CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, November 13, 2000

A few tips to help combat Murphy's Law

When it comes to computers, Murphy's Law is the rule, rather than the exception. Even if your system has been running smoothly for months, it's merely a distraction from the reality that today's technology is very much in its infancy. As such, we vacillate between pure pleasure and exasperating frustration in our day-to-day computing chores. Excerpted here, are a few scenarios where compucide was imminent and some precautionary steps that might avert a crime of passion.

Moments before a critical report or paper is due, the printer begins to spew gibberish. As if knowing instinctively that a deadline looms, the printer gods suddenly play hard to get. Before you panic, power down all appliances and reboot your system. If this fails to resolve the problem, always have a clean, formatted floppy diskette standing by, so you can copy the file to disk and then print it from another PC. If you don't have a second system handy, copy shops such as Kinko's can usually read and print from most programs.

If the file is too large for a floppy, upload it to an online storage site, such as www.driveway.com and then download the file to a system where the printer is friendlier. Establish this online backup storage account well in advance, in anticipation of Murphy.

If you're printer really goes sideways and regularly prints poker hands instead of text, it's probably time to reinstall the printer drivers. Always know where your printer software is located. Every printer has it's own set of directions, or drivers, that configures it for your system.

If these directions become corrupted or lost, they must be reinstalled. In the absence of having the actual printer software, at the very least you should have your operating-system software always at your fingertips. If Windows came with your computer, ensure the Windows CD is handy at all times for fixes such as this. Make a concerted effort to locate all your original software and documentation and keep it in one central location.

Another alternative for printer troubles is to e-mail the file as an attachment to a friend or business associate and hope the printer gods aren't watching. But what if your e-mail account opts to go on strike?

E-mail errors can occur for a variety of reasons: server troubles, connection irregularities, or account problems. Whatever the cause, the mail must go through at critical times lest productivity suffer.

In this day and age, it's a good idea to have more than one mail account.

Web-based mail accounts are an ideal, free solution. Hotmail, Yahoo, AltaVista and all major portals offer free mail accounts that support most features of a traditional mail client. With a secondary mail account, you can establish address books, attach files and even create calendars in some Web-based programs. With a Web-based mail account in the wings, you can divert critical messages and files to an alternate account if the primary account is hiccuping for some reason.

In the event that you can't connect to the Internet at all via your regular routine, establish a backup Internet connection. Kmart's bluelight.com and juno.com both offer free Internet connectivity for dial-up connections.

While both are replete with advertising, it's a short-term solution if your regular ISP or Internet connection is unavailable for some reason. Software can be obtained as downloads from both Web sites or ordered in CD form. Assuming an absence of other hardware troubles, this is a good short-term connection solution.

Above all else, ensure that you have virus protection installed and that your virus definitions are current. Just because there's an apparent lull in the virus storm doesn't mean you can be complacent in your inoculation efforts. It's a new frontier and no matter how impressed we might be with the streamlined solutions, it's still work in progress and contingency plans are a must.

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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