Here's part of the "Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, 32nd edition. For newer info, read the 33rd edition at


Someday, your computer will break down — or disappoint you. Here’s how to fix the problem.


Strategies for repair

To repair a computer, follow these general principles.…


Ask for help. Instead of wasting many hours scratching your head about a computer problem, get help from your dealer, your computer’s manufacturer, your software’s publisher, your colleagues, your teachers, your friends, and me. You can phone me day or night, 24 hours, at 603-666-6644; I’m almost always in, and I sleep only lightly.

Most computers come with a one-year warranty. If your computer gives you trouble during that first year, make use of the warranty: get the free help you’re entitled to from your dealer. If your “dealer” is a general-purpose department store that doesn’t specialize in computers, the store might tell you to phone the computer’s manufacturer. For tough software questions, the dealer might tell you to phone the software’s publisher.

Most computers come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If the computer is giving you lots of headaches during the first 30 days, just return it!


Most repair problems can be solved by cleaning your software (as I explained on pages 154-158). Many other repair problems can be solved by cleaning your hardware (as I explained on page 153) or by getting rid of viruses (as I explained on page 144).


If the broken part is cheap, don’t fix it: chuck it! For example, if one of the keys on your keyboard stops working, don’t bother trying to fix that key; instead, buy a new keyboard. A new keyboard costs about $25. Fixing one key on a keyboard costs many hours of labor and is silly.

If a 2-gigabyte hard disk stops working, and you can’t fix the problem in an hour or so, just give up and buy a new hard disk, since 2-gigabyte hard disks are obsolete anyway. Today, 2 gigabytes aren’t worth much; the price difference between an 8-gigabyte drive and a 10-megabyte drive is about $5.


Read the screen. Often, the screen will display an error message that tells you what the problem is.

If the message flashes on the screen too briefly for you to read, try pressing the computer’s Pause key as soon as the message appears. The Pause key makes the message stay on the screen for you to read. When you finish reading the message, press the Enter key.

If you’re having trouble with your printer, and your printer is modern enough to have a built-in screen, read the messages on that screen too.

Check the lights. Look at the blinking lights on the front of the computer and the front of the printer; see if the correct ones are glowing. Also notice whether the monitor’s Power light is glowing.

Check the switches. Check the On-Off switches for the computer, monitor, and printer: make sure they’re all flipped on. If your computer equipment is plugged into a power strip, make sure the strip’s On-Off switch is turned on.

Check the monitor’s brightness and contrast knobs, to make sure they’re turned to the normal (middle) position.

If you have a dot-matrix printer, make sure the paper is feeding correctly, and make sure you’ve put into the correct position the lever that lets you choose between tractor feed and friction feed.

Check the cables that run out of the computer. They run to the monitor, printer, keyboard, mouse, and wall. Make sure they’re all plugged tightly into their sockets. To make sure they’re plugged in tight, unplug them and then plug them back in again. (To be safe, turn the computer equipment off before fiddling with the cables.) Many monitor and printer problems are caused just by loose cables.

Make sure each cable is plugged into the correct socket. Examine the back of your computer, printer, monitor, and modem: if you see two sockets that look identical, try plugging the cable into the other socket. For example, the cable from your printer might fit into two identical sockets at the back of the computer (LPT1 and LPT2); the cable from your phone system might fit into two identical sockets at the back of your modem (Line and Phone).


When analyzing a hardware problem, run no software except the operating system and diagnostics. For example, if you’re experiencing a problem while using a word-processing program, spreadsheet, database, game, or some other software, exit from whatever software you’re in. Turn off your printer, computer, and all your other equipment, so the RAM chips inside each device get erased and forget that software.

Then turn the computer back on.

If writing appears on your screen, and you can read it, your screen is working fine.

If you can make the hard disk show you what’s on it (by by double-clicking “My Computer” then “C:” in modern Windows, or by typing “dir” in DOS), your hard disk is working fine.

If you can print something simple on paper (by typing “I love you” in WordPad and then printing that 3-word document), your printer is working fine. (On some laser printers, such as the Hewlett-Packard Laserjet 2, you need to manually eject the paper: press the printer’s On Line button, then the Form Feed button, then the On Line button again.)

If your computer, monitor, hard drive, and printer pass all those tests, your hardware is basically fine; and so the problem you were having was probably caused by software rather than hardware. For example, maybe you forgot to tell your software what kind of printer and monitor you bought.


Don’t get upset! Just relax. Stay, calm, cool, and collected while you analyze the problem. Have the attitude of Sherlock Holmes!

Perhaps you’d react to error messages more calmly if they were written as meditative poetry. In February 1998, an online magazine called held a contest to turn each error message into a haiku (a Japanese meditative poem that has 5 syllables on the first line, 7 syllables on the second line, and 5 syllables on the third line). Here are the winning entries (as edited by me).

Missing Web pages                        Starting over

The Web site you seek                            Chaos reigns within.

Cannot be located, but                           Reflect, repent, and reboot.

Countless more exist.                              Order shall return.


You step in the stream,                            Seeing my great fault

But the water has moved on.                   Through darkening blue windows,

This page is not here.                         I begin again.


Site moved, now secret.                         Aborted effort.

We’d tell you where, but then we’d         Close all that you have worked on.

Have to delete you.                                 You ask far too much.


Crashing                                               Login incorrect.

A crash reduces                                      Only perfect spellers may

Your expensive computer                       Enter this system.

To a simple stone.

                                                               Server’s poor response

Serious error.                                          Not quick enough for browser.

All shortcuts have disappeared.              Timed out, plum blossom.

Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

                                                                Errors have occurred.

Yesterday it worked.                               We won’t tell you where or why.

Today it is not working.                         Lazy programmers.

Windows is like that.

