Quick Fix or Protracted Problem?

What to do when your computer—
or someone else's—breaks down

Wherever I go lately, I get asked for help in solving computer problems.

Now, I certainly do not mine performing acts of charity. But fixing a computer is rarely, if ever, is a two-minute job. At times, diagnosing the problem can take days. Computers are easy to use until you have either a hardware or software problem. Then you find out exactly how complicated they can be. If you ever want to grow in the virtue of patience, try fixing a computer problem—even when you "know what you are doing."

Let me give you an example. I was recently visiting the family of a 12 year-old boy, Dustin, whom I am going to sponsor for Confirmation next year. I know this family because my mother works for his father who is a doctor. My parents have been sponsors and godparents for some of their children, and Dustin chose me. It just so happened that for more than a month, the family hadn't been able to connect to the Internet using the Microsoft Service Network. Their modem would begin to connect, then bomb out when verifying the username and password. They had called MSN and gotten a new password only to have the same thing happened again. The service representative then told them that the problem might be with their modem. That's where I came in.

I took a look at the problem and identified several possible causes for the glitch. None of these involved the modem. As I explained this, it became clear the family expected me to knock the problem off in five minutes. But a half-hour had already gone by and I was still stumped. They insisted that I talk to MSN customer support. The girl I talked to gave us a new password, which once again failed to work.

Next, I called MSN technical support. After running through the usual automation maze—"Press 1 for this and 2 for that"—I finally did get to talk to a live human being. Dustin wanted to help and picked up another phone while sitting at the computer. The technician happened to be Asian and spoke in barely understandable English. The television noise from the living room made it even more difficult to understand him. Even Dustin couldn't understand him at times. We must have been on the phone an hour with him. I had to ask him to repeat what he said a number of times.

It would have been easier to work on the computer in the middle of a tornado!

At one point, the technician had me go to the Windows settings and remove the communications programs. Then he told me to reinstall them. The computer asked me for the Windows 98 CD. Did this family ever get one with their computer? No. Dead-end. I would have to call another number to obtain one. And there was nothing more the technician could do for me.

Dustin said that was the longest phone call he had ever witnessed. And, in some ways, the computer problem was worse now because no modem communications were even possible until the family could obtain a Windows 98 CD.

It's understandable that a support technician trying to guide a repair over the phone will sometimes make a problem worse rather than solve it. The technician cannot see the customer's computer; he or she has to rely on the customer for information and to execute his instructions without mistakes. My brother-in-law had a problem with his new modem that the technician did manage to fix over the phone. Unfortunately, at the same time, either the technician or my brother-in-law deleted files critical to other programs on his computer. The modem works but he has other computer problems now.

With the downturn in the economy, companies have had to cut back and lay off employees. This has impacted customer and technical support. According to a PC World reader survey, customer support is at an all-time low. Respondents complained that now they "wait on hold longer to talk to a technician, the techies seem to have less know-how, and the companies take longer to fix the problems." Some respondents never had their problems resolved.

What do you do when a computer problem occurs?

First, before you have a problem get into the habit of "backing up" your computer—that is, copying the data from it onto an external disk or CD—on a regular basis. For this I recommend Veritas Simple Backup software program (www.veritas.com) and a CDRW drive.

If you are running Windows ME or something that came out later, you can try the System Restore program found under Accessories, System Tools or your backup program. Either can restore your computer to an earlier setup, before the problem began. This could fix the problem. If you have Windows XP, you can request help from another Windows XP user either via e-mail or through the Windows Messenger instant-messaging client. The latter can allow the remote computer-user to view your computer while chatting or even take complete command of your computer. Hopefully you'll pick someone you can trust!

If none of the above works, and you don't know a computer geek, you'll have to call technical support or visit the technical support Web page for the computer or software that's causing problems. If that doesn't work you may have to take your computer in to a local PC shop.

Some helpful sites for fixing problems yourself are: PC Pitstop, which will run diagnostics and scout out typical PC ills; Wayne's Computer World which is run by volunteers; or check the question-and-answer forums at VirtualDr. Fee-based support sites such as Expertcity.com or Askdrtech.com may be your last resort.

As for the problem with the computer at Dustin's house, I'm sure I'll get another chance at it in the future. Either way, Dustin's parents were good about the whole situation. His mother said the Internet connection didn't work before I got there so "No harm done." Nevertheless, I find myself wished I had listened to his father's wise advice: "I think you had better do an exorcism on it!"

Perhaps next time I look at somebody's computer, I won't do an exorcism—but I will remember to stop and pray for God's help before plunging in.

Monthly Web Picks

This month we'll look at Advent and Christmas sites.

The Passionists have prayers and customs of Advent and Christmas at www.cptryon.org/prayer/adx/index.html. The site's purpose is "to help families and households celebrate Advent and Christmas in a Christian way. "

St. Anthony Messenger Press, along with Franciscan Communications, have put together "Celebrating the Christmas Cycle: Advent to Epiphany" at www.americancatholic.org/Features/Christmas/. You'll find the daily Mass reading with a reflection and more.

"A Search for the Meaning of Christmas" at http://techdirect.com/christmas/index.html shares Christmas traditions from around the world.

Domestic-Church's web site at www.domestic-church.com hopes to promote a Catholic culture in every family. See their Articles section for Advent & Christmas.

The Mysteries of Jesus' Infancy are discussed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church beginning with paragraph 522, which you can read online at www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p122a3p3.htm

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org