How to Fix Electronics Without a Pro

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DIY Fixes, Part 2

Your Computer Is Getting Buggy

Are you getting a lot of error messages? Does your computer freeze or shut down unexpectedly? Have files mysteriously disappeared? These glitches could mean that your hard drive, which stores your data, is finally about to fail (this happens to everyone eventually).

The Fix: If you regularly back up your computer files or subscribe to an online service that does this for you, you can rest easy. If not, it is critical that you take immediate steps to save your information or data -- letters, pictures, recipes, music -- before it's gone for good. Try what tech professionals do as a last-ditch effort to retrieve data: Put your hard drive in the freezer for 24 hours in a sealed zip-top bag. Because the cold causes contraction, a jammed part may start working again temporarily when you reinsert it into your computer. To locate the hard drive, open your computer or laptop panel and look for the part that is made of silver and black metal and is the width and length of a recipe card and the depth of a double CD case. There's usually a white label affixed to the component. The hard drive is attached to a cable that's hooked up to the motherboard (often green with lots of tiny components). You probably don't need any tools to disengage the drive; simply remove it and detach its plugs from the cable by pulling firmly. Once the drive has been in the freezer for a day, take it out and immediately reinsert the drive in your computer, then try to find your data and transfer your files to an external hard drive.
Tech Tip: You may have to repeat this exercise more than once.

Your Keyboard Got Doused

Keyboards tend to attract the very thing they don't need: spills.

The fix: For a minor spill, dip a cotton swab or microfiber cloth in 90 percent isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and dab it over the affected areas to remove any stickiness. If you're dealing with a laptop keyboard, use the alcohol sparingly and only if the keys are sticking. With bigger spills, unplug your keyboard, turn it upside down and shake out the liquid. Turn a doused laptop on its side, with the CD slot facing down, to let liquid trickle out.
Tech Tip: the event of a major spill, pour a small amount of straight isopropyl alcohol into the affected area of the keyboard, then let it drain and dry before you try to use again.

Your Wi-Fi Has Cold Spots

You've set up an external wireless router at home, but the signal isn't strong enough to reach every room.

The Fix: First, move the router to a more centralized location or to a place with fewer walls. Still no signal? Go to for instructions on building a six-inch-high passive reflector, or antenna boost, using household items like foil, glue, and an acetate sheet. Search for the Ez-12 template on the Web site, print it out, glue it and the aluminum to the acetate, make slots as indicated in the instructions, and attach it behind your Wi-Fi router. It may look goofy but it works.
Tech Tip: If you don't mind shelling out cash, pick up a router booster for about $100.

Prevent Problems Before they Start

1. Keep computer components clean.
A good rule of thumb is to wipe the outside of your laptop or computer monitor once a week with a water-dampened microfiber cloth and to follow up once a month using a cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol. Do not spray liquid directly onto your screen, as it could trickle down into the monitor or laptop and cause damage; also, never use window cleaner, since it can remove your screen's antiglare finish. Spray the keyboard with an aerosol air duster, sold in office-supply stores, to eliminate dust and dirt.

2. Be careful when it's cold.
If you've left your computer, MP3 player, or other device in the car trunk on a frigid day, allow it to warm to a comfortable room temperature, probably for 30 to 40 minutes, before turning it on. Cranking up a chilled machine in a warm room can cause condensation to short out the device.

3. Avoid heat.
If you carry your phone around in your pocket, the heat of your body can speed up the chemical processes in the battery that make it run down faster. To avoid this, keep the phone in your handbag.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2010.


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