The office fans that I had ordered arrived on Monday. A purchase prompted by the temperatures we have been experiencing this summer. By Wednesday, both had been assembled by the staff when I arrived at work but there was one detail remaining. Five people had failed to put the battery into the fan’s remote control. I took one look at the small set of plastic pieces, flipped it over, opened the pinch slot draw, put the battery in and closed the draw. The remote worked fine. My colleague was amazed.

I guess it is an ability I have. I can see how things work if it is an object, or work out how something must function to do the job it does. Not understanding causes confusion and pain, so it is a good job I understand most things. Quantum mechanics was a real disappointment to me. It is a fascinating topic but so far removed from our normal reality that nobody understands how it works, we just have tools that give us the right answers. But in the normal world I work in, most non-people problems are tractable.

So when I received the text yesterday telling me somebody was working from home but unable to access the computer files, I didn’t doubt I would find a solution, the question was more of how long it would take. I thought of a work-around but it seemed that I had already set that up before but couldn’t remember the password and security measure were making the generation of a new password too difficult in the time I had. Back to tackling the problem head on, but first I had to get into work.

So often in IT, one just switches the computer off and on to fix a problem. It doesn’t always work, but most of the time it does. Unfortunately you can’t do that when the computer is the server for the organisation. Well you can, but lots of people get annoyed and so it is only a measure of last resort. I had been aware of an issue with the remote access security certificate for a while now when a cursory investigation and quick fix didn’t work. Since last I looked, a new program had been released to make the renewing of security certificates easy so I downloaded and installed it on the server. I setup the correct parameters and press the button to renew the certificate. It didn’t work.

The error message was a bit cryptic, as they so often are, but it did give some clues. It suggested that he program couldn’t communicate with the internet address I had put in. This is strange because basically that address takes it back to the computer the software is running on and if the internet is working then something is wrong with that address. The address itself was correct.

There are two independent internet connections in our office. My first rule of security is to remove single points of failure, the common way to do this is to duplicate things. However, the internet address used only applied to one of those network gateways. I got onto the router and rebooted that connection. The address was now working but took me to the wrong server. I remembered switch the labelling of the internet connections. Looking into the router setup, the traffic redirection hadn’t been updated so I fixed that. Okay and now I back to the remote security certificate being out of date.

The new program to issue the certificate still didn’t work though. Time to dig deeper into the renewal service itself. I used a command prompt and ran the underlying program directly. No graphics interface here, just numbers from menus. Auto-renew didn’t work but I explored the manual options and found one that did work. All of a sudden, remote access is restored. I texted the user and all was well with the world.

I tend to think of myself as a detective when it comes to problem solving. I take the evidence that is presented, form a working theory, act on the theory until new evidence allows a refining of the theory. Repeat until a solution is found. In my experience though whilst often the problem is apparent, the underlying cause is not. In writing this I am also reminder of the Chief Engineer in Star Trek. When the warp engines stop working they always had a reason (plasma injectors frozen, coolant leak, anti-matter inbalance) and usually a solution (ejecting the core in an emergency, or realigning the crystals when not). I find life more complicated than running a star ship but like the Chief Engineer, I usually find a solution though in a less dramatic fashion.