                                                               To have no errors

The ten thousand things,                         Would be life without meaning:

How long do any persist?                        No struggle, no joy.

Windows, too, has gone.

                                                               Inadequate hardware

Stay the patient course.                        Printer not ready.

Of little worth is your ire.                        Could be a fatal error.

The network is down.                         Have a pen handy?


Windows NT crashed.                             The Tao that is seen

I am the Blue Screen of Death.           Is not the true Tao — until

No one hears your screams.                    You bring fresh toner.


Lost data                                              No keyboard present.

Three things are certain:                          Hit F1 to continue.

Death, taxes, and lost data.                    Zen engineering?

Guess which has occurred.

                                                               First snow, then silence.

With searching comes loss                      This thousand-dollar screen dies

And the presence of absence:                  So beautifully.

“My Novel” not found.

                                                               Out of memory.

Rather than a beep                                   We wish to hold the whole sky,

Or a rude error message,                         But we never will.

These words: “File not found.”

                                                               I’m sorry, there’s…um…

Having been erased,                            Insufficient…what’s-it-called?

The document you’re seeking                 The term eludes me.

Must now be retyped.

                                                               The code was willing.

A file that’s so big?                                  It considered your request.

It might be very useful.                           But the chips were weak.

But now it is gone.

                                                               You’ve reached a chasm

Everything is gone.                             Of carbon and silicon

Your life’s work has been destroyed.      No software can bridge.

Squeeze trigger (yes/no)?

Here’s who wrote them:

Missing Web pages:   Joy Rothke, Cass Whittington, Charles Matthews

Crashing:                   James Lopez, Ian Hughes, Margaret Segall,

                                 Jason Willoughby, David Ansel, Peter Rothman

Lost data:                  David Dixon, Howard Korder, Len Dvorkin,

                                 Judy Birmingham, David Liszewski, David Carlson

Starting over:             Suzie Wagner, Chirs Walsh, Mike Hagler, Jason Axley,

                                 Rik Jespersen, Charlie Gibbs, Brian Porter

Inadequate hardware:   Pat Davis, Bill Torcaso, Jim Griffith, Simon Firth,

                                 Francis Heaney, Owen Mathews, Barry Brumitt,

                                 Rahul Sonnad

Booting problems

Turning the computer on is called booting. When you turn the computer on, you might immediately experience one of these problems.

Unusual beeping

When you turn the computer on, you’re supposed to hear a single short beep. If you hear unusual beeping (such as several short beeps or a long beep), your computer’s fundamental circuitry isn’t working right.

If you hear many short beeps or a very long beep, your computer is having an electrical problem, so do this:

Turn the computer off immediately. Perhaps the electrical problem was caused by a loose power cord: make sure the power cord is plugged in tight to the back of the computer and to the wall’s outlet (or surge protector), not dangling loose. If the computer got damp recently (from a rainstorm or a spilled drink or dew caused by bringing the computer in from the cold), wait for the computer to dry thoroughly before turning it back on. If you moved the computer recently, perhaps a part got loose in shipment; if you wish, open the computer and make sure nothing major is loose; for example, make sure the PC cards and chips are firmly in their sockets (but before you touch any chips, reduce any static electricity in your fingers by grounding yourself, such as by touching a big metal object or the computer’s power supply while it’s still plugged into a grounded wall socket).

If you hear just a few short beeps or several long beeps or a mix of short and long beeps, your computer is complaining about a defective part. By listening to the computer’s beeps, you can tell which part of the computer is ill. Lists of beep codes are on page 115 of the 30th edition.

Signal missing

If the screen says “signal missing” or “no signal”, the monitor is not receiving any electrical signal from the computer. The monitor is complaining.

Look at the two cables coming out of the monitor’s rear. One of those cables is a power cord that plugs into the wall (or into a surge protector). The other cable is the video cable, which is supposed to plug into the back of the computer, so the computer can send signals to the monitor. Probably, that video cable is loose. Tighten it. To make sure it’s tight, unplug it from the back of the computer and then shove it into the computer’s backside again, firmly.

If tightening the video cable doesn’t solve the problem, maybe the computer is turned off. Make sure the computer is turned on:

If the computer is turned on, lights should be glowing on the front of the computer and on the keyboard, and you should hear the fan inside the computer whir. If you don’t see and hear those things, the computer is turned off. Try turning the computer on, by pressing its On switch or by turning on the surge protector that the computer’s plugged into.

Another possibility is that the video card (which is inside the computer) is loose (because you recently moved the computer) or got fried (from a power surge caused by a thunderstorm) or got damaged (because you were fiddling with the computer’s innards and you caused a shock or short or break). Make sure the video card is in tight; if a tight video card doesn’t solve the problem, borrow a video card from a friend; if that still doesn’t give you any video, maybe your whole motherboard is damaged, so give up and take your computer to a repair shop.

No video

When you turn the computer on, the screen is supposed to show you words, pictures, marks, or at least a cursor (little line). If the screen stays completely black, probably your monitor is getting no electricity or no electrical signals.

Make sure the monitor is turned on. Make sure its two cables (to the power and to the computer’s video card) are both plugged in tight (since they can easily come loose.) Make sure the monitor’s contrast and brightness are turned up (by fiddling with the knobs or buttons on the monitor’s front, back, or sides).

If the monitor has a power-on light, check whether that light is glowing. (If the monitor doesn’t have a power-on light, peek through the monitor’s air vents and check whether anything inside glows). If you don’t see any glow, the monitor isn’t getting any power (because the on-off button is in the wrong position, or the power cable is loose, or the monitor is broken). If the monitor is indeed broken, do not open the monitor, which contains high voltages even when turned off; instead, return the monitor to your dealer.

