Thursday, 29 March 2012

Thursday Thought - Technical Omniscience

These days when I friends/family ask me for technical support, two things cross my mind
- Tim Hall
- My car mechanic analogy

To elaborate on the car mechanic thing (a story of which my wife is sick of), I propose someone might take their car to a panel beater and say "it's not working, can you fix it?"

By all appearances, a car is a car is a car. Sure it might have a few dents or scratches - but until you see/hear/smell it driving down the road you have no idea what might be wrong with it. And a panel beater might have enthusiasm for cars, but have no idea how to diagnose, let alone replace, say, a cracked head gasket.

Now I'm all up for helping people out where I can, but I'm frank and say while I've been playing/working with computers since I was 10, I don't know everything and I'm actually a database technologist for commercial applications.

So when someone says:
my pc has been crashing alot lately out of the blue. A message comes up with 'the system has recovered from a serious error'
I ask a plethora of questions.

I felt the urge to share some of my questions & responses. Partially because this is a blog and it's what you do, and I also thought I'd put it out there to see if others geeks have any thoughts on how accurate some of my responses and interpretations were. I then had a little rant about the personal computing world as it is today where I made more generalisations, accurate or otherwise.

the question, their response, my feedback
  • how old is your pc? About 7 years whoa, until I saw you replaced hard drive, double whoa! 
  • have you replaced any components? new hard drive and have upgraded to its fullest with ramHard drive is the #1 component by far to fail. That doesn't mean that other components in a 7 year old box aren't immune. They're manufactured to a general shelf life. In my experience, the blue screen of death (bsod) is often related to dodgy hardware.
  • installed any new software recently? I don’t think so just looking for change
  • been careful with the email attachments you download? Always, only from who i know even then you can't be sure, always check extensions and addresses. Check this out http://www.google.com/goodtoknow/online-safety/ first two sections (phishing, malware) very layman, good guides from google
  • do you get the "blue screen of death" before it resets and gives you that error? yes just making sure you got bsod
  • what does the error look like? Like the screen above and then just crashed and resets.  Get a message to email Microsoft when it reboots but never do hmm, here is where I don't have the skills to go much further, especially without seeing it. Apparently it's easy to do that remotely now, but there's so many things to keep up with! sorry!
sometimes the pc has been running really really slow so I defrag and virus scan and then it seems to be okay.  Hav ehad to do this twice in about 4 months

Long story - I've still got a tower I bought back in '05, somethings just gone wrong with it, too. I've got a external hard drive case on it's way from ebay, but my recent backup would have got most of my stuff anyway I'd say.   More of an inconvenience, especially with my ipod synced to that itunes.
Anyway, it takes a long time to do anything major (or minor), and it can only do one thing at a time. If that's you now, you've just got a second reason to upgrade. 
Defrag helps, but mainly if your moving files around a lot - creating content can contribute. Give windows time it will get lost in a paper bag.
Viruses these days come from e-mails, not floppy disks. Some through dodgy websites, but you gotta be wondering in bad neighbourhoods for that. Most concentration is on denial of service at a corporate level, and events like stuxnet
Systems like windows bloat over time. Add to that, you may have so many folders with so many items for your work, it has trouble with that, too. Especially if you have lots (thousands) of files in specific folders.
But they mainly bloat, get old, wear out, go slower than they used to. Windows. I put a different operating system on my old tower to try out - ran so much more responsive than windows - on the same pc! 
And as they bloat, they accumulate software, slowly. Patches, updates, new utilities that written to perform with today's pc's, nowhere past the pace of computer progress (double speed every 18 months - "moore's law"). 
Same goes for these new smartphones. When I replaced my iPhone with the Samsung, it felt so much faster in comparison. 2 years on, the extra lag reminds me of the 2y/o iPhone.

I know I went from faults to speed - but does your computer treat you well? Extra ram only goes so far.  
I don't know how to track down general computer faults, I generally look for changes and track backwards from there, uninstalling or whatever.
...
on a side note, the next generation of hard drives (SSD) have no moving parts. They're still fairly expensive, but becoming common-place in laptops. Hybrid models are really good.

No moving parts, less likely to break down. But they do have a life when it comes to read/write - but it's fairly long.

The conversation tapered off from there.

In short, no, I don't really know how to make your computer work again, but I still have an interest and general understanding of how computers tick.

Just because I work with computers, doesn't mean I'm technically omniscient and know how to fix every laptop, printer, fax, phone, watch, elevator, EEG, microcomputer...

Ask me about Oracle. Even then I probably only retain a small fraction of the body of knowledge that's out there, even on something focused like PL/SQL or Apex. With this topics, however, I do know where to start looking and how to start diagnosing.

Thought rant over & out.

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