New gadgets' set-up will take a little sense, a lot of patience

December 25, 2003|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

BY THE TIME you read this, you've probably unwrapped those high-tech holiday gifts, and some of you may be having, shall we say, a bit of a problem getting them to work.

In fact, when I was chatting just before Christmas with a professional computer troubleshooter who makes things work for home and business clients, he estimated that 25 to 50 percent of users have trouble trying to set up new systems.

Often, he says, computers, printers and other gadgets come with unintelligible, misleading or inaccurate instructions, buggy software or setup procedures that make no sense. And trying to get a home theater set up with connections between a television, stereo system, cable box, CD player, VCR and DVD player can be a nightmare.

So, if you're having trouble with new gadget, it doesn't mean that (a) the darn thing is broken or that (b) you're some kind of techno-moron. These devices aren't as easy to get running as they should be, and even the most intelligent folks often overlook some basic elements.

Let's look at the simple things first. I know this sounds ridiculous, but if you turn on a new computer or printer and nothing happens, make sure the power cord is plugged in. That means plugged in tight. I've fixed more than a few broken machines just by pushing the plug in a little more firmly.

Also make sure the receptacle has power. It's not unusual for people to set up new computers in an unused corner where nothing has been plugged into the wall outlet for months or years. If you're not sure about an outlet, test it by plugging in a lamp that works elsewhere.

If the receptacle doesn't have power, your problem might be a tripped circuit breaker - check out the breaker box and make sure the power's on there. Breakers can trip for strange reasons - I spent 20 minutes swearing at a "broken" television last week till I decided to look in the basement. A flick of a breaker switch fixed it.

If you're using a power strip or surge protector (particularly a new one), make sure the power switch on the strip is turned on, too. Some come out of the box with the power turned off.

Is your new monitor dark? Make sure both the computer and monitor are plugged into wall outlets, and check to see that the computer and monitor are connected with a video cable. Once again, press tightly. Most monitors have a little light near the power switch that glows green when the PC is sending a signal, and yellow when nothing is coming through. If you get a green glow but no image, try adjusting the brightness - I've seen monitors shipped with the brightness turned completely down.

Setting up printers and other devices that connect to a computer's USB port can also be frustrating because there are two ways to go about it. The question is when to install the driver software, which usually comes on a CD-ROM.

Some manufacturers want you to install the software before you plug in the device. That done, some want you to plug in the gadget with the computer on, while others want you to turn off the PC first.

Then again, some manufacturers want you to plug in the device first and wait for Windows to prompt you to install the software.

Either way, if you get it wrong the first time, you can wind up with a thoroughly confused PC and a real problem on your hands. This is one I blame strictly on manufacturers. There's no technical reason why they can't make a printer or scanner that installs either way, so why not standardize? Do these guys actually like paying millions for tech support lines?

Which brings us around to a delicate problem, especially for the male of the species. In my house, it's a point of pride among the men to ignore the presence of any instruction manual, at least until we've spent a couple of hours trying to get something to work. My wife, on the other hand, has been known to investigate the instruction booklet at the outset, which is why she's still the only one who can program the VCR.

So if you really want some gadget to work out of the box, guys, you can get spectacular results by persuading your significant other to set it up. She may not be a tech wizard, but she probably knows how to follow instructions, which is 90 percent of the battle.

If that's not an option, swallow your pride and read the setup guide, or sneak off to the bathroom or garage and open the manual there, where nobody can see you. The instructions will undoubtedly tell you whether to put the disk in the drive before or after you connect the printer to your computer.

So what happens if you follow all these rules, read the manual and find that your computer/ printer/monitor/camera/ music player still doesn't work?

That means it's time to call the manufacturer's tech support line. In the weeks after Christmas, this is as much fun as a wisdom-tooth extraction sans novocaine: Everybody's swamped.

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