Dust, hairballs, spilled liquids, static electricity, cigarette smoke — these are just a few of the many environmental hazards that can kill PCs and send them to the support desk or repair shop for fixing or possibly recycling. I wrote on this subject awhile back here on TechGenix on how to preserve your PCs, laptops, and servers against such hazards, see here and here and here and here. But not being a repair guy or having much experience working on the support end of things, I thought it might be helpful for our readers if I tapped into the knowledge of a real expert in this field. So I asked Paul Schmittauer, one of the more than 400,000 subscribers to our weekly IT pro newsletter WServerNews, if he could give our readers a few tips on how to maintain the health of the PCs many of us watch over as systems administrators. Paul has been fixing electronics and computers to component level for 45-plus years, and electronics is both his hobby and his line of work. He works at a research university science department where he repairs computers and analytical equipment and creates custom interfaces. He also has a sideline repairing and modifying tube-type amplifiers specializing in pro-audio, which is something that caught my attention and which I’ll delve deeper into toward the end of this article. But let’s first listen to nine tips from Paul on how to keep your computer healthy, functioning, and safe. Many of us will already be aware of some of these tips, but several of them might open your eyes to new possibilities of frustration or even danger.
1. Watch your surroundings
Keep the computer and its area clean. For example, don’t trim your fingernails by the keyboard, and don’t eat over your laptop.
2. Avoid any obstructions
Don’t block up your computer’s ventilation. If you lay a laptop on a soft surface, such as a bed or couch, it can easily overheat and be damaged. Don’t pack stuff in and around your desktop.
3. Clean the ventilation
Clean the ventilation system. Canned air is your laptop’s friend. Blow it backwards through the ventilation system to clean it.
4. Watch out for liquids
Be cautious with liquids. I’ve seen lots of nice laptops killed by liquid spills. No, you can’t clean it out, but until you get it to somebody who can, towel it off, and put it in a bag with dry rice. Rice is a desiccant, which means it draws water out of stuff.
5. Handle cords carefully
Be careful with cords. The first and last inch of a cord is where the most stress happens, and where it usually fails.
6. Label your power adapters
Don’t mix up power adapters. Just because it’ll fit, doesn’t mean it’ll work. It may even damage something, or cause a fire.
7. Dispose of batteries properly
Lithium-Ion (Li-ion), Lithium Polymer (LiPo), and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries are firebombs! Do NOT break, crush, or get them wet. If you see one swelled up, take it outside, and put it in a fireproof container.
8. Protect from malware
Every computer that is on a network needs virus and malware scanners. Yes, it can happen to you!
9. Keep your boxes
Keep the original packaging for electronic devices at least through the warranty, possibly longer if you move often, or need to send it out for repair.
A brief interview with Paul
I wanted to end this article by briefly interviewing Paul to find out more about his background, how he became interested in electronics and PC repair, and why he got involved in repairing and modifying tube type amplifiers for pro-audio systems.
MITCH: Paul, got a minute to talk a bit about yourself?
PAUL: I’m at home now, and in-between things I have to do. For the minute, anyway.
MITCH: Great. How did you get started in the electronics repair business?
PAUL: I started out tearing apart junk radios at age 5. By 15 I had read every book on electronics in the school library. I went to vocational school, and to the Navy after. I ran and maintained a TV station on shipboard. After that, I worked at a music store for about 11 years, fixing pro audio, home audio, satellite reception, and televisions. I ran my own business fixing anything electronic for nine years, then took a job at the local university, fixing computers and analytical equipment for a science department. I’ve been there 20 years.
MITCH: Fascinating. What’s it been like working in the e-repair biz?
PAUL: Well, people used to bring me things I’d never seen before. I’d never seen them work, and they wanted a to-the-penny estimate on a specific day. I got pretty good at that. Now they bring me something I’ve never seen before, I’ve never seen it work, and I don’t know what it does. That adds a whole new level of difficulty, which is what it takes to keep me interested! I’m an electronics tech first, this computer stuff is Johnny-Come-Lately. I’ve only been doing that for 25 years or so.
MITCH: So I guess you’re really into technology, right?
PAUL: Call me a Luddite, but I believe “smart phones” are the biggest invasion of privacy ever invented, I won’t have one. Further, I believe sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are milking their membership like livestock, gathering and selling any juicy tidbits they can. Anybody who is posting thereon is a slave web developer, and I don’t do that either. My hearing is going to shit, so email works best. And I’m also an old geezer by many standards, so I come from a time before these, I don’t need them. I say computers are great when they work right, but automation can be deadly.
MITCH: Tell us briefly about your pro-audio repair business. Do you have a website for this?
PAUL: I don’t have a web presence other than what the university provides, but I do have sideline fixing tube-type audio amplifiers. My wife calls me “The Amp Man” and had matching cards printed. If people desire my services they should know that I’m expensive and I work by appointment only. Email me at [email protected].
MITCH: Thanks, Paul, I’ll keep you in mind the next time my PSVANE TS66 EL34*4 Integrated Push-pull Vacuum Tube Amplifier starts making that funny humming sound again. Dontcha wish?
PAUL: Yeah 🙂