Troubleshooting 101

troubleshoot electronics
Troubleshooting… it’s pretty much what I do. Someone brings me their camera that’s doing something stupid, their computer that won’t connect to wireless networks, their tablet that won’t turn on, and I fix it.  But I don’t really fix it, I just figure out what’s gong on, or just soothingly pet it enough that it decides to start working (electronic devices sometimes just get cranky.  I actually believe this in an entirely non-sarcastic way).  Anyway, that’s what troubleshooting is.  It’s trying a bunch of different things that commonly work for electronic devices and hoping one of them works.  It’s trying to identify what the problem actually is (is it broken or does something just need to be refreshed?  If I can’t print, is it my computer or the printer that’s causing the problem?).

Sometimes the goal of troubleshooting is to identify the issue so you can avoid it in the future.  Sometimes you don’t really care, you just want to get things working again. 

My general assumption is that everyone knows this stuff, but turns out a lot of people don’t, so if you’ve got something that’s broken (particularly an electronic or computerized device) here are some basic troubleshooting tips.  I would try each one of these, in (roughly) this order until something works:

1) Refresh
Having trouble with a website?  Click the refresh or reload button (PC users the F5 button on your keyboard often does this for you).  Is it a program that’s giving you a hard time?  Close it, then open it back up again. 

2) Close all programs
This is another one that works particularly well on smartphones and other mobile devices.  These devices are meant to be able to run LOTS of programs at once, but sometimes we go a little overboard and the only way to get the device working properly is to shut all that open stuff down.  If you can’t tell what’s open or how to close it, then do a web search on your device and how to close apps.  After you close everything, try again.

3) Restart
Yep, turn it off and turn it back on again.  If there’s a restart button then use that.  If not do a full shut down however your device likes you to do that.  If you’re working with a tablet I’m NOT talking about just making the screen go black, that’s just the device sleeping, you have to actually turn it off.  For most devices that means holding down the power button for 10-15 seconds.  Leave it off for another 15-30 seconds.  Then try turning it back on.

4) Unplug it and plug it back in
This typically won’t help with things like computers (at least not modern PCs) and mobile devices.  But electronic home appliances, this sometimes works.  An applicable action you can take with small electronic devices (like smartphones or cameras) is to take the batteries out and put them back in.  This works well for devices that are “frozen” and you can’t seem to turn them off or they won’t respond to a charger.

5) Run a troubleshooter
Obvious right? But if you’re having trouble with a computer program or with internet connection and your device says “try running the troubleshooter” then DO IT!  It often figures it out for you and fixes it, or tells you further steps you should take.

6) Uninstall
If your issue is with a particular program, then try uninstalling it and reinstalling it.  It’s a pain, but it often works.

7) Charge it overnight
I’ve seen this work with iPads, Kindles, and other tablets especially.  Sometimes devices just won’t turn on.  You know they’re fully charged, but they just won’t do it.  Many times charging it again (and I say overnight because that’s the longest you’d have to do it, if it’s going to work.. 3 hours should do it though) magically makes it happen.  Another thing I’ve noticed (that may be obvious) is that if I let a device sit for a month or 2 without use, then it must be plugged in for it to turn on. So if you have a device that you only use for travel, and you’re about to take a big trip, get it plugged in and turned on the night before you leave, or you might find yourself frustrated on your long plane ride.

8) Identify the troubled device
This probably should be number one, but it’s not applicable to every situation.  If you are having issues with 2 or more devices, it’s often only one device that’s causing the problem.  For example, you have a USB drive (flash drive, jump drive, memory stick, whatever you like to call it) that you can’t access on your computer. Try plugging the drive into another port on the PC.  If it works, then your problem is probably a malfunctioning port.  If it doesn’t work, then try another USB device in the same port.  If the new device works then that tells us the problem is your device, not the port.  If none of it works, try plugging your device into another PC.  If it works then maybe the problem was the original PC, and so on.  Once you figure out which device is the problem you can either fix it, or continue troubleshooting to try and fix it. Or replace it.  Sometimes that’s the only way out.

9) Search for Solutions
Run a very specific internet search for your issue.  IE, don’t search “iPad broken.”  Instead, search “iPad freezing when I open iPhoto.”  You’re never the first or only person to have an issue.  Chances are a solution is written out on some tech forum out there, and oftentimes the solution works!

10) Hard Reset
Dealing with a mobile device like an iPad or other tablet or smartphone?  These devices often have a hard reset option.  It usually involves holding down a couple of buttons at once.  Do a web search to find out what your device uses as a hard reset and what the hard reset does.  Some will completely clear the device and take it back to factory settings.  If it’s a digital camera then this is no big deal, but if it’s a tablet with a bunch of files on it that you don’t want to lose, you might not want to try this.

11) Replace the battery
If it’s something where the battery can be replaced, and your main problem is that it keeps shutting down, this will probably fix your issue.

12) Wait it out
If none of this works, or changes anything.  Humor me.  Wait 24 hours try again.  Wait a week, and try again.  Wait a month, and try again.  Obviously, this is not possible (and won’t work) in every situation.  But I put it out there because I had a camera that malfunctioned, and I thought I would have to replace it.  I was so frustrated (and I’d done everything on this list that’s applicable to a camera), I threw the camera into a drawer and tried to forget about it.  About 3 weeks later I opened the drawer, turned the camera on, and my issue was gone.  So glad I didn’t replace it right away.

And if NONE of that works, then my inclination would be to say that the item is broken, which always makes me really sad to say, but you might consider replacing it or contacting a repair person or the manufacturer for additional help

Any other troubleshooting tips I missed?

Need help with tech stuff?  Want someone to actually show you what to do in plain English?  Contact me if you’re in Fort Worth, I’d love to talk to you!

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