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Jan's Computer Basics:

On Your Own: Trouble?

King in castle attacked by computers throwing floppies!Unfortunately, things don't always go well in the kingdom of Your Own Computer (in fancy script). What can you, as the ruling monarch, do when your supposedly loyal hardware and software rebel?

Remember that as "Ruler of All" you must remain CALM! Perhaps things aren't as serious as they seem. There are a number of measures you can take, ranging from common sense to high tech desperation.

Comfort in Trouble

There will be times when you seem to have more trouble getting your "loyal royal subjects" to work well together than at others. Whether this is pure luck (bad!), personal magnetic fields, mind-over-matter, or visitations from beyond is more than I can tell. But it can be immensely frustrating when it happens to you. And it will!

Teddy Bear for comfort Comfort 1 - Computer troubles happen to everyone! Even to the most experienced and skilled computer professionals. Truly, they do!
Teddy Bear for comfort Comfort 2 - Most things can be fixed, especially if you made some common sense preparations.
Teddy Bear for comfort Comfort 3 - When things are really, truly broken and can't be fixed and you weren't prepared, keep your perspective. It's still not a heart attack (though it might give you one if you forget to remain calm!)


Since it is inevitable that computer troubles will strike, what can you do to be prepared?

Make regular backup copies of all important data. This means anything that would be difficult or time-consuming to reproduce. Make multiple copies in different places if it is REALLY important! Use an online backup location plus off-the-computer storage like on DVD or a flash drive. Store those copies somewhere besides where the computer is! Thieves and fires take everything near by!!!
Install Disks Keep handy the installation discs for all your current software. Keep disks for old software if you bought an upgrade version to replace it. You may be asked for the old disks to verify that you can upgrade.

If you don't have discs because you downloaded the installation files, keep extra copies of those files on removable software or online storage. At least keep multiple copies of the registration information. Most software companies will let you download again if you can verify the email address you used when you bought the software and the registration code for the program.
Manuals Keep the original warranties, receipts, user manuals, and installation guides for both hardware and software.
Codes Keep a list of all the ID and registration codes needed for installing software.
Configuration Keep a list of changes you make to hardware and software settings. Especially record any changes you made when it was hard to get everything set up right. You don't want to go through it again! If you have to reinstall software, it would be very nice to know how to get it back to the way you had customized it.
Solutions Keep a file of solutions to problems you have solved (and solutions you've read about or been told). You may see that problem again, only to realize that you remember solving it but not HOW you solved it! You can also help others if you have the details close at hand. (Didn't know you were starting a career as tech support, did you?!)


Sick computer with thermometer and neck scarfHow do you know that something is wrong with your computer? Sometimes it is as obvious as "It won't turn on." But there are some subtle symptoms, too. Take a good scientific approach to defining the problem. The more you can do to describe what causes the problem to occur, the more likely someone can help you solve it.

Unfortunately, just like a fever or a headache or an itch, most signs of computer trouble do not tell you exactly what the cause is. Trouble can strike at any point in the computing process. A good troubleshooting book runs several hundred pages. So diagnosing the problem can be just a hard as diagnosing a human illness. Worse, the computer may not talk to you by giving error messages to help out.

Symptoms of Infection

When your computer displays any of the following symptoms, you may have picked up some kind of unwanted gremlin (virus, worm, malware). Of course, this is only true if you did not make the change yourself! Some of these changes can occur when you download and install something, perhaps a game or a video program, and the installation process adds things that you did not know were going to be installed. Very bad manners! Look carefully in the installation windows for check boxes giving permission to do things to your computer!!


Pharmacy symbol RxHere are some actions that are often prescribed when trying to solve a computer problem.

Reboot It is amazing how often simply starting the computer up again can clear up a very odd situation. When memory gets really crowded, very peculiar errors occur. Rebooting cleans out memory and all is well again. It's a kind of exhaustion that is fixed with a short nap!
In particular when installing new software or hardware, you may need a couple of reboots to get everything cleaned up and settled in.
Undo Changes Did you just install new hardware or software? Did you make changes to system files or the BIOS? The first step is to undo what you just did! If that works, then you know what the problem is! There may still be a way around it. Reread the manuals to look for known conflicts and how you might resolve them. You may need to change some settings in the new program to fit your own situation.
Uninstall and Reinstall

Installing your problem software afresh can be an amazingly easy cure to a lot of problems. Sometimes files get corrupted or overwritten by other software. Reinstalling gets you back to a fresh set of files.

You probably should uninstall first, reboot, and then install the software again. If the problem was an overwritten file, you may find that a different program won't run right now! You may just have to choose which one to keep.
Some technical advisors advocate starting fresh every so often, including formatting the hard disk and reinstalling the operating system. This would mean losing everything that you don't have a backup for! So be sure this is what you need to do and that you are prepared. If you are fully prepared though, it can be faster to start all over than to diagnose what the problem is!

Don't Do That Can you reproduce the glitch? That is, does the same thing happen every time you do certain things? If so, don't do that! No, seriously, you actually could ignore a problem that occurs only when you do a certain sequence of actions and you don't NEED to do them. But if it is a problem that you need to solve, you'll need to check with the hardware or software creators. It may be a known bug. There may already be a fix available. Or you might be the first to report it! You can check on the company's web site or call the technical support number.
Replace It Sometimes the parts are broken. You just have to get new ones. Here are some situations that cause programs to crash or lockup or even cause the whole system to crash or lockup. These sometimes require you to get new parts.
Cause of Crash Solution
High memory usage at the time Don't run so many programs at one time.
Get more memory.
Low free disk space for the virtual memory Increase space assigned to virtual memory and/or get larger hard drive
Bad spots in memory chips Get new chips.
Bad spots on the hard disk Run ScanDisk to avoid those spots.
May need new drive shortly. Get prepared!
Memory chips too slow Get new memory.
Cross-linked files on the hard disk Run ScanDisk to fix. If these occur often for no reason like a sudden power outage, your drive may be failing.
Sloppy programming in the software Send bug report to the company.
Get updated version or different software.
Wrong or outdated video drivers Download newest drivers.
Wrong motherboard jumper settings Read manual and fix.
Wrong BIOS settings Read manual and fix, if you can interpret the manual!

Update It Update your operating system, programs, browser plug-ins, and drivers for your hardware.
Some glitches have already been found and fixed! But you have to get the update.

You can search online for updates or your program may have a command to look for updates in the Help menu. There is often a setting to automatically update or else to let you know whenever an update is available.
Search Online There are many forums out there that have probably already helped someone with your same problem. It can be hard to pick the right search words so that the results are actually about your type of problem.

This is especially helpful for some of the nastier infections that you can pick up. There are often free special tools that might fix some of the nastier worms and malware that you can pick up accidentally.

And there are more! You may well need help to diagnose and fix problems that aren't reproducible. It will be a process of elimination. Where to get help was discussed in Hands On! - Help!