Today after I finished about five hours of work, kappa (my laptop) froze. Thankfully my work was screen'd away on ethne (my server here at Moody) so I wasn't too concerned about losing all that work - I could just reboot and reattach the screen session. Rebooting... that turned out to be a bigger issue than I planned.
Kappa has had some trouble recently coming out of hibernation - the light would come on but nothing would appear on the screen and I'd have to hard shut-down. I thought it was just a Windows problem, but it is a warning sign of deeper problems under the hood. Tonight, kappa was freezing up continually in Windows and I was having trouble even booting the machine. It looked like a bad RAM problem, as I couldn't even get the BIOS to show up, but I tried switching out both DIMMs (I have two 512s) and no noticeable results. Thankfully the problem is still intermittent and I was finally able to boot to Fedora.
One of the reasons I prefer Linux is that it actually tells you what's going on in your computer. When the freezes happened in Windows, there was no error message at all to give me a clue. When I first booted Fedora, there was an error about my ipw2200 firmware and then an error "psmouse.c: bad data from KBC - timeout bad parity". That must be it. On every subsequent keypress, the this psmouse.c error would appear on the commandline.
To Google we must go. About 300 hits for this error message, and one of the most informative is on the Linux kernel bugzilla. Several people have had this message and were probably referred here. They have common symptoms - laptops with intermittent freezes in both Windows and Linux. A few people debate whether it is a hardware or software problem, but I'm sure the intermittent nature of the problem and the fact that it exists in both Windows and Linux points to a hardware issue. One post in the bug report caught my attention: the idea that it is the result of an ESD - Electrostatic Discharge. Maybe this is it! I have definitely felt more static around me recently. That, combined with the particular clothes I'm normally wearing here in Chicago (my new coat, my scarf) may have contributed to the problem.
I'll let you know how things turn out. In the meantime I'm going to make sure to back up my school folders to ethne. If Kappa dies completely I can always install X on ethne and use it as a desktop in a pinch. "There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept."