Computer Maintenance Alert: Keep your backup

July 1, 1999

Computer Maintenance Alert:

Keep your backup

By Fred Workley

July 1999

Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Manassas, VA. He is on the technical committees of PAMA and NATA and participates in several Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committees. He frequently speaks to groups on issues of current interest to the aviation community. He holds an A&P certificate with an inspection authorization, general radio telephone license, a technician plus license, ATP, FE, CFI-I, and advance and instrument ground instructor licenses.

Like other maintenance technicians, I spend many hours a week on the computer. I hadn't really been aware of how long each day until my computer was done in by the Spanska 4250 virus. I was told that this virus started making the rounds last summer. Apparently, I took it in on a graphics file downloaded from the Internet in September of 1998. It sat in my machine, undetected until I completed my taxes this year, and the very next day it struck. Something activated it and within eight minutes, it had corrupted the root directories of operating system Windows 95. This particular boot virus totally disabled the computer.

Even though the computer was upgraded to Windows 95 just two years ago, both time and technology have marched on. At that time, I was assured that I had the latest programming and that it would be "Year 2000 Compliant." Not true! This aircraft maintenance technician now had to go to a computer technician. It took some time to sort out, but he did it. After spending several hundred dollars and installing an updated BIOS (Basic Information Operating System) and Windows 98, I am back at the computer writing this article.

My taxes were done, but the whole incident put me several weeks behind in my schedule. I relearned several things. One was that you need to "keep your backup." I was able to reconstruct almost all of my computer files except for those that had been compressed on the smaller hard drive. The other thing I learned was that I would have had a melt-down later this year anyhow because the BIOS in my machine wasn't Y2K compliant.

In January of this year, I had run my own test according to an article in one of the computer magazines and it passed, or so I thought. Wrong. Even the new Windows 98 wasn't fully Y2K compliant until a download off the Internet was installed. All the surge protection, battery supply, backup systems, and latest virus protection programs can't save you if the system is not Y2K compliant.

When I lost the small, 283 megabyte hard drive, I also lost the ability to access the 6.4 gigabyte hard drive. The solution was to wipe the big drive clean and start over again by reloading all the backup information.

How long could you be with out your computer and still maintain aircraft? I don't have any paper documents or microfiche anymore. How much do you rely on your computer? I do everything on the computer. I use it for aircraft records, FAR Library, letters, schedule, address/phone book, historical files, accounting, and Internet. What if you are now doing business using electronic commerce (E-Commerce)? It's smart and efficient, but entirely dependent on the reliability of the computer hardware and software. Will the year 2000, bring all the problems predicted due to imbedded computer chips that will shut down because they can't count and tell the correct date?

At the PAMA national convention this past April in Phoenix, I had the opportunity to hear an excellent presentation on the Y2K problem at one of the sessions for Inspection Authorization renewal. The speaker explained that older computers didn't have the capacity of today's technology and space was saved by not differentiating between 19XX and 20XX.

Have you been aware of increased attention to the Y2K issue? Both late-night radio and the mainstream news are predicting dire consequences.

According to an article in Federal Computer Week, March 22, 1999, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was expected to issue memos directing Federal Agencies to take the leading role in making sure that social services programs will not be interrupted because of the year 2000 computer problems in the state government systems. The OMB will conduct tests and develop contingency plans as part of the concern over the year 2000. The concern is not only your computer, but the computers that it "interfaces" with. You may not be able to share data exchanges unless both computers are Y2K compliant.

I now have my own computer Y2K fixes installed and tested. I have installed Internet links to all the update services available for my software. If it hadn't been for the Spanska 4250 virus, I probably would not have given the issue any further thought.

I don't know what it will cost you to install the year 2000 fixes, but you can't run a successful maintenance organization that depends on a computer without it being very reliable. Whether or not your computer was infected with the recent Melissa virus, you may be at risk.

Current virus protection and Y2K issues are just two more issues to spend money on before your monitor shrinks to a bright dot in the center of the screen as the operating system dies — just like my computer did.