Tech Support House Call

Category: Reference

I got an email from a neighbor the other day, 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 kids (two of them recently adopted from Haiti) and their livelihood comes from working with troubled teens. 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. The computer already had an up-to-date version of AVG 2013 Free Edition, but no protection is perfect. (See Free Anti-Virus Programs if you're still paying big bucks for Norton or McAfee.) My goto favorite for on-demand malware scanning is MBAM. I downloaded this free utility and ran a scan, which reported that nothing malicious was found. Check out my article on MBAM to learn why I like it so much.

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 AskBobRankin brought up the Free Windows Repair and Recovery Tools article that I had published earlier this year. That 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 disk optimizer, registry cleaner and privacy enhancer that I recently discovered and reviewed. (See Clean and Sanitize Your PC With PrivaZer to learn more.) 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. 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. So 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 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. 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...

Ask Your Computer or Internet Question

  (Enter your question in the box above.)

It's Guaranteed to Make You Smarter...

AskBob Updates: Boost your Internet IQ & solve computer problems.
Get your FREE Subscription!


Check out other articles in this category:

Link to this article from your site or blog. Just copy and paste from this box:

This article was posted by on 10 Oct 2013

For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.

Prev Article:
Geekly Update - 09 October 2013

The Top Twenty
Next Article:
Can a Virus Really Destroy Your Hard Drive?

Most recent comments on "Tech Support House Call"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Thee Ox
10 Oct 2013

Paging Dr Bob? It should be
" They call Me...Dr. Love! They call me...Dr. Love..."
Sorry Bob, I couldent resist.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
10 Oct 2013

Hi Doctor Bob,

As an electronics engineer, I go through a lot of what you do -- I'm tech support for my family and friends. Much of that is done long-distance using the free LogMeIn remote desktop utility (which I make sure is installed in their computers ahead of time).

My wife and I are opposites in many ways, among which are our effects on electronic devices. Things constantly go on the fritz around her, whereas I exhibit the "television repairman syndrome". For example, she couldn't connect her computer to the internet all day yesterday, but when I got home from work it started functioning perfectly. Neither of us were surprised.

After reading your article, I'll add a few tools you recommended to my computer repair box. Thank you.

The other advice worth mentioning is that Google is awesome: Whenever anything strange happens to a computer, or some weird problem arises, just Google the behavior or the error message or a description of the problem (try phrasing it in several different ways). Invariably lots of folks will have had that same problem or seen the same error message, and other folks will have described the solution. It's much faster and more effective than calling any company's tech support hotline.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2013

I too would like to hear at least an outline re the printer. Sometimes those issues are so easy, but sometimes they are a real pain. I have a computer that was printing fine, then suddenly stopped. I figured I'd take a shortcut, un-install the printer, then reinstall it. But, it will not locate the networked computer. I've even tried telling it which ip address to go to. It can find another printer on the network, but not our main one. Kinda has me bumfuzzled.

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

Re the Dr. Bob reference (which I may have shared with you way back in those IBM days), there was a spoof soap opera segment on the old Muppet Shows, called Veterinarian's Hospital. Rowlf the Dog played Dr. Bob, a surgeon, and one of the band members, Janice, played a nurse whose catch phrase was (spoken in a real hippie, dreamy voice) "Oh, wow, Dr. Bob! Many bad jokes and puns ensued. Great show. And I liked this column very much also.

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

Sorry Bob! It's hard to understand why an individual like Dale would be so demeaning about this article. The value of advice and information that people like you and your friend Leo so freely give, should never spawn such a comment. I have never posted a comment myself until now. Dale's just fried me and I had to respond! Keep up your good work...and I hope all of your "shilling" manages to provide you a cup of coffee now and then. Maybe Dale could get his "Shift Key" fixed too!

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

Page header sez "Ask Bob", so I be asking:
What could have possibly fixed this ailing PC.
Surely, it was not FM... unless it was PrivaZer!

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

Bob, I've been a subscriber and a fan (from the land down-under) of yours for more years than I can remember. You Sir are a total unselfish legend which in part is demonstrated for what you did for this nice lady in computer distress.

Know that I normally do not express my opinions though I sincerely believe you're one of the many unsung heroes that merit recognition for what you do.

Best to you and yours

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

I was not going to comment at all except save the page for all the good info in one location until I saw that negative comment. I want you to know that I too come from way back working for IBM in Boca Raton when the PC was invented. Unfortunately I was not into computers but had someone like you always help me out. Now that I'm on my own you are my sole support and help me fix all my problems on a daily basis. Right now I'm working on setting up a new PC and decrapifying it as you suggest. You are a blessing to all of us who depend on your knowledge that you so freely share with us. Keep up the good work we all appreciate what you do for us!
By the way can you write something on using those recommended programs as mobile where they do not need to be installed on the PC and can be run of a flash drive.

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013


Good article and we have similar backgrounds, and I worked on IBM systems programming, DB, and all the rest too over 30 years.

Your approach is the same as mine and I have added Hitman Pro that takes a cloud approach, and has got me out of some jams that were MBR virus types that others missed.

