Monday, October 22, 2007

Preventative maintenance for PCs: Four favorite utilities

Here in Chicago, it’s time to start thinking about getting the car winterized. Since driving in our winter snows can sometimes be pretty hairy, that auto check-up isn’t really optional. Working at the help desk can be a little different, though. We can get so busy dealing with the emergencies that come up, it can become all too easy to postpone routine maintenance — “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow.” There’s nothing that I can do to keep you from postponing your preventative to-dos. I can, however, offer some suggestions for utilities you can use to keep your PC in working order.

  • Run Aida32 for a system report. I like having recent documentation of all the things going on in my machine. Aida32 is a great freeware app for Windows that will return every possible detail you might need to know about your PC, from installed software to chipset information. Checking out this system report reminds me to remove applications I’m no longer using and can be used to determine which bits of hardware might be ripe for an upgrade. Development on Aida32 has been abandoned, but recent versions can still be found on various download sites. If you’d prefer to use something that’s being actively updated, you might look at Belarc Advisor or System Information for Windows. Those programs, though, are free only for non-commercial use.
  • Clear hard disk space with JDiskReport. Working for the help desk, I’m always downloading files. There are software packages to test, and log file archives to analyze. I find myself running low on disk space pretty often, especially when I’m trying to build custom Windows install disks slipstreamed with the current updates. When I want to clean my drive of those space hogs I don’t need, I turn to JDiskReport. A free cross-platform utility built in Java, I like the way that JDiskReport clearly highlights the most egregious space offenders on your disk. If you don’t have Java on your machine, SequoiaView is another option for Windows users. I’m not a fan of its “treemap” method of displaying disk allocations, though.
  • Test your system memory with Memtest86+. Memory faults can be difficult to troubleshoot, since the symptoms can be so varied. Head off crashes before they start by testing your PC’s memory subsystem. Open-source Memtest86+ boots from removable media and puts your machine’s memory through its paces so you can detect faulty hardware before it starts contributing to system instability.
  • Verify your hard disk’s integrity with SpinRite. We should all be making regular back ups, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some warning before our hard disks failed? That’s the promise of SpinRite. A DOS-based disk maintenance tool, SpinRite uses block analysis techniques and a disk’s built-in error checking circuitry and to diagnose and repair storage problems before they become critical. SpinRite can even occasionally resurrect drives that won’t boot, as long as the problem is not due to a fault with the drive mechanism. It’s also worth noting that SpinRite is file system agnostic, and has been verified to work on drives formatted for Linux and Macintosh OS.

Preventative maintenance isn’t sexy, and it can be hard to find the time for it. These tasks don’t have to be done every week, though, and I’m convinced that making time for them every few months helps keep my PC working for me.

The top workplace stressors and irritations

If you’re looking for good news today, you’ve come to the wrong place. I am really stressed out, having just read an article about the effects of stress. As a result, I’m not only stressed about the normal stuff, but I’m stressed that I may have a heart attack because of the stress.

In an article on ThomasNet, a web site devoted to industrial market trends, I found some interesting facts:

  • IT is at the top of the list of most stressful occupations; even trumping the field of medicine. Here’s why.
  • According to the National Mental Health Association, stress ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals.
  • Studies from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicate job stress increases the risk for development of back and upper- extremity musculoskeletal disorders, cancer, ulcers, and impaired immune function
  • And from the Journal of the American Medical Association: You’re more likely to have a second heart attack if you work in a stressful job. (Incidentally, other studies say you’re more likely to have that first heart attack if your work is stressful.)

Still with me?

So what’s causing all this stress? Writer David R. Butcher, examining the results of a SkillSoft study of more than 3,000 people, reports the top 10 work stresses are:

  1. Workload
  2. Feeling undervalued
  3. Deadlines
  4. Type of work people have to do
  5. Having to take on other people’s work
  6. Lack of job satisfaction
  7. Lack of control over the working day
  8. Having to work long hours
  9. Frustration with the working environment
  10. Targets

And here are the top ten irritations having to do with colleague behavior:

  1. Seeing others not pulling their weight
  2. Managers changing their minds about what they want to be done
  3. Lack of support from managers
  4. Pressure from managers
  5. Feeling put-upon by managers
  6. Interruptions by colleagues
  7. Interruptions by managers
  8. Bullying behavior by managers
  9. Lack of support from colleagues
  10. Bullying behavior by colleagues

So what can be done about the rise of stress in the workplace? Some organizations, concerned with the hundreds of billions of dollars lost due to stress-related absenteeism and employee non-productivity, decided to take the matter seriously. Many have designed internal programs to reduce employee stress. (Here are some examples of organization-led changes.)

I think the corporation itself can play a big role in stress reduction, but a lot of it has to do with how the individual deals with things. I think the most important lesson I ever learned was that you can’t change other people, you can only change how you deal with them. What is your take on work-related stress? Does the burden fall more on the individual’s shoulders, the corporation itself, or a mix of both? What is the one thing your organization could do to alleviate some of your stress?