Computer Life column for May 29, 1999
Monday, the Wilmington area had its first thunderstorm-related power outage of the season.
There I was sitting in an office whose only light was the glow of my laptop's display. But battery power has its limits: laptops make lousy reading lamps.
As colleagues scurried about with flashlights checking that our network servers and routers (systems that manage the traffic on a network) had shut down gracefully, one of our co-workers wondered aloud if this were a Y2K preparedness drill.
That got a good laugh as people hung out in the hallway in the glare of the emergency lights.
This first power outage of the season should remind us of some important precautions:
- First, protect your computer from electrical problems. At the very least, use a surge suppressor to protect against sudden "spikes" on the electrical line. If you use your computer nearly all the time or if it is a corporate system, consider spending the extra money on an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) unit.
A UPS unit protects against power surges and provides back-up battery power to let you continue working-even for just those crucial minutes that will allow you to save your work before the computer shuts down.
You can find surge suppressors for under $50; capable UPS units can be quite pricey, but basic units sell for between $150 and $500.
- Second, back up your files often. Sometimes, a daily back-up is not enough. Judge for yourself how often you should save your work and make back-ups.
What if you had been in the middle of making critical changes to a report due Tuesday morning when the power went out Monday afternoon? You could still meet your deadline if you had a recent copy of the report on diskette or Zip disk and could take it to a computer that had power.
- Third, my colleague who joked about Y2K preparedness had a good point: you need to be prepared for all sorts of eventualities. The University department in which I work is housed in a mostly window-less basement. Therefore, over time, we've accumulated flashlights and lanterns to supplement the emergency lighting in the building.
But preparedness means much more than accumulating flashlights. Can the show go on when the technology's out?
Do you have an alternate lesson plan in case the network is down when you take your 4th graders into the computer lab for your carefully-crafted Internet scavenger hunt?
What if you arrived at a client's site to make a sales pitch and the power went out? Have you thought about an emergency plan for making your pitch?
Who's going to close the sale: the sales rep who says, "Your power's out, so I can't show you my PowerPoint slides." or the one who says "Open the shades so we can see each other and let me tell you about our products."? Some of the best presentations happen when the speaker rises to the challenge when the "presentation technology" fails.
Some things have to wait until the power comes back on. But we depend so much on the technology that we sometimes jump to the conclusion that because the computers are down, there's nothing we can do.
Tip of the week
Turn it off!
Microsoft Word thinks it knows more about spelling and grammar than your 7th grade English teacher. You can turn off its automatic marking of "errors" with a simple change.
In Word 97 or Word 2000 for Windows, select "Options" from the "Tools" pull-down menu. On a Mac, select "Preferences" from Word 98's "Tools" menu.
Select the "Spelling & Grammar" tab.
Turn off "Check spelling as you type." and "Check grammar as you type." If you type a lot of URLs and e-mail addresses in your documents, turn on "Ignore Internet and file addresses."
You can still check your spelling and grammar from the "Tools" menu, but with these settings, Word will put away its annoying red and green correcting pens.
Copyright © 1999, The News Journal Company
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Richard Gordon helps support faculty, staff and student computing at the
University of Delaware. E-mail questions, comments or suggestions to
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