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DAMN, MY COMPUTER CRASHED! NOW WHAT?

My computer took a dump…

As one who has experienced hundreds of computer crashes firsthand, both my own and others, I am still somewhat chagrined when my own computer encounters hardware-based difficulties. My computers are relatively expensive, well-maintained, have the latest operating system, application programs, security software and are fully-patched as per vendor recommendations. I do not expect them to go south before I have decided to actually replace them.

and the worst part, I can’t really get mad…

Today’s crash was not really a total surprise. The other day I was presented with a beautiful multi-color screen and a total inability to do anything other than re-boot. The problem went away… for a little while at least. Over the succeeding days, my computer froze or I received an error message (which I faithfully wrote down) that my video driver had a fault and a re-boot was necessary.

Being somewhat of a geek, I ran my own diagnostic suite and the software told me that everything was OK in hardware-land. I attempted to reload the video drivers with little success. A final sizzle and the game was over. I had an apparently operating computer with a totally black screen — for all I know the damn thing was giving me the on-screen finger.

But I still had options. I re-booted the computer back into safe mode and selected the low-resolution driver that works with almost everything. Bingo — I now had a screen display, but it was limited in resolution, the number of colors displayed and the screen size was much smaller — which is a major pain on a small laptop.

But I still wasn’t angry…

First, I couldn’t decide who to be angry at. Sony — who made my Vaio VGN-S150 (circa 2004): nope, the laptop has served me well and this is its first major problem. ATI (since acquired by AMD) who made the video chips and whose driver’s failed to load: nope, chips fail due to progressive age, heat (and a laptop in constant use does get hot) and sometimes they are affected by the static electricity that comes with dry winter days. And, of course, there was Microsoft, everybody’s favorite punching bag. No, I couldn’t blame them even though my preferred blogging software, Windows Live Writer failed to start. But to produce today’s blog, I was fortunate that I still had a copy of BlogJet on my system although I could also use Windows Word 2007 or simply sign-on to Six Apart’s great TypePad software and write my blog entry.

And second, and most importantly, the real reason why I can’t get too upset is that I did not suffer anything more than the inconvenience of deciding on my next laptop purchase. It is far easier and cheaper to replace this laptop with a new one than it is to simply replace an obsolete motherboard. Since all of the other hardware seems to be working, perhaps I will allow someone to “part it out” to obtain a rather "expensive to replace screen" or other components for their dead or dying system. Whatever I decide to do, the hard disk will be trashed into NSA-approved unusability.

How you can achieve a state of calmness when your computer crashes…

I live by the prime directive: it’s your data and your responsibility to keep it safe. No matter how many technicians stand at the ready to replace your hardware and recover your data — it is stupid to place your data in the hands of an unknown entity. My backup system is simple: I have two external large capacity drives. At the end of each week, I dump all of my system to one of these two machines. Never using the same drive unit twice in succession. And I make each backup a stand-alone file — that is, I never overwrite an existing existing backup and I never use incremental backups although they take less time. Each day, I backup all of my word processing, spreadsheet and mail files on either a second hard drive or USB portable thumb drive. Along with any work-related data that I need to keep handy. No shortcuts here… I also take the precaution of setting system restore points (in Windows) prior to loading new software or hardware drivers.

Backup Vendor’s dirty little secret…

I really don’t care much about saving application programs or their settings as a full re-load of Windows with its interminable download patches and the re-installation of application software is a given for any serious disk crash or other computer-related program. It is a dirty little secret of the people that sell backup systems to claim that you can simply restore your system to another computer and be on your way. To which I reply, hogwash (or something much, much stronger). Unless you are replacing an exact replica of your damaged hardware — your backups are relatively worthless since your operating system and application software were tuned to the hardware found in your damaged machine. Even if your new computer will self-correct the wrong settings, it still is not an optimal solution. So be prepared to re-load your new system with your original software.’

To make your life easier in that regard, you might want to adopt my system of handling software. All of my system software, along with their licensing information is kept in a single place. Any downloaded software is burned to a CD along with a file containing its necessary licensing and passwords. All of the e-mails confirming my purchase of software as well as their respective unlock codes are also burned onto the CD in text format.

Enter Pareto…

We are all packrats and store way too much useless data on our computer systems -- living for that “just in case moment” that almost never comes  and which depletes our energy and resources quickly. Decide what is important and back it up. Decide which is relatively unimportant and can be re-downloaded from the net — and forget it.

Pareto was a famous mathematician who observed that it seemed to be somewhat a law of nature that 80% of your results were produced with 20% of your resources. Therefore, you should insure that the small number of programs you use on a daily basis are always available, assuming that this is not cost prohibitive, on a second machine. You need only access your data backup and you are good to go. For most of us, that means your daily e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet and database files. It is often a simple matter to back these files onto a secure, portable thumb drive for emergency purposes.

Offload pictures and other files to CDs and DVDs (should you have a writable DVD writer). Use good quality media as cheap disks can be damaged over time as the plasticizers react with ultraviolet light. Remember what the grungy, yellowed back windows of old convertibles looked like — it’s the same physical process. Or better yet, get a couple of large capacity hard disks with USB and Firewire connectivity.

On to the next thing…

So with this system partially recovered, I am almost finished with this blog entry. Now to research my next purchase — which I am almost sure will be another Sony Vaio. Even though one friend told me this would be a great time to switch to an Apple Mac Powerbook. (Yeah, right!)

What can YOU do?

Prior to encountering system problems, locate a good hardware repair facility or technician that is willing to work with you before any problems to ensure that your system is running properly. Make a list of vendor phone numbers as you may not have access to a computer when requesting information.

Remember the most important lesson: if you do not have any idea about what you are doing — DO NOTHING! If you accidentally overwrite critical files, you may never be able to recover the lost data. Accidently change a hardware setting and you could lose your entire hard disk. Make like a doctor and remember: first do NO harm.

Resolve to backup all of your files on a weekly basis. Resolve to backup all of your critical files daily and keep them portable. If necessary, local computer stores and some local shipping companies like Fed-Ex/Kinkos may have computers that you can use on an hourly basis. Since most modern computers have USB connectivity, you can access you data files with minimal disruption. Be sure to work with files on your portable drive and erase any and all data remnants from the rented computer. I keep a secure file erase utility program on my USB drive should I need to secure-erase files contained on another computer. 

Have a disaster plan in one place along with all of your basic software including licenses and passwords. (I use a nylon duffle bag to keep all of my basic software packages together.)

Plan to spend a significant amount of time re-loading the operating system and application programs. After re-loading the operating system, install a firewall and anti-virus program prior to connecting with the Internet. Only connect with the system vendor directly until you are sure that all security measures are in place. Make sure that your operating system is up-to-date by applying all of the updates before loading additional application programs.

And, most importantly, do not panic or get angry — it will accomplish nothing and delay the recovery task at hand.

— steve

A reminder from OneCitizenSpeaking.com: a large improvement can result from a small change…

The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. -- Marcus Aurelius

"It is the hurried who make the most mistakes ... and they make them at the most critical time" -- steve


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"The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius

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