My Second Secret Career – A tribute to Jerry Pournelle

If you already got an email about this post, ignore the previous one. It was premature unedited version. this is the real thing. Apologies.

This post is a tribute to Jerry Pournelle’s “Chaos Manor“, which I just found out is still being published after 30 years.

Reach out for me and hold me tight. Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me, let my machine talk to me

World Leader Pretend, Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe

Apart from running a small cloud computing Start-Up and feeding a cat I find myself as full time PC technician for the family. Of course, working professionally in software development for 15 years now and earning a BA in physics\math\cs  makes me the best person to call whenever a screen is involved.

Here are a few recent samples :

  • My mother in-law needed a visa to USA. Therefore she needed to set an appointment in the Tel Aviv American embassy. This can only be done using the most horrible web application ever written. Naturally, I’m the guy since I have reasonable English, I’m considered as someone who can handle bureaucracy and I’m the “Computers” expert. This site is so annoying It makes me happy I have an American passport.
  • My mother is planning a trip to Timbuktu, Mali (really, this is not a joke ). She needs me to print for her the lonely planet chapter about the country ($3.36) because “Your father does not know how to do it. It will take him a month  and I need it now!”


  • My father in-law is traveling to a conference in new york. Although he is one of the brightest medicine professors in the world, he needs my help to reserve a hotel in New York. Not that I get to decide on anything, but I’m the one who fills out the forms and get the “holy” confirmation emails.
  • My sister has a new second hand laptop, X30 Thinkpad. Need to install Office. Need to setup new printer.My sister’s second hand laptop fails. Need to try and fix. Need to reinstall it. My sister got a virus form someone at art class. Need to reinstall from scratch. Replacing my sister X30 with a new second hand X40.Repeat.  You get the idea.
  • My father in-law laptop from 2003, a Dell Latitude D600 is running very slow.This is not surprising , since it has 256MB of memory and needs 384MB just to power up. I spend couple of hours understanding which memory to order. It seems like I need DDR PC3000 on 333MHZ. Or Maybe PC2100 with 266MH. Or is it DDR ? . Back in 2000 I was interested in memory technologies ( remember Rambus ?) , but in the last 10 years I thought this field was standardized and commodotized. OK , I think I know what I need. Ordered 2 1GB DIMM cards it from e-memory-co-il which was the cheapest on ZAP and had good reviews. 512 Shekel.  It took them some time to get the memory out of customs and I still didn’t get it. It turned out they sent it to an accountant next to our office and he sent it to the billing address , which belonged to my father in law. Well at least now I have the DIMM’s. 12 hours of installation later I’m willing to give up. Trying to understand BIOS signaling to me using LED is killing me. the darn thing would not boot.
  • I watched the following youtube movie, which helped me to understand I was not pushing the DIMMS all the way in.
  • I tried every possible combination . First Slot – first new DIMM. Second slot – first new DIMM. Old DIMM and new first DIMM. Old DIMM and second new DIMM. Each time unscrew the lead, put the dimms inside, make sure the dimm is well seated. Screw the lead. Press Power. Still nothing. OK, I emailed the store and he recommended I install the newest BIOS. Download bios version A15 from dell, or is it A16 ?. Installed it, rebooted. Nothing.after browsing many web forums I found Dell explanation of the strange blinking lights after boot. It least it was not beeps codes.
  • Dell Flash Indicators Boot

    Dell Flash Indicators Boot

    Dell Flash Indicators 2

    Dell Flash Indicators 2

  • Although web support site is great (build for idiots, which is actually good ) and much better than IBM’s , I still could not make it work. there was one hint that in Dell D600 there is a BIOS bug – It does not recognize memory over 1GB when 266MGZ chip is combined with 333Mhz Chip….
  • To make a long story short. I had to waste 3 hours traveling to Petach Tikva and replace the memory cards with slightly different model from the same company. For unknown reasons this worked well. And BTW, this Part of Petach Tikva is built a like a horrible maze of one way streets. Problem solved.
  • The Road to Nowhere - Come on Inside

    The Road to Nowhere - Come on Inside

  • My father bought a new NetBook from orange. Need to setup wireless, new gmail account, outlook express and Office 2007.
  • My grandmother, 85 years old, is having problems with word attachments in her outlook express. Since she is in Haifa, I log in remotely using VNC ( she knows her IP ! ) and find the lost attachments.
  • My sister in-law R60 thinkpad  laptop screen is black. Does not seem to be any power feeding it. She comes to the office, I take out the battery, connect it directly to the power and it turns on. Scream of joy.
  • My brother got one of those annoying Trojan anti-malware malware thingies installed. Five hours of trying to remove the darn thing. I finally gave up. Without a hardware debugger this is a lost cause.
  • My brother got a new desktop.  A great , perfectly new computer does not recognize the Ethernet card and the sound card. Relatively easy fix this time. Installed one of them on premise (guess which one 🙂 )  and the second one using log-me in. Only an hour work.
  • One family member does not know how to install a facebook application (” Are you interested”). I go and install it for them (1.5 Clicks…)
  • My mother in law printer stopped working after 7 years ( HP 900C). She really wants me to fix it ( “It was the best one at the time”) , as she has a very hard time saying goodbye to electrical appliances. After spending 400 Shekels on new cartridges, just to see the printer still does not work, she needs a recommendation. I foolishly recommend a new HP model. than I get to install it. However, the Dell latitude D600 only has 2 USB ports so we needs to get a USB hub ( ADSL, Printer, Mouse). That does not work since the ADSL modem stops working if it is not connected directly to the port. It can no be connected in parallel to the hub since the hub is too thick. I thought about moving to a PS\2 mouse, but it seems the dell is too new to have it :). Went to the store, bought a USB extension cord, brought back the dell with the 2GB memory, installed windows update , removed some junk, de-fragmented the hard disk connected the new cable, printer, mouse and ADSL cable.

Cloud computing is really the easy part of my work life. Would anyone bring GeekSquad to Israel ?  Please. Pretty Please.


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5 Responses to “My Second Secret Career – A tribute to Jerry Pournelle”

  1. Ido Schacham Says:

    Sounds like you are in computer support hell. I hear ya.

    Lucky for me my family ain’t that big, my home hardware policy was to keep what’s working rather than upgrade whenever a new craze comes out, and I’ve successfully outsourced most computing tasks to my little brother 🙂

    However I still get the odd request, mostly from my dad. The weirdest things happen in Word to my dad. Obviously when I get there the voodoo stops.

    Bottom line – all this Hi-Tech technology is still too difficult to use for the average person. Unless you have a Mac, I guess.

  2. ophirk Says:

    If only the average person could afford a mac 🙂

  3. snunit Says:

    OK OK, got it, I’ll install the printer myself. Great post, still laughing.

  4. Udai Kiran Says:

    Haha, that is hilarious. thats called the one and only nice and smart fellow in the family who will not say no to others technology needs in and around the house and not to mention the neighbourhood.

    When I was in India, all the uncles and aunties would call me to help them sort out their computer issues so they can chat with their sons/daughters who are in US. They used to give me only a half hour to one hour lest they will miss their children. whoa.. what a pain. Well, as soon as I came to US, my brother was the next “technician”, good luck to him. 🙂

    Talking about remote desktop sharing software, I use LogMein to help sort out issues on my relentlessly loyal “customers” who are in distant lands.

  5. Udai Kiran Says:

    Oh yes I see, you smart fella! you already mentioned ‘Log me in’.

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