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  Case Notes  
Case 1

I was called on a Monday morning by a client who had been working on a lengthy Word report over the weekend on her laptop.  The Word document was corrupt: the formatting had changed and a lot of text was missing.  Although Word was set to automatically create a backup copy of the document periodically, that too was corrupted so Word was unable to recover the missing text.  The client was very eager to avoid recreating and typing the large chunk of missing text as she was due to present the document - a business proposal, to her own client the same day. 

The day was saved by opening a copy of the document with Wordpad which, being less fully featured than Word, was able to ignore the corrupted formatting characters and display the full text.  The file was then saved and Word used to apply the final formatting. 

Lessons learnt:

  1. Take multiple independent backups of critical documents using different backup tools, storing the copy on different media.
  2. Have the computer serviced each year, to help identify corrupted programs and hard disk drives. 


Case 2

I was asked to help a client reconfigure his Internet connection after a failed attempt to enable encryption between router and wireless notebook card.  Having disabled the internet security package and the Internet Explorer Content Advisor, I quickly got the Internet connection back.  The problem was that the technical support team at the router manufacturer had advised the client to reset the router to factory default settings, but had not advised that he take a note of the settings before resetting them.

I then tried to enable encryption, but on each of two attempts when I ran the notebook wireless configuration program, I got the infamous Windows stop screen a.k.a. blue screen of death.  There seemed two possibilities: a very badly written piece of software or a faulty disk.  I knew that the client had recently taken the laptop PC back to the well known retail store for a hard disk drive replacement under the terms of his 3 year extended warranty.

So the first thing I did was to check the integrity of the disk, and I soon say thousands of error messages: "The disk does not have enough space to replace bad clusters" were displayed.  It seems likely that the well known retail store's staff had booted successfully, assumed a transient problem which was not reproducible, and returned the computer unfixed.

The client decided to have me order a new disk and clone the sound part of the old disk to the new one so that no files or settings were lost.  Had the PC been returned to the store again, the probably outcome would either be exactly the same as before, or they would return the PC with a new disk and use the recovery media to put the original operating system back - thereby loosing all programs, personal documents and settings that the client had on his old disk.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Do not buy extended warranties with PCs - they seldom benefit the purchaser (which is how the seller makes money on the deal).
  2. Have the computer serviced each year, to help identify hardware faults and logic errors on hard disk drives before they develop into fatal failures. 


Case 3

I received a call from a client who bought a Sony VAIO laptop three months previously.  He used the PC extensively for his trans-Atlantic business and had several spreadsheets and e-mail messages in Outlook, that it was important for him to have access to when he visited his clients a few days later.  Unfortunately the PC would not boot due to a faulty hard disk drive, and the warranty issuers would only replace the disk with a like for like empty one, leaving the client to recover the Windows operating system and personal files from backups.

When new, no recovery CDs were included with the PC, instead, the purchaser was advised (if they read through the documentation which came with the PC thoroughly) to burn their own recovery CDs using a program which was installed on the hard disk drive; i.e. the recovery files were on the disk which had failed !  My client had not copied the recovery files to a CD and so was left with no access to his computer or his spreadsheets at a critical time for him, with no hope of the warranty coming to his rescue.

I was able to remove the failed disk from the laptop and salvage all the spreadsheets; I was not able to recover the Outlook e-mail though.  In order to recover the Outlook e-mail, I sent the hard disk drive to a laboratory where they were able to disassemble the disk in a scrupulously clean environment, move the platter to another disk, and recover the files. 

As my client was in America by this time, I copied his important documents to a hidden area of this Web site, protected with a username and password unique to the client; so not only were they not lost, but my client had access to them in time for him to close a deal with his clients.  He decided not to bother with warranty claims in the future.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Don't buy an off-the-shelf PC as they almost invariably do not come with a complete and usable recovery kit.  Some warranties are better than others.
  2. Implement a backup policy which is robust enough for the importance of the files.  Then test the recovery strategy by simulating a disaster.


Case 4

I had installed a local area network for this client some time previously, but the addition of an Internet enabled Clavinova electric piano and a new laptop PC meant that the existing wireless signal strength was just not sufficient to reach all parts of the house and garden where it was needed.  So I replaced the router, access points and network interface cards with a the latest 802.11n equipment which gives about 8 times the coverage and 6 times the speed of the previous 802.11g equipment.

What to do with the old network equipment ?  All was in good order except the router (one antenna had been damaged when the cat got excited chasing a mouse).  I listed the items as six lots on the eBay auction site, having taken several photos (hosted on this site to avoid the charge for uploading them to eBay), I described the items in an appropriately technical way on an attractive HTML page, and appended standard Terms and the ability to pay using my existing PayPal or Nochex accounts. 

After the auctions ended I dealt with the buyers' questions, found suitable packing materials and shipped the items out with the required insurance.  I then prepared a spreadsheet showing the sale price and costs of sale and sent it to my client with a cheque for the balance.  That made 7 happy people (one bidder acquired two lots).  

Case 5

Almost two years before Pat called I had supplied her with a router when I arranged a broadband connection for her.  Now she had no connection and needed to work on-line urgently.  I had a spare router available, as I usually do, so I took it round to her and configured it with her username, password and other settings.  Fortunately the item is covered by a lifetime warranty, so I arranged for the manufacturer to issue a returns number and mailed it to them. 

When the replacement router arrived I took it over to Pat and configured it with her settings.  I recovered the loan one I had left with her and she was back on-line with only a few minutes of down time.  And as a long standing client I was happy to not only arrange for a replacement router for free, but not raise any charge for the loan router or the trips to sort the problem out.

"I wonder what PC World would say if I asked them to deliver and configure a free loan router when one I had bought from them two years previously had failed" asked Pat.


Case 6

Rosemary had a serious virus attack.  I removed many trojans, worms and a rootkit from her hard disk drive.  Her address book had probably already been stolen so that her correspondents could be sent bogus mails purporting to come from a trusted source, but with a most unpleasant payload.  I hope they have better protection than the 4 year old copy of Norton which Rosemary had. 

The virus attack had compromised her CMOS memory, preventing her PC from booting.  A quick flash of the BIOS would have sorted out her problem, but there was no driver CD which came with the motherboard when the PC was new; the documentation for the motherboard had also been lost, and as there were no identifying marks on the motherboard, replacing the CMOS chip was therefore necessary.  However the cost of a replacement motherboard was cheaper so I supplied and fitted that.

The new motherboard meant that the HAL needed to be updated.  This is easily done if the original Windows CD is available, but in this case it was not.  This necessitated the purchase of a new version of Windows XP.  Eventually Rosemary had a working PC, but it had cost her over 200 more than it would if some lessons had been learnt:

  1. Keep all CDs and documentation which come with the PC - in the event of a failure, they may avoid the need to buy a replacement motherboard.
  2. Make sure your new PC comes with a full Microsoft Windows PC - not a manufacturer's recovery disk, as they can not be used for HAL replacements.
  3. Follow the suggestions on this site regarding periodic housekeeping and/or have the PC serviced.  The long term cost saving is apparent here.