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Archive for May 12th, 2008

I like to think that I’m at home on the computer. Not on Windows – ask me to solve a problem there, and (assuming I don’t refuse to approach it), I’m relying on common sense, Internet searches, and my increasing irrelevant memories of the days I used a version of it with any regularity. But on GNU/Linux, I like to think that I know my way around. I know most of the configuration files and relevant packages for hardware and configuration, and, if I don’t, I can make educated guesses or know where to find the information I need. But an attitude like that can be as misplaced as hubris – it’s practically begging the forces of irony and chance to humble you.

Last night, it was my turn for humbleness. Suddenly, I was getting repeated “1”s whenever I tried to type something. I could turn it off by pressing the appropriate key, then it would return.

Since I was dealing with GNU/Linux, on a machine whose security I had hand-tweaked, I was relatively sure I wasn’t dealing with a virus or intrusion, which would have been my first guess on Windows. The system logs showed no suspicious activity – and, anyway, modern cracking tends not to be so randomly malicious.

Investigation quickly showed that the trouble was present regardless of account and whether the X Window System was running or not, and what desktop I was using. The Xorg.conf was identical to my backup copies. Altering locales and other keyboard settings, both globally and for particular accounts, changed nothing. Neither did upgrading key packages.

The keyboard was fully plugged into its jack as well. On both ends.

By this point, I had concluded that, since I had eliminated everything else, the keyboard must be faulty. True, when I booted via an old Windows install disk, no problem existed. But this wouldn’t be the first time that I’d found GNU/Linux drivers more sensitive than their Windows equivalent, so the diagnosis seemed plausible. Perhaps GNU/Linux was detecting a problem that was still too small for Windows to detect?

Unfortunately, by this point, it was past midnight – a time when few computer stores are open. Troubled, I went to bed and brooded on the problem in my dreams.

The next morning, I was on the phone when, wandering about the house, I happened to sit down in front of the keyboard. As I talked, I noticed that the 1 key on the number pad was partly depressed because of an errant seed from a parrot wedged between key and keyboard. A flick of a finger nail, and the seed was gone and my system working again.

I’d wasted two hours, for no better reason than, full of self-confidence in my knowledge, I’d overlooked the obvious. In my defense, I have to add that I rarely use the number pad. Still, I felt duly chastened that I hadn’t bothered to observe something so basic before going into full-tilt troubleshooting mode. I could have saved myself some time and frustration if I had.

Nor does the fact that I was systematic and eliminated various possibilities in an order way make me feel better – not one bit.

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