Doctor Bob's Tech Support House Call

Category: Software

I received a call from a friend recently, who was seeing random freeze-ups, the dreaded 'Blue Screen' and some other problems on her computer. I decided to pop in and see what I could do. Come along for this tech support house call, and learn the tools and techniques I use to diagnose problems like these...

Paging Doctor Bob... Doctor Bob...

Long-time readers will already know the terrible secret that I'm neither a medical doctor nor a Ph.D. I got the Doctor Bob handle while working at IBM, because I was always helping people fix whatever was wrong with their computers. I accepted the nickname, and thought it was funny, because there was a weather man named "Doctor Bob" who was a popular on-air personality at WABC radio back in the 1970s. Word somehow got out that he wasn't a real meteorologist, and he was fired.

So the moral of that short story is that you should be leary of anyone who calls himself Doctor Bob. I do have a degree in Computer Science, though, and over 30 years of experience in the fields of Programming, Technical Writing and Assorted Geekery, if that helps to rebuild your confidence in me. But now, let's return to the saga of the damsel in digital distress...

Paging Doctor Bob...

My neighbor and her husband have five young children. (Already I knew that Bad Things can happen to a computer with five kids clicking anything moves.) She asked me for a referral to a computer repair shop, because of the freeze-ups, unwelcome intrusions from Safe Mode, the Blue Screen of Death, and her printer that had stopped working. I knew they had little money to spare, and the Geek Squad (or similar fixit services) would probably want to extract at least $150 for their efforts. So I popped in at lunch time, hoping that I could make things right with a few tools from my bag of tricks.

The first thing I did was install Speccy, to check for overheating problems. A computer that's running hot can be the cause of seemingly random system shutdowns and freezes. (I used to recommend SpeedFan, but that website is filled with so many deceptive download links, that I no longer send people there.) Speccy informed me that all of the components were operating at normal temperatures, so I didn't bother to open the system unit and inspect for dust. See What's Going On Inside My PC? to learn more about Speccy and another free diagnostic program you should know about.

Next, I decided to do a malware scan. This computer running Windows 7 already had an up-to-date version of AVG Free Edition, but no protection is perfect. (See
PC Matic - An Overdue Review for my current favorite anti-virus software.) My goto favorite for quick on-demand malware scanning is MBAM. I downloaded this free utility and ran a scan, which reported that nothing malicious was found.

At this point, it seemed appropriate to run some hardware diagnostics, but my memory was failing me. (Don't you love horrible puns?) A quick search on Windows repair and recovery tools inspired me to run CHKDSK to scan for hard drive errors, the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool to check for flaky RAM chips, and the Windows 7 Startup Repair tool. None of them found any problems, or suggested any additional action. I checked my list of Ten Free Tech Support Tools, and it didn't seem like any of those were needed here.

As a final measure, I decided to run PrivaZer, the awesome free disk optimizer, registry cleaner and privacy enhancer that I reviewed a while back. (See Clean and Sanitize Your PC With PrivaZer to learn more.) And voila! In the process of running all these scans and tests, I had restarted the computer several times, and everything seemed to be working fine. No freeze-ups, no Safe Mode, no Blue Screen, and no viruses. It's possible that putting the system through all these paces somehow magically solved the problem. It's also true that computers instinctively fear me, and tend to behave better when I'm nearby. Anyway, I declared Victory to my friend, and Hooray for free software tools.

And then I remembered that I hadn't fixed the non-working printer problem. My friend had already tried the Windows troubleshooter, and learned that the printer device driver software had somehow gone missing. She had even gone to the Canon website, and downloaded what promised to be the solution. I was impressed at her efforts. But the process of getting this creaking MF3100 back to good turned out to be very nerdy and obscure. After wading through a stream of unhelpful websites, wizards and workarounds, I finally got the printer re-installed and working. The story is too long and horrible to repeat here. If I had to do it again, I'd have run over to Best Buy and bought them a new printer. There's just no way a non-techy Joe or Jane would EVER figure this out, and that's a shame. Maybe that's why God put me here. :-)

Feel free to forward the link for this article to anyone who might find it useful. Your comments and questions are always welcome, please post below...

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Most recent comments on "Doctor Bob's Tech Support House Call"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

04 Nov 2019

had a printer issue Friday. The system had a printer installed network but not on the server, instead direct. Had to remove it using the registry, and sort of back and forth. Finally got it to split in the printer list and was able to delete the direct network install. Left the (name) on (server) entry. It worked fine. Also had to make acrobat dc default as edge was (seems to do that with major updates now). User is happy and printing just fine now.

Posted by:

04 Nov 2019

I wish Bob was MY neighbor!

Meanwhile we will continue to read the newsletters and search for solutions on askbobrankin on a regular basis.

As always, thank you Bob.

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
04 Nov 2019

I have 2 highly functioning computers with W7. A friend who seems to be at Bob's level of knowledge will install a 2 TB hard drive in the desktop (the 1T drive is 2/3 full) and install W10 Pro. He'll also upgrade the W7 laptop (Thinkpad) to W10 Pro. Will you do that for your friend, Bob? Great story about how you whipped that machine back into shape. Thanks for sharing.

Can anybody tell me what is a very fair number to pay my friend?

