Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fixing the Tool


A computer is at its core a tool. For a writer, it can be the mother ship of tools. It can be a research tool, a production tool, and a communications tool, among other things. If it suddenly goes wobbly, it can be a real problem that leads to other problems such as expense, downtime, and inconvenience. There is a way around it, if your mind is clear and your hand is steady and your heart is brave: you can, in many circumstances, fix it yourself.

I am the IT guy in our house. We --- my wife, my daughter, and my bad self --- each have our own computer. It goes without saying of course that we all share our respective machines with our cat (those of you who are owned by cats know exactly what I mean). My daughter, just to complicate matters and enable me to broaden my scope of knowledge, has an iMac. Since I spend the most time on a computer of anyone in the house it has fallen to me to be the fixer of all things technological. To that end, I have established the “three-minute rule” of computer aggression: if you can’t get the computer to do what you want it to do in three minutes, stop doing what you are doing and come and get me. Don’t sit there for three hours hitting the “Print” button because you’re going to get a surprise when your printer decides to start printing, yes indeed. You’ll see exactly how many times you hit the print button (“Thirty-two copies of the lyrics to the new One Direction single, huh?”) in due time.
How did I acquire my expertise, you might ask? I don’t have any. I have simply become good at looking things up and following directions. I am able as a result to resolve most resolvable computer problems with three things which you probably have as well: 1) internet access; 2) a computer or smart phone that works; and 3) the ability to follow simple directions. I started doing my own troubleshooting due to a combination of circumstances. For one, I don’t like strangers coming over, which precludes people in golf shirts driving up in vans to help me out. For another, I am somewhat tight-fisted when it comes to spending money to repair things that I should be able to repair myself. And for a third, I don’t like My Precious out of my sight for more a few minutes, which removes the possibility of my laptop spending the night with someone else.

I am totally serious.  I discovered this latent skill when, a few years ago (when all three of us, including my poor, deprived daughter, had PCs), I awoke one morning and discovered that all of our computers were displaying the “blue screen of death.” I figured out the problem was --- a Windows update that had been automatically sent to all three computers did not get along with something that was already on them --- but that didn’t help me with the main problem, which was how to repair each and all of the computers in the house. Fortunately, I had a smart phone. I did a search for “how to restore service to a computer displaying the blue screen of doom” and got the answer --- do a “system restore” --- and instructions for doing it. I had all of the computers working in a half-hour.

I will confess that doing this makes me feel useful.  I was having a delightful breakfast with some people at Bouchercon a few weeks ago when one very nice lady’s iPad froze up. I don’t own an iPad, but I fearlessly asked her to pass me her temporarily useless tool. I took out my phone, googled “How do you unfreeze an iPad?” got the answer, and…well, unfroze her iPad by pushing two buttons. A friend called me a few weeks ago because her daughter had a paper due the next day and couldn’t access Internet Explorer. Problem solved. But there is nothing special about me. There are folks who will attempt to fix their dishwasher utilizing a Google search (yeah, I did that too) but won’t even attempt to jump start their computers in the same manner. If you are going to do this, it helps to be as exact as possible when making your query. Googling “why did my pc just pass a sandcastle?” for example, will not be as effective a query as “why is my Lenovo B570 with Windows 7 displaying everything upside down?” It might be important to get an answer and use it five minutes ago, however, whether you are downloading pictures off of Tumblr or reading Facebook news posts or just wrapping up twenty more pages of a manuscript, when, God forbid, your computer freezes.  If you can frame a descriptive question halfway decently and follow directions a step at a time, Enterprise-style (boldly going where you haven’t gone before) you can very often help yourself. Some folks even post YouTube videos showing how certain procedures, such as installing new memory cards, are performed.  Most of the time the helpful people who post this information will give you an idea as to how difficult the task may be. Sometimes it is as easy as pressing F5, or restarting the computer; sometimes it involves more than that.

Which brings us to our question(s) of the day: When you have a computer problem that doesn’t involve smoke rising from the side vents, what do you do? Do you try to fix it yourself? Do you call a friend? Do you take it into a shop? Or throw it out the window?

19 comments:

  1. Well first I utter a few choice words. Then I lay hands on it. Finally, I will do a trouble-shoot similar to your process to figure out if it's an issue I can resolve. If it is, I congratulate myself,ask my computer forgiveness for all the rotten things I called it and we resume our relationship. If not, I do have a great local place that will happily accept my financial offering and fix it.

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  2. Julie, I love it. And I forgot the "few choice words" incantation --- similar to the short-form serenity prayer --- which is an absolute necessity when undertaking this task. Thanks!

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  3. Joe, I have a Mac and my wife has a PC.

    Her unwillingness to get outside help stems from an inherent belief that she can fix anything, and given enough time, she does.

    The one time I decided to take my Mac laptop to the Apple store and have one of the "geniuses" there try to speed it up, that "genius" erased my financial/check-writing software. After I recreated the information via my bank's website, I decided that I was as much a "genius" as that guy, and have done very nicely since.

    Oh, and although I rarely resort to percussive therapy (a couple of sharp smacks to the case of the offender), a muttered word or two helps me immensely.

