Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lightning Strikes Twice

Plugging in...

Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Can, did, documented by an unfortunate Tutor client. Suffice it to say, surge protectors, lightning rods and wishful thinking just ain't enough to keep the lightning away and it can be very destructive, nevermind costly.

Originating Technology/ NASA Contribution

Contrary to popular misconception, lightning often strikes the same place twice. Certain conditions are just ripe for a bolt of electricity to come zapping down; and a lightning strike is powerful enough to do a lot of damage wherever it hits. NASA created the Accurate Location of Lightning Strikes technology to determine the ground strike point of lightning and prevent electrical damage in the immediate vicinity of the Space Shuttle launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

UNPLUG, UNPLUG, UNPLUG. If you're going to be away for more than a day, OR if you know there are short-term forecasts for thunderstorms, UNPLUG, UNPLUG, UNPLUG. This applies to ANY electrical item you hold near and dear.

A surge guard is OK for minimal day-to-day power surges that most people are completely unaware of. If lightning strikes, a surge guard will be destroyed along with anything it was supposed to be protecting. Cheaper surge protectors wear out over time, with no way of testing their status. Surge guards (suppressors) are not guaranteed against lightning strikes (read the packaging or instructions).

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is there a storm in the forecast, and is it turned on?


Disappearing Problems

Plugging in...

Disappearing problems. Aren't they the kind we like to have? Yes, except that most people want to know why something happened, and how can they avoid it in the future. What about "curiosity killed the cat", or "don't ask, don't tell"? Inquiring minds want to know.

The disappearances aren't magic or a joke. It happens more times than the Tutor can count. (Maybe the Tutor should start counting). It happens in a class room, working one-on-one and over the telephone.

A client/student/person has a computer problem, doesn't matter what it is. The client/student/person flails around trying to find a solution. Sometimes they take days, some only hours, and some only minutes before they raise the "surrender" flag. If I walk over, or call the troubled client/student/person to discuss the issue, when they attempt to re-construct the problem with me, they can't.

[The twilight zone theme song should be hummed right about now.]

The problem has disappeared, won't reconstruct, is nowhere to be found. And the Tutor says each time "I believe you, but... it always behaves itself when I come over". The mere threat of the Tutor's presence seems to put the fear of something into the problem and it skeedaddles. How's that for the power of ONE, or maybe it should be the power of now (calling Eckhard Tolle)?

In reality, the problem is either intermittent and will return, or it's operator error and also will return until the Tutor can WATCH exactly what the client/student/person is doing to achieve their aggitated state.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it operator error, and is it turned on?


Rescue Me

Plugging in...

It seems the Tutor has a new nickname, "Rescue", as in "when are you calling Rescue?" which was recently coined by a client who was unable to completely uninstall an HP all-in-one printer. The trick with the HP is on the installation CD, not in the uninstall feature on the computer menu, nor in the Add/Remove programs folder either. Both stubbornly ignore many files that need to be deleted in order for a complete re-installation of the printer software.

Why does the printer software need to be re-installed (Tutor, anticipating the question)? An HP update changed the software and the client preferred the prior software and wanted to return to it, via a re-installation from the original CD. Logical. Easy? The Tutor is on the way to the rescue site.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it worth being "rescued", and is it turned on?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Just Do It

Plugging in...

Where have we seen and heard THAT slogan? Nike. Nike has hooked up with Apple so you runners and walkers can just purchase the very tiny wireless Nike +iPod Sport Kit which will just track your foot movements and just sync them to your iPod, and also to a handy website called, of course,

So just do it: insert the sensor into the shoe. See client run. See client sweat.
See client take insert out of shoe. See client plug iPod into computer. See error message. See client read instructions. See client get aggravated.

iTunes produced an error without any instructions how to fix or proceed. Manual intervention by the Tutor got the syncing process to work to the Nike website and the Tutor wrote step-by-step instructions for the client to follow. So much for the manual that came with the Kit.

Let's just say that JUST DOING IT, didn't do it in this case.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it just plugged in, and is it just turned on?


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Unplug Me When You're Done, really

Plugging in...

Today's task went a little like a visit to the lab to have some blood drawn. Not MY blood, but the client's! Only no hand like a fist, no blood vials, no lab technician, no bandaid on the arm.

The Tutor thought the task was to connect a USB cable from a computer to a glucose monitor to transfer results from the small hand-held meter to a large [easy-to-read], handy, date-driven, comparative graphic chart. Sometimes it's dangerous to think.

Intead I learned how to use a lancet to draw blood from a quick finger prick; insert a testing strip into the opening on the One Touch Meter; watch the "patient/client" place their droplet of blood let loose by the lancet onto the testing strip; see the One Touch Meter display the almost instantaneous results in the Meter's window.

