GPSolo Magazine - June 2004
T here was a time when all you needed to keep your typewriter in good shape was an oilcan. Occasionally you might have had to call the typewriter repair number taped to the side of your machine. Then some guy with oil-stained fingers would show up and you could watch him fix your typewriter (and understand what he was doing), unless it was something serious, in which case it would have to go to the “shop” for a couple of days.
Well, times have changed. We’re much more advanced now. Today, to keep your “typewriter” in good shape you need an uninterruptible power supply with a surge protector, anti-virus software, spy detector software, a firewall (hardware or software, take your pick), utility software to run diagnostics when something goes wrong (and it will), a data backup system, a printer (the “old-fashioned” typewriters had the printer built right in), password protection, encryption software for sensitive data, USB ports . . . should I go on or have you had enough?
The truth is that our PCs are not typewriters, and anyone who treats a PC like a typewriter is missing out on a whole world of capabilities that the PC offers. But along with the world of capabilities comes a world of complexity that requires you to have a much different relationship with your PC than you ever did with your typewriter (and for those of you who pipe up with “But I’ve never worked with a typewriter—there have always been PCs,” sit down and keep quiet. You youngins have got to learn some respect for your elders). There is a whole new set of rules to know and observe. Don’t know them? Read on.
Your New Computer
Buying a new computer is an exciting experience. When the big box arrives (or you lug it home from the store), you open it up, clear away the styrofoam, and there it is. So much hope, so much promise. All fresh and clean. Your new computer!
But if you don’t take certain steps now, you will be plagued later for your initial oversight. Immediately create a folder labeled “2004 Office PC” (use the year when purchased) for storing the following:
1. All application CDs for your preinstalled software, such as word processor, spreadsheet, and database software.
2. The operating system CD.
3. All CDs that contain the drivers for your computer. This is the stuff you are most likely to toss out by accident because it won’t appear important to you if you are unfamiliar with drivers and their function in running your computer (without them your computer cannot operate).
4. All of the manuals for those software CDs.
5. Any wires, plugs, or other stuff that you have no idea what they might be—better to keep them now than to miss them later.
You want to keep all of these things because one day you might have to (or almost certainly will) reformat your hard drive and reinstall all of this software again. Even if you hire someone else to do the job, they will still need the CDs that came with your computer to get it running again.
The one thing you do not need to keep is any advertising or promotional items that computer manufacturers often throw into the box. If you are sure that it is only advertising for a product and not part of what you have purchased, you can throw away the CD and any accompanying literature.
The beauty of this system is that it requires very little thought to set up, and you know where everything is when you need something later. Oh, yes, you can throw out the big box your computer came in. Really. Tell whoever asks that I gave you permission. When you move, you can just wrap the thing up in lots of bubble wrap. I know this because I have done it several times without any harm to my computer.
Computer Diary—A Steamy Affair
Okay, there is nothing steamy about a computer diary, but I figured it would fix your attention on something that too few people do and that can save you a lot of trouble when dealing with your computer’s maintenance and repair issues. What is a computer diary? It’s a written record of all software installations you have ever done on your computer, all problems that have come up and what you did to address them, and any other activity that modified settings in your computer.
This will help you and/or a service person when a problem does come up. Sometimes a change to your computer can have unintended effects, and often one question asked of you by a service person is whether you have made any changes recently to your computer. With your computer diary you will have the answer at your fingertips. In addition, a computer diary will make the job of doing a complete reinstall a lot easier. Do you think that you will remember every adjustment and upgrade that you made two or three years later when you are trying to put all the pieces back together again?
A computer diary need not be too complicated. Start a new word processing document and create columns for the date, description of the activity, and any comments. That’s it.
While keeping a computer diary is important, it is hard to keep a record of all of these things. Why? Because you’re not a technician, so dealing with software problems is painful enough and you don’t want to have to do anything more than you absolutely have to in order to make your PC work. Then you just want to forget about it—not spend any more time writing a whole story of what happened. But forgetting about it is just throwing away valuable information—the technical history of your PC. And you most likely won’t remember it because this is not your area of expertise, you have done this only once, and the need to remember this will probably only come up years later when you will be lucky if you even remember that you had a problem.
You are hitting the keys of your typewriter with confidence, making that clack-clack-clack noise punctuated by the lovely sound of the bell—ping!—acknowledging your completion of one more line of your work. Your hand reflexively reaches for the return handle and swings the carriage back to start a new line. It’s poetry in motion, man (or woman) and machine working in complete harmony until . . . the keys jam! What to do? Reboot? Check for a virus or a corrupt file? No, simply separate the keys and continue on with your typing.
We can’t go back, but sometimes it’s nice to remember.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.