If you’ve fiddled with the knobs and cables, and the power-on light (or inside light) is glowing but the screen is still blank, boot up the computer again, and look at the screen carefully: maybe a message did flash on the screen quickly?

If a message did appear, fix whatever problem the message talks about. (If the message was too fast for you to read, boot up again and quickly hit the Pause key as soon as the message appears, then press Enter when you finish reading the message.) If the message appears but does not mention a problem, you’re in the middle of a program that has crashed (stopped working), so the fault lies in software mentioned in CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT or COMMAND.COM or some other software involved in booting; to explore further, put into drive A your DOS disk (or Windows emergency recovery start-up boot disk) and reboot.

If absolutely no message appears on the screen during the booting process, so that the screen is entirely blank, check the lights on the computer (maybe the computer is turned off or broken) and recheck the cables that go to the monitor. If you still have no luck, the fault is probably in the video card inside the computer, though it might be on the motherboard or in the middle of the video cable that goes from the video card to the monitor. At this point, before you run out and buy new hardware, try swapping with a friend whose computer has the same kind of video as yours: try swapping monitors, then video cables, then video cards, while making notes about which combinations work, until you finally discover which piece of hardware is causing the failure. Then replace that hardware, and you’re done!


Each modern computer (286, 386, 486, or Pentium) contains CMOS RAM, which tries to remember the date, time, how many megabytes of RAM you’ve bought, how you want the RAM used, what kind of video you bought, and what kind of disk drives you bought. A battery feeds power to the CMOS RAM, so that the CMOS RAM keeps remembering the answers even while the main power switch is off. If the computer says “Invalid configuration specification: run SETUP” (or a similar error message), your computer’s CMOS RAM contains wrong info — probably because the battery died and needs to be replaced or recharged. In most computers, the battery is rechargeable; it recharges itself automatically if you leave the computer turned on for several hours.

To react to the error message, try running the CMOS Setup program, which asks you questions and then stores your answers to the CMOS RAM.

The CMOS Setup program hides in a ROM chip inside your computer and is run when you hit a “special key” during the bootup’s RAM test. That “special key” is usually either the Delete key or the Esc key or the F1 key; to find out what the “special key” is on your computer, read your computer’s manual or ask your dealer.

Once the CMOS Setup program starts running, it asks you lots of questions. For each question, it also shows you what it guesses the answer is. (The computer’s guesses are based on what information the computer was fed before.)

On a sheet of paper, jot down what the computer’s guesses are. That sheet of paper will turn out to be very useful!

Some of those questions are easy to answer (such as the date and time).

A harder question is when the computer asks you to input your hard-drive-type number. If your BIOS chip is modern and your hard drive is modern (IDE), you can make the computer automatically figure out the hard-drive-type number: just choose “auto-detect hard drive” from a menu. Otherwise, you must type the hard-drive-type number, as follows:

The answer is a code number from 1 to 47. If your hard drive is modern (IDE), choose 47 or “user”; if your hard drive is older, you must choose a lower number, which you must get from your dealer. (If your dealer doesn’t know the answer, phone the computer’s manufacturer. If the manufacturer doesn’t know the answer, look inside the computer at the hard drive; stamped on the drive, you’ll see the drive’s manufacturer and model number; then phone the drive’s manufacturer, tell the manufacturer which model number you bought, and ask for the corresponding hard-drive-type number.)

If you say 47 or “user”, the computer will ask you technical questions about your drive. Get the answers from your dealer (or drive’s manufacturer or by looking at what’s stamped on the drive).

If you don’t know how to answer a question and can’t reach your dealer for help, just move ahead to the next question. Leave intact the answer that the computer guessed.

After you’ve finished the questionnaire, the computer will automatically reboot. If the computer gripes again, either you answered the questions wrong or else the battery ran out — so that the computer forgot your answers!

In fact, the most popular reason why the computer asks you to run the CMOS Setup program is that the battery ran out. (The battery usually lasts 1-4 years.)

To solve the problem, first make sure you’ve jotted down the computer’s guesses, then replace the battery, which is usually just to the left of the big power supply inside the computer. If you’re lucky, the “battery” is actually a bunch of four AA flashlight batteries that you can buy in any hardware store. If you’re unlucky, the battery is a round silver disk, made of lithium, like the battery in a digital watch: to get a replacement, see your dealer.

After replacing the battery, run the CMOS Setup program again, and feed it the data that you jotted down.

That’s the procedure. If you’re ambitious, try it. If you’re a beginner, save yourself the agony by just taking the whole computer to your dealer: let the dealer diddle with the CMOS Setup program and batteries for you.

Whenever you upgrade your computer with a better disk drive or video card or extra RAM, you must run the CMOS Setup program again to tell the computer what you bought.

In many computers, the ROM BIOS chip is designed by American Megatrends Inc. (AMI). AMI’s design is called the AMI BIOS (pronounced “Amy buy us”). Here’s how to use the 4/4/93 version of AMI BIOS. (Other versions are similar.)

When you turn the computer on, the screen briefly shows this message:

AMIBIOS (C)1993 American Megatrends Inc.

000000 KB OK

Hit <DEL> if you want to run SETUP

Then the number “000000 KB” increases, as the computer checks your RAM chips. While that number increases, try pressing your keyboard’s Del or Delete key.

That makes the computer run the AMIBIOS CMOS Setup program. The top of the screen will say:


Underneath, you’ll see this main menu:











The first and most popular choice, “STANDARD CMOS SETUP”, is highlighted. Choose it (by pressing Enter).

The computer will warn you by saying:

Improper use of Setup may cause problems!!!

Press Enter again.

The computer will show you the info stored in the CMOS about the date, time, base memory, extended memory, hard drives, floppy drives, video card, and keyboard.

