Troubleshooting

There are times when all of us need a bit of help.  There are some things we want to do, or should be able to do – especially with our computers – but have a hard time doing.  So, we have to take part in something we seemingly dread – interfacing with tech support.

Just like the common thought of men no wanting to ask for directions when they are lost, many people (and lots of women are included) despise having to call the service desk, the help desk, or any other type of support line to gain resolution to issues are experiencing (or to solve questions on how to get something to work the way it was anticipated it should work).

Of course, it is entirely possible that some folks will never ask for directions (just like some folks will never read the instruction manual).  But I digress… First, let me say that the majority of folks on the other end of the support line do want to help you.  But often times the gulf between those that have a need (and are frustrated enough to call the support line) and those that want to help is pretty wide.  That is where this post comes in – communication!

To best get across your actual needs to the support representative, perhaps detail the ‘McDonalds’ method will help.  It’s an easy method to remember, just envision sitting in your car talking to the squawk box.  You say you want a cheeseburger, mustard and onions only, small fries and a Sprite.

The box says back to you that they have your order for a cheeseburger with mustard and onions only, small fries and a Diet Coke.

You tell the box that that is not correct and let them know your drink selection is a Sprite.  And let’s hope, once that is confirmed and you drive to the window to pick up your order you got what you wanted.

The point here is accuracy in letting others know what you were experiencing – that way they can best assist you.  If you listen to what is being said back to you, and something isn’t quite right, please be sure to let the support person know (again) what you are seeing or doing.  No need to get upset, you need to make sure your ‘order’ is right so you can proceed to the next step.

Communication, even when you and I are frustrated with something, is the key to getting the problem resolved.  No need to take your frustrations out on the person trying to help – just get the information you need to make it work/right!  And… if you are calling a large technical support area with multiple technicians, it is my hope you get a good person on the other end of the line.  If not, ask to be transferred to a supervisor or roll the dice and call them back later to get a different technician!  Thanks (as always) for reading…


 

Here’s a little nugget for those using Windows 7.  You can use Problem Steps Recorder (PSR) to automatically capture the steps you take on a computer!  This information includes a text description of where you clicked and a picture of the screen during each click (better known as a screen shot).

Below is a video that talks about this little-known program included with Windows 7.

Once you capture these steps, the results can be saved to a file that can be used by a support professional or someone else helping you with a computer problem.  Pretty neat!

This could be useful for you – but I thought I’d give you another tip here – how to run Problem Steps Recorder as an administrator.  When I first went to use the program, I would get a message telling me some programs I was using were being run with administrator privileges, and if PSR was running with less permissions it would not be able to capture some information.  Well… that can easily be fixed by following these steps as shown in the image below and the text that follows.

Running Problem Steps Recorder as an AdministratorFirst we need to get the program started.  To do that go to the Windows 7 Start button, then in the text field at the bottom (see item # 1 – has in that box the words ‘Search programs and files’ then the magnifying glass at the end) type in ‘prs’.

As you can see in the image, this program should show up under programs (as shown in # 2).  You then right-click on that file and you will be presented with a menu of things available – including the one at the top that says ‘Run as administrator’ (as indicated by # 3).  Left click on that.

From there you will see the information asking you ‘are you sure’ (well, technically this is user account control asking you if you want the program to make changes to your computer – and in this case you initiated this action and want to say YES).  Once you have allowed this activity the program will start and you can record the issue you are experiencing.

The software will save your captured information in a ZIP format so you can easily email it to a friend or support personnel.  You may want to take a moment to see the output (just to make sure nothing you don’t want to send is in the file).  For my testing purposes, I went to my bank’s site and recorded logging in and moving around a bit, then looked at the information.  My password was not captured, but the screen shot did show the account number (no surprise there).

Also keep in mind you can add comments as you are going through the steps that lead to the problem.  This could also be useful for the folks trying to help you, so don’t forget to include any notes that they may need to know about as you are recording the steps taken!

If you want more information on how to use the program, be sure to read How do I use Problem Steps Recorder? on the Microsoft site.  I hope this will be of some use to you, as always thanks for reading!

What is going on with your software...You’ve probably been there.  You leave your computer on and go to sleep, you wake up and you are back at the log in screen.  Or you get back to your computer and it is asking you to reboot so some changes can take effect.  Huh?

Now it could be pretty easy to explain these types of occurrences.  Many folks set up their software to update automatically – and if one of the updates requires a reboot, your computer may be rebooting while you are away.  If you leave files that you are working on (photos, documents, code, etc.) open in other programs this could be problematic (always save your work if it is important to you).

