I’m not a techie. I’m a biology student. But I fiddle with computers a lot and have built a few of my own. This makes me frontline tech support for my family, and a few friends. I’m mostly ok with this as nobody has unreasonably taken advantage yet, and it can be kind of fun.
So. 9:10 this morning, I’m bleary eyed and still in bed (no uni at the moment, so I’m the queen of lie-ins). My phone starts blaring “Pinky and the Brain” at me. It’s Uncle Clueless, owner of a 5+ year old WinXP desktop that performs like a tortoise trying to walk through cement. I have done tech support for Uncle Clueless before, and he’s a technologically impaired middle-aged chap, when it comes to computers the phrase “explain it like I’m five” could have been invented for him. He does tend to listen and follow instructions though. What on earth could he want at this time in the morning? I cough and blink a bit so I sound a bit less like I’ve just barely woken up, and answer.
UC: Hiya. Quick question – do you have any tricks to make a computer turn on?
Me: Um, what? Well yeah, lots. Start at the beginning, talk me through what happens.
UC: When I press the button, nothing comes up on the screen, usually there’s some writing and the windows logo and so on. It makes some long beeping noises and then nothing else happens.
Me: Ok, off the top of my head that sounds like hardware failure for some reason (in my head at this point I’m going through the list of things most likely to fail). It doesn’t sound like a typical hard drive failure to me as I’d expect it to get a bit further along before dying (I think to myself “PCI graphics card? Maybe not, think his machine has integrated graphics. Could be the RAM, it’s always the RAM…), so on the bright side if it’s dead there’s a decent chance we can get your data back.
Pause. Inspiration hits me.
Me: Wait, have you ever cleaned the fans?
UC: No, why?
Me: That machine is over five years old, you have two dogs, you keep it in a tiny room wedged under the desk and the weather is really warm at the moment. If you’ve never cleaned out the fans or had someone else do it, they’ll be full of layers of ancient congealed dust. It’s probably overheating. If you think you can manage it, turn it off completely, go grab a screwdriver, take the side panel off the tower and have a look, it should be pretty obvious if that’s the problem. Be really careful not to touch any of the circuitboards as you can kill them really easily.
UC: Ah, I can probably manage that, I’ve seen someone else do it before. You really think that’s the problem?
Me: If you’re careful, there’s no harm in having a look.
UC: All right, I’ll have a look and ring you back and tell you what I’ve found.
An hour and a half later, my phone rings again
UC: Yeah, ok. It was completely choked with dust. There’s a fan over the bit in the middle of the motherboard – is it called a heatsink? (at this moment, I’m beaming with pride that he’s used a vaguely accurate term to describe something) That was the worst one, it looked like it could barely move.
Me: Well, that explains it.
UC: Yeah. I went and found a little soft brush and got the worst of it out (at this point I winced a bit), then spent about half an hour trying to hoover all the gunk out of the carpet. Turned it on with the side off and it didn’t beep at me, so I turned it off again, put the side back on and connected everything up.
Me: Is it all working properly then?
UC: Yeah, it’s actually so much faster than it was before, and it’s not making a noise like a dying vacuum cleaner anymore.
Me: That doesn’t really surprise me
I’m absolutely floored. This is the man who damn near had a heart attack when Internet Explorer stopped working properly, and I teamviewered him, couldn’t fix it, installed Chrome instead and showed him how to use it. When I was a kid I changed the colour of the boxes around windows on his Win95 computer and he thought I’d hacked it. He thought the printer info box that came up when you booted was a virus, and was scared of msconfig. He thought he could use a power cable from a desk lamp to extend the length of his ethernet cable. And suddenly he’s perfectly ok with delving into his computer innards to diagnose, and then fix the problem on his own initiative. And he’s absolutely thrilled that he was able to make it work, and then says that he’s about to try and back up his stuff onto an external drive in case it fails for real next time. I’m overcome with joy and pride. Then he ruins it.
UC: So… Will this make the internet faster?
[Picture Source: Wonderlane (CC)]