I also chuckle and tell people that the computer I'm about to work on should be "shaking in it's boots" as I approach it!

Been involved with computers since HS, where we had a IBM 1620, with 20k memory, and 230k hard drive, and was "hooked" from a Freshman forward on computers.



Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

Dr. Bob, as Tony said I've been a fan and subscriber of yours for several years and have downloaded a lot of the free software you recommend. I want to say thank you for your free tech support, it takes a good person to do this for free.

Again, thanks. :-)

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

Now this is weird - I've just read Daniel Wiener's post and felt deja vu - either that we have some kind of doppelganger connection. What he describes regarding his wife's affect on things electronic is almost identical to the adverse properties my lady wife displays. I concluded that she must possess and impart evil electricity and probably is in need of exorcism of some kind:)

In any event Daniel's comments re Google is spot on as I have long held the view that any computer problem one encounters has bound to have happened many time previously and because there are many many more good people than otherwise a number of them would have posted solutions. Just remember to try different syntaxes if at first you don't succeed. Other than that - they could always you Bob

Posted by:

Alan Miller
11 Oct 2013

I also have a Cannon 3100, AND am having many problems. Mostly I can't print with WiFi. Cannon HELP is useless. I installed it using their instructions and I wouldn't know how to begin reinstalling it. My son who is a computer geek :) checked and all my settings and they are correct. We're baffled. I guess the solution is to NEVER buy Cannon crap again.

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

Just worked on a friend's computer to fix the Epson printer. 3 days of spare hours. Never got the Linksys wireless router to recognize his Sony bluray player or the E2500 printer. Maybe redo the router with DD-WRT firmware? The Linksys has very few settings. Cisco Connect program wireless section saw the printer but Vista OS kept saying it had a problem. Disabled the printer wireless. Hooked up a usb cable to it. Uninstalled the wireless printer in Devices. Vista couldn't delete it before the usb connection. Went to Linksys website and updated the printer firmware. Installed an unnecessary remote access printer program to get the printer software up to date. And all scanner printer programs worked. It just wouldn't print. The cartridge program displayed 2 of the 4 cartridges as being about ~30%. The other 2 ~40%. Installed new cartridges and Voila! Shazam! Kapow! Worked like new. Just no wireless.
Thanks for being so helpful, Bob! When repairing PCs I use most of your recomendations. Malwarebytes, Spybot S&D, plus a new one to me, awdcleaner. Have yet to try PrivaZer, but will. By the way, this friend subscribes to Norton 360. When Norton dropped Ghost years ago, I dropped Norton. Tried many other PAY AV solutions. Now stick with AVG or Avast FREE. They offer very good protection with few annoying popups. Why pay for popups and questions that bewilder?

Posted by:

11 Oct 2013

So Dale, you never ask advice from others about software, hardware, restaurants, cars, etc.? And you never give any?

Posted by:

Old Nana
11 Oct 2013

Thanks for this excellent list of steps to help make a computer behave. I have saved this valuable information for the future.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2013

Nice article but you committed an error by not opening up the computer. Many blue screens, random reboots and freezes can be caused by bad (blown) capacitors. I have found this on many motherboards old and new. A quick inspection of the motherboard would have told you if it had this problem. Only a replacement of the capacitors will truly fix the computer.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2013

I find most these errors can be fixed, it's simply having enough time to fiddle with them. A tech person who deals with these issues every day can usually fix the problem quicker because he's seen the error before.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2013

Goodonya Bob. Love your humour. So tongue in cheek! 'Downunder' me is the Mrs Fixit of computers in my social circle. Thanks to you, I learn more every day. I have 90 HINT SHEETS which I hand out to oldies (some actually older than me)when I do my volunteer computer tutor days. This week I have 2 friends to visit to solve their IT problems. I'm no expert, but, armed with my HINT SHEETS, mostly from your columns, I can sort them out. Keep up the great work!

Posted by:

29 Oct 2013

I ran Privazer and it deleted some things it shouldn't have. I still haven't recovered my computer. Thanks a lot.

Posted by:

Steven Bulger
28 Dec 2013

Currently my wireless printer will not communicate with my computer (even with the USB and/or ethernet cables attached). I have reinstalled the printer software from the disk and from the printer company's website to no avail. The printer company says the problem is with my Windows 7 OS. I say it is the communication software within the printer. I'll just have to return it for a new one that hopefully will work longer than a year!

There's more reader feedback... See all 27 comments for this article.

Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions

*     *     (* = Required field)

    (Your email address will not be published)
(you may use HTML tags for style)

YES... spelling, punctuation, grammar and proper use of UPPER/lower case are important! Comments of a political nature are discouraged. Please limit your remarks to 3-4 paragraphs. If you want to see your comment posted, pay attention to these items.

All comments are reviewed, and may be edited or removed at the discretion of the moderator.

NOTE: Please, post comments on this article ONLY.
If you want to ask a question click here.

Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
RSS   Add to My Yahoo!   Feedburner Feed
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy

Article information: AskBobRankin -- Tech Support House Call (Posted: 10 Oct 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved