Situational Awareness

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    I am not a fighter pilot, but I have played one on numerous flight simulators in days gone by. Even though flying a PC cannot compare to real flight, I learned a few of things about what it takes to make a good fighter jock.

    One of the most important things to have is what fighter pilots refer to as ‘situational awareness’, and it is vital to survival in combat. This is a skill developed through intensive training that enables you to know what is going on all around your aircraft at all times.

    We all need situational awareness as we use our computers. While it is not very likely that we will go down in a ball of flames without situational awareness, being actively aware of what we are doing can greatly help us to enjoy more trouble free time on our PC.

    There are a number of things that can go awry on our computers that are absolutely out of our control. Yet there are many problems that are caused by our own actions or inactions. This is not to suggest that it is always our fault when our computers go nuts. But we need to be aware and proactive in all we do.

    For example, a client recently called with a real headache. On three occasions in the last four months, she had called the tech support because of incessant ads that kept popping up on the desktop even when they were not browsing the internet. The client was instructed to run the “restore” routine to return the hard drive to the way it was the day she purchased the computer. She had no backups of the photos, music, games, etc. and had to start over from scratch. It was only a matter of days before the problem reappeared. She was ready to throw the machine away.

    Ads were popping up all over the desktop while running utilities to narrow the probable cause. It was difficult to get any work done because of the pop ups. When antiviral and antispyware scans indicated everything was clean, I looked for an unknown process running in the background enabling the popups. Examination of the Task Manager showed a music sharing software program process running. It turned out that the client’s son had downloaded and installed a music sharing program that allowed him to download all the free music he wanted. I cannot remember the name of the software, but I had never encountered it before. We uninstalled the music program and the popups immediately ceased and all has been well for the last three weeks. The client is ecstatic to have her PC without all that aggravation.

    Sometimes ‘free stuff’ is not as “free” as it claims to be. This freebie carried a lot of baggage.

    Here are a few useful questions to ask yourself when problems show up on your PC:
    1. If the PC does not power up, check to see it is plugged in. Laugh if you want, but this happens more often than any of us would care to admit. If the PC is plugged in, then check to see that the power supply toggle switch on the back of the computer has not been accidentally set to the "0" position. It should be set to "I".

    2. Have I seen this problem before?

    3. If so, what was determined to be the solution? It is a good idea to document any fixes or solutions to problems that arise for future reference.

    4. If, not, did I install or download anything, or open an email attachment just before the problem presented?

    5. If I downloaded or installed a program just before the problem presented, then promptly uninstall the program, and/or delete the download. Has the problem gone away? Make certain you have the latest updates on your antiviral and antispyware software and do an intensive scan with both.

    6. Was any new hardware installed before the problem surfaced? If so, then try to download the latest driver for the hardware, or call the person who installed the hardware to make him/her aware of the situation. If the latest driver does not solve the issue, then maybe the hardware is defective. Driver CDs or disks that come with new hardware more often than not contain drivers that are older than the ones available for download on the manufacturer's web site. Depending on your particular PC, the older driver may or may not be a problem.
    The above questions and suggestions are by no means exhaustive, but they are a good starting point for troubleshooting. What do you think? Share some of your experiences and/or tips with us.
    Last edit by VickyRN on May 27, '09
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