Todays computing lesson starts on a rented fishing boat on a small lake in Arkansas.
I was near the marina when I noticed all the knobs used to adjust the outboard motor had been removed. So I returned to the marina and explained the problem.
Oh, I always take those knobs off, the fellow at the marina said. If theres a knob, people will turn it, and half the time, they end up messing up the motor so bad that I have to go out and tow them in.
And so it is with computers.
If theres a way to adjust one, or to download a program that promises to do it for you, people tend to try. Suddenly, a computer that runs just fine has been adjusted and tweaked into a hellish state.
Its one of the top three reasons for computer problems based on the email I get from readers. By avoiding these trouble spots, youll vastly increase the likelihood of trouble-free computing.
The No. 1: User error: Do not fix something that isnt broken. That sort of tinkering is easily the leading cause of computer problems. Its so common that it leaves viruses, malware and hardware failures in the dust.
Its easy to understand why a person would feel the need to mess with a perfectly fine computer. After all, we are bombarded with advertisements for computer tune-up programs. Each promises more speed and fewer problems. Even the best of these programs when faced with a computer that is already running fine can create more problems than they can solve.
The same advice goes for do-it-yourself fixes on the Web. Only fix a computer if you can answer yes to both of these questions.
1. Is there a definite and persistent problem with your computer?
2. Do you know whats causing that problem? Its nearly impossible to repair something when you dont know whats broken and easy to make things worse.
The second most common problem I see based on emails from readers comes from ignoring one of the basic requirements of computing.
Your computer should have protection against viruses, against spyware and adware. The computer itself should be protected from power surges by connecting it to a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) that both filters the electricity when the power is on and provides an emergency supply of current that lets you shut the machine down properly when the power goes out.
You also should routinely back up your data. Of all the components in your PC, the hard disk is the most likely to fail. Thats because traditional disks are hybrids containing both electronic and mechanical parts.
While solid state electronics are amazingly sturdy, all mechanical devices have even under the best conditions a limited life. Your hard disk will fail if you own it long enough. The backup is important because when your disk fails, it takes all your data with it.
Failure to guard the door is the third major problem. Viruses, worms, adware and spyware enter the computer based on something that you do.
Email attachments are infamous when it comes to delivering malware. Even your best friend or a family member can innocently forward a program or Web link that takes you to malware.
email@example.com. Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.