If that stored info is wrong, fix it! Here’s how:

By using the arrow keys on the keyboard, move the white box to the info that you want to fix. (Exception: you can’t move the white box to the “base memory” or “extended memory”.) Then change that info, by pressing the keyboard’s Page Up or Page Down key several times, until the info is what you wish.

When you’ve finished examining and fixing that info, press the Esc key. You’ll see the main menu again.

If you’re having trouble with a modern (IDE) hard drive, choose “AUTO DETECT HARD DISK” from the main menu (by pressing the down-arrow key six times, then pressing Enter). The computer will try to detect what kind of drive C you have, then it will say:

Accept Parameters for C: (Y/N) ?

Press the Y key then Enter. Then the computer will try to detect what kind of drive D you have and say:

Accept Parameters for D: (Y/N) ?

Press Y again then Enter. You’ll see the main menu again.

When you’ve finished using the main menu, you have 2 choices:

If you’re unsure of yourself and wish you hadn’t fiddled with the SETUP program, just turn off the computer’s power! All your fiddling will be ignored, and the computer will act the same as before you fiddled.

On the other hand, if you’re sure of yourself and want the computer to take your fiddling seriously, press the F10 key then Y then Enter. The computer will copy your desires to the CMOS and reboot.

Non-system disk

If the computer says “Non-system disk or disk error”, the computer is having trouble finding the hidden system files. (In modern Windows, the hidden system files are called IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS.)

Those hidden system files are supposed to be on your hard disk. You can get that error message if those hidden system files are missing from your hard disk — because you accidentally erased those files, or a virus erased them, or your hard disk is new and not yet formatted, or when you formatted the disk you forgot to put a check mark in Windows format’s “Copy system files” box).

A more common reason for getting that error message is: you accidentally put a floppy disk into drive A! When the computer boots, it looks at that floppy disk instead of your hard disk, and gripes because it can’t find those system files on your floppy disk.


Remove any disk from drive A. Turn the computer off, wait until the computer quiets down, then turn the computer back on. If the computer still says “Non-system disk or disk error”, find the CD-ROM disk that Windows came on and try again to install Windows onto your hard disk.


If the computer acts slower than before, it’s clogged with too many programs or too much data. Here are six possible reasons:

1.    The hard disk is nearly full.

2.    You have too many programs running in the RAM simultaneously.

3.    Your computer is clogged with adware, spyware, or viruses.

4.    You’ve left the computer on for too many hours, so fragments of programs you ran and abandoned are still in the RAM (because Windows is imperfect at erasing them from RAM).

5.    The computer is in the middle of updating itself (by automatically running Windows Update and other updating software).

6.    The computer is waiting for you to reply to a question, but the question is invisible because it’s hiding behind a window.


Walk away from the computer awhile (in case the cause is #5), then come back and try again. If you’re still having a problem, shut down the computer, then turn it back on; that eliminates cause #6 and usually makes the computer faster (since you’ve eliminated cause #4). If the computer is still too slow, do the software-cleaning procedure (on pages 154-158), which helps eliminate causes #1 and #2. Get programs that protect you (on page 144) to eliminate cause #3.


Windows problems

If you’re using Windows, you might experience the following problems.…

Windows doesn’t finish loading

When the computer starts going into Windows, if the Windows logo & clouds appear on screen but never go away (so the computer seems stuck and you never see the Start button or icons), the computer is encountering a software conflict. Cure for Windows XP:

Turn the computer’s power off. Go into safe mode, by following the instructions in page 156’s second box. Finish the software-cleaning procedure, by reading from that box up through page 158.

Useless password request

When the computer starts going into Windows, if the computer unexpectedly asks you for a password, you probably told the computer you’re on a network (which requests passwords) or your computer is being shared by several people.

If you don’t know any password, press Enter or the Esc key.

To prevent the computer from asking for passwords, follow the Windows XP procedure to “Remove unwanted networking” (on page 157-158). If that doesn’t get rid of the password requests, look in the Control Panel window, then click “User Accounts”.

Illegal operation

If the computer says “This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down”, a program is trying to use a RAM section it’s not allowed to. That RAM section is being used by a different program, with which your program is having a memory conflict. Cure:

Press Enter. Then do the software-cleaning procedure (on pages 154-158), which makes memory conflicts less likely to occur.

Start button in wrong corner

The Start button is supposed to be in the screen’s bottom left corner. If your Start button is in a different corner, you accidentally moved the Start button.

To move the Start button back, just “drag the taskbar to where you want it.” Here’s how:

One corner of your screen contains the Start button. Another corner contains the time. Running from the Start button to the time is a bar called the taskbar (which is blue in Windows XP & 7, gray in Windows Vista).

Point at the taskbar’s middle, in a blank area where there are no buttons. While pressing the mouse’s left button, drag to where you want the taskbar’s middle to go: the middle of the screen’s bottom. When you start dragging, you won’t see the taskbar move yet; but if you drag the mouse pointer far enough, eventually the taskbar will hop. Then take your finger off the mouse’s button.

Start button missing

If the Start button is missing and so is the time (although the rest of the screen looks normal), you accidentally shrunk them.

The Start button and time are part of a bar, called the taskbar (which is blue in Windows XP & 7, gray in Windows Vista). The taskbar is supposed to stretch across the bottom of the screen and be about half an inch tall. You accidentally shrunk the taskbar.

To solve the problem, first close all windows (by clicking their X buttons).

If doing that makes the taskbar reappear, your problem is just that you accidentally set your taskbar to “Auto hide”. Stop hiding the taskbar, by doing this:

Right-click “Start”, then click “Properties” then “Taskbar”.

Remove any check mark from “Auto hide” (by clicking).

Click “OK”.

If closing all windows does not make the taskbar reappear, look at the screen’s bottom.

