to reset or restore the system through a bunch of different techniques and none of them work. Half-way through this process, my main monitor stops working. Now to be fair this monitor has been a little wonky for a while. It would get stuck in standby mode and I’d have to cut the power to reset it. Now it’s frozen and won’t come back, but the thing is, it APPEARS to be working. So now I start to wonder how many times in the past days I’ve thought Windows was frozen but it’s just the monitor freezing. Anyway I crawl under the desk and disconnect that, and switch the backup monitor to the port that main monitor was using just to be sure it isn’t the video card connection.

So count so far: 1 fubar’d Windows OS, 1 fubar’d USB port, 1 fubar’d Linux service, 1 fubar’d monitor. All in the course of 3 days. AND my laptop has been acting up; the cursor keeps going nuts. Oh well.

Finally I just give in and install Windows from scratch. This works but I see a lot more partitions than I expect to see. There are 2 System Restore partitions, one that’s a few hundred megs, the other and about 3 GB. Then there’s another UEFI partition, if I recall correctly. Not being as up on Windows as I should be, I leave them all be. I hope I don’t regret that.

So now I’m re-installing apps and I’ve confirmed that my backup is actually running again. I ordered a new cheap monitor (money is tight right now or I would’ve just gone and bought a new system…this one is 6 years old) and a new video card because my Spidey Sense is telling me that my current card might have had something to do with this issue (sometimes when I start this machine it reports that the card’s supplementary power cable isn’t attached…in fact I replaced the power supply because of this not too long ago).

Hopefully it won’t take me too long to get everything back where it was. I’m going to have to re-create those dev sites on the Linux server, and I need to get all my tools re-installed on the PC and pull down all my work repos. And then the next thing I am not ever going to do is reinstall LOTRO! In fact I don’t think I’ll mess with installing games on the system again. I don’t play PC games and I just don’t need these kinds of headaches. Maybe games from the Windows Store since they are sandboxed and can’t bork your whole system.

Now I’m going to go give my game consoles a big ‘ol hug!