Computational Friction

Tonight, I’ve been transferring some videocassettes to DVD. It’s a time consuming process – more alchemy than anything else. This is well out of the realm of standard procedure. I’ve learned it all through trial and error and more error.

I capture the video as avi files and then convert them to mpeg. The specifics of those two aren’t important, except to say they’re different. Same with the resolution. My video capture card wants to give me 640×480 while DVD’s play video that’s 720 pixels wide. Again, all that’s important are they’re different.

In order to go from one format to another, one resolution to another, my computer has to do massive amounts of number crunching. I just popped open my Task Manager a few seconds ago. The computer’s CPU, its brain, is running at 100%.

There’s nothing wrong with that. I want my computer to work as fast as it can.

However, something else has changed while this crunching has been underway. The temperature of the CPU has gone from 143&#176 to 154&#176. That’s not critical, but it certainly gives me a little pause. I believe the CPU can hit about 176&#176 before it starts smoking and breaks down (Actually, the number is probably higher than that. 176&#176 is just the specification).

So, what’s going on? I don’t really know, and a search of Google hasn’t been very fruitful. I think this might frictional heat caused by the additional electrons necessary to really number crunch. But, I could be very wrong.

No matter what, it is very curious that computers heat up when they work hard, as humans do. It is something I would have never expected.

I Am Tech Support

To many friends and a large portion of my family, I am tech support. They know, and I’m glad they do, that a call to me can sometimes solve their PC problem.

It’s not that I’m smart… I’m experienced. I’ve reinstalled operating systems, configured disk drives, modems and network cards and made dead machines come to life.

My own computer, the one I do most of my work for this site on, was designed and then built by me, on the floor in my upstairs office.

I love the challenge. There are so many ways to bust a system and so many ways to fix it (though only one or two work in any given situation).

Today, I received a call from some very good friends. They have a Gateway PC (Brand is actually quite inconsequential. Most systems are built from a finite set of motherboards and components) which went part way through its boot and then stopped. No icons on the desktop. No taskbar below. No reply to ctl-alt-del (which should bring up the task manager in Windows 98).

I assumed it was a corrupted registry. The registry is a list of customizations which tie programs to the operating system. Without the registry on a Windows machine, there is nothing.

I went to the Windows program which restores an old, non-corrupted registry, only to find it didn’t have enough memory to run. Gateway let this box leave the store with only 32 MB of RAM. Small then, ridiculous now.

I had a few memory sticks in my drawer and threw them in, raising the total from 32 to 160 MB. The registry program ran and I turned back the hands of time with an older, working version.

Reboot – a Windows tradition.

The machine came up, showed its icons and task bar and then a succession of programs began to load. What was in this machine?

It seems the owners had downloaded dozens of programs, each carrying spyware, malware or adware. Boxes were opening on the screen by themselves with ads. At one point, a full screen ad, full of links to other sites, appeared. There was no way to close it that a casual user would ever discover.

I quickly tried to download Adaware, a program made for dealing with this stuff, but the computer locked. I rebooted and tried again. Adaware ran for 3 hours while I went back to work and then returned. But, it wasn’t doing its job. The computer reported Adaware was not responding.

There have been reports of these rogue programs looking for Adaware and its siblings and shutting them down. That could be what happened here.

I switched to Spybot Search and Destroy. So far, it seems to have worked.

Still, there might be so much garbage embedded in this computer that, in the end, the only prudent decision will be to reformat the hard drive and start again.

I have never seen or even heard of a computer so infected with stuff that the owners never intended to put in… and I haven’t even done a virus scan yet!

Were there licenses and releases that were clicked but never read? Probably. Was some of this done by teenagers, who really don’t have the authority to enter into a contract? Probably there too.

The bottom line is, these programs are invasive in nearly every way and well hidden from the computer’s owners. They are probably legal, which is a shame. That means, these folks are going to have to get a lot more savvy and wary when dealing with their own computer.