Wiley | 978-0-470-23077-0 | Datasheet | Wiley Troubleshooting Your PC For Dummies, 3rd Edition

Wiley Troubleshooting Your PC For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Chapter 1
Dealing with Disaster
(While Keeping Your Sanity)
In This Chapter
Investigating what causes PC problems
Emotionally dealing with a crash
Discovering whether it’s your fault
hen you notice that something is wrong with your computer, my guess
is that the first thing you do is to blame yourself. Don’t.
It’s natural for any human to think, “What did I do?” any time that the
computer goes wacky. Unlike the car, which people refer to as a “stupid thing”
when it refuses to start or does something else unexpected, the computer
seems to stare back at you innocently when trouble looms. With a sad face
and an angelic disposition, the PC seems to sob, “Look what you did to me!”
And the human feels the instant pang of guilt.
Yet, in over 20 years of dealing with a computer, I’ve discovered that only a
few odd times have I either intentionally or accidentally caused my computer
ill. In fact, I recommend that you adopt the same attitude I have when it comes
to dealing with those inevitable computer boo-boos. It helps to know and
recite my PC troubleshooting mantra:
Oh, my. The computer is behaving in a random and unexpected manner.
I suppose that I shall have to look into this to see what can be done to
remedy the situation.
In only 32 words (and 32 is a Holy Number in computerdom because it’s twice
the Holy Number 16), the mantra lets you profess a neutral observation
about the computer’s sickly state. Accepting this positive attitude allows you
to better fix the problem rather than futilely fix the blame.
Part I: What the @#$%&*!?
Computers shouldn’t crash, of course. They’re not designed to. Really! But
they do, for two reasons, neither of which is really your responsibility:
The software has bugs in it.
There is an utter lack of cooperation.
Most of all, the main reason that things go wrong in a computer is because
Something has changed.
Dealing with that change and its consequences is the topic of this entire book.
The Jargon File: When the PC Screws Up
BSOD, the Blue Screen of Death: The BSOD is
specifically a Microsoft Windows issue. Even
today, when Windows walks off a cliff, the computer reverts to a text-screen mode and displays a cryptic error message. Whatever. Don’t
bother reading the message; the computer is
dead, and resuscitation is out of the question.
bug: A bug is an error in a computer program.
Despite the efforts of the best programmers, most
computer software is riddled with bugs. Bugs
cause computers to do the unexpected. Bad bugs
can cause a computer to hang, or crash. Note
that most of the worst bugs happen when you mix
two programs together and they interact in some
new and unexpected way. The term comes from
the early days of computing, when a real bug (a
moth) got stuck in the circuitry.
crash: Crash is a spectacular term describing
how a computer surprisingly enters a nonworking state. Naturally, nothing on the computer
actually crashes or even makes noise. There’s
no tearing of metal or popping and tinkling of
broken glass, nor does anything explode.
(I hope.) The crash is merely on a computer
that suddenly stops operation, or it may even
continue, but in a sluggish manner or while
exhibiting odd behavior.
freeze: See hang.
glitch: Whenever the computer does something
strange or unexpected or behaves in a manner
inconsistent with normal operation, that’s a
glitch. Glitches happen to everyone. Often, you
fail to notice a glitch unless it does something
that directly affects what you’re doing. For
example, you don’t notice a sound glitch until
you try to make your computer squawk. The
sound may have not been working for weeks,
but you notice it missing only when you otherwise would expect it. Such is the agony of the
hang: A totally unresponsive computer is said to
be hung, or hanged. You could also use the term
frozen, though hang is the accepted term used
by computer nerds for generations.
infinite loop: Also called “stuck in a loop,” the infinite loop is a bug where a program devises a situation that the computer cannot calculate its way
out of. The result is a hang. Often times, recovery
is possible by killing off the stuck program.
Chapter 1: Dealing with Disaster (While Keeping Your Sanity)
Why do computers have bugs?
In the real world, bugs — or, more accurately,
insects — are a necessary part of the ecosystem. In a computer system, bugs are evil and
entirely unnecessary. Yet they exist.
A bug is an error in a computer program. It’s an
accident (caused by an oversight on the part of
the programmer), sloppy programming, or a lack
of anticipation. For example, a programmer may
not anticipate that a user may have a last name
that’s more than 25 characters long and that
when you type the 26th character, the program
waltzes off into La-La Land. Or, the programmer
may type variable_AM1 when he really
meant to type variable_AM2 or something
No programmer creates bugs on purpose. In
fact, most programming involves removing bugs
as opposed to writing new code. So, a programmer types a set of instructions, runs them, fixes
them, runs them, fixes them, and back and forth
until all the bugs are (hopefully) worked out.
Programmers even invite others (beta testers) to
check their programs for bugs. After all, the programmers can’t possibly figure out every possible way their software will be used. The object is
to make the final product as bug free as possible.
When you discover a bug, which is the case with
most PC trouble, you should report it to the software developers. They’re the ones — not you —
responsible for fixing the bug!
