Even Experts Have Tech Problems

Phishing : computer screen with Oak Ridge National Lab and a computer mouse on top AP / CBS

I may know a bit more about PCs and personal technology than some people but that doesn't make me immune to problems. Last week was a case in point. I spent the better part of two days dealing with a variety of technology meltdowns. There were no disasters this time.

Unlike some past experiences, my computer didn't grind to a halt. My hard drive is just fine. But I've been dealing with lots of little problems trying to get Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Outlook and my BlackBerry to work while at the same time dealing with annoying software that keeps popping up and demanding my attention.

At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, it almost makes me want to dust off my typewriter, four-function calculator and rotary phone, and once again get my news and information the old-fashioned way - from print, radio and TV.

It all started when Mozilla Firefox failed to load on my Windows Vista machine with the message "Error:App:Name not specified in application.ini." Hoping to find a clue as to what that meant, I entered the message into Google but got only three results - all of them aimed at Firefox developers rather than end-users. Not exactly the user-friendly response I hoped for from the non-profit Mozilla that so often stands out as a refreshing alternative to Microsoft's fare.

I did everything I could think of, including uninstalling Firefox, obliterating all of the files left behind and even going through the risky and nerdy exercise of deleting references to Firefox from the Windows Registry (something most Windows users should never do without expert supervision).

I reinstalled Firefox and it still didn't work. On a whim, I created a new user account in Windows (as if I were logging on as a different person) and for reasons I can't explain Firefox worked just fine. But Outlook, Thunderbird, the BlackBerry synchronization program and the software I use to transfer my radio segment to CBS News stopped working. After a couple of hours of reconfiguring these programs, I had most things working.

But then the BlackBerry Desktop Manager suddenly failed to sync my BlackBerry. I finally came up with a work-around after two hours on the phone with a BlackBerry senior tech support person, though even he couldn't figure out why it didn't work. The same software works just fine on my laptop computer. It's as if my desktop PC is haunted.

Speaking of haunting, one of the things users typically have to do when troubleshooting software problems is to reboot their PC - in my case many times over the past few days. Rebooting a Windows PC is never fast, but it was taking a ridiculously long time because I had recently installed AOL Instant Messenger and, by default, AIM loads every time my PC starts. AIM is a great service and I appreciate AOL making it available at no charge. But that doesn't give AOL the right to hijack my computer to start the service when I don't want it. Nor - in my humble opinion - does it give it the right to launch my browser to an AOL page every time I start AIM.

I accept the fact that I have to look at ads within the program while I'm using it, but that's different from taking up permanent residency in my PC's memory. In fairness, there is a disclosure in the fine print presented to you when you install the program with instructions on how to later configure the software not to start automatically. But you have to scroll through legalese to find this information before clicking on obligatory "I agree" icon to install the software.

When I finally decided I had enough with computers, I retired to my living room to watch a movie on a Blu-ray DVD. But suddenly the sound quit coming through the speakers attached to my audio system. After 20 minutes of trial and error, I traced the problem to a setting in my new Pioneer receiver that gives users onscreen control over the many inputs on the device. Seems as if the DVD setting was associated with an optical digital input rather than the coaxial digital cord I was using.

Finally, between all this technological troubleshooting, I decided it was time to get some badly needed exercise. So I took a walk. That went just fine because, unlike those Nike shoes with the built-in iPod interface, my shoes don't have any chips in them.
  • Larry Magid

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