Happy summer, Folks! Hopefully, you all are out and about doing the things that we’re supposed to be doing in these summer months – staying cool, relaxing at the beach, traveling and vacationing, and spending time with family and friends.
Today I thought I would take a more light-hearted approach to today’s tech blog to discuss some phrases that we, as computer technicians, throw around every day to our clients. Now, there’s truth to what I say here, but mostly, take these in jest. Many of you may have heard me mention these phrases to you. I say these not to single you out (you know who you are!), but hopefully, today’s blog will bring a smile to your face, and maybe you’ll pick up a tip or two to use for your next “computer crisis.”
You Say, “It Won’t Turn On.” We Say, “Is It Plugged In?”
Yes, it’s happened a few times. Getting that call from someone saying “Chad, my computer won’t turn on. I don’t know what happened. Is it dead?” We schedule a service call, drive out to the client’s home, and approach the patient (computer). We try pushing the power button. Nothing. No lights, no fans, no noises. Dead to the world!
Then, our eyes shift to the back of the desk, which is a collection of tangled wires and cords. And then suddenly, we see it. The shine of the metal prongs reflect back into our eyes and the problem is discovered. The cord is just lying on the floor, not plugged into the outlet- where it’s been for the last decade.
Voila! Power, fans, lights, beeps. The computer has life! In every instance, the story now shifts to a classic “Whodunit” scenario. Can we blame the cat? (Yep, happened a few times.) The housekeeper whose broom may have knocked the plug loose? (Happens quite often.) When the mystery cannot be figured out, then it’s the classic “computer gremlins” case.
In any event, things happen. Many customers ask, “How did you figure it out so quickly?” My answer is always the same. In my head, when it comes to computer problems, I’ve got this mental checklist of possible solutions that develops as soon as the customer starts describing the issue. I like to think of it as a mental version of Microsoft Excel. Here’s the key to the technique – always sort the list by complexity – from least complex to most complex. Checking to see if it’s plugged in will always sit at the top of this list. Try the simplest solutions first.
But Chad, what if it’s a laptop? Why then, yes- of course. Now there is an alternate source of power in play here (the battery). Our advice then is to remove the battery – if possible. For computers, always try to shut the computer down properly (ie., The Shutdown Process) before removing power. It’s not good when computers suddenly lose power without closing out of programs, files, and other essential background services. If your computer or laptop refuses to shut off, then, of course, removing all power is the next logical step. This includes the power plug, adapter, and battery. The only way to truly turn off a device is to fully power it down. Pulling the plug from a device that has an internal battery isn’t considered a complete shutdown. The battery must be pulled out IN ADDITION to pulling the plug.
Lessons Learned – Check all loose cords to see if they have fallen out. Check outlets to test for power. Plug in a known working device (such as a desk lamp) to test for power. You don’t need to be an electrician to solve electrical problems.
You Say, “My Computer/Phone/Tablet Is Acting Funny.” We Say, “Did You Reboot?”
There it is! The most frequently-heard statement of all the things we hear. I try to describe the reboot process in simpler terms. Think of the human body. Kinda similar to a computer in the way that body parts (hardware) are networked via muscles, bones, and veins (cables) with our brain (software) sending commands to each part of the body telling it what to do.
Now, think of the strenuous activities we put our bodies through every day. Things like going to work, dealing with the kids, shopping for groceries, sitting in traffic, getting in our daily exercise, etc. At the end of a long day, a good night’s sleep is what our body needs. The next day, we are ready and able to deal with life’s stressors once again.
For a computer, a reboot is like a good night’s sleep, but, unlike humans, computers don’t need that sleep every night. Computers were made to run 24/7. And for many devices, that’s exactly what they do. Some of us don’t power down our computers often. And take cell phones and tablets. We often never turn these devices off. And that’s okay, except for when they start to slow down or act erratically. And routers and modems, running all day and every day, are included in this process. These devices have become integral parts of our home because of all the internet-connected gadgets that reside in our homes. Those need reboots too!
