Monday, December 22, 2003

More Computer Repairs

[This post is part of an ongoing series of posts in December cataloging how much time I spend repairing the computers here in the Brain household.]

Over the last four days, these problems have all cropped up and/or been resolved:

Computer Repair #10

A friend of mine asked me to download a piece of demo software from to review it. I haven't been to in a couple of months, and you are now apparently required to use the CNET Download Manager. There is the EULA to read, then it installs, then you can download your software. The download manager has at least one advantage – the downloads are faster.

During installation, the CNET Download Manager loads itself into the system tray and starts running automatically every time you reboot your computer. I have a policy of limiting the amount of stuff in the system tray because it increases boot times. And in the case of this download manager, who knows what it is doing in the background?

Sorting out all the junk in the tray can be a pain, and the use MSCONFIG is common. If you have ever used MSCONFIG, please tell me: how is a "normal user" supposed to know about MSCONFIG, much less use it? It is way too complicated, and if you make a mistake you can end up in never-never land. In this case, the CNET Download Manager has a preferences screen where you can turn off the auto-loading feature. But why did it have to force its way into the system tray in the first place?

Time for repair: 1 minute.

Computer Repair #11

A friend of mine called today. The call went like this:

Ring, Ring…

Me: "Hello"


Me: "Who is this?"

Caller: "This is Ed. Sorry. HOW DO I TURN OFF THESE %$^#& QUOTE MARKS????"

Me: "The %$^#& quotes marks?"

Ed: "You know, in Microsoft Word, the program replaces normal quote marks with fancy curly quote marks, but they won't show up on the web page I am creating so I want to TURN OFF THESE %$^#& QUOTE MARKS!!!"

Me: "Isn't it in the Options dialog?"

Ed: "Have you looked at the option window lately? There are 15 panes in it, and I don't see 'fancy quotes' anywhere."

So I look in the Options dialog with Ed. He's right – it has about a thousand options in it broken into a dozen panes. After reading through the help file, we discover that you can turn off this feature using a separate "Autocorrect Options…" dialog available in the Tools menu, or use the "Autoformat…" dialog available in the Format menu blah blah blah.

In other words, there are now so many options in Microsoft Word that they have to have multiple options dialogs. Imagine what the option dialogs will look like in 2020...

A very simple thing, but it took 5 minutes.

Computer Repair #12

I have a program called GigaPocket that records TV shows on the hard disk. Leigh wants me to record a show every day for her, but about half the time it fails. GigaPocket throws up 2 or 3 cryptic dialogs complaining about "buffer overflows" and such, like this:

Then it deletes the entire recording. Only Leigh's show has the problem, so the cause is a bit of a mystery.

It turns out that the source of this problem was the fact that the virus checker program was automatically starting and scanning the hard disk for viruses while Leigh's show was recording. Apparently, the virus checker program consumes so much CPU power or disk bandwidth that GigaPocket can't keep up, and it's buffer overflows and fails.

Moving the time that the virus checker automatically starts solved this problem. If the programmers who wrote the virus checker had lowered the priority of the scanning thread, the problem probably would have never arisen.

It took about 15 minutes total to eventually find and correct this problem.

Computer Repair #13

This dialog has started to show up after every reboot or login:

It appears to be coming from QuickTime, but I have no idea why, or how to correct the problem. After every login, I have to press "Cancel" three times to clear the dialog.

I love the cryptography of this dialog. I would be happy to stick a disk into drive /Device/Harddisk/DR7, if only I knew where it was...

I am now wasting a minute or two per day on this problem.

Computer Repair #14

Over the weekend, MSN Messenger threw up several of these dialogs:

The dialog says, "After the maintenance has been completed, you will be able to successfully sign in." Well, not exactly. The next time I tried to use MSN Messenger I got this:

Clicking on the link generated this dialog:

There's not really any choice – if you want to use this application, you must upgrade. The new version downloaded itself:

Then at the end of the installation this dialog appeared:

As mentioned previously, rebooting can be a 5 to 10 minute process.

Overall this repair took about 10 minutes.

Computer Repair #15

Yesterday afternoon Leigh was doing something on her computer upstairs and I heard her scream. I jogged up the steps to investigate. She said, "I went to this site called, and I got into this nest of pop-up ads that would not go away, and then my CD drive opened up all by itself and I got this!"

You've probably seen this happen – when you close one pop-up dialog, it creates two new ones and just about the only way out is to shutdown and reboot. But I've never seen a pop-up ad automatically open the CD-ROM drive. That certainly gets your attention. And then it had also changed the home page in her browser to this:

Interestingly, all of this made it through the Google pop-up ad blocker.

I shut down her computer, rebooted, changed the home page back to her preferred home page and let her continue working. I think the opening of the CD-ROM drive was a red herring, but who knows?

Total time for the repair: 10 minutes.

Thanks for the great Instructions. You really care about our needs and problems.

Computer Repairs Los Angeles
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