Friday, September 12, 2008

Tech Support Solutions - Turn it OFF!

I know a number of people named Michael -- Michael the Writer, who occasionally collaborates with Jill and who we see on Tuesday nights with the Usual Suspects; Mike the Geek, who is the source of all my daily interesting internet links each day; and Michael the Lawyer, from whom I occasionally hear when his computer breaks.

Perhaps this is unfair. In a previous (business) life, I was part of a company which in the early 80s shared space with Michael's law firm. At that time, Michael acquired a disk based Olivetti word processor which I played with. This machine was beyond cutting edge at the time, when the most sophisticated personal computers one could buy were Apple II's or Commmodore 64s. It was sleek and black and expensive and it could store everything you typed. Of course I fell in love with it immediately. I managed to find the CP/M operating system on one of the operating disks, and I figured out how to bypass the word processor app load and get a CP/M prompt. But, in those stone-knife-and-bearskin days before the internet, I couldn't find out enough additional information to do something really useful -- like maybe compile Space Invaders to run on the Olivetti instead of the much less interesting word processing app.

Fast forward twenty years plus. Nowadays, Michael, like the rest of us, uses a reasonably state of the art Intel-based system running Windows XP, with video tweaked to be a little more than most lawyers would need -- because, dammit, Space Invaders just needs to be run at odd moments. His network also includes a very sweet Mac machine, but that one isn't part of this story.

I got a call from Michael on Tuesday detailing his latest problem -- a message on his screen that said "Not Optimum Mode. Recommended mode: 1280x1024 60Hz". Apparently, this problem had come up suddenly, no obvious cause. Well, Windows is like that -- things sometimes happen without any obvious cause. I didn't take this all that seriously -- based on the message, I expected that a simple right click on the desktop to reset the properties would fix this. I had Michael try this, but it wasn't successful. Michael is a lot better than the woman with whom I once spent a half hour on the phone, unsuccessfully trying to get her to "click on the start button". Remote tech support isn't my thing.

Fortunately, it was Tuesday, so I left the family among the Usual Suspects that evening and did a short hike over to Michael and Liz's house to check on the patient. (Have I mentioned Liz, yet? Liz isn't Catholic, but if she were, I am certain she would be in line for sainthood based on her having put up with Michael since the early 80s).

[Reader to insert virtual smiley face here, to make it clear that this particular cheap shot is basically humorous rather than malicious.]

After seeing the patient, it became obvious that it was not the computer, but the monitor itself that was generating the error message. More importantly, from an operational perspective, the computer was unresponsive -- my plan to right click the desktop to change the properties wouldn't work, because there was no desktop. On reboot, it would go to a black screen, with the monitor-generated message displayed. I tried a few things, including shutting down and restarting everything, and the more time consuming task of doing a repair of XP. During the repair process, the lower resolution screens were displayed, but afterwards, the normal screen display did not come up. Also, booting into Safe Mode didn't work either.

Based on some tech forum chatter which I was able to read from the Mac system, I started leaning toward the idea that possibly the monitor was faulty. With no clue, and no further ideas, I gave up and left for the night. Just to make things complete, Michael mentioned that he had some court documents he needed to prepare by the weekend.

On Wednesday, I went back. The first thing I tried was to unplug the power cord from the back of the monitor. I could also have unplugged the power cord for the monitor from the power bar, but being decrepit and fat, it is easier to do things that don't involve bending over and/or crouching.

When I plugged the monitor back in after a couple of minutes, and then restarted the computer, the restart went flawlessly. Everything came back -- Windows displayed the login screen, and I did the mental equivalent of run around with arms upraised shouting "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!".

So, important lesson -- peripherals can maintain erroneous electrical states even with the power shut off. If the intent is to shut it off to force a reset, consider unplugging it as well. That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

At home, I have to try this with the twin-disk external drive that has been failing the format command since Monday night (although it is perfectly happy with a Quick Format).

Still remaining to do -- go back to see Michael to explain, yet again, why it is important to run an antivirus update (and a scan!) at least once a week. And to do a critical files backup. Honestly, the man does criminal law, and does pretty well at it. You'd think that he could follow some simple instructions. Look at me -- I follow simple instructions quite well. Ask anyone...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most modern electronic devices are never truly powered off. They are in standby, with the main display or CPU switched off, but still powered, usually awaiting a signal to return to full power. Also, most modern electronic devices, unlikely as it may be, contain a processor of some sort. It is not outside the realm of possibility for a comparatively simple device, say a monitor, or even a toaster, to be stuck in some sort of error state and require a total power down and reset to regain full functionality today. Sign of the times...