Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Computer Armageddon

We were in a great mood the day after our haul out knowing we’d dodged yet another bullet and could finally start planning for our trip to Vanuatu. “Oh Grasshopper, your optimistic brain fool your pessimistic experience.”

I was on my faithful Apple MacBook computer researching the upcoming voyage when it crashed. It rarely crashes, so I tried to boot it up using the special key strokes that run the Disk Utility, which promptly told me I had a corrupt hard drive (my hard drive had been taking payoffs from the Trump Administration?). So I used all the tools I had to fix the problem, but nothing worked.  

Using Meryl’s computer I started researching computer repair shops in Nadi and Lautoka, but not many shops worked on Apples. I finally found a very nice guy, Imtiaz Mohammed, who owned Groundwire Computers. He checked around and found the very last Apple hard drive on the island and arranged to pick up the computer the next day. I wasn’t too worried since I was very religious about backing up the computer, but I still had enough experience to know anything could happen.

I can't imagine why this little guy died, sitting in 120 degree heat all day, bathed in corrosive salt air, bouncing up and down, and running Windows software.
Later the next day I wanted to continue my online research using my Windows 7 navigation computer. I went to turn it on and nothing happened. I ended up trying to dissemble it, but it’s a special solid-state computer that’s built like a hockey puck. I did get to the on/off switch but even when I jumped across the terminals (it’s push to start switch) still nothing. Since I couldn’t access the interior circuit board I knew I wasn’t going to get it fixed in Fiji, so Meryl and I hoped in a taxi and headed to Nadi (to fix yet another broken item: the regulator hose on her SCUBA gear) and to look for a new computer. Luckily Imtiaz called to say my Mac was ready, so we met at a local shopping center where Meryl was doing some last minute shopping. Imtiaz, hearing about the problem with the Windows machine, had stopped by Broadwell Computers and brought back a list of all the laptops they sell. Unfortunately none of them ran on 12v but he recommended a top rated HP 250 laptop. 

When I got back to the boat to install the computer I realized it was an Australian computer so it naturally had the 220v Chinese style plug (and it said Good Day, Mate! when I booted it up). Luckily I had an expensive “Swiss Army knife” type electrical plug adaptor that accepted the 220v plug and I plugged it into an outlet strip running off our inverter. Running a laptop (which internally runs on 19.6v) through a 220v power supply attached to a 110v 2500w ship’s inverter is probably the biggest waste of electricity possible on a boat, but it was our only option.

I hooked up my Windows backup drive and proceeded to search for my files. To my dismay, I found the Microsoft backup had only backed up certain files, so I had to manually try to find all the files I needed. The most important software was the navigation system, followed by the Airmail satellite email system. I luckily got the nav system restored and running, but had a hell of time getting the very expensive charts reinstalled since they were protected by a sophisticated licensing system and my licenses had been wiped out in the crash (my other backup of my licenses was on my Mac computer that had also crashed, so you can see the problem). After many emails to MaxSea in France (always having to wait until the next day because of the time difference) we finally got the nav system functioning. The sad thing was I lost hundreds of routes and marks I’d spent years installing and that gave all the history of our voyage.  When I get back to Bend, OR and settled in I’ll try to get the old nav computer fixed and restore those files for posterity’s sake.

I had an equal amount of trouble restoring other files on the Windows machine. And like the Mac, I was now dealing with a new operations system (Windows 10) with which I had no familiarity. It wasn’t so much the programs, many of which can be downloaded from the web these days, it was more the configuration programs with the hundreds of tweaks I’d done to get the nav system and our Airmail system to run efficiently. Double ugh!

As you might guess, I ran into the same problem on the Mac. Even though I had two different backups, but they only backed up certain programs. I was able to restore over 1 million files in my Documents section, which essentially is our whole life since we’ve been onboard. But for instance, we’d just switched from Quicken on the Windows machine to Quicken on the Mac. The new Mac version backs up the files in a hidden area of the computer, one that is not backed up by the Mac Timeline backup system. So three months worth of cash expenses, budgets, etc. were lost. I had also made an additional backup to a thumb drive but just hadn’t gotten around to setting it up on the Mac. 

I had also had two other navigation programs (backups) that were lost, but I’m hesitant to restore them. When the new hard drive was installed in the Mac the tech also upgraded the operating system to High Sierra. When upgrading to a new operation system, if the file structure needs to be change, the upgrade process normally takes card of it. In my case was I directly transferring the files, since a restore would only overwrite the new OS. What a mess! I had no “permissions” to my own files! Even though I’m fairly experienced in all this, I’m always amazed by how difficult and complicated it is to fix computer problems, even when you’re home in the States with access to resources, no less on a sailboat floating in the South Pacific Ocean.

When I went to restore the Quicken financial software I realized I had to have a special code from Wells Fargo bank (they’ve recently revamped all their security software) to access those accounts via Quicken. This code can only be sent via SMS to a US based cell phone, which I obviously don’t have. Last time it took my over two weeks and numerous calls to friends to use their US phones for the code. These US phones had to be first verified by Wells Fargo which meant even that process took three to four days per phone. And once the code is sent it’s only good for a few hours. I found a fairly inexperienced account rep at Wells Fargo (using Skype) who was about to give me the code (which she’s not supposed to do over the phone) when the Skype connection went dead. When I called back I found out the Customer Service Center just closed for the weekend. I have a million of these stories of “you can’t get there from here,” but I won’t bore you with them. It’s painful enough for me to experience them on a daily basis. As my old business partner John Sammons said “if it was easy everyone would be doing it.”

We now have the HP laptop running our nav software and sucking up precious electricity, and the Mac somewhat restored by still very sketchy because of the nature of the conversion. And still waiting to hear from Wells Fargo (have to log into their web site which we obviously can’t do in the middle of the ocean) for the special code. I do now have a Google Voice US phone number so we’ll see if that works. Last time Wells Fargo wouldn’t certify it for transmission of the code.

And so it goes. I promise we’ll have some nice posts coming up about us laying under a coconut palm sipping Pina Coladas.

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