Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Introductions: Mason Kincaid.

I have had the idea for this character rattling about in my head for a few months now. And while I let him roll about he's taken a shape of sorts over time. Well, I guess in short the following is a scene that serves to sort of introduce him in a way. I know it may not be much to go on but I'd like to toss him out and see how he does. In a day or so I may return to explain him a bit further. Hopefully he will go on to be an enjoyable figure to add to Requiem.

So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Mason Kincaid:

Nobody appreciates quality craftsmanship anymore. The thought drifted to the forefront of Mason's mind as his gaze casually swept over a segment of a worked stone wall. He couldn't help but feel a mixture of both sadness and pride at the notion. Great care and attention was required to shape each block. Not to mention the labor of laying the stones or in getting the mortar mixed properly. If done right such stone work could stand for ages, however, if done wrong the whole thing could collapse without warning.

Mason could readily admit the whole thing was not something your average person stops to contemplate. Perhaps it could be attributed to his family's tradition of naming sons after archaic crafts or his own innate curiosity. But no matter the reasoning Mason had always found himself fascinated by his own namesake profession. There was a certain allure in the art of building something through sweat, skill and dedication that could endure long after you were gone.

It was this very knowledge that told him volumes about the structure before him. The meticulous construction of the foundation, namely the choice and interlocking placement of it's stone was the mark of a skilled craftsman. Yet after only a few runs the stone suddenly changed to cheap brick that had already chipped and cracked. Such quality work obviously hadn't proceeded quickly enough to satisfy it's patron prompting a lesser skilled craftsman to be hired as a replacement. Much of the mortar had even started to crumble allowing some of the stone to slip. It wouldn't be long before the whole thing collapsed under the strain of it's own weight.

A faintly whistled tune drifted along the night air, snatching Mason from his thoughts. The melody issued from a carefree young man strolling along down the opposite side of the street. Nothing caught the gaze of this oblivious pedestrian, not the stone work he waltzed by, the debris in his path, nor even the presence of a figure seemingly lost in thought across the street. With casual ease Mason reached down and scooped up a nice fist sized chuck of rock pausing just long enough to gauge it's heft. Deciding it should do the trick he aimed a toss that neatly delivered the projectile into a collision with a visibly weak corner stone, displacing what little remained of it's support.

Like dominos the bricks toppled into a cascading wave that descended squarely atop the hapless figure, trapping him. Taking only a few steps into the street Mason marked the pleading gaze of his victim as he silently begged for some explanation to his plight.

"A job should be done right, or not at all, don't you agree?" Mason inquired aloud in a clear and calm tone. "Perhaps someone should file a complaint about the dangerous construction practices before anything unfortunate happens. But, then again - you do get what you pay for. Don't you Barger?" The comment ignited an explosion of panic from beneath the debris as Barger cried out for mercy and aid. It's only reply was Mason's back as he walked away, letting the pleas trail off into silence as the weight of his makeshift tomb crushed the air from him.

"Mason Kincaid," he declared as he activated the small comm. unit hidden in his collar. "Target eliminated."

"Nice work Kincaid, now get back as fast as you can. We have a situation," a stern voice replied. "Always do," Mason jested as he clicked off his comm. At least he could take some solace in knowing the local children's shelter should no longer be burdened by a mysterious shortage of funds.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When There Is No Happy Beep.

While many people have had the misfortune to experience the loss of their personal computer it tends to effect some more than others. For some it is just a minor inconvenience, and yet there are those who greet it as a crippling blow. I awoke yesterday myself to such a discovery. My tower was uncharacteristically silent as I noticed it had shut down during the night. Which didn't immediately warrant any alarm bells as it could of simply updated during the night or my power might have flickered slightly.

What came next I was not prepared for.

I pressed the power button. There was the familiar whirl of fans spinning to life and accompanying them was the illuminated led marking the hard drive spinning up. But, instantly I noticed something missing. You might have expected that the lack of any display on my monitor would of been my cause for concern. It wasn't. Instead, what troubled me was the silence.

Let me explain; when you press the power button on your computer a whole series of things take place that you never actually see. First it checks to ensure it is getting the proper power before waking up the processor. Once it receives the all clear it moves on to the next item on it's agenda, perhaps you have heard of it; the Power On Self Test. It is the job of this POST to verify everything is in working order, and if it is it likes to announce the news via something we techs lovingly refer to as 'the happy beep.' If all is well we hear this singular beep heralding the fact, and if we ever hear more beeps than the one we know there is something afoul in the kingdom.

In a situation such as mine however, there was no beep. So what does that mean? Well, like I said the fans all were spinning so we know power was flowing to the machine. But these things get their power directly from the power supply and tend to be very rudimentary creatures. You push the power button and if the juice flows - they spin. Simple enough. Our issue isn't in getting power it is in the fact that either a.) the power we are getting isn't good enough for the more complex components, or b.) some part of the motherboard/CPU has decided to take it's ball and go home. Permanently.

Now, if it is the former it is easy enough to check. All you need is a digital multimeter, a small piece of wire and a reference as to what wires should be getting what voltage. Might sound like something on an episode of MacGuyver but it's the truth. You can unplug the power connector off your motherboard and using your wire you can trick the power supply into firing up so you can check it. Logically you could do this check with the connector still plugged in to your motherboard but in my experience it is often better to do your checks without sending more voltage to your motherboard if your not sure of it's quality.

Unfortunately, if the power supply isn't your problem then things tend to be very dark indeed. Your processor may have passed away leaving nothing there to wake up. You may even  be the unwilling recipient of a motherboard who cannot send the wake up signal to your CPU. Or maybe... I could go on and on, but sadly the truth is that once you reach this point it is hard to track down. The POST is a vital resource for a technician and if your machine can't even get to that stage, well I don't think it has to be said.

I myself still feel a mixture of mourning and rage about my tower. As an experienced technician this is not a first for me, it's something I have seen before. I can rest fairly safe that my hard drive is intact(knock on wood) and that I have backed up a lot of my important data. But even knowing all that, I still don't know for sure what caused the failure. That single fact will haunt me until I discover it. And while I still have a way to get online and check my email, etc, the loss of my tower is still upsetting. Even now I am contemplating if the capacitors were bulging enough to have be an indicator of failure... Rest assured, a full autopsy is on the agenda.

Some of you can sympathize. Many may not. But in either case the next time you turn on your computer I hope you are greeted by the happy beep.

Update: After some further digging I have found the apparent failure - the motherboard itself. The voltages from the power supply all checked out. I cleared the cmos just in case some fault had occurred within it's settings. I even reseated the processor and inspected it for any visible sign of burns etc. Nothing. But I did one check on a whim, that helped me zero in.

You see, a CPU needs a heat-sink/fan because it generates tremendous heat. So if you remove the heat-sink and power on the system you should be able to feel it warm up. Now I have to caution the casual person from trying this because any longer than a few seconds(about 2 to 5) and you can kiss the CPU goodbye anyways. Plus you can burn your finger as well! My processor remained as cold as ice, meaning no power is ever getting to it. Any conductive material will warm if current passes through it. So if you add these facts together and inspect the capacitors near the processor that regulate the voltage to find them bulging you can safely deduce a cause of death.