It was going to be a nice weekend. With the soft winter weather making room for clear skies and long walks in rolling fields, the last thing I had expected was to be stuck at home behind a computer. Some kind of work emergency ? A horribly addictive game ? A burst of inspiration that triggered me to finish my book ? No .. none of the above. The one and only reason that kept me from enjoying some time away from my screen was : Geek-OCD.
The culprit in this case consisted of an issue with the wireless connection on my Linux Laptop. After installation of my new home router, the wireless connection problems on my favorite linux laptop escalated to a point that it was no longer usable. There is, for a geek like me, nothing more frustrating then buying a superfast router on a superfast internet connection .. Only to realize your superfast laptop is crawling along the intertubes slower then a snail with a morphine overdose. Quickly checking other machines on the network turned up that the issue was located solely on this one machine. And since this thing worked properly when I connected it via the cable .. It had to be a wireless issue. An odd problem indeed. It had never done this with my previous router and there were no other devices on my network that showed the same problem.
I started sliding down the slippery slope of Geek-OCD. The compulsory need to get to the root of any technological problem that comes across our path. The mental inability to say “Frack this, I don’t know what is going on here” and move on. I had to know the root cause .. I just HAD to. Deep diving into the technicalities I started analyzing the wireless network traffic in my house using specialized tools. “Sniffing” my way through every single data packet that passed at light speed from my router to my Laptop I quickly found that something was wrong. Strange errors like TCP-retransmissions, Ack packages and connections that were “out of sync” turned out to be the culprit of why it took forever to open up the www.ilovecarebears.com site. Each unknown error code led to a google search that led to tons of answers who in turn pointed to pages and pages of text on forums. The issue was slowly turning into one of these endless google rabbit holes that consume hours of your time, only to increase the sense that you have absolutely no clue what you are on about.
Reading through the 11th page on the forum of the 4th link in my 5th search attempt , I stopped myself. STOP ! I had followed several sets of instructions that might lead to salvation. I had pasted in commands in the terminal , flipped switches and checkboxes. I had rebooted, patched and botched things up .. I had reached the end of both my patience and my tether. And I still had not gotten any closer to a solution.
I decided to break one of my cardinal rules : I’ll just reinstall the system. The trigger of this drastic decision came from a second but equally powerful kind of Geek-Ocd. “You cannot keep on working with a botched up system”. Unclear of the damage caused by my tinkering, I decided that that machine just “didn’t feel right” anymore. I could no longer vouch for its integrity and it somehow didn’t ‘feel’ right anymore (+ my problem wasn’t fixed) so I decided to reinstall the system, a clear system of my second geek-OCD : every system has to work perfectly.
4 hours (and 4 versions of linux) later .. I watched the winter sun set on the western skyline and found that I had blown away an entire afternoon without getting anything done. The cause of my problem not found, my working system in shambles and still a long way to go before my fresh installation would be tweaked to my specifications. Because that is yet another Geek-OCD quirk I have, Every system needs to have all the right software and settings before I start using it…. In short : Geek-OCD ate my weekend.
The next Monday after this tech intensive weekend a friendly geek in a Linux Irc chatroom pointed out that “oh, you have a common problem. It has to do with a driver issue , just disable setting X and you’ll be fine”. I resisted the urge to scream and just rested my head between my hands. I had once again become the victim of my own Geek-Ocd. The urge to find the root of every problem, to never work with a “compromised” system and to only be satisfied with a perfectly personalized install of your own computer. Back in my windows days this meant that I spent more time maintaining my systems then I did using them. These days, thanx to the macs in my house, that is no longer the case. Yet linux, stable and reliable as it is, still has the power to push me into Geek-OCD relapse from time to time.
In the end we should take the time to realize that technology needs to work for us, instead of the other way around. And that solutions that require more effort then the results they produce … are probably not the smartest way to spend your Sunday afternoon. However : The one thing you do get out of all this is knowledge. The knowledge and experience on how to tackle a technical issue like this, Expertise on the deeper darker side of technology behind the issue that you have … But maybe most importantly : The knowledge not to throw away a sunny afternoon on a problem that you could have fixed with 2 clicks, the next Monday morning.