My 12/14/08 Missoulian column
Santa Claus is soon going to stuff himself down the chimney at your house with a bag of goodies or, lacking a stovepipe, slip in the back door sometime Christmas Eve. (Well, his poundage might be an easier fit either way, as he could be a bit thinner these days with the economy the way it is.)
But lots of people are going to get some sort of high-tech present this Christmas rather than lumps of coal – even though coal isn’t such a bad deal in a below-zero cold snap – and along with high-tech gadgets come problems.
You can almost expect that some electronic critters won’t do what they’re supposed to when you punch the buttons or keys. Or they may do everything other than what they’re supposed to do. Or maybe they’ll just roll over and play dead.
If that happens, it’s time to either read the owner’s manual, find your local teenager to help you out, consider calling that toll-free number for customer support or take the animal back to the store.
But when confronted with a seemingly dead or nonworking device, try these general tips first to keep from having to take it back to the store or call someone.
First, look in the box for the “Quick Start” or “Read Me” guide. These days, every manufacturer includes a big sheet or pamphlet with the most common and important operating details – probably due to howls of dismay over thick instruction manuals that no one ever reads anyway. You might still get a thick manual (and they all have an index for quick searches), but first look for the “Quick Start” guide or “Read Me.”
Any quick guide will walk you through the fastest way to hopefully get the gadget working, such as how to power it up and how set up the basic settings like personalization, time, preferences, registration and more. Work your way through the guide; that’s what it’s there for.
After that, see if the electronic critter is working. If not, check the power, reboot or power cycle, reset it or update. These steps will solve many problems.
First, the power: If it’s not working at all, just be sure it’s plugged in. (I know, but it DOES happen.) Check the batteries: Are the AA or AAA size batteries in the correct way? (Oftentimes, many newer style Lithium and NiCad batteries will only go in the correct way.) Plug the USB cable or the power adapter in so the batteries can charge and let it charge all the way up.
Power-cycle it: Games, iPods, wireless routers, printers, cordless mice and anything else that’s not a full-blown computer sometimes likes to be power cycled, which is technically the same as rebooting a PC. Just turn it off, wait thirty seconds to a minute or so and then turn it back on. The delay will mostly drain any capacitors and other components that are still holding juice. Many gadgets have firmware built in that holds the software – which means it is software stored in hardware and doesn’t have to load each time from a disk – and a power cycle reloads the software.
For computers, try a reboot. Restart the Windows PC or laptop, the MacBook, the iMac or what have you. A reboot clears out memory and loads fresh copies of the operating system and drivers and gets you a clean start. A reboot is always the first step in solving PC problems. Of course, if your PC is frozen and won’t respond to the keyboard or mouse, you’ll have to force it to reboot with the reset button. For laptops, try holding the power button down for five seconds to force a shutdown. Full-size PCs and Macs also respond to holding down the power button.
Don’t worry if the computer takes a little longer to reboot; sometimes that will happen after a freezeup. While it restarts, the PC or Mac has to do some internal housekeeping and check to see if things are in order before coming fully to life.
There is always the manufacturers Web site, too. Many have troubleshooting sections. Look on the box or “Quick Start” guide for the address of the support site and find another PC to use. Some examples are: support.microsoft.com, support.dell.com, esupport.sony.com, www.panasonic.com/support. Have the model number of your device ready.
Many gadgets need a reset. You can reset a wireless router by finding the reset button and then holding the button. That will reset it to factory defaults and gives you a clean slate to start over with the configurations you want for your own network. Look for the instructions to reset an iPod or other MP3 player.
Often, new computers or other devices will want to update their software after the first start, so have patience and let the update run without interruption. Be sure not to work on something else on the computer while software updates run. Many times, one software update will then require another update. After the initial start, leave automatic updates on so you’re up to date on security and bug fixes.
Of course, there is the last resort: phoning for help. But don’t even try to call the manufacturer’s tech support line on Christmas Day. Try on the 26th or the next Monday. When you call, have your numbers ready: serial number, model number, version number, receipts even. You never know what they will need to know.
And be patient. Many companies have outsourced their phone tech support to other countries, and in the Christmas crush, you might get someone whose command of English isn’t perfect. Their job isn’t the greatest and daytime here is the middle of the night there, and they’re being hurried to support as many callers as possible, too.
The best way to get bumped up to a higher level of support is to be patient and answer all the questions again; you’re more likely to advance in the queue and get sent to someone who can help.
But what about the voice menus that begin just about every call to tech support? Try punching the “0” at each voice prompt or even mumbling when the voice asks for a response. That might get you connected to a human fast. Check gethuman.com for tips on the “secret” commands to get a human on the line fast for hundreds of tech support and customer support phone numbers for computer manufacturers, car companies, banks and government.
The worst-case scenario is hauling the animal back to the store, but it happens. That’s the advantage to buying locally; there’s a real person behind the counter at the store down the street, and lots of times an exchange for a dead gadget – or help in bringing it to life – is quick and easy.