The smallest oversight on the road to success has the greatest chance of being your downfall.

I thought I would share a funny story that is not overtly interesting, in fact it’s quite nerdy to be honest, but it’s one that has great practical significance in pretty much everything we do in our lives — and to be honest, I am glad I learnt this lesson very early on, regardless of how trifle it is going to seem. The title gives a basic hint as to what I am talking about but the underlying story is at the very least, slightly assuming — primarily because it makes a mockery of any supposed intelligence I possess and also because I genuinely feel like an idiot for the amount of time I wasted.

As a facet of the work I do in law and my genuine interest in technology, in addition to the mobile technology company that we are building, I have been customarily bestowed the honor of being the family geek — or “computer-go-to” guy. It’s amazing how every family has one, and typically this person is not always IT or Computer Science trained. Perhaps this is primarily due to the “don’t want to bring my day-job home syndrome” that every person on the planet experiences at some point in their lives from a family member or friend (i.e. someone who is a physiotherapist or a masseur or who can easily provide a service for free which gives a large utility benefit to the recipient for nothing, but it will never happen because the person does it all day and doesn’t want to bring it home). So I am regularly called on my mobile phone for “PC-Assistance” which typically involves a fair amount of profanity before the line “can you come around and help?”. At first, I really didn’t mind doing it for friends and family, and I freely offered my already full day to fix some problem that I had no doubt were primarily the result of some sort of associated porn site, or caused through the deletion of something which shouldn’t have been deleted (the attitude of I “well I didn’t do that” always rings true.) Of course, I am not about to start nailing my family and friends (and friends parents) for the reasons around how their PC got into that state — we both know how — so it’s better to just let sleeping dogs lie and pretend it was “something else”.

Anyway, I digress — the real point of this story specifically relates to something that happened to me today. I was repairing a computer for my girlfriends father (so the pressure was really on) and I was basically doing a full reinstall, clean up, software upgrade and setting up the notebook PC so the performance would be maintained through scheduling and the like. I was decisively confident and perhaps a little too cocky in the manner which I approached the task — a combination of having done the same thing 20 times already but also because I genuinely thought it wouldn’t be all that hard to setup another PC again.

Boy-o-boy was I wrong.

I setup the entire laptop and it was purring like a tiger by the time I had finished with it — confidence was “i repeat” sky high. I packed it up, SMS’d my girlfriends father and say “all done, PC ready for delivery”. Drove over to their house, set it all up ready to connect to their wireless and … then the notebooks wireless doesn’t work — I get the error “Media Disconnected”. Now to be honest, I had a bit of time to spare because we were the only ones home and I thought to myself — “this is no probs, it was working at my house so has to be something small”. I try a few different things such as resetting the Automatic Wireless Startup, editing the TCP/IP settings, editing the configuration of the wireless transmission bands and so forth. None of this worked. I found an article on disabling the media sensing feature in Windows (I was reinstalling XP as Vista was not wanted) so I quickly edited the registry and thought I had it solved. That didn’t work either.

So by now stage I had pretty much exhausted all the options available to me under the pressure of promised performance and I had to accept defeat and admit that the PC needed a little more work (my facade of arrogance was quickly deteriorating). So I went home and started work on the problem — I tried everything — even attempting to hack into Windows a little as by this point, I thought I was going to have to reinstall everything anyway because — in my mind — it had to be a conflicting driver of some sort (since it was working, then stopped). So I again reinstalled XP and started the PC up only to discover it wasn’t working. To cut an already long story short, I spent probably another 3 hours surfing the net look for “Wireless Media Disconnected” related issues — from forums to blogs to large scale tech help sites. All solutions offered proved useless. I was completely and utterly perplexed and was actually considering ringing up Microsoft to ask them for help since I had exhausted all options.

Then I stumbled across the solution at 1:10AM — on the front of the laptop was a switch “Wireless On”. It was off. I needed it on. I almost punched the computer.

Now I am not a violent person by any measure of the stick, but you have to consider the amount of frustration I was experiencing after spending more than 8 hours trying to fix a problem that was simply a direct result of a switch being turned off. I had installed and setup an entire PC twice — for free — and the entire time it was the switch that was the issue. This was the reason the PC was working and then all of sudden stopped — because when I put the laptop into its bag I knocked the switch off. Sure sure, you are probably saying to yourself right now, “pfftt — would have been the first thing I checked”. Well, thanks but I didn’t know laptops came with external wireless switches (which moron invented this anyway? Power optimisation can be done through software) — so I was pretty annoyed by the end at myself, the computer, IBM, Microsoft and the idiot who invented external wireless switches.

So what is the lesson here?

The lesson is summed up in this quote I thought of afterwards while having a “success beer” -

The smallest oversight on the road to success has the greatest chance of being your downfall.

Sure it’s a simple quote — but it’s certainly one that taught me a valuable lesson — and that is that most problems are never actually difficult. Rather, they simply require you to go back to the basics, look in the simplest and most logical places first and don’t create greater complexities than those which need to be created. If I had of simply looked at the front of the laptop when the problem arose, it would have been solved. Additionally, if I had “read the manual” online when I was searching for wireless issues — problem solved. There are numerous “nodes” to success that I could have taken yet I was convinced that the problem had a more complex heart and so I assumed that this was the one that needed to be, and perhaps deserved to be, explored. (Of course, I wouldn’t have the pleasure of writing this post or the wisdom of hindsight.)

So to conclude — a few points. Firstly, if you are doing technology work — see what the external interface of a device offers by way of functionality before you delve into a software solution, and you will undoubtedly never make the mistake I did. Secondly, try and approach complex problems from the simplest of angels — 99% of the times they will have a lateral or tangential answer. Finally, make sure you cover off all the simplest and tiniest of oversights on the road to your goals — sometimes the “don’t need to worry about that” or “can do that later” attitude will be your undoing.