Why It’s Not Your Fault
The only way a computer hardware or software problem could ever be your
fault is when you built the hardware or wrote the software yourself. In fact, if
you ever bother to read the software license that comes with any program, you’ll
discover that it’s your fault that there are bugs in the software because you,
the human, are actually running the program. That’s weird, but so is our legal
system. I rest my case.
And I reopen the case: Consider that when you’re running a program, you’re
using your computer. You stumble across a bug. Thunk! The program crashes,
and your data is gone, and you attempt seppuku with a USB flash drive. Did
you cause the error? No. You were the trigger, but the fault isn’t your own.
Put that flash drive away!
In addition to bugs is the lack-of-cooperation issue. Software and hardware
vendors test their products to ensure that things run properly. But they just
cannot test every possible PC configuration. Chances are very good that
somehow you will stumble across some software-hardware combination that
wreaks havoc in the computer. Is that your fault? Technically, no, because the
manufacturer should build reliable stuff.
So there you have it. The computer is a device that’s not designed to crash,
but through the odd chance of a software bug or some weird softwarehardware mixture, it does crash, and crash often. Yes, I would quite agree
that the reason it happens is not your fault.
Part I: What the @#$%&*!?
How It Possibly Could Be Your Fault
You’re not off the hook!
Rarely in my travels have I found someone who has somehow influenced the
computer to go wacky. In fact, only a few things have been known to be
directly related to human problems. These causes are covered in this section.
You did something new to the computer
Computers are very conservative; they don’t like change. The most stable
computer I have in my office has only Microsoft Word installed on it. Nothing
else is used on that computer — not the Internet, no games, no nothing! The
computer still crashes, but not as often as other systems I use.
The key to having a more stable computer is not to install new software or
hardware. Unfortunately, this advice is nearly impossible to follow. It’s not
that the mere act of installing something new causes the computer to crash.
No, it’s just that installing something new introduces another combination
into the system — a new potion into the elixir, so to speak — and an incompatibility or conflict may come from that. It’s what I call the it-was-workingyesterday syndrome.
For example, one of my readers writes in and says, “The sound is gone from
my computer! I had sound yesterday, but today it’s all gone!” The first thing I
ask is whether the person installed any new hardware or software. The
answer is generally “Yes,” and that’s what prompted the problem.
Sometimes, you can forget that you have installed new stuff, which makes the
problem seem random. After all, the computer is acting goofy, and it’s easy to
overlook that you downloaded some corny animation from the Internet
yesterday. Yet that lone change was enough to alter the system.
Yes, if you had one computer for every program, you would probably
live a relatively crash-free, high-tech existence. But I don’t recommend
spending your money that way.
Try to keep track of the times that you add, update, or change the hardware
and software in your computer system.
If possible, do research to determine the new stuff’s compatibility with
your existing computer system. Do that before you install. Heck, do it
before you buy! The manufacturer’s or developer’s Web page lists known
technical issues.
Chapter 1: Dealing with Disaster (While Keeping Your Sanity)
I recommend that you get used to checking Windows logs, which keep
track of any change to your computer system, whether you made the
change or Windows did so behind your back. See Chapter 23 for more
information about using the Event Viewer.
These types of new hardware and software installations are why utilities
such as System Restore are so popular. For more information, see the
section in Chapter 4 about using System Restore.
You were bad and deleted files
you shouldn’t have deleted
Delete only those files you created yourself. It’s when people go on file-hunting expeditions that they can get into trouble. In fact, deleting a swath of files
is typically the only reason I recommend reinstalling Windows. After all, if you
surgically remove a great portion of your operating system, reinstalling is the
only way to get it back. (For all other problems, you generally have a solution
other than reinstalling Windows.)
Here is what’s okay to delete:
Files (icons), folders, subfolders, and any files in those subfolders that
exist in the Account Profile folder — the main folder where you save stuff
Shortcut files on the desktop
Files, folders, and subfolders that you created in the Public folder
Compressed (Zip) files you have downloaded and installed
That’s it!
Never, ever, delete any other files anywhere else on your computer, or on the
computer network. I know that you may want to! The urge may be irresistible!
You may go on a “cleaning” binge and yearn to mow down files like some
crazed gardener with a multispeed weed whacker. Don’t!
You can also delete items from the Start menu, but I recommend doing
that only for organizational purposes.
No, I don’t ever recommend reinstalling Windows. See Chapter 21 for the
Part I: What the @#$%&*!?
Things to say when the computer crashes
Frack! A wonderful, forceful, yet completely Grated term. Sounds like you-know-what, but
utterly non-offensive. Bonus: It meets the qualifications for a genuine, English-language
swear word:
It must be a single syllable.
It could be German.
It’s easy to say when intoxicated.
Oh, come on. . . . As if the computer could hear
you, but you at least you shift the blame from
yourself to the device. (My personal variation is
“Come on, you pig!” for when the computer is
stubbornly slow.)
Please! Please! Please! Pleading with the computer is very emotional, but it really doesn’t help.
Most users typically follow the pleading with
“Oh, you sorry son-of-a-[female dog].”
