Fatal exception

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November 19, 2002 // UPDATED 1:33 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

When the attraction between you and your computer becomes repulsion, and there's no one to mend the relationship

My computer has been talking to me. Every time I boot it up, it sends me a message: "You have an unhandled exception c0000005 at address 1000016b8."

Every time I see that message, I play the computer version of Russian roulette-- clicking the OK button without having a clue whether I'm about to blow up my computer. So far nothing has happened -- except my computer sends me a second message:

"PromulGate Universal has encountered a problem and needs to close.

We are sorry for the inconvenience. If you were in the middle of something, the information you were working on might be lost."

Every single time I boot up. After two weeks, I was ready to get rid of those pesky messages.

Unfortunately, no one I contacted knew what the messages meant. Not my friends at Geek Squad, and not the 24/7 phone tech support at the PC Crisis help line. Their advice was the one thing I'd been trying to avoid like the plague -- call Microsoft.

From Butler Square to the Wells Fargo Tower, small firms and independent consultants face similar technical dilemmas every day. I call it the "life-without-Alyssa syndrome." Alyssa was the IT person in my former agency. When I had Alyssa, I would just pick up the phone, tell her the problem, and in seconds, she was in my office.

Life was good with Alyssa. Life is a pain in the butt without her.

"When I worked in a large organization, I felt like I was attached at the hip to our help desk. Within the first month of working for myself, my computer got a virus. I did some research on the Internet and bought an anti-virus package, but I was never sure I loaded it properly. Turns out, I didn't," said Joan.

A virus was lying dormant in her computer for over six months. It was only after Joan broke down and hired an IT specialist that the potentially computer- crushing virus was finally eradicated.

"He cleaned up the hard drive, showed me how to do defragmentation and told me to do that once a week."

"And you do that?" I asked, not having any idea what defragmentation entails.

"Not really," admitted Joan.

According to the Geek Squad's "Special Agent" Shaw, viruses are the number one reason people bring their computers in for repair. Another major reason --"People don't take the time to do basic maintenance on their computers," said Shaw.

It's interesting. People will take their cars in for tune-ups, oil changes or tire rotations. But no one I know takes a computer in...unless it's not working.

The computer industry encourages this behavior. It's positioning itself like electronic disposable diapers. Use it for a year and change it. As Special Agent Shaw said, "You don't buy a computer for the future, you buy it for the present. When a computer costs $700, it's not cost prohibitive to replace or upgrade it every two years."

Seeing that my computer is only 10 months old, I wasn't prepared to live with my unhandled exception message for the next 14 months. So, 96 minutes and $35 later, my unhandled exception message was handled. Turns out I had 40 programs running in my start-up folder when you're only supposed to have five. Who knew?

Could I have done any real damage to the computer if I kept ignoring the message? Mark, from Microsoft -- who lives in a small town of 6,000 in Nova Scotia, which is two hours ahead of us in the Atlantic Time Zone, who doesn't know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, and who would consider moving to Halifax if he could find work (you learn a lot about someone when you are on the phone for an hour and a half) -- said, "No, the unhandled exception wouldn't ruin your computer. But it can be become very irritating."


If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com. You can remain confidential, as can your company.