So the other day I developed a problem with my laptop. Whenever I had a large Windows Explorer, Shell window open with a lot of files showing, or I had an Internet Browser window open that contained a horizontal or vertical scrollbar showing, my scrollbar went nuts. Now I had noticed some odd behavior from the PC recently. I put the errors down to my recent experience of downgrading the PC from Windows Vista to Windows XP. I say this because, Hewlett Packard did not provide all the needed drivers for the downgrade. I had to cobble the drivers from many different sources, and despite the Device Manager showing no missing drivers, some of the versions I used might be suspect, until vetted by time and testing. Despite the aforementioned driver issue, I thought the odd behavior might be caused by the usual suspects in this kind of a problem. I Googled the issue and tried several different solutions, and none of them seemed to stop the problem. I tried removing the mouse drivers and reinstalling the mouse. That was no help. I tried disabling some of my theme enhancing software; again that was not the solution. I tried reloading the video drivers. I also pursued the virus, spyware and Trojan track. None of these seemed to cure the problem. I disconnected my wireless mouse and keyboard and used the on board laptop features. As you can guess, the problem was still present. I was at my wits end. What was I to do? Eventually I took the route that all Microsoft Windows users take in this situation. I pulled the band aid off, and I formatted the PC and reloaded the operating system.
Since this was a recent downgrade, and since I had not completed the entire process, I had not yet made an image of the PCs' hard drive. I was waiting to finish the software installation process, before I imaged the machine. I was up until 3:15 am in the morning; I toiled at the reload. Once a Windows user gets started on the dreaded reload, it can be a cathartic experience. We start the reload talk. You know the little talk computer geeks give themselves, to bring solace to their souls, because their operating system has gone belly up, and they have been unable to resolve the issue, using their God like skills to save the machine. It a little mantra that starts out with the simple thing. Things like “Well it was time anyways.” and “Every six months it's time to sweep out the cobwebs.” and the old chestnut, “This time I'll make the perfect image, and get the machine the way I really want it to be.” of the last but not least, “Well I meant to get this done and have been putting it off.” All of these are valid reasons to reload a PC, but we all know, if we were going to do it, it would have already been done, and we wouldn't be in the current mess, we have found ourselves.
Needless to say I managed to get the PC into a fairly stable state before I fell asleep. I was able to get all the drivers reloaded, and moved a lot of the core programs I rely upon, installed. All in all, I had the PC in a fairly usable state. I even managed to get my wallpapers back and moved a lot of my files back, where they belong. I was content enough with the machines progress. I could go to sleep, for the night.
Now you would not be reading this, if that were the end of my problem. Of course that is not where we stop, on this trip. When I awoke the next morning, lo and behold, my PC was acting the same buggy way. My scrollbars were going bananas. I kid you not! Whip! Zip! Back and Forth they went! I was besides myself. I was angry. I felt betrayed by my skills. My wife was sitting beside me, trying to offer comforting words, but this was not helping the situation. I was depressed... I felt I had wasted all the night before, solving nothing. Also, to make matters worse, I really didn't need the reload, now did I? If I had not solved the problem by reloading, then my last image, in process was wasted. All that previous work was wasted. What is even worse is I began to contemplate the worse case scenario. I had a problem with my laptop.
Now if there is one thing a Geek hates is to come to the point where they have hardware issues with a laptop. Hardware issues on a desktop PC are bad, but can be mitigated by replacing hardware. This is not so bad on a desktop PC, but on a laptop it is catastrophic.
There are two basic parts to replace on a laptop. One is the hard drive, and the other is the memory. Most of the other parts in a laptop are replaceable, but at a prohibitive cost. Normally people will simply replace a laptop, rather than replace a laptop motherboard, or a screen, or some other major part.
Like it or not, I was at the point I felt there might be a keyboard error, or an error with the laptops mouse, track pad combination. I proceeded systematically though. I first thought of resetting the BIOS to defaults, and also I toyed with the idea of flashing the motherboard BIOS. One of the last things I tried was the old Compaq, HP reset trick. This is where you disconnect everything, take the laptop battery from the PC, and disconnect the AC adapter. Hold the power button in for 20 seconds and presto, the PC resets the motherboard to some hidden settings, or truly discards the garbage you were using for fresh settings. I then reinserted the battery and powered up the laptop. Holy, crimeny! The issue was gone!
I proceeded to do a little dance around my room. My faith in my skills reestablished. I was a contented Geek again, and I had a clean PC image to perfect. Yahoo, for me! Who's a good boy? You are! You are! Yes, He is!
This was short lived. I connected my peripherals to the PC again and WHAM! ; the issue returned. I was livid. I was confused. I was flabbergasted. I sat there looking at my external hard drive. There's the culprit for sure. I bet there is a virus lurking there, or a rogue .exe file wrapped Trojan. Something on that drive is making my life miserable. I unplugged the drive and rebooted. Problem gone? NO! I do not think so... not even in the slightest. I disconnect the power connector from the AC wall adapter, thinking it might be a voltage issue. Nope, not there. That's not the problem. I am looking at the last connection to the PC, my cooler pad, that sits beneath the laptop. I think to myself. Maybe this is the culprit? Maybe the cooler pad is drawing voltage and causing the motherboard to act crazy. Then it dawns on me.
I am a fool. I am a very big fool. In order to save a USB slot on the actual laptop, I slipped a powered four port USB hub into the laptops connector. I connected the cooler pad to the powered USB hub. Here is the foolish part. I also had an older and forgotten wireless mouse, keyboard dongle attached to the USB hub. I glanced over at my desk, and there winking its' little laser light at me was the problem. I reached out and pulled the batteries from the mouse and my problem went away. I have been using a program called Synergy to control my laptop from my desktop PC. Normally all I did was boot the laptop, use a different wireless mouse (I carry in my bag) and start Synergy. I never thought about the older mouse and keyboard I had connected to the USB hub.
I guess the golden rule here is disconnect everything and start from scratch. Never overlook the obvious, and never take things for granted. Sometimes a simple problem has a simple answer. Sometimes a Virus is not a virus, and a hardware issue is not a virus. In all of the problems we encounter, we should look for the hidden mouse and keyboard, and not assume it is something else, entirely.
“If it was a snake, it would have bit me!” “I feel really dumb today!”
I wonder what's on the Agenda for tomorrow?