But there are times where this type of behavior just does not make sense.  And perhaps you have seen that as well.  I admit I am the curious type and want to know what is going on with my computer.  So I thought I would let you in on a little tool I have used to show me what is going on with various software I have installed on my computer.

The software is made by MediaChance and is called Spy-the-Spy.  It is free!  Now this is not software that I ask to do much of anything other than to monitor files in the folders I set it up to monitor.  So, for my purposes, I want to know when anything in C:/Program Files changes.  I set up the program to monitor that folder and all sub-folders to let me know if anything changes.

So, when I install a new program and it installs in that directory, the software tells me that a directory is being created and various files are put in there.  If an existing program experiences a change (say, my anti-virus software automagically updates) then the software notifies me of the various files that are being changed.

Now this could be useful to see if some malware started to do things in this folder.  But note, this is file monitoring software and not malware software – it won’t do anything other than notify me of the changes unless I tell the software to.

This allows me to know that every time I boot up that udhisapi.dll is modified.  Since this is part of the UPnP area of Windows, and I know I use a wireless printer that talks to my wireless adapter and a wireless mouse, it makes sense that each of these 3 check in when I boot up the machine and I see that dll is ‘modified’ each time it talks to / receives a response and is tracked by my machine (for a longer response on this dll and what it does, look here).

This helps me know what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ of my computer for software I have installed.  I’m just the type of person that wants to know when my anti-virus or malware software is updated – as well as when software that automagically calls home to update things makes that update.  I know exactly what was updated in any of the folders I choose to monitor.

If you wonder what is going on feel free to give this software a try.  It has a small footprint for install and system resources, and it may show you some things that you were not aware of!  Thanks for reading, feel free to comment about this post or let others know of neat file monitoring software you are aware of.


 

I have been asked this question many times – normally from folks that have brought me a computer with ‘issues’ and has returned to pick it up.  I let them know what I found (normally how many different ‘issues’ their machine was dealing with) and they ask why people do these things (viruses and malware) – or better put what is the point?

If you want the answer – money.  That pretty well sums it up.  While watching the news coming across the wire on the malware antivirus program making headlines as the first widespread virus for Apple’s OS X (here you should insert the shocked look and a gasp of disbelief), I’m certain many mac users are now painfully aware that they too (contrary to what all of their mac friends had been telling them) are at risk for viruses and malware.

Really this is nothing new.  The difference is that the mac user base has grown, and with that growth they are becoming a more compelling target for those wanting to scare users into giving them money.  Let’s be honest – no matter what the platform (mac or Windows) you have users at all different levels of tech-savvy.  Mac has their fair share of users who were inept at Windows – so they moved to mac to ‘avoid all those issues’.

The real issue (the root cause) never was addressed – you need to be vigilant while you are computing (no matter which platform you use).  You need to think before you click on many (if not most) links (in emails, Facebook, YouTube, etc.).  The real issue is keeping your computer safe with the right mix of tools AND being an intelligent user / consumer of information on that computer!

This all came together in an article I recently read  titled ‘The Saga Of MacDefender Continues With New Alias: MacGuard‘ (SecurityProNews – written by Joe Purcell).  The aim of this scareware (and – on a larger scale – the majority of malware) is to extract money from users.  The article details one of the major players in gathering / distributing funds (and no, it is not PayPal…) that is being tracked because of the volume of malware payments pointing to this merchant.

While this happens to be the most newsworthy account currently, there are many more instances of similar tactics being used against other platforms (for those that may think I’m bashing mac users – let me be clear: I mean Windows users).  The largest market share (Windows) is – logically – the most lucrative target, therefore the majority of malware efforts are spent on exploiting this segment.  Mac users may be the next largest user segment, then others (Linux, Unix, etc.).

So for those of you asking the question, while not all attacks or infections are about money, the vast majority of them are.  Keep your anti-virus programs up to date and use other tools (firewall, malware, adware, spyware, etc.) in your tool box updated and scan your machines on a regular basis.  As always, the health and security of your computer is your responsibility – so practice safe computing!


 

Accidents happen, and like most anything else in life the actions you take after the accident may determine how well the recovery (or survival) of the patient (or laptop / handheld device) may be dependent on the steps you take to address the issue.

