7/1/2020 Bi-weekly Update: Perseverance

"In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins." -- Ulysses S. Grant

I experienced the truth of these words in a small way recently when my desktop computer broke down. I was running Manjaro Linux and one day couldn't login. I'd see a glimpse of my desktop and then would be immediately locked out.

After spending a day googling and scanning forums, I gave up and decided to reinstall the operating system. But there was a problem. I couldn't find the original OS disk and I had no new DVDs to burn with!

So I walked to a local Rite Aid and lo and behold blank DVDs! But wait, there's an 8GB USB stick on sale for $3! 

So I go with the USB stick and happily burn a brand new Ubuntu 20.04 image onto it. It's smooth sailing from there--I setup my desktop and start installing snaps like Visual Studio Code, OBS, 0AD and--a happy new find--Bluemail (the best free linux mail client I've found so far).

Things run smoothly for a few days and I always make sure to apply the latest software updates to keep things happy. Scratch that.

I tend to suspend my computer instead of shutting it down. But one day I did a real reboot. Some kernel updates applied several days earlier finally did their work and everything broke. I couldn't even get to a login screen, the OS would crash before it could even get there.

I tried to fix the installation from the USB stick multiple times, I tried to go into the commandline and uninstall and reinstall the graphics drivers, I tried for a few hours each day for several days to bring the machine back to life--all in vain.

In the course of my research, I discovered that Ubuntu required device driver signing with a "Machine Owned Key" (MOK). Applying the kernel update may have meant the the latest NVIDIA graphics card drivers were no longer properly signed. Hence the OS was crashing before it could show anything on the screen. What shocked me was that uninstalling the drivers and disabling UEFI secure boot didn't fix the problem either--I think the GRUB bootloader was corrupted and kept trying to load Ubuntu with the bad driver.

Since the bootloader was bad, I decided to pivot yet again to try installing windows on the machine. The installer ran smoothly and using its safe graphics drivers the monitor worked just fine. Unfortunately it would crash on the final step--rebooting after installation of the OS. I tried maybe 10 times to install windows and each time with slight variation I would get a bad memory access error and the OS would not load.

President Grant's words came to mind: 

"In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins."

I felt fully beaten, my computer was dead, dead, dead. I'd wasted hours on IT tasks when I probably should have been doing other work. I was trying to make the desktop my main machine since my 2015 macbook pro had keyboard issues and was getting too slow to do the video editing work I have coming up.

So I had to go ahead and buy a new macbook pro despite the upcoming migration to ARM processors that I wanted to wait for. The 2020 MBP is a slick, powerful, portable machine and I've been happy so far. 

But I didn't give up on the desktop. 

Realizing that the graphics drivers were the source of so many problems, I suspected the graphics card itself may have had corrupted memory (I was getting memory access errors and weird artifacts on the screen with successive reboots). So I opened the computer, cleaned out the dust and removed the graphics card.  

I connected my monitor to the motherboard's built-in graphics card--and voila!

Windows installed, rebooting and showed me a beautiful login screen at full resolution. It worked! The machine was brought back to life by removing a corrupt piece of hardware :)

Here's the little culprit.

I suppose I see this as having two parables for life. 

One is the Grant quote that perseverance after feeling utterly defeated is often the path to victory. I feel that way about computers and I also feel that way about life, business and society.

The second is that sometimes things get better not by improving them, but by removing deadweight. Removing the corrupted graphics card fixed the computer. Likewise removing corruption in our lives can reinvigorate us with renewed effectiveness and vitality better than constant self-improvement.

Thanks for being a patron and for reading this story!

God's peace be with you.

--Chris


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