Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, December 08, 2006

Computers are People Too (or, How to get along better with your computer)

Well, maybe they're not exactly people, but they will be taking over from us eventually, so it will definitely pay to make nice with them while you still can. At least that's my strategy. Anyway, until then, it still behooves you to find a way to stop fighting with them and instead learn to cooperate. If nothing else, your life will be more productive and you will have to endure a lot less stress and agravation. Doesn't that sound worth the effort? Sure it does. Now, before we get to the meat, I would like to shamelessly plug one of my services:! For very little money (especially compared to the Nerd Squad). I will either come to your home or business (if you live in my area) or give you computer support by phone (and, I speak American!). Visit to find out more. So, onward!

Don't Download Crap! Sorry to be so adamant about this, but visiting nefarious sites (most often touting "free" stuff) and downloading crap like screensavers and wallpaper and smileys, etc., can be a huge mistake. Not all sites with free software are evil, but many are and it's very difficult to tell the difference. Better to leave that stuff alone. If you just can't break the habit, you can protect yourself by checking legitimate sites for what you're looking for.,, and (for handhelds) are a few that you can feel safe with. Also, any download that wants to install extra stuff that you didn't ask for, stay away from. Google the software title before downloading to see what others are saying about it. And finally, use virus and spyware/adware protection (see my next tip).

Do Install Virus and Adware Protection. You don't even have to spend money on these items! But only get the ones that are vetted by those legitimate sites I mentioned earlier. Believe it or not, there are applications advertised as antivirus or antispyware that actually have viruses or spyware in them. How slimy is that? Here are some great free apps: Grisoft AVG Free Edition (Antivirus); Ad-Aware SE Personal (For Adware) and Spybot Search and Destroy (Spyware). Run them regularly.

Do Download Windows Updates. Assuming you're running Window XP or Vista, make sure to visit Microsoft/Windows Update (from Internet Explorer, click on Tools>Windows Update) on a regular basis to check for security and other critical updates, or better yet, set it to run automatically (the site will tell you how). These updates are designed to protect your machine from flaws in Windows or Office that make it vulnerable to attack.

Google for Answers. (Google is probably working with the computers on a takeover plan, so it's a good idea to use their search engine.) Whenever I have a computer malfunction or just don't know how to do something I want to do (yes, it does happen to me once in a while), I Google the problem, either searching the web or in Google Groups. If there's an error message I'm seeing, I'll put the entire message, in quotes, into the search area. In many cases I'll find a solution very easily. If you just want to know how to do something, again Google will help you find the answers. Surprisingly, many people never think to try this.

Be Patient. Your computer has a processor (or two, or four. Or 5,000, if you have one from the future), and sometimes it gets kinda busy. Just like you do. (See, they are people too.) They is a long list of tasks it's trying to deal with, one by one, and it takes time to get through the list and be ready for some fresh commands from you. SOmetimes, when I'm giving someone phone support, I'll ask them to click on something, and within 2 seconds they're telling me "Nothing's happening!" I have to ask them to give the poor machine a little time, for crying out loud. You know, the speed of light is very fast, but not infinitely fast! Come on! OK, OK, I'm calm now. The problem is, if you keep clicking away, thinking that the computer just didn't hear you the first time, you'll overload the poor thing and it will freeze, and it won't recover unless you restart. Just imagine if you had a million things to do, and someone kept telling you to do more things, over and over. You'd freeze up too, and refuse to do anything until you've had a good night's sleep. Hello Lunesta! So, give it a little time. THen, if nothing happens, move on to....

Time to Reboot. I remember well my first computer like my first love. What a thing of beauty it was. See, I don't just use 'em. I love 'em. Anyway, the thing eventually froze up on me and I had to call tech support. Know what the first thing was they told me to do? You guessed it: Reboot. Probably 9 out of 10 things that go wrong with your machine can be cured with a simple reboot, so try that first. In my case, the tech told me to first turn it off. I pressed the power button. It wouldn't even turn off. Turns out the whole thing had to be replaced, but that's another story for another time. So, restarting will often work because doing so will sort of reset everything and give your machine a fresh start. Unless it's really screwed up and you have to undertake the final solution...

Reformat. This involves completely wiping out everything on your hard drive and starting over. Your computer (assuming you still have the manufacturer's recovery disk) will then be like it was when you first brought it home (at least in terms of the software). This is an extreme solution and should only be attempted if you have the knowledge yourself or someone who does nearby.