Tuesday, May 10, 2005

After the Oops: Surviving PC Disasters, Mishaps and Blunders


First comes the sinking feeling. Uh-oh, that's not supposed to happen! Then comes the scramble to find the answer—and since the computer's down, scratch any online help files.

I've had this experience on my own behalf, and in providing tech support at work and at home. What you really need when something goes south on your PC is this nifty reference by Jesse M. Torres and Peter Sideris, Surviving PC Disasters, Mishaps and Blunders. To start with, the language is accessible. You don't have to be a tech-guru to find and apply the advice that will fix your problem. You can read the general explanation, a couple of pages for each major failure type, or zip right to the specific issue for a quick fix.
I Just Broke the Antenna on My Wireless Device, Is That OK?
Broken hearts, broken promises, broken antennas—no matter what it is, broken is never OK. [This profound observation is followed by four possible fixes, and a TIP on replacement.]
The book starts with the biggest possible PC disaster, theft and loss, which covers everything from data theft from your PC and PDA to actual, physical theft of your computer. From there, the authors discuss recovery after all kinds of hardware catastrophes, then swing into salvation from software fiascoes.
What Can I Do If My Computer Boots Really Slowly?
We have to think that the real reason Starbucks got its start was because of all the PC users out there who were tired of waiting for their PCs to boot up and didn't have anything else to do. The more you use your PC, the more cluttered it can get with all of the software you have installed, and this can really slow it down. In fact this has become such a big issue that our publisher recently released a book titled Degunking Windows that has rapidly become one of the top-selling computer books...
Software fixes concentrate on Windows XP issues and error messages. I guess the subtext is that if you still have a Windows 95 PC, it's a PC mishap or blunder all by itself. But no reference can provide answers for the whole PC heritage of operating systems, so I accept that limitation. The real fix for an older system, the authors seem to say, is to upgrade to XP.

The next major misadventure set is problems that come from connectivity. Viruses, spam, spyware, malware, junkware, fraud and hardware network issues get a full treatment. This is the bulk of the book, perhaps because these problems drive the majority of PC crashes and calamities. A separate section deals with wireless PC emergencies. The HORROR STORY insets keep it light, showing us that however hair-pulling our current setback may be, someone else always has it worse.
...You are looking through your email and open one up that is sent from a spammer, just as your child or spouse is walking by. Unfortunately, the email is loaded with porn-related images... [T]o see a short, funny and (best of all) free movie about such a disaster from 20th Century Fox, go to [farmsluts quicktime link].
I was impressed by some seldom-included issues like Travel Mishaps, Digital Lifestyle Issues and Piracy. The authors have obviously grappled with the grief of getting devices through customs, coping with expired batteries and snoopy seat-mates, and merging travel-edited documents with the originals back on the "home" machine. The digital lifestyle section has some of the best tips on working with and burning DVDs I've ever run across. And with all the focus on spyware, how often do we get some perspective on the other side of the problem? The authors discuss five reasons not to pirate software, music and movies, and provide clues for recognizing pirated material.

Even more unusual was an entire chapter on Power and Batteries—in my experience, the source of many hardware (and even some software) problems is in the power setup. A Backup discussion is de rigueur, and this chapter is a thorough grounding in the why and how of creating backups, plus how to restore safely from your backup copies.

Think of a fire extinguisher—smart people keep them in their kitchens, ready to hand if flames should arise. With this book, you're ready to put out any PC fire.

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