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  4. After a Wiccan chant (embellished with a few choice curses), I use my home intercom to call my expert, my husband John. He has less computer experience than I do, but way more patience & dogged determination than I could ever hope to have. Computer kaphuffles frustrate me.

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  5. I'll try to be brief. I'm a computer programmer. One day while visiting my sister in NC, she informed me that her computer wasn't working. I was happy to take it a part and see what was going on.

    The logic in my computer programmer brain goes as such, if there's a wire not connected and there's an outlet which has the male socket to the female wire, ah ha! I plugged in this unplugged mysterious wire and turned on the power.

    It's a good thing I didn't put the casing back on yet, because the wire I'd plugged in spewed all kinds of smoke and the plastic melted right off. Good thing I thought fast and unplugged the computer from the wall.

    I said I was a computer programmer, not a tech.

    When my computers go belly up, I get my son to fix it. :D

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  6. I deplore technical breakdowns of any kind, as it is another time suck away from productivity. I usually grit my teeth and figure it out, but there's always a knot in my stomach.

    And I appreciate good tech support people. When I'm given good support, I always ask if I can pass along some report to a supervisor.

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  7. My hubby's solution is to holler, "Heeeelp!" down the hall to get me running. I'm not a techie but I can troubleshoot reasonably well.

    Years ago when I was setting up a home-based business, I had a programmer design custom software for me. He didn't provide documentation, but suggested I have a dedicated notebook to keep notes and instructions. I always remember one particular comment: "You'll spend an hour wrangling your way through a problem. Write the solution in the book because six months later you'll run into the same problem but forget how you fixed it." I still have that notebook!

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  8. We have such a complicated, networked array that we actually have someone on retainer for IT. But if it's a minor issue, I'm still the "Level 1" technical support!

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  9. Richard, I have no clue as to how ANYTHING having to do with speeding up your Mac would lead anyone anywhere near your check-writing software. Amazing. Sorry to hear about your difficulty.

    You've got a good man in John, Jordan. Slow and steady gets you there. And not just with computers, either.

    Diane, I didn't want to embarrass my teenage daughter by telling the story concerning her iMac's inability to charge up, directly related to the fact that she her surge protector power strip was turned off. So I won't.

    I know all about those stomach knots, Jim. The first time that I increased memory in my laptop I did it with my eyes closed and praying. It worked!

    Carol & Kathryn...it's a thankless job, eh? I thought about a notebook but things change so rapidly that I continue to do the web search and bookmark, just in case whatever worked last week doesn't work next week.

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  10. ADDENDUMB:

    I have received two calls this week from someone purporting to be from Microsoft offering to "fix" problems detected in my computer. It is a scam. They verify your name and then will attempt to guide you through a series of steps, at the of which they take over your computer remotely and "fix" the problem while grabbing personal date that is on your hard drive. Both times I gave them the what for; I have written a dialogue for the next time it occurs, in which I pretend to go along with the caller, and will post it on You Tube/when the opportunity arises. The call center is based in India; the folks behind it have hacked the sales records of at least two major retailers to get a name and number base and are using it to call and fleece the unwary. Beware.

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  11. I'm an IT guy for a living. That BBC show "The IT Crowd" was an unlicensed documentary of my life. That being said, my computers don't break anymore. At least they don't break since I hung the squirrel carcass above my door and started chanting the "7 Odes of Techno-Babble" while bowing before the PC with my face to the ground and my bum facing east. That is the real secret behind keeping your computer running.

    ...that, and the saying "Ohm" in beat with the light that keeps flashing and goes "Bing!" every certain number of minutes.

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  12. Basil, that squirrel thing sounds like a plan. Will a dead mouse --- the four-legged kind --- work as well?

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  13. Well this post has certainly given me some interesting approaches to use. I find the swearing and screaming approach I currently use is inadequate so I must look into the rodent /squirrel sacrifice option! I also have had a call pretending to be from microsoft but they hung up when I told them that it was odd that they called me since I own a Mac...

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  14. I'm the computer person in the family and agree that most any problem (computer or otherwise) can be googled and fixed. Except for those times google says it can't be fixed, then I go to the money person to buy a new one.

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  15. Don't you just love it, Clare, when some d.b. is trying to scam you and is rude, to boot?

    The best laptop I ever had, Renee, was an IBM that I had for seven years. I learned how to troubleshoot and fix problems with that computer. I finally had to replace it when the power input went wobbly on me and I was told that for the same cost as repairing it I could buy a whole new computer. I can't bring myself to throw it away, though.

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  16. Joe, You might find an outfit that bronzes kids' shoes and see if they'd do the same for your old laptop. Should make a heck of a paperweight.

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  17. I am the "mother" to all the computers and printers at our house and office. You're right--usually it can be fixed with patience and a Google search. I like your three-minute rule. I will pass that along to the boss. I would much rather deal with someone's computer problem when he is rational than when he has turned purple from ranting and raving.

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  18. FL: Exactly. Not to mention that all of that time in excess of three minutes can be spent more productively elsewhere. Thanks!

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