If you see a gray (or light blue) line running across the screen’s bottom, that line is your shrunken taskbar; make it taller by doing this:

Point at that line’s top edge, so the mouse pointer becomes a black arrow (which has white edges and points upward). When pressing the mouse’s left button, drag up about half an inch. Suddenly there, you’ll see a gray (or red or yellow) line (or blue bar) stretch across the screen. Then take your finger off the mouse’s button.

Icons missing

If some icons are missing from the desktop screen (the main screen), they’re probably just hiding behind other icons or past the screen’s edge. To see them again, do this:

Close any windows (by clicking their X buttons). Right-click in the screen’s middle, where there is nothing.

For Windows Vista, click “Sort By”; for Windows XP, click “Arrange Icons By”.

Click “Name”.

If that doesn’t make the icons reappear, the icons might be in the Recycle Bin, so do this:

Double-click the “Recycle Bin” icon. If the Recycle Bin window shows one of the missing icons, right-click that icon then click “Restore”.

Dialog box too big

For the screen’s resolution, you can choose “800 by 600” or “1024 by 768”, by using a settings dialog box. If the settings dialog box is too big to fit on the screen (so the box’s “OK” button hides below the screen’s bottom), the computer is confused about what resolution you want. Instead of trying to click “OK”, press Enter. If pressing Enter doesn’t work, do this:

Close the dialog box (by clicking its X button), then recreate the dialog box again, then choose a resolution again, then try pressing Enter again.

Resolution refuses to increase

If the computer refuses to let you choose more than “800 by 600” resolution, it’s because the computer thinks your video card doesn’t have enough RAM to handle such a high resolution.

Yes, the computer thinks your video card is inadequate or damaged!

But if your video card was working fine yesterday, the most likely “damage” is just that the video-driver software got corrupted. Here’s the cure.…

If you’re using Windows7, do this:

Click Start then “Computer” then “System properties” then “Device Manager”. Click the triangle that’s left of “Display adapters”.

If you’re using Windows Vista, do this:

Click Start then “Computer” then “System properties” then “Device Manager” then “Continue”. Click the plus sign that’s left of “Display adapters”.

If you’re using Windows XP, do this:

Click “start” then “My Computer” then “View system information” then “Hardware” then “Device Manager”. Click the plus sign that’s left of “Display adapters”.

Indented underneath “Display adapters” you see the name of the video card that the computer thinks you have. Click that name. Press the Delete key.

The computer will warn you that you’re going to uninstall that video-driver software. Though that warning looks scary, be brave and press Enter (because your computer secretly has an extra copy of that video-driver software).

Then just follow the instructions on the screen. The computer will recommend rebooting; let it. While the computer is rebooting, it will begin by thinking you have no video card, but then it will get surprised when it finds video-card hardware, and it will reinstall that video card, using a copy of the video-driver software that’s still hiding on the computer. (When the computer asks where the video-driver software is, tell the computer to look just on the hard disk, not on a CD.)

The computer will find the video-driver software and finish booting. The screen’s colors will look slightly better. To make the screen look exactly the way you wish, go to the display-settings dialog box again doing this:

Right-click any blank space in the screen’s middle.

For Windows Vista, click “Personalize” then “Display Settings”; for Windows XP, click “Properties” then “Settings”.

Then choose as many colors and as high a resolution as you wish. This time, your request will be obeyed!


Mouse problems

Mice can cause problems.

Mouse pointer lurches

When you move the mouse, the mouse pointer (on the screen) is supposed to move also. If the mouse pointer lurches erratically (sometimes going fast, sometimes going too slow or not at all) or moves in just one direction (just horizontally, or just vertically, but not both), the mouse is dirty. Clean it by using the procedure on page 153; then the mouse will probably work well.

If the mouse doesn’t work well yet, try this experiment:

Take the ball out again. Rub your finger against the X and Y mouse rollers, and see if the mouse pointer moves also. If the mouse pointer works fine using your fingers but not by using the ball, the ball isn’t touching the rollers, probably because the ball’s cover isn’t locking the ball into the proper position. Reposition the ball and its cover.

If the mouse still doesn’t work well, just buy a new mouse. You can buy a plain mouse for about $10.

Mouse pointer hard to see

While moving the mouse fast, you might have difficulty seeing where the mouse pointer went, because the mouse pointer seems to become temporarily invisible.

That means your screen, video card, or eyes are too slow to keep up with you. That’s probably because you’re using a notebook computer that has the slowest kind of screen (passive-matrix). It could also be because your eyesight is poor or you’re a beginner who feels lost. Like a magician, your hand is quicker than the eye or your screen.

To make the mouse pointer easier to see, create long “pointer trails” (by following the procedure on page 100) or buy a bigger monitor or a better notebook computer (having an active-matrix screen, which is faster than a passive screen).

Dead mouse

If nothing happens on screen when you move the mouse, try these strategies.…:

Perhaps you’re just in the middle of a routine that doesn’t use the mouse. Try these ways to get out of a routine:

Press the Esc key twice (which might exit from a routine).

If the mouse doesn’t work yet, press Ctrl with C.

If the mouse doesn’t work yet, press the Alt key.

If the mouse doesn’t work yet, press the Alt key again.

If the mouse still doesn’t work yet, maybe the task you’ve been performing has crashed, so end that task by doing this:

While holding down the Ctrl and Alt keys, tap the Delete key. (If you’re using modern Windows, then press Enter.)

If the mouse still doesn’t work, maybe the mouse’s cord is loose (tighten it!) or the mouse is dirty (clean it by following the procedure for “mouse pointer lurches”) or it’s a wireless mouse whose battery died (open the mouse and replace the battery) or the computer forgot what kind of mouse you have (reinstall the mouse-driver software that came with your mouse, or reinstall Windows) or just buy a new mouse.



