Software // Enterprise Applications
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5/29/2002
02:55 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: 'Magic' Fixes

When all else fails, an offbeat or nonstandard technique just might get things working right, Fred Langa says.

Here's another example that you may have encountered on your own:

Rough-Edged Bits
When you install software on older versions of Windows (including Win98), sometimes things don't work properly, especially if the hardware is a bit underpowered. Even if the system is otherwise in good shape and well tuned, and even if the installation seems to progress normally, the new app or utility may be crash-prone or the entire system may become less stable immediately after the installation.

A simple "magic" fix helps in a surprising percentage of cases. Install the new software a second time, exactly as before. While this doesn't always work, it works often enough that it's fostered a bit of geek humor: I once heard a techie tell a gullible user, "The data bits in freshly manufactured software have rough edges that snag inside the CPU and cause crashes. Reinstalling the software wears off the rough edges and lets the bits flow smoothly through the system."

That's a wonderfully inventive explanation (the hapless user actually bought it, for a while), but the reality is more prosaic. Installing software is input/output intensive and may also involve high CPU loads, heavy resource drains, and significant multitasking. On older versions of Windows, which typically run on older, less-powerful hardware, the system may simply have trouble keeping up, resulting in errors such as misregistered dynamic link libraries or miscopied files. Doing a second installation of exactly the same software can sometimes clear up those errors, resulting in smoother operation. (Note: Newer versions of Windows--Win2K and XP--are better at multitasking to begin with; have more robust file systems; and are typically installed on newer, more-powerful hardware, so these kinds of installation problems are far less common.)

Throbbing Monitors
Here's another small "magic" fix: I recall one time when an office mate complained of a weird pulsation in her monitor: The screen image would throb and wobble, giving her a headache. The simple fix: Move her desk fan away from the monitor. (The fan's poorly shielded motor was creating a moving magnetic field that interfered with the monitor's own electromagnetic imaging system.) The fix seemed obvious to me, but it simply hadn't occurred to her that a fan could somehow affect the image on a monitor.

And that's the case with most of these nonstandard fixes: What may seem obvious to one person may be very obscure to another. Collectively, we all probably have encountered one or more "magic" fixes, some large, some small. If we pool our knowledge, we all just may learn useful techniques and lore we'd never otherwise encounter, or even dream of!

So let me ask you: What fixes, tricks, tips, or techniques have you used that aren't found in normal owner's manuals and how-to texts? What strange, nonstandard, or--if I may use the word--"magical" fixes do you know of? Please join in the discussion!

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