MU stacked logo with embedded link to the university's home page

Extension Technology and
Computer Services

 

University of Missouri-Columbia   Extension Technology and Computer Services—ETCS

 
   August 1999
   Vol. 16, No. 7



A Technology Newsletter for Extension Specialists

 

 

Home
    About ETCS
    ETCS Staff
    Training
    Help Desk
    S Drive
    Webmail
  InnerCircuits
    Contact ETCS
    Production
     Services
     
    Back
     
   
Search for
IC Articles:


Empowered Frustration
by Bill McFarland

I had about three acres of fescue and an old red Farmall Cub tractor empowered with a 5-foot sickle mower when I lived in the county. I mowed that field every year for the potential hay. I hired a neighbor to come over and bale it. Between my mower and his baler, we spent as much time fixing and fighting the machines as it took to produce the product. Computers are like that sometimes. It takes as long fighting with the machine as it takes to produce the product. But that was the only way I was going to make hay from that grassy field, within my budget.

The mission of ETCS is to empower University Outreach and Extension faculty and staff with information technology appropriate to their needs, within necessary funding constraints. We want to lead UO/E into the use of appropriate technology at an acceptable stress level. We do care about you and can identify with your frustration levels. We don't intend to empower frustration, but…

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

  • Computers cause change; change causes stress; therefore, computers cause stress.
  • Computers cause stress; stress causes frustration; therefore, computers cause frustration.
However:
  • Computers create possibilities; possibilities create potential; therefore, computers create potential.
  • Computers create potential; potential raises expectations; therefore, computers raise expectations.
  • Computers raise expectations; expectations could go unmet causing frustration; therefore, computers could cause frustration.

But:

  • Computers lock-up, everything else is just frustrating!

Probable Lock-ups

If you are in one of the county extension offices, some of the perceived lockups are not truly lockups at all. Perhaps they should be called VERY long pauses in computer time. For instance, an e-mail that you have received may have a file attached. If that file is around 1 MB in size and you decide to double click on that file to open it, it could take as long as 4 - 5 minutes to open. This is the result of trying to move that 1 MB document from the network on campus to your computer over the dedicated 56Kb line. This direct connection is faster than the old dial up (modem) method of computer communications, but not exactly instantaneous. The unfortunate part is Outlook doesn't tell you that you are waiting. So you think you've waited FOREVER, and re-boot your machine, frustrated.

You can tell how large an attachment is before you double click on it to open it. If the message was sent to you in plain text format, the attachment is at the end, under a line. In this format the size is displayed with the filename. If the message was sent in any other format than plain text, then you see the filename only. Right click on the attachment icon and select Properties. The name and size will be displayed in a pop-up window. At least then you will know what to expect, about 5 minutes per 1 Megabyte of file.

What can we do about this? DEMAND that your colleagues not attach a file to an e-mail that is larger than 100KB. Campus folks would be the most likely offenders since they have fast network connections, and don't see the problem of large attachments. When a large file needs to be shared, encourage users to transfer it to the S: share drive. It will still take you 4 minutes or more to copy the 1 MB file to your computer, but you will see the little graphic moving the data from one folder to the next and even an estimate on how long it is going to be before it is finished. Less frustrating, because without this network you would have to drive over to the other county/campus, put the file on your floppy disk and drive back. Or wait 2-3 days for the Post Office to deliver it to your office. How frustrating would that be?

Lock-ups

Occasionally, you will get a lock-up. Suddenly your keyboard and mouse are useless, generating no response from your computer. You just see a blinking (literally) cursor, no waiting hourglass. You notice that the disk drive light is not lighting up, and that there are no noises coming from the computer unit. The screen is just "locked-up". The standard best practice at this point is: go get a drink of water, go to the restroom, walk around the building once and come back to the computer. (This won't help the computer much, but it is good for your health). If you can verify that nothing has happened since you left, then you have a lock-up. Then, while holding the <Control> and <Alt> keys down, press and let up on the <Delete> key. Probably you will get a pop-up window that identifies all programs running in your computer at this time. Probably the top one on the list will have some parenthesis at the end saying (not responding). This is a task that has gotten out of whack in your computer, and can't figure out what to do next. You can End Task on this program and put it out of its misery. If you are successful in ending this task, then the standard best practice suggests that you should proceed to shut down the computer and begin everything anew. Probably trying the exact same thing again will proceed successfully. If not, call ETCS.

If you don't get any response from the <Ctrl><Alt><Delete> process, then you are REALLY locked-up. You probably will then need to turn your computer off for 10 seconds and back on at its surge protector. Windows 95 will then scold you for doing so as it starts up again and will probably insist on scanning the hard drive to see if there are any errors. It probably won't find any errors and will after a while present your normal Desktop screen. In some rare cases it will take this opportunity to rearrange your Desktop icons for you. Probably trying the exact same thing will proceed successfully. If not, call ETCS.

Configuration

Why do these real lock-ups occur and what can be done to reduce them? This is our subject for this year. Discounting a real computer hardware problem (broken hard drive), and immediate operator error (hitting the wrong button), the configuration of your computer is a significant factor in reducing the probability of computer lock-up. The next article addresses our re-establishment of a set of preferred configuration guidelines for computer health.

 

 

MU Extension logo with embedded link to the Extension home page

  The information presented in this website is designed for use in the University of Missouri Extension
 computing environment. This information may not be applicable outside the Extension system.