What the —? A natural and common response
to an unexpected situation. Can be followed by
“Frack” or the true English-language swear
You stupid @#$%&!? piece of @#$%!! Very definitely getting it out of your system; this satisfying phrase just feels good to say. Note how
blame is placed entirely on the computer. That’s
keeping the proper perspective. Good.
Other ways to remove files
you didn’t create yourself
The main complaint I get with my “Delete only those files you created yourself”
maxim is that people find on the computer other files that they’re just itching
to delete themselves. These files include
Internet cookies
Temporary files (especially temporary Internet files)
Wallpapers and extra media files
Programs that are unwanted or no longer used
Pieces of Windows they want to get rid of
Teaser programs that come “free” with a new computer
Stuff I can’t think of right now
Avoid the temptation to manually delete these files! It gets you into trouble!
“But, Dan!” you whine, “A friend said that it’s okay to manually delete my
Internet cookies!”
Well . . . there are proper ways to delete the cookies, rid yourself of temporary
files, clean and scour unwanted programs, and remove things you don’t need.
Chapter 1: Dealing with Disaster (While Keeping Your Sanity)
Use those proper ways! Do not attempt to manually delete things yourself.
You will get into trouble if you do.
See Chapter 18 for information on dealing with cookies.
Also see Chapter 25 for information on properly removing unwanted
files from your computer.
It’s not your fault that the computer crashes — especially if you follow
my advice in this section!
How old is your PC?
The older your computer is, the more likely it is to crash. I have no idea
why. Systems that run stable for years may suddenly experience a growing
number of glitches. It happens so often that I refer to it as “tired RAM.” And,
alas, no electronic equivalent of Geritol is available for your PC’s tired RAM.
When your PC gets old, you have to prepare for inevitable quirkiness from it.
You can try replacing the parts piece by piece, but eventually you wind up
spending more on parts than you would for an entirely new system. No matter
how much you love your computer, when it comes time for it to go, let it go.
The average computer lives between four and six years.
If you’re in business, plan on replacing your PCs at or near the end of
their lifespans. The boost in productivity from the new models alone is
worth the expense.
In government or in public schools, demand to replace computers every
two years. (Other people’s money is so much easier to spend.)
For the home, keep your PC as long as you can. If it still works, great!
Even if you do buy a new system, you can still use the old system for the
kids to do homework or play games.
I have a “bone yard” full of old computer pieces and parts. It’s not all
junk either; recently, I used parts from several old computers to create a
file server for my network. I call him Franken-server.
The main problem with older computers: parts! I have an older PC that
can only “see” 8GB of hard drive storage, yet the smallest hard drive I
can find for sale is 20GB. Oops.
The first things to fail on any old PC are the things that move the most,
such as disk drives, mice, and keyboards.
A failing hard drive is typically the sign of a PC entering its twilight years.
You will notice that the disk drive takes longer to access files and that
Check Disk (or a similar disk utility) begins to report more disk errors
and bad sectors. See Part IV for information on what to do next.
Part I: What the @#$%&*!?
Mice can fail long before the rest of the computer. This problem may not
be a portent of the PC’s ultimate demise; see Chapter 13 for more mouse
When your PC dies, bid it adieu. Salvage what you can; no point in tossing
out the monitor, mouse, keyboard, modem, or other “pieces parts” that
could work on another computer. Properly dispose of the rest of the
computer according to the PC disposal laws of your locality.
What You Can Do about It
Whether a computer glitch is your fault or not, it’s your job to do something
about it. This book is your best tool for helping you find a solution, so the
next step is to continue reading.
Before you do, be aware that you go through certain emotional phases as you
experience and deal with your computer’s often irrational behavior. I have
categorized these phases in chronological order:
Guilt: Despite what you know or have read about computers, just about
everyone feels guilty when the thing fouls up. “Is it my fault?” “What did
I do?” Even after years of troubleshooting other people’s computers, I
still blame myself. It must be a human gene or an instinct we have —
probably proof that mankind was created by robots from Dimension IX
in 70,000 BC.
Anger: Yeah, hit the monitor! Get it out of your system. “Stupid PC!
Stupid PC! Why do you always crash when I’m doing something important!
Arghghgh!” Yes, you have a right to expect obedience from your personal
electronics. Too bad the drones in the manufacturer’s Human Usability
Labs don’t express their anger so readily.
Fear or depression: “This dumb thing will never work.” Wrong! This
book helps you eliminate your fear and get over the depression phase.
Acceptance: Hey, it’s a computer. It crashes. It could be your fault, but
chances are that it’s something else. You must deal with the problem. Be
stronger and wiser than the computer.
Confidence: “I have Troubleshooting Your PC For Dummies! I can solve
any problem!” This book lists many solutions to many common glitches,
but also helps you to troubleshoot just about any problem. And I have
rarely met a PC problem that cannot be solved — some, by simply
restarting your computer.
Success: Your computer is back to normal, and everything is right with
the universe. World peace is just around the corner! It’s raining money!
And bluebirds will help you get dressed in the morning. Let’s all sing.
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