Computer Woes

April 4, 2011

I'm never sure how much time and effort I should devote to learning how my computer works. Most of the time I don't like to think about it. I just want it to do the things I want it to do and I don't much care about the details of the operation.

I don't know where I stand in computer knowledge. I'm certainly not, by any means, a geek. On the other hand, I find that among my friends I know as much, or more, than most. I can create a document, make it look like I want it to, and so forth. But when things go wrong, I find myself lost in the weeds.

This past weekend, things went badly wrong. I started out happy because I had successfully installed an upgraded operating system on my MacBook. I moved from OS 10.4 to OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard), and all went well. But sometimes I will not let well enough alone.

I had noticed, popping up on my screen recently, an ad for MacKeeper. It's a software program that is supposed to clean up Apple computers, to get rid of all the accumulated electronic detritus which clogs a hard drive after several years of use. A free trial was offered, so I figured why not?

The download was easy enough, and, then, there was MacKeeper on my hard drive. I was determined to use the program cautiously because I know it's easy to make unwanted changes that are hard to reverse. So I started only by eliminating duplicates, cleaning out the cache, and removing languages that I knew I would never use. Then I stopped and went on to other things.

The first thing I noticed was that the word counter on my word processing program didn't work anymore. When I tried to check the length of a piece I was typing, the window came up, but there were no numbers in it. That was annoying, but then things got worse.

My printer stopped working. I have an HP LaserJet 1012, and it has been the most efficient machine I have ever owned. For years it has performed perfectly. But the first time after the advent of MacKeeper I tried to print something, the LaserJet sat paralyzed. I checked the printer window in the Systems Preference, and beside the print job I had just sent was the ominous word, "Error."

I won't tell you all the things I did to try to make the error message go away, but I'll say I spent several hours doing them. Finally, I decided to go to MacKeeper. They have a "Chat" service which allows you to send messages back and forth to a technician. Over the course of the next several hours, I sent and received many messages. The first advice I got from the technicians was to do the obvious things I had already done. Then we began to get into slightly more subtle operations. Finally there was more than an hour's delay in receiving an answer. So I gave up. To make a miserable story short, nothing we had done affected the printer.

I re-installed the new operating system, a procedure that takes more than an hour. Since the new operating system has the latest printer drivers I thought reinstallation would do away with any changes the MacKeeper might have made. Nothing changed.

I got desperate and used the old CD that came with the printer. That changed the message from the simple "Error" to "Error fatal." That didn't seem like a positive development.

I went to Hewlett Packard on the web, seeking a printer driver download. The first five times I tried their download system it didn't work; it just stopped and went blank. Finally I found another web page with another button. I pushed it. Downloading started.

In the past when I downloaded a printer driver it took about 45 seconds. This time a download window appeared with four downloads running separately. Each one had a message of how long it would take. The first one said 11 minutes; the other three said about 24 minutes. As the downloading proceeded, the time listed for the first one grew. By the time the other three had finished, which took much longer than 24 minutes, the time remaining for the first one had risen to an hour and 24 minutes. But each of the other three produced on my screen an installation window. I choose one at random, not knowing how to distinguish among the three. The installation was to take 6 minutes. The blue bar on the box began to move steadily across the enclosure. After five minutes it was near the end, and the message said it would require one minute more. And then it ran and ran for 25 more minutes until it announced that installation was complete.

With little hope, I decided to check the printer. Amazingly, it worked.

I threw the remaining two installations in the trash, having no idea what they were. The first download was proceeding cheerily, so I deleted it.

I was never able to get the word counter working again.

I worked on this steadily for eight hours. The curious and dismal feature of this sort of day is that you're always unsure whether you're ever going to be able to accomplish anything. So you get more and more discouraged as the hours run by. After it's over you realize that you lost only a day, so it's not the end of the world. But then the thought comes: all this because I downloaded a program that was supposed to make my computer function more quickly. It's the height of absurdity.

What's the lesson? If your computer is working adequately, leave it alone. Computers are wonderful things but the computer world is bizarre. There's no doubt about that.

©John R. Turner

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