The Norman Transcript

October 28, 2012

From beginning, fix computer basics first


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — One of the most common complaints that I hear from computer users goes something like this: “Dave, I can’t get my Internet.”

Upon arrival at their home or office, I usually discover that there’s more going on than not being able to “get the Internet.” In fact, I don’t even try to access the Internet until I know that certain computer basics are functioning properly, because, unless the basics are up and running, accessing the Internet can be suicide.

Is there a properly configured and running firewall program? How about antivirus? Has the computer ever been scanned for viruses and spyware? Has the operating system ever been updated? Has the computer ever been restarted? It’s amazing how many times I come across computers for which the answer to all of these questions is, “No.”

To people who don’t know me very well, it’s sometimes hard not to appear like some sort of shady car mechanic. You know the mechanic, the guy who has his head under the hood and says (insert car mechanic accent here), “Yeah, I know that all you want is an oil change, but, you see your doomerflotchy, right there, next to the gizmotron? She’s about to go. I’d better fix that. And your kaneeble’s been rubbing against the framistode, so I’d better fix that, too.” Hopefully, he’s a good mechanic who simply has your best interests at heart.

The subject of reliable electrical power is one that often causes peoples’ eyes to glaze over. However, reliable electrical power (or, AC) is vital to your computer’s survival, and is one of the computer basics that should not be ignored. With the stormy weather that we’ve had lately, accompanied by numerous outbreaks of lightning, has come a rash of phone calls from panicked customers whose computers began exhibiting strange behavior “after the power went out.” I’ve seen everything from totally fried systems (complete with smoke coming out of the back and the sickening smell of melted plastic) to scrambled hard drives.

Lightning often strikes overhead power lines, sending surges of higher-than-normal electricity to every home and business to which they are connected. Computers and other sensitive electronic devices are not very well equipped to handle power surges. In addition, computer operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, often react poorly to simple power failures, which can result in corrupted system files and computers that will not start properly.

One very necessary but often overlooked piece of equipment is the uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Also know as a battery backup system, a UPS contains circuitry to protect your computer against damaging power surges. It also contains a battery capable of running your computer during a power failure. This allows you to shut down your computer in an orderly fashion, rather than subjecting it to a jarring “pull the plug” power outage. This makes a UPS superior to simple surge-protected “power strips.” I’ve even used a UPS to power small table lamps to light my home during power blackouts.

Every computer that you own, including printers, scanners, powered speakers, cable/DSL modems and routers should be plugged into a UPS. Costing anywhere from $50-100, a UPS is cheap insurance.

Get one today.

Based in Norman, OK, Dave Moore has been an independent computer service technician since 1984. He also teaches computer security workshops to public and private organizations. He can be reached at (405)919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com.

For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.