Computers have become valuable tools for navigation, communication, and weather forecasting on the modern voyaging boat. Electronic charting and radar overlay programs require a computer, as do Inmarsat and satellite communication systems, e-mail via single sideband (SSB), weatherfax via SSB, and direct satellite weather image reception. Additionally, supporting programs such as yacht management and inventory, SSB propagation, pilot charts, and routing programs all require a well-found computer. Below are some tried-and-true, practical solutions to problems you may experience with your computer’s software. By tweaking your system and by doing some preventive maintenance, you can reduce some of the problems you may have with your Windows 95/98 computer.Start up To assist a computer’s operating system to load up quickly and run efficiently, only programs in actual use should be left up and running. Programs “booted” up when a computer is started and then placed running in the background, but not in actual use, consume computer resources and will slow and often interfere with operation of other programs. Ensuring that unnecessary programs are not loading up automatically when a computer is turned on is done as follows (this procedure is applicable to Windows 95/98): go to “Start,” then “Settings,” “Taskbar,” “Start Menu Programs,” and then either look in “Advanced” to see a listing of programs that load when you start your computer or look in “Remove” to remove programs unnecessary for your computer to start.HyperTerminal Viewing data coming into your computer, such as from a GPS or weatherfax, can be accomplished using a program called HyperTerminal, which is built into Windows 95/98. HyperTerminal is extremely useful in confirming the location and format of data entering a computer. HyperTerminal is found as follows (Windows 95/98): go to “Start,” then “Programs,” “Accessories,” and “HyperTerminal.” Click on the HyperTerminal execute icon (Hypertrm) and choose “Connection Description.” Enter a name that applies to the type of data you are verifyingsuch as GPS, or a satellite signal, etc.and then choose an icon to accompany that description. The next step is to select a connection, using choices of “Direct to Com1,” “Direct to Com2,” “Direct to Com3,” etc., until you locate the comm port that is importing the desired data. For GPS input, data should appear on HyperTerminal as lines of letters and numbers (see accompanying screen shot).PC cards Cards following the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) standard, also known as PC cards, are used as modems for e-mail, for comm port input, and for real-time satellite imagery reception. When PC cards are installed during system configuration they need to be recognized by the computer’s operating system. Once recognized, they should not be removed unless first turned off, or unless the computer itself is turned off. PC cards are installed in either a top or bottom slot, and a card should be returned to the same slot if it is ever removed. To check on a PC card’s status go to “Start,” then “Settings,” and “Control Panel.” On “Control Panel,” click on “PC cards” and then “Socket Status.” If a PC card needs to be removed then it should be highlighted and the “Stop” button checked. Removing a PC card without first stopping it could damage the card.Power Computers requireor, more accurately, demandconsistent and clean power. Voltage or amperage drops, spikes, and surges can damage a computer’s hardware and cause programs to crash. To prevent these unnecessary occurrences, computers should be run through both surge protectors and uninterrupted power supplies (UPS). Since most computers are built to run using a 110VAC power supply, the best method to ensure “clean” power is to use the power supply connected through a true sine-wave inverter. Use a volt-ohm meter to ensure that output meets the computer’s power specifications. Problems with a computer’s operation are often directly attributable to insufficient or improper power input.General protection fault A general protection fault (GPF) is a Windows operating term used to describe a situation in which two or more programs interfere with one another’s operation. When programs are loaded onto a computer they are given their own exclusive area of memory, and when that area is intruded upon a GPF occurs. GPFs can be limited by running only those programs actually neededavoid opening and then minimizing programs when they can be closed. When inputting commands, allow Windows to execute a command before initiating a second or third command. When a computer senses that too many commands are being requested for its available memory or processing capability, it will react by giving a GPF or by “locking up.” Lock up is a direct indication of improper use, and the computer should be re-started.Temporary Internet files When the Internet is accessed, each Internet site’s address is stored within a folder titled “Temporary Internet Files,” which is located within the “Windows” directory. When a computer is turned on, these addresses are loaded into the computer’s operating system. Hundreds of addresses can easily accumulate in the temporary Internet files folder and will significantly slow the computer’s operation; therefore addresses stored within the temporary Internet files directory should be routinely deleted (Note: the files should be deleted but not the Temporary Internet Files folder itself). To access Temporary Internet Files go to “My Computer,” then the “Windows” folder, to “Temporary Internet Files”; use “Edit” to “Select All,” and then use “File-Delete” to remove the files.Housekeeping utilities A good housekeeping routine is to run “Disk Defragmenter” and “ScanDisk” to remove stray bits of data and repair errors from a computer’s hard drive. Using a defragmenting routine arranges files and unused space on a computer hard disk for maximum efficiency. ScanDisk examines a hard drive for errors and will repair those errors. Both programs should be run weekly when a computer is in regular use. Virus Scan, on the other hand, is a program that should be used with caution as it can, unintentionally, corrupt data files in the process of checking them for viruses (viruses are undesirable pieces of programming code that damage programs and hardware). Virus detection programs should not be allowed to run independently or on a timerthey will come on automatically, and, if this occurs during weatherfax or satellite image capture, files could be become unusable. Virus Scan should be used only when importing data from unknown sources and should not be incorporated into a computer start-up menu.File extensions Software programs use designators to identify files used by that particular program. These designators, also called file extensions, are generally different for each distinct program. However, on rare occasions, file extensions do conflict, causing programs to also conflict and not perform properly. An example of file extension conflict is “.dat” files, which are used by satellite weather systems, routing programs (GRIB), and compressed U.S. Navy weather data. If conflicts occur, a solution is to disassociate files inappropriate to a selected program. File association and disassociation is done by selecting “My Computer” on the Windows desktop, then clicking on “View” and “Options.” Then go to “File Type” and scroll through choices and “Add” or “Remove” as required.Pulling the plug If a computer performs improperly, or “locks up” it can be shut down and restarted by first using a keystroke combination of “Control-Alt-Delete”; if this does not work, then use the “On-Off” button to shutdown the computer. Finally, if these methods do not bring a response, then unplugging and removing the computer battery will bring immediate shutdown. After a 15-second wait the battery can be re-installed and computer re-started. You should realize that shutting down a computer using these extreme methods will often cause chosen settings and options within programs to change. So, after such a drastic shutdown, preferences within each program and Windows itself should be confirmed, and re-set if necessary, when the computer is re-started.Computers greatly expand and improve capabilities of a vessel’s crew, and so also increase the safety and enjoyment of ocean and coastwise passages. Computers, like all tools, require an intelligent and trained user, and they must be adequate for the task asked of them. Sailors today need to be multi-talentedcapable of using tools as different as a sextant and a computer, and able to both calculate Greenwich Hour Angle and know how to configure their computer for maximum speed, stability, and reliability.