Computer Problems: Prevention, Maintenance, and Solutions

Day 1. (Relatively short, introductory session)

Computer Maintenance Introductory Questions

The following are questions that regularly come up during this unit, but which relate only obliquely to maintenance of your computer, so up front we’ll look at them and not have to divert our focus later on.

******* Start by trying to answer these questions yourselves as a group, and then if you
don't quite get the point/answer, we can read my take on each of the questions aloud.*******


What if I’m happy with the way my computer works?

1-10, what is the rating you’d give your satisfaction with your computer?  If you are happy with the way your computer works, you shouldn’t feel compelled to follow any of the advice mentioned.  But firstly note that the suggestions are not just aimed at keeping your computer from freezing; most will improve its performance, whether it has ever had a problem or not.  And if, as is likely, your computer is new, that’s probably the reason it seems to work fine and fast enough for now.  But as time goes on, it will no longer be “cutting-edge”, and it will likely accumulate issues.  Following the advice in this document will keep your computer acting like new for longer, and will help keep issues to a minimum.

Why would anyone make or pass on a computer virus, or hack a computer?

A couple of things about computer viruses are clear enough: they can cause you major computer problems, and they are most often unknowingly passed on when they attach themselves to files shared via e-mail etc.  But the question of why someone would make a computer virus in the first place, or want to cause damage or steal by hacking, is a little harder to answer. Often are not doing it for financial gain, and they are certainly not doing it as part of a popularity contest - at least not a conventional one... In fact, the reasons virus writers make viruses and hackers hack, are as psychologically complex and hard to understand as the reasons other criminals do other criminal activities, and, more to the point, why vandals vandalize.  But one thing is for sure; people able to make viruses must be very good programmers and people who hack might be.  So sometimes a virus writer or hacker may be a programmer who can’t get, or keep a real programming job, for one reason or another, and so writes viruses to “get back at” the company who wouldn’t hire them, or to punish society in general for his/her misfortune.  Very often virus writers and hackers end up part of a “cyber underworld” in which they compete with each other to see who can be the best at writing viruses for very secure software applications, and who can be the best at hacking into secure sites. 
And in terms of hackers, it's interesting to note that different companies and organizations have different approaches toward the problem. Most companies will either hire good hackers to try to find security vulnerabilities, so that they can fix those problems, or instead of officially hiring hackers, they offer prize money to whoever can break in and tell them how they did it. But some companies, like Sony back in 2011, will rely only on legal action to address hacking, and that is a risky strategy, since it makes hackers target them even more.  
But the whys and wherefores of the origin of viruses and hackers are not important to you and your computer; what is important is knowing how to prevent getting and being affected by viruses, and being hacked.  This unit contains several suggestions.

What if I don’t mind if someone cracks my password? It’s only for my e-mail/Stroodle.

If someone else obtains the password to your e-mail or Stroodle account, they can then pretend to be you, and potentially send very nasty messages to others who think those messages are actually from you.  So even “minor” passwords should be wisely chosen ones that are not shared.

You mean it’s possible for other people to see what I’m doing on my computer?

Yes. As with computer viruses, it’s a fact.  Get over it.
Chances are very good that you have software on your computer that is “spying” on you one way or the other.  This is especially true if you use peer-to-peer software like Frostwire, or if you choose to download attachments from “on-line friends” – particularly those whom you have actually never met.  (More on why, later on in these discussions.)  The spying could be as simple as Internet cookies placed by companies or individuals that keep track of the websites you visit, and then sell that information to other companies, so they can customize advertising and spam that will be directed at you.  Or it could be actual software that someone - or some machine - is using to access your personal and/or financial information.  Furthermore, depending on how you use peer-to-peer software or services (like bitTorenting), you leave your computer open to direct hacking.  But to one extent or another, if you use a computer the way most teenagers do, you have malware (spyware and adware) which, at the very least, is slowing down your computer.  So fretting over what kind of privacy invasion might be going on, why anyone would be doing it, or its unethical nature, is not a productive activity; following the advice in this unit regarding malware and hacking is.

This section covers the perennial “Mac vs. PC” question.  

In terms of why the school doesn’t use Windows P.C. machines, there are positives and negatives when comparing Macs to PCs, but for schools, the positives have a direct impact, and the negatives do not.  For schools, it boils down to these three questions:

1. What is each optimized for?
Apple, the company that makes Macintosh computers, has always optimized their computers for two groups: students, and multimedia professionals.  Since at ISP we are a school, and we do use a lot of multimedia applications (such as Logic and Photoshop), it makes more sense to use Macs.  Meantime, PCs are more optimized for business applications such as Excel, and other “number-crunching” applications, particularly custom database-driven software centric to businesses. 

2. How reliable is each?  And is there a cost for this reliability?
According to all tangible evidence, Macs are more reliable than PCs; they freeze and break down less often.  This is not only a widely held belief, it continues to be borne out year after year, with Apple computers consistently coming out on top of customer satisfaction and reliability surveys, notably the one done yearly by the respected “PC Magazine”.

But that point leads to the prime negative about Macs.  The high quality and reliability comes at a cost; Macs are more expensive than PCs when you compare machines of equivalent specifications.  But, this does not apply to schools, because Apple continues, as it always has, to offer significant discounts to educational institutions, making Macs equally affordable to equivalent PCs.
 3. What about the range of applications available for each?
The other indisputable negative of Macs, but which for schools also does not apply, is that that there are many software applications made for Windows only, such as many Games.  But this isn’t an issue for schools; virtually all mainstream applications run on both platforms.  Furthermore, all new Macs (which now have an Intel CPU) can run Windows natively, as well as the Mac OS, so you can have the best of both worlds if you so choose.

What if I’m not a computer geek?

Whether or not you consider yourself experienced with computers, some of this unit may be a little beyond your capability and understanding at this stage. But that’s the point: to teach you things related to computer maintenance of which you are totally un-aware, or things you have heard about, but have never quite understood.

Still, many of you will want to opt to do only the easiest maintenance on your computer, if only because you’re a little hesitant to do too much, and that’s fine.  So included throughout the document will be the following symbols, which indicate how sophisticated (or not) the utility or technique is:

Maintenance “Geek Factor”:
@ - Easy                     “Anyone can do this.”
These are concepts/techniques that anyone can do, and, really, should.

@@ - Moderate          “Most can do this.”
These are advisable to do, and the average computer user can do them.

@@@ - High              “Only geeks will want to do this .”
These are for the more tech-savvy computer users out there.

Note that at the end of this unit, I’ll give you a handout entitled Mac & Windows “Top Ten Now” Maintenance, which is a one page summary, in point form of what everyone should and can do now to their computers to assure care-free operation.

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