First things to try when you have a computer problem

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As a computer technician, I spend a lot of time doing computer repair here in Safety Harbor, Florida (and remotely for clients around the country). Just about everyone has a computer (or several) these days, and eventually something goes wrong with almost all of them. If there were no computer problems I would have to go look for a real job! But there are certain situations that you might be able to take care of on your own, just by trying one or two steps first.

computer repair


Problem: no internet connection


First thing to do: restart your modem and router
The company that you pay for your internet access provides you with a modem. In some cases, the modem is also a router. Or, you might use the internet company’s modem along with a router that you purchased yourself. There are even some cases where all you have is a modem (this is common if you only have one desktop computer and no need for a wifi connection).

Whatever your situation is, you need to unplug the modem and router from the electrical outlet, wait a minute, then plug them back in. In many cases, this will bring back your internet connection so your computer is able to go online again.

Of course, you could just call your internet provider, navigate through their phone menu, wait on hold for a while, and then the first thing they’re going to have you do is power down the modem and router anyway. Save some time and do that first.

Another option: If your computer is a laptop that uses wifi to connect to the internet, you could check and see if the wifi is physically switched on. For some laptops, there is a simple slide switch on the front or side that may have gotten bumped into the “Off” position. Or you might see one of the keyboard keys that has a small indicator light that’s orange (meaning wifi is off) and when you tap it, the color changes to blue (meaning wifi is on).

a program won’t run


First thing to do:
restart the computer
Actually, restarting the computer is sort of a “magic pill” for fixing computer problems. When someone tells me they keep clicking on an icon for a particular program and it just doesn’t do anything, I’ll ask them when was the last time the computer was restarted. Many times the answer is several days or even weeks. Not good! Your PC, whether it’s a laptop or a desktop, should be restarted each day or at least every couple of days. The easiest thing is whenever you’re done using it for a while, just do a restart then. When you come back to it, the restart will be completed and the computer will be fresh and ready to use again.

an error message appears on the screen


First thing to do: write down the actual text of the error message
So many times I’ll have someone call me and tell me that their computer needs repair. Here’s the typical dialogue:

Computer user: “My computer is acting really weird and not working right.”
Me: “How is it acting weird? What are you actually seeing on the screen?”
Computer user: “Well this error message keeps popping up telling me something something blah blah blah. Do you think it has a virus?”
Me: “What does the error message actually say?”
Computer user: “I don’t remember.”

The actual text of the error message is probably the biggest clue in diagnosing the problem, so write it down when you see it. Your computer guy, whether it’s me or someone else, will want to know what that is.

Even better – take a screenshot of it and email it to your computer tech. This might not be possible, depending on what kind of problems the computer is having, but it sure does help explain a lot of things more clearly than just a verbal description.


Problem: printer won’t print

errorFirst thing to do: check the print queue and clear it if necessary
If you try to print a document and for whatever reason it doesn’t print, then no print requests after that will be successful until you clear out that first one that didn’t work. A lot of times I’ll be on a client’s computer and they’ve been trying to print for a while without any success. Then when I look in the print queue, there are 5 or 10 files in there, all lined up but nothing printing – because they’re blocked by the first one that didn’t print.

To check the print queue, click the Start button and go to Devices and Printers. Double click your printer, then click on “See what’s printing”. Whatever is in that list needs to be cancelled. Then you can check on the printer (or have your tech check it) and see why the first document didn’t print.


Problem: Outlook won’t send an email

errorFirst thing to do: delete any emails in the Outbox folder
If you create an email and it has a mistake, it won’t be sent. A mistake could mean an email address that doesn’t make sense (like it’s missing the “@” sign), or it could mean that the email server settings in your Outlook account are not correct. Whatever the problem is, if that first email you sent has a mistake, Outlook can’t send it. And that means that any emails you create AFTER that won’t be sent – even if those subsequent emails don’t have that mistake any more. You have to delete the mistaken email first. This applies to both Outlook, and Windows Live Mail. Fix the mistake(s), empty the Outbox, and your emails will go (assuming everything else is working properly).

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Marjorie McMahon
October 13th, 2014

Have asked you for suggestions in the past, but maybe you have a new idea, I hope! I have an iOS 5.0.1. I and a number of other people on line have tried to erase unwanted photos. No luck!

Scott Johnson
October 13th, 2014

Can’t really help you with that one – I don’t deal with Mac products. Sorry!

Jim the Candian
October 14th, 2014

Excellent comments. For those of you who do not know how to take a “screen shot” with your computer – then the easy solution is to grab your cell phone (most have cameras) and take a picture of your screen! Then you can send that to your computer tech!

Thanks for the excellent comments Scott. I enjoy reading these each week -and you always provide great practical comments.