Skip to main content

The big red switch

I've have just emerged from around a week of email hell. Something had gone wrong with the mechanism by which emails were retrieved from my POP mailboxes to arrive in Outlook, meaning even a little iddy biddy text email could take a minute to arrive. Anything with an attachment was simply too big ever to make it.

I naturally reported this to my hosting company, who faffed around a bit with no obvious outcome. But a day or so later they started displaying a notice saying that customers who used BT to get to their servers were experiencing slow-downs. Ah-hah! Time to get the well-oiled BT support machine whirring into action.

Their first suggestion was an interesting one. I was to try pathping. I was vaguely aware that ping is a program for checking that a device on the internet is 'there' - pathping is apparently a cunning extended version of this that pings every hop along the way between your router and the final destination, and also does a test detecting packet loss at each stage. That sounded fun. Only pathping wouldn't work. So I moaned to BT.

'Are you an adminstrator?' they said. 'It works for us in Dundee.' Good for you in Dundee, I thought. Yes, I was an adminstrator.

So at this stage I was getting nowhere fast, when I happened to have a quick discussion with Peet Morris, someone I've known since my BA days when he used to come in as a programming guru to snigger at our attempts to program PCs. At this point my web host and BT had taken about 5 days to come up with nothing. Peet came back about 20 minutes later saying 'Have you tried "run as administrator" for pathping?'

I didn't want to admit I hadn't a clue what he was talking about, so a few seconds furkling in the Windows help system came up with the fact that you can right click a program and select 'run as administrator' which forces you into full adminstrator mode even if the PC isn't set up that way. I did this on the Cmd window and low and behold pathping worked. It shouldn't have been a problem because I am an adminstrator (in fact the only user on the PC), but it was.

Unfortunately pathping didn't help, because it came back saying all was hunkydory along the 13 or so hops it took to get from my router to the email server. No matter. Peet to the rescue again. He made a suggestion that actually fixed the problem (while BT still hadn't a clue). Now he made this suggestion for a fairly complex technical reason involving re-assignment of IP addresses, but the fact is it is a solution I should have thought of myself. In fact it's a solution Goldie, my dog, could have come up with. (No offence, Peet.)

It's what, in the mists of time, we used to call the 'big red switch' solution. When I first worked with PCs back in the early 80s we were using the first IBM PCs. On the side of the PC box was a really chunky red switch. It was the on-off switch. In the early days PCs often locked up and the inevitable solution was the big red switch. Switch it off and on again. My current PC doesn't have a big red switch - it's a rather sexy blue glowing thing. More to the point, neither does my router. But I duly switched the router off and on again. And guess what? Emails were suddenly winging their way in with the speed of... something very quick.

How could I, who ran the British Airways PC department at one point, have forgotten that most fundamental of solutions to all known problems? The big red switch.


  1. Around here, we call that a brain freeze. When all else fails, as it usually does, we shut everything off at the mains, count to three, and then start it up again. It usually works, too. It seems to also work on ageing humans...

  2. You have a mains switch, Sue?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope