Chain reaction

After spending 10 hours yesterday traveling from Seattle to Providence and unable to sleep until 3 in the morning because i am still trying to get over a really abnormal jet lag mode (normally after returning from an Asian/European trip lasting more than a week, i would be sleepy by 6 or 7 in the evening and that i would get up 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning), i came into work this morning with the office completely dark and no one in it. Why? After opening my email, i found out that i do not have to be onsite this week!!! You are probably wondering why the hell did i not check my work email prior to flying all the way out here.

I came back to Seattle on 12/31 after a two-week vacation to Taipei, Malaysia and Singapore. Immediately after arriving home in the morning, i decided to boot up my work laptop so that i could change my itinerary to Providence, and also to check my work email. When i originally made the travel arrangement to Providence, the plan was to travel to Providence after the New Year and work the short week, spending the weekend here so that i don’t have to waste a full day traveling to Providence the following week in order to complete my tasks prior to the 1/11, as that day is my last day at IBM. The reason why i wanted to change the itinerary was because the trip was marked with an “out of policy” flag. I had bought a fully refundable airfare and because the difference between fully refundable and non-refundable airfare was greater than $250, the American Express travel site inserted an “out of policy” flag into my itinerary. An “out of policy” itinerary requires me to do some explaining to my manager so i wanted to rebook the airfare to get rid of this irritating flag.

When i was prompted for my Windows XP password, i drew a complete blank. For the life of me, i could not remember what my recently-changed password was. I tried various combinations of passwords that i have used in the past but to no avail. I normally manage my passwords using DeveloperOne’s CodeWallet Pro. CodeWallet Pro runs on Windows-based OS including mobile versions of Windows like Pocket PC. Prior to getting my iPhone, i used to sync up my work XP-based ThinkPad with a really old HP PDA phone running Pocket PC. Ever since owning an iPhone, i have stopped synchronizing the ThinkPad with the HP PDA phone. Furthermore, several months ago, i stopped charging the HP PDA phone. Anyone who has owned an older generation of Pocket PC-based device will know that if the batteries (both the rechargeable and the backup ones) are fully drained, you will lose all the information in the device except for the base operating system that came with the firmware. That said, even if i could revive my HP PDA phone without losing any data, the CodeWallet Pro data file would not have contained the recent password changes.

It was no use contacting IT support. The only thing that they could offer me was to reset my passwords and there was no way that they could reset my XP password remotely. An IT support personnel from Portland told me that there was a way to reset the XP password but it must be done using a specially-created boot diskette available at the IT lab in the downtown office. Remember, at this point, i had only been home for less than an hour after traveling for more than 18 hours across the Pacific. So i grudgingly dragged myself to the downtown office and went up to the IT lab. I made at least 10 attempts in using the boot diskette to reset my XP password but it was no good. I could not even get past the first reset step of the one-page instructions.

It was then i realized that i could still boot into the Linux partition on the ThinkPad. After booting into the Linux partition, i found out that i could retrieve files from the XP partition, which meant i could copy the CodeWallet Pro password data file and have it opened on another Windows-based device. The only other problem was the work ThinkPad was the only computer i have at home that is Windows-based. Without another Windows-based computer, there was no way for me to read off the encrypted CodeWallet Pro password data file. I still have Virtual PC installed on my Powerbook which meant theoretically i could install CodeWallet Pro on it. So i immediately drove home and transferred the password data file into a USB thumb drive. When i ran Virtual PC on my Powerbook, i became aware that i had removed the XP image from Virtual PC quite a while ago to save space. Worse, when i was cleaning my room several months ago, i had dumped all the CDs that came with Office for Mac 2004, which included a version of Windows XP just for Virtual PC!

Then i remembered that i had the Pocket PC version of CodeWallet Pro installed on the HP PDA phone. If i could somehow get the HP PDA phone to read the password data file, i could very well find out the password to log into XP. Not surprisingly, my first attempt in turning on the HP PDA phone was unsuccessful. After putting it on the charging cradle for several minutes, i made another attempt to turn it on but that failed as well. So after fiddling around for several minutes, i “discovered” that there was a recessed reset button on the HP PDA phone. Pressing it with the tip of the stylus did the trick. Just as expected, when the device came back to life, it was the default Pocket PC configuration screen. All the installed application and data were wiped out when both the main rechargeable battery and the backup battery cell ran out of juice.

Fortunately, DeveloperOne has a trial version of CodeWallet Pro for a Pocket PC device that can be installed directly on my HP PDA phone without having to go through ActiveSync (ActiveSync is the Microsoft tool for synchronizing desktops with Windows Mobile devices). After getting CodeWallet Pro installed on the HP PDA phone and inserting the SD memory card with the password data file, i finally managed to find out my XP password!

This laborious effort to figure out my password took more than 3 hours – 3 hours which i was supposed to be sleeping. By the time i retrieved the password, i only remembered to change my itinerary. I completely forgot to check my work email. If i had checked my work email, i would have noticed the email sent by my team lead on 12/31 that informed me not to travel onsite this short week and there would not have been this surprised look on my face when i walked into the deserted office this morning with no one there. Also, i would have been in the relatively warmer weather of Seattle instead of freezing my ass off in the 9-degree Fahrenheit weather this morning. If i had spent the three hours sleeping instead trying to figure out my password, i probably would have recovered from my jet lag, instead of being in this weird jet lag mode in which i stay awake past 0300 in the morning unable to sleep!


blaringSmellyJanuary 3rd, 2008 at 20:36

I too am having a hard time get over this jet lag. I was up until 4:20am last night.

StHalcyonJanuary 12th, 2008 at 11:07

Dude, that sucks! I don’t think I have ever had it bad like you did, where everything that could go wrong went wrong. Funny though. For me to read. =)

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