CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published September 02, 2002

File  Corruptions cause bad day

Two weeks ago, a full, nearly blank page appeared on page A6 of The Record with the following brief explanation: "Corrupted computer files prevented The Record from printing an ad in today's paper" This sparked a spate of e-mails in my Inbox begging questions from the curious: "How does this happen?"

There could be many plausible explanations, including computer viruses or bad disk sectors but in truth we often don't know for certain what causes such headaches.  "Oh well", or "stuff happens" are the more typical explanations that technology folk understand perfectly.  Average users, however, do not understand and expect computers overall to function with the reliability of a toaster or telephone.

I am forever reminding students and clients that we are still in the infancy of this information technology revolution.  As an industry, we are often compared to the automobile and if you equate these timetables, you'll realize we have a long way to go before even remotely approximating the motor coach's reliability. Henry Ford is credited with inventing the automobile in 1903, but it wasn't until the late 1940's, following the development of the interstate highway system, that automobiles became more mainstreamed and dependable. The auto industry today continues to evolve and improve.

Although the first computer can probably be traced to the abacus, used by the Babylonians in 500 BC, modern personal computing did not seriously appear until 1981. At this time, IBM debuted its first PC with a whopping 64Kb of memory and optional cassette drive. We've come a long way in the last 20 years, but you can be sure we'll look like the Stone Age in retrospect 20 years from now.

All files are saved and organized in a prescribed fashion on your disks, based on specific mathematical calculations. The file allocation table, or FAT, is the filing system that dictates how files are saved, based on their size. Files are stored in clusters and the FAT keeps track of their locations on your disks. Corruptions occur when this filing system becomes unstable.

There is any number of reasons for file corruptions, however viruses are the most common. Despite all the warnings, people are still leaving themselves vulnerable to very damaging payloads, usually sitting idly in their email Inboxes. The Klez virus remains rampant and self-replicating. I continue to receive this virus daily, although Norton Anti-Virus still successfully intercepts and quarantines the offending bug.

Be sure you have anti-virus software installed and more importantly, insure that your virus definitions are current. Whether you use McAfee or Norton, download the latest virus definitions at least weekly.

Incompatibility between certain programs can cause files to be corrupted or sometimes simply transferring files between drives, or within a network can cause files to lose some of their original integrity. Even a computer crash at just the wrong time, when the file system is updating itself, can cause a file corruption.

Your important files should always be backed up to a secondary location, whether on CDs, floppies, zip disk or tape backup. Good, regular backups are your best defense against file corruptions. In this way, you can restore your work without down time in the event of trouble.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.  


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