Perhaps you (or your child) accidentally tips over the coffee or drink you have carefully placed beside your computer or device. Perhaps your dog runs into the table it is on (or their tail does your drink a favor by releasing it from the constraints of a container holding it back).  Or maybe someone is outside watering the flowers outside of your window and does not realize the window is open and they are watering your laptop (yes…I’ve personally heard that story and worked on the laptop after the fact).  There are so many scenarios that could happen, let your mind roam freely and realize you need a plan on how to respond if the accident happens.  Let’s look at some steps you may want to take.

Power Down and Pull the Battery

Turn the unit off if it is still running!  I’m not talking about a soft / regular shutdown on your computer – I’m talking about pulling the plug while you are pressing and holding the power key to get the unit to power down as soon as possible!  Just do it!  And once you have done that, pull the battery from the unit (handheld device or laptop).  The damage you may do to the operating system by killing the power in a less-than-graceful manner (or pulling the battery while the laptop is running) is insignificant compared to the damage the liquid will do to your laptop when it makes its way down to the motherboard.

Why pull the power sources and power down?  The laptop has a cooling fan that is running – and liquid will quickly make its way below the keyboard and start to blow out of the fan.  We want to contain the water as much as possible and not have it everywhere.  Of course, once the power is off and we move the device to pull the battery we’re moving the liquid, but we need power off ASAP!

Dry, Dry and Dry Some More

Next part may be the hardest part for you – but you must do it!  Let the unit dry!  This means turning your laptop upside down (keyboard down) and open on a towel or some other surface so as not to let the liquid get on the monitor but letting it drain back out of the keyboard / bottom of the unit.

What you don’t want to do is think it is dry in a few hours and try to power it back up.  Resist!  Use the force (or whatever works for you) – don’t try to power it back up.  For DIY folks, give it at least 48 hours.  But there is still more to do before attempting to power the device back on.

And be cautious on what you do to dry the unit out.  I’ve heard mixed results from many different attempts such as:

  • Cell phone / Smartphone wet – put it in a ziplock baggie with uncooked rice to absorb moisture (some also have used the moisture bags packed in many cartons with electronics, if you have any of those saved ‘just in case’)
  • Use canned air to blow out the moisture (and yes, some have used air compressors as well)
  • Use a shop vac to suck moisture out (and / or use it to blow air on the device)
  • Use a hair dryer to dry the moisture up
  • Strip down parts and bake some in an oven at a fairly low temperature to evaporate the moisture

Many of those ideas sound good, but I would do my best to limit yourself in your attempts.  Many times the results of these attempts do more damage to components than you may be aware of.  Remove all add on cards from their slots and wipe them down.  To do this look for screws to various items that seem to be access covers on the bottom of your laptop.  Components would include your RAM, hard drive and any other areas you can easily open to remove potential wet components and dry them off (use a lint free cloth or towel – a clean dish towel would make a good cloth to wipe down the components of your laptop).  After you dry each laptop component set it aside on a dry dish towel and let it air dry.  We will put them all back after all is dry in the unit!

Why Not Save Your Data Next

Since we should have just removed the hard drive (and allowed it to dry if it was wet) – why not save data if possible?  You will need a way to access the hard drive while removed from the machine (and this assumes you have another computer to plug a USB cord into to copy data to a different machine).  The cable system I’d recommend you to use is one that can be used across many types of hard drives – why not check out the Sabrent USB-DSC5 Serial ATA or IDE 2.5-/3.5-Inch to USB 2.0 Cable Converter Adapter with Power Supply.

Disassemble / Dry Some More / Reassemble

The next step is removing the keyboard. That is usually not very hard but unless you can get a service manual describing exactly how to do it on your laptop (the procedure varies for different models and brands), you may want to let a technician do it.  Why should you remove the keyboard? Because it very well could be damaged and may need to be replaced (but also because that will expose the area where most of the spillage occurred, allowing it to dry better).

Did I mention that it is important that you do not turn the laptop back on before it is completely dry?  Good, you remembered! Also – trying to speed up the process with a hairdryer is a very bad idea, as the temperature of the air is too high and may damage the laptop.

After air drying it out, use some canned air to dry a bit more.  You may see moisture being pushed out of / around components when you do this (not as dry as you thought, eh).  This should be done throughout the keyboard and what is not disassembled.  If you are seeing moisture move about, it may be you need to strip down the laptop to the motherboard and dry more (many videos are on YouTube to show how to tear down laptops, possibly even for the model you have).  Or, take it to a technician.

I trust you have seen the thread here – dry and dry and dry.  We are attempting to give you the best possible chance of salvaging your unit!

