Blogging about Technology

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI’ve been actively blogging for about two years (see 376 posts, 102,000 words, with 1,000 article views a week; the record is 2,065). I cover whatever is on my mind, anything and everything, from work to personal, from trivial to profound, from mainstream to geeky. I organize my musings in categories, one of which is “technology” (forty-two entries). Here are a few:

I Think I Can Wait 21 Seconds (9/24/08)

I subscribe to a computer tech support service. For the most part the guys (yes, they are all guys) are knowledgeable. However, effective communications is challenging, as English is their secondary language – and I don’t know Punjabi. Still, I willingly accept communication frustration in order to save considerable cash.

Several weeks ago, my computer developed a nasty habit of making me wait 21 seconds every time I used the “Save As” command. Unfortunately, 21 seconds is just long enough to get distracted and forget the original task.

When I could stand it no longer, I initiated a service request. Two hours later, after the third failed attempt and the fourth explanation, the problem was solved. I was giddy with excitement. The first thing I did was open Microsoft Outlook – or at least I tried to.

I put in a follow-up request for service. After another hour, the only remaining solution was to reinstall Office. The reinstall failed. The tech escalated the problem (which he had caused) and said I would hear back in 24 to 48 hours later. I informed him that was not acceptable. He sincerely apologized but took no further action.

The next day, I placed repeated calls but was getting nowhere. At noon, I was given the promise of a return phone call within 48 hours. Although greatly agitated, I honestly don’t think I was mean or rude, but I was insistent enough to garner a callback within the hour. By 3:00 p.m., my computer was up and running just like before – with the 21-second delay. I was told I would have to reinstall Microsoft Office to fix that.

Computer Rage (12/2/08)

We’ve all heard of road rage – and I suspect we’ve all on occasion had that split-second impulse to ram our car into an offending driver. (Please tell me that I’m not the only one.)  I think that road rage has a corresponding technology affliction called computer rage. It’s when our computers cause us so much infuriating irritation that we want to hurt them; last Monday, I had it bad. All three work computers had issues.

After a concerted effort, one of the three problems has been fully resolved, the most debilitating issue has been corrected to a functional level, and I found a workaround solution for the third.

I will blog more sometime about these three issues: The Microsoft Live OneCare “Message 2100” is resolved, but I will document my solution for others so afflicted; the Microsoft Internet Explorer issue is so ironic that I can’t pass up talking about it; while my ongoing rant about Vista will continue – albeit with a more conciliatory tone.

All three of my computer rage issues have commonality withMicrosoft. (Maybe I need to go back to Apple – my first computer was an Apple IIe, while my second one was a Mac.)

An Ironic Conflict from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (12/4/08)

I am an enthusiastic fan of the browser Firefox, only keeping Internet Explorer (IE) around for those times when I am forced to use it (such accessing the Microsoft website for software updates). To my shock and dismay, IE did not work on Microsoft’s own website; how ironic!

Although irritated, I didn’t think too much of it, until I discovered that FrontPage (another Microsoft program) wasn’t working either. Speculating a connection between the two, I decided to focus on the IE problem, contacting my computer support folks in India.

My technical guru tried upgrading me to the beta version of IE 8 without success and then took me back to IE 6, thereby solving both problems. He explained that IE 6 was designed to work with Windows XP, whereas IE 7 was not. How curious.

Now I can do Microsoft updates and use FrontPage, albeit with IE 6 residing on my computer as a requirement. Unfortunately, Windows wants me to update to IE 7, but I’m not falling for it. I’d rather have an old, unsafe version that works than the new one that doesn’t.

The Best Laid Plans (circa December 2008; posted 10/24/09)

Having decided to forgo Windows Vista on my work desktop computers, I’ve been holding out for Windows 7. Towards that end, I had a plan. It consisted of ideal timing, low hardware costs, and software availability. The plan was to:

  • Buy a new computer during the holiday sales (addressing the cost issue), order it with Windows 7 (the availability issue), and migrate over to it the later part of December, which is normally a slower time for me at work (ideal timing).
  • Once everything was working satisfactorily, I would reformat the hard drive on the old computer (which was having some flaky problems) and reload the applications. It would become my backup computer.
  • The hard drive on my old backup computer would be similarly reformatted so that it could replace the home desktop.
  • The old home computer then would become available for reuse, recycling, or donation.

That was the plan, but my computer had different ideas.

My Computer Crashed! (10/18/09; posted 10/24/09)

Although I leave my computer running most of the time (to do downloads and backups at night), I reboot it about once a week under the belief that it behaves better if I do. To my shock and horror, on Monday a routine reboot failed.

  • I spent the morning on the phone troubleshooting it. All hope was eventually abandoned.
  • On Monday afternoon, the hard drive was wiped clean, and Windows XP was reinstalled.
  • On Monday evening, I reinstalled most of the two dozen applications that I use.
  • On Tuesday morning, I began restoring files from the most current data backup (an off-site service). During that time, I set about reconfiguring the applications (a task that is still not complete).
  • Taking twelve hours to restore only 14 percent of my files, the projected completion time exceeded four days.
  • To expedite things, I copied the remaining files from an on-site backup (two days old), expecting that the off-site restore would have anything missing or not current. The off-site restore finished the next morning.

After putting in several sixteen-hour days, my desktop is again humming along nicely, and things are mostly back to normal. The flaky software problems are gone, and my data is intact. Now that the calm is returning, I can reflect on the lessons learned from this ordeal.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way (10/24/2009)

Here are the lessons I learned from my recent computer fiasco:

  • Have a technology plan, but be flexible. I had a plan, but I wasn’t flexible with it – until I was forced to be. I doggedly stuck to the plan, even when it was inadvisable to do so.
  • Multiple data backups are imperative. I use three methods, storing data in three places, plus keeping several historical versions, spanning six months.
  • Backup hardware is essential. During this ordeal, I was using my backup desktop computer and my laptop to handle critical items and not fall too far behind.
  • Having a help desk to call for emergencies is critical.
  • If a computer begins displaying flaky problems, it’s likely telling you something – make sure you are listening.

I hope that things will get back to normal next week – and maybe then I can blog about something other than computers – anything.

So, as you peruse the Connections Magazine Buyers Guide, do you have a technology plan in place? Is it flexible? Are your systems trying to tell you it’s time to upgrade?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine December 2009]