Keyboard problems

Your keyboard might seem broken. Here’s what to do.

Wet keyboard

If your keyboard got wet (because you spilled water, coffee, soda, or some other drink), turn the computer off immediately (because water can cause a short circuit that can shock & burn the keyboard and computer and you). Unplug the keyboard from the computer.

Turn the keyboard upside-down for a few minutes, in the hope that some of the liquid drips out. Then let the keyboard rest a few hours, until the remaining liquid in it dries.

Try again to use the keyboard. It will probably work fine. If the keyboard doesn’t work yet, do this:

Unplug the keyboard again. Submerge and wash the keyboard in warm water (you can even put the keyboard into a dishwasher!) but use no soap. Dry off the keyboard. Wait a day for the keyboard to dry thoroughly. If still no luck, the keyboard has been permanently damaged, so buy another.

Dead keyboard

If pressing the keyboard’s letters has no effect, either the keyboard is improperly hooked up or the computer is overheating or you’re running a frustrated program (which is ignoring what you type or waiting until a special event happens). For example, the program might be waiting for the printer to print, or the disk drive to manipulate a file, or the CPU to finish a computation, or your finger to hit a special key or give a special command.

Try getting out of any program you’ve been running. Here’s how:

Press the Esc key (which might let you escape from the program) or the F1 key (which might display a helpful message) or Enter (which might move on to the next screenful of info) or Ctrl with C (which might abort the program) or Ctrl with Break. If the screen is unchanged and the computer still ignores your typing, reboot the computer; then watch the screen for error messages such as “301” (which means a defective keyboard), “201” (which means defective RAM chips), or “1701” (which means a defective hard drive).

If the keyboard seems to be “defective”, it might just be unplugged from the computer. Make sure the cable from the keyboard is plugged tightly into the computer. To make sure it’s tight, unplug it and then plug it back in again.

If fiddling with the cable doesn’t solve your problem, reboot the computer and see what happens. Maybe you’ll get lucky.

Maybe some part of the computer is overheating. Here’s how to find out:

Turn the computer off. Leave it off for at least an hour, so it cools down.

Then turn the computer back on. Try to get to a C prompt.

After the C prompt, type a letter (such as x) and notice whether the x appears on the screen.

If the x appears, don’t bother pressing the Enter key afterwards. Instead, walk away from the computer for two hours — leave the computer turned on — then come back two hours later and try typing another letter (such as y). If the y doesn’t appear, you know that the computer “died” sometime after you typed x but before you typed y. Since during that time the computer was just sitting there doing nothing except being turned on and getting warmer, you know the problem was caused by overheating: some part inside the computer is failing as the internal temperature rises. That part could be a RAM chip, BIOS chip, or otherwise.

Since that part isn’t tolerant enough of heat, it must be replaced: take the computer in for repair.


That kind of test — where you leave the computer on for several hours to see what happens as the computer warms up — is called letting the computer cook.

During the cooking, if smoke comes out of one of the computer’s parts, that part is said to have fried. That same applies to humans: when a programmer’s been working hard on a project for many hours and become too exhausted to think straight, the programmer says, “I’m burnt out. My brain is fried.” Common solutions are sleep and pizza (“getting some z’s & ’za”).

When computers are manufactured, the last step in the assembly line is to leave the computer turned on a long time, to let the computer cook and make sure it still works when hot. A top-notch manufacturer leaves the computer on for 2 days (48 hours) or even 3 days (72 hours), while continually testing the computer to make sure no parts fail. That part of the assembly line is called burning in the computer; many top-notch manufacturers do 72-hour burn in.

Sluggish key

After pressing one a keys, if the key doesn’t pop back up fast enough, probably there’s dirt under the key. The “dirt” is probably dust or coagulated drinks (such as Coke or coffee).

If many keys are sluggish, don’t bother trying to fix them all. Just buy a new keyboard (for about $20).

If just one or two keys are sluggish, here’s how to try fixing a sluggish key:

Take a paper clip, partly unravel it so it becomes a hook, then use that hook to pry up the key, until the keycap pops off. Clean the part of the keyboard that was under that keycap: blow away the dust, and wipe away grime (such as coagulated drinks). With the keycap still off, turn on the computer, and try pressing the plunger that was under the keycap. If the plunger is still sluggish, you haven’t cleaned it enough. (Don’t try too hard: remember that a new keyboard costs just about $20.) When the plunger works fine, turn off the computer, put the keycap back on, and the key should work fine.


While you’re typing, if each capital letter unexpectedly becomes small, and each small letter becomes capitalized, the Shift key or Caps Lock key is activated.

The culprit is usually the Caps Lock key. Probably you pressed it accidentally when you meant to press a nearby key instead. The Caps Lock key stays activated until you deactivate it by pressing it again.


Press the Caps Lock key (again), then try typing some more, to see whether the problem has gone away.

If your keyboard is modern, its top right corner has a Caps Lock light. That light glows when the Caps Lock key is activated; the light stops glowing when the Caps Lock key is deactivated.

If pressing the Caps Lock key doesn’t solve the problem, try jiggling the left and right Shift keys. (Maybe one of those Shift keys was accidentally stuck in the down position, because you spilled some soda that got into the keyboard and coagulated and made the Shift key too sticky to pop all the way back up.)

If playing with the Caps Lock and Shift keys doesn’t immediately solve your problem, try typing a comma and notice what happens. If the screen shows the symbol “<” instead of a comma, your Shift key is activated. (The Caps Lock key has no effect on the comma key, since the Caps Lock key affects just letters, not punctuation.) If pressing the comma key makes the screen show a comma, your Shift key is not activated, and any problems you have must therefore be caused by the Caps Lock key instead.

