By Jon McDonald

It will happen to you sooner or later — if not already. Your PC becomes

hopelessly locked up refusing to respond to your keyboard or mouse

commands. Now your stumped. The salesman mentioned nothing about this.

And, the manuals you received with the computer don’t say anything about

it either. What are you supposed to do in a situation like this?

Don’t try calling technical support. Even if you do get through you’ll

end up being on hold for ages. Besides, most PC manufacturers and

retailers are starting to charge you for online support. Check the

company’s Web site? How are you going to do that when your PC is out for

the count? (Like calling the phone company when the phone is out. This

is cool!)

By the way, Mr. Gates, what does “Explorer found an error in wxyzx85.dll

and will be shut down” mean anyway? The guy who comes up with a computer

operating system that actually tells you what is going on inside the box

when you run into trouble will clean Mr. Gate’s clock real good. I mean,

you guys can’t figure out why you can’t sell more PCs? Sheesh! Give me a

break. Well, other than the “will be shut down” part. I understand that.

It means that all the work I have just done in the last hour is down the

tubes. I’m screwed. Even if I get the thing working again I can look

forward to another hour of getting my work back into the stupid machine.

Oh yea! That part I get real good!

Getting back to our problem, though, what exactly can a person do when

he runs into this problem. (And, you will, believe me.)

First thing to remember: Most programs today have an “AUTOSAVE” feature,

which means the program will automatically save your work to disk while

you’re working on it. You can set the amount of time that expires

between saves. Look for this feature on any programs you use and be sure

to enable it. If you can, set the time interval for 5 minutes or so.

That way when something goes goofy with your system you don’t loose any

more than a few minutes work. This alone could save your butt in the


Is your computer “busy?” If your PC stops responding to your input just

stop for a few seconds and check things out. Look on the machine’s front

panel. Most have a small light that illuminates when the hard disk is

working. (It should be labeled “HDD” or something like that.) Sometimes

the computer is busy reading or writing to the disk and will return to

your commands when it’s finished. Which is another good reason to just

keep your hands off the mouse and keyboard. If you start blindly

clicking away at buttons, or typing on the keyboard, the computer will

execute whatever you have done in the order in which you did it. Next

thing you know, you’re really in a mess. Just hang on a few seconds

until the computer catches up.

If your PC doesn’t have a HDD light on the panel, you might also listen

for disk activity. Most hard disks are far from being silent while their

operating. If you hear clicking noises coming from the box, it’s more

than likely the hard disk thrashing about. (If you hear a grinding

noise, forget about doing anything. The disk is toast.)


You can do a little test on your computer to see if it’s going to

respond. Try getting its attention by pressing the “escape” key a few

times. It’s located at the top left of your keyboard. If you still don’t

have the machine’s attention, try holding down the “alt” key and

pressing the “Esc” key once or twice. (You can also try “ctrl” and


Some programs will respond to the “break” key located in the upper right

of your keyboard. If not, try holding down the “ctrl” key and then

pressing “break”.

This is beginning to sound like an act of desperation but, all these key

combinations are intended to get the machine’s attention so you can get

back to the main task you now have – – saving your work before the crash

becomes fatal and you loose what you have done forever.

Many years ago I knew a guy who raised and trained horses on a small

farm he owned. I remember his remarks concerning the intelligence of

these animals which, according to him, was quite limited. He sometimes

had trouble getting his horses to pay attention and, discovered a novel

way of making them take note of what was going on. He bopped them in the

forehead with a board. He swore that it worked every time. (This was a

long time ago — before animal “rights” and such.)

That’s what these keys do. They hit your computer over the head to get

its attention and stop whatever it is doing. (I hope I don’t offend any

“computer rights” people out there. I wonder if computers — or horses

for that matter — are aware that they are computers, or horses, or


Admit Defeat

Dumb thing still won’t respond to your commands? Well, I hate to tell

you this pal, but your computer has experienced what is commonly known

as a “crash”. It’s hopelessly confused and unable to cope.

The key combinations mentioned earlier are your safety net of sorts. If

the machine would have come back to life after trying any of those, you

would have been able to save your work. Now, I’m afraid, you’re going to

have to re-boot the computer — which means you will loose any work you

have not saved to disk. You’ve experienced a disaster. Now you must

re-group and start over.

PCs running OS/2, Windows 95/NT, and Macs all have a shutdown menu item

you must select before you shut the computer off. These are to prevent

any stray files from getting mixed up on your hard disk and causing

problems later on. Windows 3.1 asks you to exit Windows before you shut

down. DOS doesn’t have a shut down function.

Run the proper shutdown function if you can. If not, you’re going to

need to do one of three things:

Do the “three finger salute” by pressing and holding down both the

“ctrl” and the “alt” keys — and at the same time, pressing the “delete”

key. (Mac users press “alt”, “command”, and “delete”.) This performs

what is called a “warm boot”. The computer will reboot from the very

beginning and start over. Anything you had in RAM that you were working

on is dumped — lost — gone — forever. You will need to do the work

over again.

Or, press the “reset” button if you have one on the front panel of your

computer’s main box. This will essentially do the same thing as


Or, shut the dumb thing off by pressing the on-off switch on the front

panel to the off position. Leave it off for 10 or so seconds before

switching it back on.

Either of these three will usually clear up any errant behavior from

your computer. Usually, but not always. Sometimes you can experience the

same sort of problem later on. In instances like this it’s a good idea

to note what programs you had running at the time the problem cropped

up. You may need this information later on. Here’s why.

If the problem persists using the same programs over and over it’s a

good indication one or more files related to those programs are corrupt.

(Really messed up.) The corrupt file is probably stored on you hard disk

and loads every time you run the program(s) associated with it.

The only solution — re- install the offending software or maybe even

the entire operating system. Operating systems like Windows 95/NT make

un-installing and re-installing software, as well as Windows 95 itself,

fairly easy. You can’t just go to the folders where the program files

are stored and delete them. You won’t get them all. Most programs

installed under Windows 3.1 or Windows 95/NT also place other files

right in with the operating system itself. (That’s what those DLL files

are.) And, unless you understand what these files are it’s all but

impossible to root them out among the hundreds that are there.

The un-install utility that Windows 95 comes with is a great help in

getting these files outa there. Be warned, though, it’s not fool proof!

Read on and you’ll see what I mean. To properly remove installed

software under Windows 95 you must use the Add/Remove Software utility.

You’ll find it in Control Panel.

To totally get rid of all the old stuff, select the “Remove Programs”

and click on the name of the program you wish to have dumped. Windows 95

will do the rest — or so you’re lead to believe. Sometimes a dialog box

will pop up warning you that deleting a file will affect other programs

in your system. BELIEVE IT!

I know this from personal experience. I’ve had to re-load lots of stuff

because I figured Windows was smart enough to know what it was doing.

WRONG! Be careful here. If Windows questions you about a file to remove

play it safe for now and let it ride. Chances are you will get rid of

the offending file by overwriting it when you re-install the program.

The alternative is that you may end up having to re-install Windows

itself — a time consuming task to say the least.

After you zap the program using the Windows Add/Remove Programs utility

you’re ready to re-install the program. Just follow the directions for

installation as if you were putting the program in for the first time.

(You did save the documentation that came with the program, didn’t you?)

Re-boot your computer after the installation is complete and try out the

offending program again under the same conditions that caused the crash.

If everything is working as it should, you solved the problem. If not,

you may need to go back and re-install Windows again do dump the

offending file(s). That’s it. Your PC should now be working like a fine

Swiss watch — ticking away merrily.

Jon McDonald is a freelance Computer consultant based in Venice.

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