Of Cats, Computers, and my Mother-In-Law

Marzipan, meet these nice people here: they are MUD2 players. Players, please meet Marzipan, our new kitten. After all, what is a decent arch-wizard without his cat? This may not be the best picture of our furry little friend (hey, it was snapped with a Polaroid after all) but it still shows the little M on his forehead, which was one of the reasons why he got this name. Right now, he's about 9 weeks old and growing at a ferocious rate; he is also frighteningly intelligent and mischievous.

Marzipan's antics of course made my job all the more difficult when I finally decided to bite the bullet and upgrade two of my key computer systems. One is a Linux machine that, in addition to doing my Internet e-mail and acting as a dial-in server for data and FAX calls, also serves as a backup machine for MUD2 should the primary machine die for some reason. The upgrade was straightforward, simpler than I expected; when I was done, I even loaded a nice graphics game that uses the "vgalib" library of graphics calls to present high-quality graphics on the screen. I really, really wish I didn't do that.

From what I could determine after a post-mortem, about half an hour after I went to bed with the satisfaction of a job well done, trouble began. File system error messages began to appear in the system log. My wife also noticed that the screen contained rather oddly shaped characters but didn't think it was something that she should wake me up for. When I did wake up, I noticed this, too, but a quick switch from text to graphics mode and back appeared to have taken care of the problem. It took another 15 minutes or so before I noticed that something is very, very wrong.

To make a long story short, the entire file system was completely, utterly trashed, wasted, presumably caused by memory corruption through improper access to video hardware by the "vgalib" library. I never saw a UNIX file system trashed up this badly! After a futile attempt to restore the system, I realised that I really only had one choice: a complete reinstall, starting with a blank file system (i.e., a reformat of my hard drive.) This was one of those occasions when I really praised myself for my good backup habits!

Reinstalling Linux was boring but otherwise uneventful. About the only excitement I recall was when I briefly managed to reject all incoming mail to my site, as I was trying to install a solution for the "spam relay" problem. Spammers, as many of you know, often perform their smelly act by finding an open mail host on the Internet that has sufficient connectivity and use this host as a relay for the thousands of pieces of outgoing mail they send out. With the 128 kbps ISDN line, there was now a very real possibility that spammers might discover my mail server, so I had to do something to prevent this. In fact, this was one of the reasons why I wanted to upgrade my system!

With my Linux system up and running again, it was time to focus my attention on my main development machine. This beast was set up to run Windows 95, Windows NT 3.51, and Windows NT 4.0 in a multi-boot configuration. Of these, Windows NT 4.0 was installed almost as an afterthought; yet over the months, I have migrated all of my work to this operating system and began to use it exclusively. Not only that, but I also no longer needed other operating systems installed here for test purposes, as I now have a separate computer that is dedicated solely to testing. Last but not least, with all the junk installed and uninstalled over the months, Windows NT was gradually becoming unstable, and I also had no disk space left despite the fact that I have two 2.1 Gb hard drives in this box.

The command format c: is a dreadful one if you issue it by accident. However, if you do it intentionally, there's an almost perverted pleasure in watching this command perform its destructive task. This command (or to be more precise, its functional equivalent in the Windows NT setup script) was how a 2-day, 30-hour exercise of reinstalling roughly 1.6 Gb worth of software began. I can report that things went really well; there were no major problems during reinstallation and in the end, I found that I survived the experience with only some minor losses, such as the accidental loss of my 'favourite' places in Internet Explorer.

So what does this all have to do with my mother-in-law, you ask? Simple: I was in a hurry with these reinstallations because I wanted to get them all done by the time my mother-in-law was due to arrive for a two-week visit from Europe. I made it with a few hours to spare. My mother-in-law, a very kind and friendly lady, arrived just in time to be here for our fifth anniversary, which we celebrated with a bottle of champagne on September 12.

So what does this all have to do with MUD2, you ask? Simple! For one thing, it explains why you saw so little of me in the past few weeks and why this newsletter is late (again!) For another, if there are any service outages in the next few days, you'll know who to blame: it's either my mother-in-law or Marzipan unplugging (or, in Marzipan's case, chewing on) the wrong cable. Although in Marzipan's case a spray bottle turned out to be an efficient deterrent, I dare not use it where it's needed the most: behind my computers, in the "rat's nest" where all the cables are. And no, I definitely dare not use the spray bottle on my mother-in-law!

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This Web page copyright 1997 Viktor T. Toth
MUD2 is copyright 1997 Multi-User Entertainment Limited
Page last modified: September 17, 1997