Posted by:

04 Nov 2019

Haha. That all sounds like you have very long lunch breaks. Anyway, proves that you are a good friend. It is nice to know that there are people like you around

Posted by:

04 Nov 2019

Bob, your story is frightening.
Unless I missed something, the only therapy you applied was to restart the machine several times. But the gremlin is still in there.
The next time the machine goes berserk, I advise opening the case and poking at components and connectors with a stick. With any luck you will provoke a crash.

Posted by:

04 Nov 2019

Great article, Dr Bob! I especially like peering over your shoulder and being privy to your thought processes as you investigated the Blue Screen Mystery. I'm going with the It's also true that computers instinctively fear me, and tend to behave better when I'm nearby answer.

Bless you for helping this family keep their older computer setup functional. My older computer didn't support an upgrade to W10, so I really empathize with those freeze-ups, blue screens, and random acts of frustrating behavior. I eventually used your Best Buy solution when that computer died; sometimes it's the most feasible option.

Posted by:

04 Nov 2019

I would have also checked what was loading on startup and what was running in the background?

Posted by:

Nancy Teppler
04 Nov 2019

5 stars for fixing the problem; 100 stars for being a good friend, which is refreshing to see at this time in our history. Thanks on behalf of your friend, and thanks for putting a smile on my face.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
04 Nov 2019

I'm an electronic engineer with degrees from MIT and USC, and almost fifty years of experience in circuit design and software engineering. I've designed and built special purpose microprocessors along with their instruction sets. As such I am a very rational person with regard to computers, totally lacking in superstition.

That being said, my wife has this aura which can knock out street lamps and cause all manner of electronic devices to fail. Her computer regularly experiences strange behavior and failures. Of course when she starts cursing and I have to come running to try to fix the problem, the problem will cease to occur and I can never find anything wrong. My presence has the same effect as a TV repairman.

Then she'll start talking about Yin and Yang, which I just tune out and return to my own computer.

Posted by:

James E Shaneman
04 Nov 2019

Unless I missed something, you didn't mention the neighbor's operating system. A check of the last known configuration feature and/or a SAFE mode trial, or earlier check on a RESTORE point might have had positive results. Then, maybe trying some of your other suggestions. Just thinking.

Posted by:

James E Shaneman
04 Nov 2019

Oh, you're in good company. There was a real (MD) Dr. Bob, who had a great friend in a Bill Wilson, a few years back who we4re both instrumental, along with a few others, in creating Alcoholics Anonymous, with chapters worldwide involved in saving the lives of thousands of recovering alcoholics. So, Dr. Bob, stay well, and don't drink responsibly :-)

Posted by:

04 Nov 2019

Bob, If you happen to be in the neighborhood... Got a once or twice a month, sometimes hour, video tearing and lock-up issue that requires a reboot to fix. Win 10 Intel I7 O-C 3.5 to 3.8 like...forever, on-board graphics, Intel drivers updated. It's a HTPC, so frustrating when it crashes before a recording is be made, else it wouldn't bug me all that much.

Posted by:

Bob K
05 Nov 2019

I use two more programs that were not mentioned here:
1. Unchecky (
Description. Unchecky is a free program that will help you to uncheck unrelated offers when attempting to install software that uses third-party software bundles (also known as PuP - Potentially Unwanted Programs).For example, Cnet is notorious for trying to instal PUP's.

2. Patch My PC (
Patch My PC Home Updater is a free, easy-to-use, portable program that keeps over 300 common third-party applications up-to-date on your PC. Let us take the tedious work out of installing and keeping your apps up-to-date to and stay more secure!

Posted by:

Joseph Palmere
05 Nov 2019

I remember you when it was known as the Tour Bus.

Posted by:

Bob K
05 Nov 2019

For those that recommend going to Win 10:

Not all computers will support Win 10. I had an Intel motherboard that really hummed with Win 7, and when 10 came out I attempted an upgrade. It ran, but every update that came along gave Microsoft another chance to wipe out a bunch of needed drivers. Then I found that Intel tagged this MB as not supporting Win 10. I rolled it back to 7.

I since have migrated to Ubuntu on a new MB, and that is great. That installation can dual boot into Win 10 upon demand, but I use that only for the rare situations where I must have a Microsoft OS for some rare program.

Posted by:

Erenst van Niekerk
05 Nov 2019

Thanx for all the advice and tips
If every falls and before opt for a Special try
spray Doom on the hardware board and let it dry
before switch power on.

Posted by:

agneta hayes
05 Nov 2019

Thank you for sharing and I love your writing, its both entertaining and uplifting! And thank you for helping your neighbor, more of this is needed in our time of turbulence:)

Posted by:

Mark G.
05 Nov 2019

Dr. Robert ("he does everything he can...he helps you to understand")
As usual, an interesting an helpful article, and I'll probably need to refer back to this when I have to clean up my wife's work PC.
I'm curious about the lack of mention (and use, apparently) of CCleaner. I still find it to be one of the most helpful tools when investigating PC issues.
Any reason for the omission?

Posted by:

Bob Cford
06 Nov 2019

Love it. A man with compassion and a sense of Justice.

Posted by:

Ed Zimmerman
10 Nov 2019

I have also helped people with computer issues at home. I'm a believer in the 80 - 20 rule. In this case, 80% of computer users that I encounter never shut down or restart their computer. They merely close their laptop or walk away from their desktop and let it go to sleep. The first thing I do upon sitting down at their computer is restart their machine. Or even better have them do it themselves to learn how. And 80% of the time they've solved their own problem.

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