Ok then. I am not a diabetic, but if I were, this would be a must-have gadget. After completing the blood drawing and receiving the results, it was time for the Tutor to get busy so the computer could show a week's worth of glucose results on one large, colorful screen.

The only tricky part of the procedure was: the One Touch Meter had to be OFF and the USB cable could not already be connected to the PC. The USB cable, as it turned out, must be removed after the results are transferred. Each time. The client had left the cable in the USB port, connected to nothing for many months. Neither the computer nor the One Touch Meter were very happy about that. In other words, they couldn't find each other. So, out came the cable, off went the Meter, in when the cable and voila - they found each other like Romeo and Juliet.

For the record, one should NEVER leave a USB cable plugged into a computer if it isn't connected to anything on the other end. When it's plugged in, it's taking some power and resources AWAY from what you're trying to do on the computer. Lord knows, speed is king in computing, so give the speed back to the computer by removing ALL non-essential cables.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it plugged in too early, and is it turned on?


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hide and Seek

Plugging in...

Where DO things go when you put them in a computer? Can you always find them? Were they there a minute ago and disappeared the next? The disappearing act is a myth, just like a magic show. Sorry to burst your bubble but you didn't honestly believe the woman on stage was cut in half, did you?

Back on point. The Outlook program, a popular email program, has the ability to make manila folders just like the ones you file in a filing cabinet. There too, file folders can be accidentally tucked inside each other, right? Well, a recent client learned how to make a folder to save emails from the Outlook inbox into a more suitably named folder for future use and reference. The Tutor's demonstration went well. Created new folder, dragged desired emails into new folder. Smile on client's face, clean inbox, Tutor leaves the building.

Several hours later a panicky phone call from the client stated the new, aptly named manila folder was GONE. Gone, she told me, gone. But while leaving the voice message, the client was clicking around and hadn't noticed the tiny plus sign to the left of the inbox until that very second. If you're not familiar with the concept of a plus sign in a computer program, it means CLICK ON ME to expand what's below me. Plus sign means show more (expand), minus sign means show less (collapse). Anyway, the client "found" the missing folder when clicking once on the plus sign and marveled at the ingenuity of being able to play hide and seek with the folders.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it collapsed, and is it turned on?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ch ch ch changes

Plugging in...

Change is inevitable. The computer industry thrives on it. Seasons, hairstyles, cars and tastes change. But changing Internet, phone and cable services, well, they can be problematic for some. Don't trust the snappy commercials and flashy brochures. There is always more to it than they say, write and sometimes know.

A recent client canceled high speed internet from Comcast due to financial contraints. The client's light usage of a computer for email led her to choose a dial up service instead, for less money each month. Sensible. But the dial up service wouldn't work, no way, no how. Turns out, if one chooses to use digital voice phone service, the cable modem used for the digital phone, doesn't allow for the use of a computer based modem to dial out and connect to a another internet service provider.

In English: it can't be done. The tones going through the modem don't translate properly so the dial tone technically doesn't exist for the modem to dial out. Comcast's tech support said the client could use THEIR dial up service, but not the one she had chosen and already signed up with.

This should have been easy. A simple switch to save money ended up costing the client for the Tutor's services to figure out what was wrong. The client resigned herself to going back to Comcast's internet service, at their lowest and slowest price point, still double what she would have paid for the other dial up service.

When the client called to cancel the account for the unusable dial up service, they tried to talk her into keeping their security software and they grilled her endlessly as to why she was canceling the account. The Tutor had to take over the conversation to make the cancellation happen while holding another phone on the other ear, getting Comcast to re-instate the canceled internet account. It was a frustrating experience. Did I mention the client just had her 90th birthday??

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, have any changes been recently made, and is it turned on?


Kinky Cables

Plugging in...

Do you remember your mother or father telling you not to twist, tangle, push, pull, bite, or bend any kind of power cord when you were a wee one? NO, you don't remember? Here's a twisted tale of a kink-causing power failure...

Problem: monitor turns on and shows the desktop for 5-10 seconds before going black. Monitor is plugged in, power light is on, cables and cords securely plugged in. Both computer and monitor have been powered fully off and on again. No change in the dreaded black screen. Several days go by. No change. Phone call made to the Tutor, appointment made. Client says he's undone all cords and cables and re-attached them to no avail.

Could have been burned out internal capacitors (don't ask), bad luck, faulty power supply, video card failing, motherboard starting to go, bad windows update or the universe not in retrograde.

Solution: the client looked one last time before the Tutor's subsequent arrival and what did he find? A GIGANTIC kink in the monitor cable. It was stuffed behind a desk (as many of our cables are) and twisted almost in half. A clear power blockage resolved simply by straightening out the cord. Wish they were ALL that simple!

ALWAYS REMEMBER: before calling for help - is it plugged in, is it straight, and is it turned on?