Power It On

It would be best to put everything back together at this point.  You have removed various components, dried them, used canned air to dry the components even more after a time of air drying them.  Put it back as it was before the unfortunate event.  I would leave the battery out of a laptop for now and just plug in the power cord.  No sparks and smoke?  Good sign.  Power it up… and at this point my wish for you is a machine that works.

I hope this gives you some ideas for where to start if the unplanned / unthinkable happens.  Have other tricks or pointers?  Feel free to comment!  Take care and thanks for reading.


 

There are batteries in your computer!  I know, that may come as a shock to those of you with desktop computers, but it is (and has been) true!  And for those of you with laptops, you have more than one battery to deal with.

So, why do I write about this?  In the past couple of weeks I have seen 3 machines that needed a new battery or needed to have the battery removed (laptop).  So, it may be a good time to look at what batteries are in your computer.

Desktop and Laptop battery…

First, let’s talk about the battery that is in all computers, the CMOS battery.  The memory and real-time clock (generally speaking) are powered by a CR2032 battery.  In a nutshell, this allows your computer to ‘remember’ the BIOS settings so your computer boots up ‘knowing’ the system time and various hardware settings that were previously used.  Some BIOS will warn you that the battery is low, others do not and all you get is the prompt to set the system time each and every time you have powered the computer down and try to restart (hit the F1 key to continue or F2 to enter set up).  Even when folks unplug their computers to take them somewhere – this battery is what ‘remembers’ all those settings.

If you wanted to check how well your battery is doing, you could open a command prompt window and the black screen is up and you have a C prompt, type time and hit enter.  If the time displayed is the same as what is displayed in the computer system tray (bottom right corner of your screen) then your battery is still functioning.  But that doesn’t give much information!  If you want more information about your system hardware, including information on the battery, why not use CPUID’s PC-Wizard (it’s free-ware).

Laptops – more than one battery…

A laptop has the CMOS battery as well – but it comes with a battery that makes it portable and usable when unplugged.  While I don’t want to go into specific batteries (but you can look for replacement laptop batteries), I do want to show you – at a minimum – how to remove the laptop battery when trouble comes.

Trying to drain the battery won’t work well on today’s laptops – the operating systems are set to put them into sleep / hibernation mode and still maintain a small charge.  So if your computer is having an issue and you need to get it powered off (but are having issues doing so), check out this video on removal of a laptop battery.

I hope this helps you as you continue to move forward in your computing endeavors!


 

One of those areas that we sometimes neglect to discuss (or ponder) when we are looking at various software we need to install on our computers is what is correct for my operating system.  In the Windows family, this becomes a bit more complex with the Vista / Windows 7 family of machines due to the chips that are being made and used in our computers.  We now need to think – am I on a 32-bit or 64-bit Operating System?

This comes into play when downloading software to use (think iTunes, various games and productivity software, etc.) and even what printer drivers / software do I need to install.  So – it’s a fair question that you need to know the answer to so that your system functions to the best of its ability.

Here is a very brief and somewhat non-technical look at the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit system architecture.  This is a large shift in capability – and software needs to deliver optimum performance.  The citation is taken from Wikipedia’s article explaining 64-bit:

A change from a 32-bit to a 64-bit architecture is a fundamental alteration, as most operating systems must be extensively modified to take advantage of the new architecture. Other software must also be ported to use the new capabilities; older software is usually supported through either a hardware compatibility mode (in which the new processors support the older 32-bit version of the instruction set as well as the 64-bit version), through software emulation, or by the actual implementation of a 32-bit processor core within the 64-bit processor (as with the Itanium processors from Intel, which include an x86 processor core to run 32-bit x86 applications). The operating systems for those 64-bit architectures generally support both 32-bit and 64-bit applications. (cite)

That is good information, but the question remains.  How would you tell which system you are using?

  1. Click Start, type system in the Start Search box, and then click system in the Programs list.
    The search results return system, click on it - click here for a larger image...
  2. The operating system is displayed as follows:
    • For a 64-bit version operating system: 64-bit Operating System appears for the System type under System.
    • For a 32-bit version operating system: 32-bit Operating System appears for the System type under System.

So, the information you were looking for is shown by looking at number 1.  In fact, if you look at the top area (number 2), you could see the Operating System you are on and the service pack level you are up to.

Hopefully this will assist someone with finding out the information you need to ensure you download and install the correct software or drivers for your computer.  If you have other tips or tricks, feel free to leave a comment.  Take care!