During an average day, I’m asked a lot of questions. Almost all of them are tech oriented, which is good because that’s something that I know a fair bit about. I’m not some kind of web wunderkind who understands how the CSS3 codes proposed by the W3C will speed up YouTube video rendering on a mobile platform. I barely even know what I just wrote. I do know that I have been building, fixing, troubleshooting and using computers since the Apple IIc. Hosting a technology show on a local radio station for six years has also helped me when it comes to answering those tech questions with computer talk that can actually be used.
Many people end up becoming the go-to tech support for their organization or friends. It probably begins innocently enough: someone can’t open a .DOCX file. You visit Google and learn that it’s the default save format for Word 2007 and 2010 documents. They were using Word 2003, which has no idea what to do with that extra X. A little more research turns up the free converter from Microsoft and they can now view and edit .DOCX files with impunity. In-house tech support is born! That’s slightly similar to how I got started all those years ago. The biggest difference is that my origin story is so much more embarrassing.
I bought my first computer from a mail-order service in the back pages of Computer Shopper, a magazine that once was as thick as a phone book, stuffed with advertisements hawking Pentium Pro processors and gigantic 17-inch monitors. The computer itself was a simple beige box with the non-removable plastic front hot-glued to the metal case. It was a decent system… that was completely incapable of connecting to the then speedy 33.6 Kbps Internet. After a week of attempts and numerous calls to tech support, I finally paid for some on-site support. After five minutes the tech was gone. Diagnosis? I had the same phone cable plugged into both ports of the modem. “One of them has to go to the phone jack in the wall or it doesn’t dial out,” he said, stifling a laugh and failing. “It has to go from the wall to your computer or it won’t work. You can’t plug the phone cable into itself!” It was an oversight, but a humiliating one.
That’s when I decided to learn all I could about computers. I would never pay for tech condescension again.
Now it’s your turn. Not to become the alpha geek, but to ask questions of one. Once a month in this column, I’m planning to answer tech questions that are sent in to the Sun Star. Ask what free ways exist to edit and save PDF files, if a Kindle DX will make school life easier, or if a 3D Television is the right way to spend your PFD. You can even ask if you have the phone line plugged in correctly. I won’t laugh because I’ve been there.
So I write a column for the UAF Sun Star that runs weekly. It deals with technology, is called Random Errors, and I get paid. Not too shabby, putting that Journalism degree of mine to some work. Anyway, THIS is that column.