Perhaps the Caps Lock key is being activated automatically by the program you’re using. (For example, some programs automatically activate the Caps Lock key because they want your input to be capitalized.) To find out, exit from the program, reboot the computer, get to a C prompt (in DOS) or WordPad (in modern Windows), and try again to type. If the typing is displayed fine, the “problem” was probably caused by just the program you were using — perhaps on purpose.

Printer problems

If you have trouble printing, try the following experiment. Shut down the computer and the printer (so you can start fresh). When the computer’s become quiet, turn it back on; then turn the printer back on.

Go into WordPad (by clicking Start then “All Programs” then “Accessories” then “WordPad”). Type a document that contains three words (such as “I love you”) and also the word “abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz”. Print that document by doing this:

For Windows XP & Vista, click “File”. For Windows 7, click the WordPad button (which is left of “Home”).

Make sure your printer’s name is highlighted. (If it’s not, highlight it.)

Click the “Print” button.

If the computer prints that document okay, all your hardware is okay. Any remaining problem is probably just software: for example, you forgot to tell your program or Windows what kind of printer you bought, or you told it incorrectly.

If the computer does not print that document okay, you’re probably having a hardware problem (in your printer, your computer, or the cable connecting them); for example, make sure the cable connecting them is plugged in tight at both ends, and the printer is turned on and has enough paper & ink, correctly inserted.

Here’s another possible reason for failure: you have a messed-up printer queue (your hard disk’s list of documents waiting to be printed) because an earlier document was too complicated to fit in the printer’s RAM. To solve that problem, empty the printer queue by doing this:

Double-click the printer icon (which is at the screen’s bottom, left of the time). You see the printer queue’s window, which shows a list of documents waiting to be printed. Click “Printer” then “Cancel All Documents”. Press Enter. Wait until the list of documents is empty. Close the printer queue’s window (by clicking its X).

Here’s info about special printer problems.…

Incomplete characters

When you look at the printed paper, you might see that part of each character is missing. For example, for the letter “A” you see just the top part of the “A”, or just the bottom part, or everything except the middle. That means you’re using an ink-jet or dot-matrix printer, and some of the ink jets or pins aren’t successfully putting ink onto the paper.

If you’re using an inkjet printer, probably one of the jets is clogged and needs to be cleaned.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to test and clean the ink jets. If cleaning doesn’t solve the problem, try buying a new ink cartridge.

If you’re using a dot-matrix printer and the bottom part of each character is missing, your ribbon is too high, so that the bottom pins miss hitting it.

Push the ribbon down lower. Read the instructions that came with your printer and ribbon, to find out the correct way to thread the ribbon through your printer. If you’re using a daisy-wheel printer, also check whether the daisy-wheel is inserted correctly: try removing it and then reinserting it.

If you’re using a dot-matrix printer and some other part of each character is missing, probably a pin broke or is stuck.

Look at the print head, where the pins are. See if one of the pins is missing or broken. If so, consider buying a new print head, but beware: since print heads are not available from discount dealers, you must pay full list price for the print head, and pay almost as much for it as discount dealers charge for a whole new printer!

Substitute characters

When you tell the printer to print a word, the printer might print the correct number of characters but print wrong letters of the alphabet. For example, instead of printing an “A”, the printer might print a “B” or “C”.

That’s probably because the cable going from the computer to the printer is loose, so do this:

Turn off the printer. Grab the cable that goes from the computer to the printer, unplug both ends of the cable, then plug both ends in again tightly. Try again to print. If you succeed, the cable was just loose: congratulations, you tightened it!

If tightening the cable does not solve the problem, the cable is probably defective.

To prove it’s defective, borrow a cable from a friend and try again. If your friend’s cable works with your computer and printer, your original cable was definitely the culprit.

Once you’ve convinced yourself that the problem is the cable, go to a store and buy a new cable. It’s cheaper to buy a new cable than to fix the old one. Make sure you buy the right kind: your printer might require an IEEE 1284 cable.

If the new cable doesn’t solve your problem, try a third cable, since many cables are defective!

If buying a new cable doesn’t solve your problem, you have defective circuitry in your printer or in your computer’s parallel-printer port.

Get together with a friend and try swapping printers, computers, and cables: make notes about which combinations work and which don’t. You’ll soon discover which computers, cables, and printers work correctly and which ones are defective.

Extra characters

When using a program (such as a word-processing program), the printer might print a few extra characters at the top of each page.

Those extra characters are special codes that the printer should not print. Those codes are supposed to tell the printer how to print. Your printer is misinterpreting those codes, because those codes were intended for a different kind of printer — or your printer cable is loose.

First, make sure the printer cable is tight.

Then try again to tell your software which printer you bought, by doing this:

Windows 7 Click Start then “Devices and Printers” then “Add a printer”.

Windows Vista Click Start then “Control Panel” then “Control Panel Home” then “Printer” then “Add a printer”.

Windows XP Click Start then “Control Panel” then “Printers and Other Hardware” then “Add a printer”.

Then follow the prompts on the screen.

Misaligned columns

When printing a table of numbers or words, the columns might wiggle: some of the words and numbers might be printed slightly too far left or right, even though they looked perfectly aligned on the screen.

That’s because you’re trying to print by using a proportionally spaced font that doesn’t match the screen’s font.

The simplest way to solve the problem is to switch to a monospaced font, such as Courier New or Lucida Console.

Since those fonts are monospaced (each character is the same width as every other character), there are no surprises. To switch fonts while using Windows, use your mouse: drag across all the text whose font you wish to switch, then say which font you wish to switch to.

Unfortunately, monospaced fonts are ugly. If you insist on using proportionally spaced fonts, which are prettier, remember that when moving from column to column you should
press the Tab key, not the Space bar.

In proportionally spaced fonts, the Space bar creates a printed space that’s too narrow: it’s narrower than the space created by the typical digit or letter.