My rule of thumb, unless the situation calls for a reboot, is to reboot any electronic device every few weeks, NO MATTER WHAT. Reboots allow these devices’ software to shutdown and start over fresh. A reboot may be done by one of the following methods:
- Shutting down the device via the shutdown button (known as a soft reboot).
- Pressing or holding the power button (known as a hard reboot).
- Unplugging the device by removing the power cord (also a hard reboot).
Now, here’s a bonus tip about rebooting. Don’t reboot something more than twice expecting a different result. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? If a problem you have isn’t solved when you have rebooted the device, don’t reboot it a dozen more times. It won’t change the outcome. Instead, think of another device that may be playing a part in the problem. This is often the case with our printers. We often hear “My wireless printer stopped printing!” Remember, there are 3 devices involved in this process: 1) the device itself (computer, phone, tablet); 2) the printer itself; and 3) the router. Rebooting one (or two, or all three) will often resolve that common problem. Trust me- it will save you lots of time, money, and headache!
You Say, “Well It’s Not That Old, It’s Only About 5 Years Old.” We Say, “That’s Old!”
Well, sort of. Hear me out on this. There’s a policy in today’s world that we like to refer to as “planned obsolescence.” Hardware and software companies often play by this principle in an effort to sell newer, faster, or better versions of the same product. Nowhere is this truer than in the smartphone industry.
I often like to tell my clients, “These devices aren’t made like they used to be!” What is the point I’m trying to make here? I remember hearing stories from folks older than me such as “Chad, I had that thing for 20 years and it never broke- worked like a champ!” Ahh… those were the days, weren’t they!
Companies are now often trying to market to a different demographic – a demographic that always wants the “latest and greatest” device; a demographic that doesn’t want to keep their gadgets as long as they used to. As someone who is considered a millennial, I fall somewhere in between on this theory. My dad kept automobiles for 20 years. My parents lived in the same house for 20 plus years. I was raised to keep things until “the wheels fell off.” If it costs more to fix it than to replace it, then, of course, use common sense.
Many things- not just technology- have gone to a more “dispose and replace” kind of style. It’s not a perfect science with everything, but here’s my general rule of thumb:
- Computers and laptops – 5 to 7 years. (Sometimes you’ll get lucky and get a few more years after the 7-year mark, in which case, that’s just an added bonus!)
- Smartphones and tablets – 3 to 5 years (It’s rare that you won’t want to replace a smartphone within 3 years due to slow performance or poor battery life anyway.)
- Printers – 3 to 5 years (Today’s printers are built so poorly, but they are cheap. Why so cheap? Because the ink that goes into the printer is way overpriced, so they have to sell the machine for next to nothing.)
- Smart TVs – 5 to 10 years (Especially true today, since the way video is delivered to us is undergoing a transformation much like what happened to the music industry 10 plus years ago. Be very careful which smart TV you choose- not because the TV’s display will diminish, but because the software that is built into the TV may not update the way it needs to after year 5, year 6, etc.)
Lessons Learned – Make sure you know the age of your devices using the proper aging scale. A 5-year-old child is considered young, a 5-year-old car is relatively new, but a 5-year-old smartphone is pretty much a fossil.
Here’s something fun to leave you with. Click here to visit this site:
This light bulb in a fire station located in California has been working for over 115 years. Still faintly illuminating, still doing the one task that its inventor designed it to do. Apparently, the filament used in this bulb was not exactly what they use in today’s cheaper, shorter-lasting bulbs. I find this an amazing tale of craftsmanship and quality of the things of yesteryear. The fine craftsmanship was ironically considered to be a terrible business model, as there was more money to be had in making a product that, over time, degraded, wore out, or just simply stopped working. But what a simple illustration of a larger concept, but yet, something that speaks volumes as to where we’ve gone as a society. This concept always makes me think of Apple and how they introduce newer, better, faster phones each year. Are we silly to think that Apple can’t introduce a longer lasting, hack-proof, better picture-taking phone that could last someone 10 plus years?
Post & Computer Center – Freshfields Village