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The Warning Messages

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

Every week I listen to several tech-oriented podcasts via the Internet, and recently one of these took me on a trip down memory lane. When I was a teenager, my sister Margaret used the family station wagon for her move into a college dorm a few hours away. At home a frantic phone call alerted us to the news that she had broken down and was stranded on the side of the road. My dad and I organized a rescue mission and when we arrived on site, the exchange went like this:

Dad: “What happened?”

Marg: “It just stopped.”

Dad: “Didn’t you see the HOT warning light?”

Marg: “Yes, I was going to tell you about that after I got back home tomorrow.”

Dad: “Didn’t you see a big cloud of steam coming from under the hood?”

Marg: “But it stopped steaming after I drove a few more miles!”

Suffice it to say that it steamed my dad who realized that Marg had ignored all the warnings and continued driving until the car’s engine was utterly destroyed. In so doing she had turned what could have been a minor repair job into a very expensive engine replacement.

What brought that story to mind was listening to the tech podcast and its host relating how his secretary’s computer had been displaying a warning message (paraphrasing): “Hard disk failure imminent!” Because the message permitted the secretary to “Press any key to continue,” that is what she did, and she mentioned the warning to nobody until the hard disk did crash. Working for a software company, the secretary should have known better but she just did what comes naturally. She ignored all the warnings.

This is something I see on a regular basis, most recently with a client whose email program had crashed. When I asked had he not seen a warning message, his response was, “Oh yeah, that’s been there for the last nine months.” By ignoring that warning he also turned what could have been a quick fix into a much more expensive repair bill.

Clearly, it is simply a characteristic of human nature that people choose to postpone taking action to fix problems until it is forced upon them. Knowing this, one intelligent thing governments have done is to mandate vehicle safety inspections. Before it may be driven on the road, every vehicle is supposed to be inspected to verify it is safe, and this serves at least two purposes. Obviously, it puts vehicle owners in the position of having to make any safety-related repairs they might otherwise continue to postpone, and the act of having a mechanic look at the car can spot problems the owner did not realize they even had.

Today’s personal computers are amazingly fault-tolerant and can function for years without the need for servicing. Knowing this, most users fail to consider that it is often possible to avoid problems or extend the life of their systems through periodic check-ups by a qualified professional. Yet another fact of human nature is that most people truly believe “It won’t happen to me.” It is definitely possible to reduce the likelihood of “it” happening by paying attention to warning messages and having a professional look at your system from time to time.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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