If the Tab key doesn’t make the columns your favorite width, customize how the Tab key works by adjusting the Tab stops. (In most word-processing programs, you adjust the Tab stops by sliding them on the layout ruler.)


On a sheet of paper, all the printing might be too far to the left, or too far to the right, or too far up, or too far down. That shows you forgot to tell the computer about the paper’s size, margins, and feed, or you misfed the paper into the printer.

Software makes assumptions:

Most computer software assumes the paper is 11 inches tall and 8½ inches wide (or slightly wider, if the paper has holes in its sides). The software also assumes you want 1-inch margins on all four sides (top, bottom, left, and right).

If you told the software you have a dot-matrix printer, the software usually assumes you’re using pin-feed paper (which has holes in the side); it’s also called continuous-feed paper. For ink-jet and laser printers, the software typically assumes you’re using friction-feed paper instead (which has no holes).

If those assumptions are not correct, tell the software. For example, give a “margin”, “page size”, or “feed” command to your word-processing software.

If you make a mistake about how tall the sheet of paper is, the computer will try to print too many or too few lines per page. The result is creep: on the first page, the printing begins correctly; but on the second page the printing is slightly too low or too high, and on the third page the printing is even more off.

To solve a creep problem, revise slightly what you tell the software about how tall the sheet of paper is. For example, if the printing is fine on the first page but an inch too low on the second page, tell the software that each sheet of paper is an inch shorter.

On pin-feed paper, the printer can print all the way from the very top of the paper to the very bottom. On friction-feed paper, the printer cannot print at the sheet’s very top or very bottom (since the rollers can’t grab the paper securely enough while printing there). So on friction-feed paper, the printable area is smaller, as if the paper were shorter. Telling the software wrong info about feed has the same effect as telling the software wrong info about the paper’s height: you get creep.

So to fix creep, revise what you tell the software about the paper’s height or feed. If the software doesn’t let you talk about the paper’s feed, kill the creep by revising what you say about the paper’s height.

If you’re using a dot-matrix printer that can handle both kinds of paper (pin-feed and friction-feed), you’ll solve most creep problems by choosing pin-feed paper.

If all printing is too far to the left (or right), adjust what you tell the software about the left and right margins; or if you’re using pin-feed paper in a dot-matrix printer with movable tractors, slide the tractors to the left or right (after loosening them by flipping their levers). For example, if the printing is an inch too far to the right, slide the tractors an inch toward the right.








No sound

If you don’t hear sounds (such as beeps and music), the problem could be caused by hardware or software.

Make sure the speakers are plugged into the computer. Make sure they’re plugged into the computer’s speaker jack tightly, not the microphone jack. If the speakers contain batteries, make sure the batteries are working. If the speakers need to be plugged into a wall socket or power strip, make sure they are. If the speakers have an ON button, make sure it’s in the ON position.

Make sure all volume knobs are turned up:

There’s probably a volume knob on the front of the speakers. On the back of the computer, where the speakers plug into the computer, you might find a volume dial.

If you’re still not hearing sounds, do software cleaning (by following pages 154-158), which reduces memory conflicts, because when the computer faces a memory conflict it gives up trying to produce sounds.

At the screen’s bottom right corner, next to the time, you might find a Volume icon (which looks like a blaring loudspeaker). If so, do this:

Click the Volume icon. You see a Mute box; make sure it’s unchecked. You see a slider; drag it up to the top. Try clicking the slider; you should hear a bell sound, at the volume level you requested.

For Windows XP, try this also.… Click “start” then “All Programs” then “Accessories” then “Entertainment” then “Volume Control”. You’ll see many sliders. Make sure each volume slider is dragged to the top, make sure each balance slider is centered, and make sure each Mute box is unchecked. Then close the window (by clicking its X button).

Click “Start” then “Settings” then “Control Panel”. Double-click “Sounds”. Make sure the Schemes box says “Windows Default”. (If it doesn’t, click that box’s down-arrow, then choose “Windows Default” from the list.) Then do this test:

In the big white box, scroll down to “Start Windows”. Make sure the Name box says “The Microsoft Sound”. Make sure the Preview box has a loudspeaker in it, instead of being blank. Make sure the triangle to its right is black, instead of being grayed out. If the Preview box is empty and the triangle is grayed out, the computer thinks you have no sound card. If you’re lucky, and the triangle is black, click it: you should hear a long loud chord, accompanied by a background of synthesized outer-space new-age sounds. If you don’t hear that chord, the computer thinks everything is fine, but everything isn’t.

If you’re still not having any luck, you can try having Windows redetect your hardware (click “Start” then “Settings” then “Control Panel” then double-click “Add New Hardware” then press Enter), but that’s typically useless. An approach that’s slightly more likely to succeed, if you have the patience, is to reinstall Windows. Phone me at 603-666-6644 if you want further help.










CD drive

If the CD drive stops working, the cause is probably dust, bad disks, a loose cable, or CD driver software.

First, get rid of dust. Dust off the disks and tray. Take a deep breath and blow air into the CD drive, but avoid spit. If you wish, buy a CD head cleaner at Radio Shack; it’s a fake CD-ROM disk that has brushes on it, to brush dust off the CD lens.

If a CD has scratches on it, that disk might be damaged and never work. Try other disks instead.

If you’re using a “homemade” CD-R or CD-RW disk created on another computer, the signals on that disk might be too weak to be detected by an old CD drive. Try disks created in other ways instead, or try using a different CD drive.

Open the computer and check the cable that runs out of the CD drive. Probably one end of that cable is loose and flimsy. Try to plug it in more snugly.

If you’re using modern Windows and your screen’s four corners say “Safe mode”, you can’t use the CD drive while your computer is in that mode: you must shut down the computer and restart in “Normal mode”.