The Digital Life, Santa, We Have a Problem…


Youngsters of today cannot begin to imagine the devastating effects a forgetful parent and the words ‘Batteries not included’ could have on a Christmas morning. The non-availability of batteries on December 25th is no longer a problem, except, possibly, for those living in the Outer Hebrides, but modern technology can still conspire to put a dampener on the festivities.


These days the pain and frustration can last a lot longer than just 24 hours, depending on the holiday arrangements and workload of manufacturer’s telephone support staff. In extreme cases it could take a week or more before you find out that your new whizzy gizmo isn’t dead after all an all you needed to do was RTFM*. (* Service engineer jargon for Read The Flipping Manual, or words to that effect…)


If fact most gadget-oriented problems can be resolved by the simple expedient of reading the instructions, though to be fair anything longer than two sides of A4 can be a bit daunting, and some them appear to be written by people with only a passing acquaintance with the English language.


If after carefully reading the instructions you are still stuck do not despair, the Digital Life Generic Troubleshooter for Dead Widgets might just be able to help you out.



Check the Obvious -- Fuse, Batteries, Cables and Switches

Of course it will never happen to you but you wouldn’t believe how many fully-functional products are returned to shops as faulty every year simply because the owner didn’t check the obvious, though there’s no way of telling how many grumpy owners simply want a cash refund or to change it for something else…


Power Down and Try Again

Many of today’s gadgets contain microprocessors, distant cousins of the processor chips inside PCs and like your computer or laptop they rely on an operating system – a bit like Windows or Mac OS but a lot simpler -- to tell them what to do. The operating system or ‘firmware’ is stored on a microchip and like a PC the device needs to boot up to make it work.


If something goes wrong the device may just need rebooting so the first thing to do is remove all sources of power, whether it is batteries, or a mains adaptor.  Wait at least a minute then press the on-switch. This has the effect of dissipating any residual power that may be stored in the device. Switch off and reconnect the power, or insert the batteries and see if that does any good.


Hard and Soft Reset

A lot of digital devices have an internal battery, to keep a clock running, or store user settings in a memory chip. These often have a ‘hard’ reset switch, which reboots the system; digital TV receivers, DVD and hard disc recorders are typical examples. The reset switch or button may be well hidden, or inside the case and only accessible through a small hole, usually on the underside of the device, so keep a pointy object or unfolded paperclip handy. If the switch can be got at without taking the item apart it is safe for you to use it and the usual trick is to keep the reset button pressed while you press the On Switch. However, procedures vary so check the instruction book or support section of the manufacturer’s website for details.


Some devices have what is known as a ‘soft’ reset facility, which requires you to press or hold down a combination of buttons. Apple iPods are a classic example and if yours freezes or becomes unresponsive try this: flip the Hold switch between the on and off positions and leave it in the Off position then press and hold the Menu and Select buttons for around 6 seconds, until the Apple logo appears then release the buttons. (On some models follow the same procedure but press and hold Play/Pause and Menu for 6 seconds).


Once again this is an approved ‘customer’ control and quite safe to use. Incidentally, there are hours of fun to be had randomly pressing buttons on gadget front panels and remote controls and occasionally you will stumble across hidden ‘Service’ menus. Generally speaking you are not supposed to tinker with these and you may end up in even deeper trouble, but there are often useful ‘extras’ to be found, like enabling All-Region playback on a DVD player that previously could only play discs purchased in the UK. TVs in hotels are also worth experimenting with as they often have a number of secret picture, sound and channel setting options.


Sticky Fingers

Any device that uses optical discs, and that includes PCs, video games consoles, CD and DVD players and recorders and so on, are prone to loading problems and failure if discs are dirty or scratched. Check and if necessary clean all discs before loading, especially if they’ve been handled by anyone with a tendency for sticky fingers. A good quality disc cleaner kit is a very worthwhile investment.


Phone A Friend

Many problems are easily resolved when you know what you are looking for, so if your new digital doohickey isn’t behaving and you know someone who has one just like it, give them a call as they may have encountered similar difficulties.


The same goes for problems with Windows XP and Vista. If you are getting into a tangle and you have a knowledgeable friend they may be able to sort you out over the Internet using a feature called Remote Assistance (You’ll find it on the Help menu). It’s very safe and with your explicit permission and an exchange of passwords they will be able to log on to your computer, see your desktop and take control of your PC – you can even talk to them while they are doing it  – and because it’s via the Internet your gallant helper can be anywhere in the world.


Search The Web

No matter what problems you are having, it’s odd-on that someone else has been there before you and there is an excellent chance the solution is out there, on the Internet. The first stop should always be the manufacturer’s support website but failing that try to condense the gist of your problem into a few keywords – i.e. ‘Fuzzytone DAB radio not tuning’ -- and type that into Google. The more specific and succinct you can be the better. If that doesn’t yield any useful results ask Google if there are any forums or newsgroups devoted to your product or the manufacturer and post a question. You might be lucky if a fellow sufferer spots your query you could get a response with a few hours. elp menu



Unorthodox Remedies

You would be amazed at how many times a dead gadget can be brought back to life with a firm tap in the right place. Service engineers do it all the time (though they usually make sure the customer isn’t looking) but it can be a useful diagnostic tool for revealing intermittent connections and switches.


A surprising number of people have reported successfully reviving a faulty computer hard drive by popping it in the freezer for a couple of hours. There’s all manner of explanations but in most cases it’s not a permanent fix, though they often work long enough to recover important data.


Warm it up, especially if your widget has recently been used or stored in a cold or wet place. Condensation can build up inside and foul things up and half an hour beside a radiator can be enough to dry it out and get it working once again. Equally, when moving from a warm environment to a cold one allow at least 20 minutes for your device to acclimatise before switching it on.




© R. Maybury 2007 1012


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