Commentary & Family life 21 Jan 2010 10:53 pm

How (not) to fix a computer

Here is my Jan. 21 column from The Alliance Review:

I am the family IT guy.

Although I use computers often, I haven’t the foggiest idea how anything works inside them, which makes it challenging when everybody in the family considers me an Information Technology guru.

For all I know, a platoon of tiny elves lurks in the hard drive, running and jumping and calculating and frantically looking up the 31 billion Google searches every month on topics as diverse as “spiced chai teas,” “the films of Ingmar Bergman” and “where can I find a hot little pink dress like the one at Charlotte Russe for half the price?” (This last search isn’t really mine. I look terrible in pink; it shows all my stretch marks.)

I am blatantly honest about the Grand Canyon-sized gaps in my cyber knowledge, but that doesn’t stop family members from leaning on me for their computer needs. This weekend, for example, I installed a router for my parents and diagnosed a computer crash for my in-laws, although all I really did for the former was follow directions in the box and for the latter, haul it off to somebody who really knows what he’s doing.

I think this case of mistaken identity — I’m much more the Clark Kent of computing than the Superman — comes because I know how to use the cut-and-paste feature. Nothing astounds a computer neophyte more than holding down Ctrl-C to copy a piece of text and Ctrl-V to paste it. Sometimes when I’m really showing off I will hold down Ctrl-U to underline, Ctrl-I to italicize, or Ctrl-P to print. Forget Charles Atlas, baby; if you really want to impress the chicks, learn keyboard shortcuts.

From this modicum of knowledge — which I learned because shortcuts are more efficient for a lazy guy like me who hates to type something more than once or move his fingers off the keys to click the mouse (thank goodness breathing is an automatic function or I would drop dead immediately) — comes the erroneous belief that I must know more about computers than I let on. It’s weird: Nobody mistakes somebody for a mechanic because he can drive a car or an optometrist because he can put in contact lenses or an audiologist because he cleans wax out of his ears with a Q-Tip. But park a person in front of a computer and if he can navigate from one screen to the next, he’s an expert.

My usual procedure in IT cases is to immediately drop to the floor next to the computer tower (if it’s on the floor) or sprawl across the desktop (if it’s on a desk) and throw my backside into the air, thereby exposing my plumber’s crack and scaring away curious onlookers who would otherwise quickly realize that I know absolutely nothing about what to do next.

Once the spectators have vacated the premises, I begin a formal examination of the patient. This usually involves jiggling wires and blowing into the mouse to see if anything happens. Next, I turn the machine on and off, sometimes unplugging it. (I worked with a person who made an entire career out of telling employees to reboot and restart, so I figure there has to be some truth to it.)

If this fails to solve the problem, I get technical and run an antivirus program to discover spyware or malware. I don’t know what they are, but spies are usually bad (even though they are always coming in from the cold, which is an eminently sensible thing to do) and “mal” sounds like “malady,” which sometimes causes you to puke, so it can’t be good, either. Sometimes I even find spyware and malware on the machine, which adds to my mystique as Dr. QWERTY, Medicine Man.

My next step is to close the door to the computer room, pull out my MP3 player and ear buds, and listen to music for 10 or 15 minutes. While this does nothing to fix the computer, it does make me feel much better, and the passage of time indicates to the people on the other side of the door that the problem must be serious, so they are less surprised when I emerge later and give them the bad news.

Unbelievably, my techniques are successful more often than not, which means that people have started to ask me to do bigger and more challenging computer-related tasks. This is scary because I don’t have enough music on my MP3 player to fake my way through a network installation or a memory upgrade.

Scarier yet is the thought that there are no experts, and that everybody from plumbers and gardeners to lawyers and brain surgeons is doing exactly what I do: Rolling up sleeves, diving in and hoping for the best.

If that doesn’t keep you up at night, I don’t know what does.

2 Responses to “How (not) to fix a computer”

  1. on 01 Feb 2010 at 1.D.J. said …

    Did you know how much spilled coffee it takes to fry a printer/scanner/copier? It’s a surprisingly small amount.

    I was able to open the printer up and turn it on its side for several hours, allowing the coffee to dry.

    It works now, but still smells like breakfast blend.

    -D.J.

  2. on 07 Dec 2013 at 2.Jake said …

    Well that seems exactly like what I do. It surprises me how people do not read. Almost all problems with a computer can be figured out just by reading the on screen directions.

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