My cousin/housemate/whatever is good with computers, I’ll just ask him!
For every geek, every return home for Christmas, thanksgiving and family reunion starts the same way-”its good to see you again! By the way, when you’ve got a minute, the computer’s playing up again”. We tend to be nice people, so when someone asks us for help, we’ll usually oblige and usually without any expectation of a reward, but normal people don’t seem to realise how much time being “good with computers” can take up in doing free tech support. Some “computer guys” charge their clients £50 an hour for the same services they provide you for free…
So what should I do if I need something fixed?
Stop, pay attention and think.
If you get an error message, read it and try and understand it. if necessary look up the technical words. Yes computers can be scary, but to be honest most of the time its just people people think “ahh, this is too complicated for me to understand” instead of spending 30 seconds thinking.
Check the basics.
If I had a penny of every time I’d spent half an hour trying to work out why something wasn’t working only to realise the cable was sitting on the shelf, I’d have…un…lots of pennies. Check the cables are plugged in, the blinky lights are blinking, settings are actually set.
If it used to work, what changed?
if it worked before, chances are something has changed in the meantime. If you can find out what that is, theres a good chane you can fix it. Sometimes the change is that your power supply is on fire. This is a bad thing. Have you installed anything new, changed any settings or are you doing something in a different way than normal?
Read the manual (or better yet, the internet)
Everything comes with a manual or a help file. This is then immediately ignored and is usually on read as a last resort when praying doesn’t seem to be helping. Shockingly however, the manual tend to have useful information in it, especially when something does something unconventional or unintuitive.
The alternative to the manual is the internet. A simple google search for what you’re trying to do (eg: “set up wifi in windows” or “password protect a word document”) will usually return a bunch of tutorials that will show you step by step how to do it.
Isolate the problem
Computers are made up of lots of bits plugged together to do something neat. If one bit stops working, the neat thing never happens. Check the simplest things first, then work down the chain until you find the bit that doesn’t work.
So for example, if you can’t look up a website, first check if you can view other websites. If you can, then its just that site thats broken. If you can’t, check if anything else on the computer can use the internet, like email or msn. If they work, then its just your browser broken. If they don’t then its the whole computer. So then check if the other computers in the house can get on the internet. If they can, then its just your computer thats dodgy. If they can’t then its the whole internet thats up the spout.
Do this for as many different parts as you can think of until you’ve narrowed it and you’ll at least be able to google for the problem easier, if not fix it outright.
Ok, thinking sounds like too much effort, isn’t there an easier way?
Learn the voodoo
Try turning it off an on again. Computers have so many complicated bits going on at once, sometimes something goes a bit wobbly. Turning it off and on again makes it start everything from scratch and theres a good chance the wobblyness will get tidied away.
For some hardware problems, switching it off and leaving it for a few minutes can help. Sometimes computers get too hot or a few other bits of voodoo happen that can take a while to return to normal.
Google is your friend!
If you get an error message that makes no sense, type it into google and see what comes up. Chances are a hundred people before you have had the same problem and some of them will have had the foresight to write it down for you.
I’ve tried all that, I still can’t make it work! If only there was someone who was good with computers…
I never said you couldn’t ask us to help you, just that you should appreciate that you’re asking someone to give up their valuable time for free. Hopefully if you’ve done all this and tried to fix it you’ll be able to gve us a better idea of whats wrong so we can fix it for you faster and if they know you’ve made an effort for yourself they’ll know its something you actually need help with instead of just being lazy.
ps. if you’re a geek and have any suggestions to add to this, put in a comment or send me an email!
(This is a repost of a blog post on my previous and long dead blog, so you may have seen this before, but I figured it’s still worth having up somewhere)