Monday, April 6, 2009

Broken stuff gets schooled in hard knocks

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel April 6, 2009)

The other day, our computer connection wasn't working, so I did what I usually do when something around the house breaks or is not functioning properly: I called my husband.

"Ralph," I yelled from my office to his. "The stupid computer is not letting me get online."

I have an admittedly fickle relationship with the computer. When it works, I love it. When it stops doing what it's supposed to do, my love turns sour. By the time I called down the hall for my husband's assistance, I had already entered loathing mode.

"I don't know what's wrong," I complained to my ever-patient and capable partner. "I tried rebooting, defragging and emptying the temp files. Still, I can't seem to get online. Do you think you can fix it?"

He said he would try.

I went about my work doing tasks that didn't require an Internet connection and eventually abandoned the computer completely to do errands in town. I was gone for three hours, and while I was away, my husband labored over the computer problem. Most of that time, he was on the phone seeking help from the phone company's technical-support crew.

A lower-level employee told him to type in a series of unintelligible letters and numbers in order to ascertain the speed at which the computer was communicating with the telephone company through the DSL line. About an hour after following various commands, none of which worked, she transferred my husband to a higher-level technician.

The new tech-support person suggested going to to determine the Internet connection. Of course, Ralph couldn't do that because the problem he was trying to resolve was our inability to get an Internet connection.

The technician then tried to determine how strong — or nonexistent — our connection was by putting Ralph through another series of exercises typing the word ping followed by various number and letter combinations. When he finished following these cryptic instructions, the technician concluded that from his end, our connection was fine.

"Unplug the router and plug the computer directly into the modem," the tech guy directed.

Bingo! It worked!

"There's your problem," the responder said. "Your router must be bad. Buy a new router."

I happened to be at Walmart when Ralph called to give me the news.

"Good, you're at Walmart," he said. "Go to the electronics section."

Following his directions, I found the correct router and put it in the shopping cart.

"It costs $49.95," I told him. "Should I get it?"

His response was, "Wait a minute."

In the background, I heard a muffled banging sound.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Just a little percussive maintenance," he replied.

"Ah," I mused, "percussive maintenance, my husband's response to most electronic problems."

About 30 seconds later, Ralph's voice filled the phone.

"The router's working," he said. "I shook it a bit and gave it a few taps, plugged it back in and we're good to go. You can put the router back on the shelf. We just saved 50 bucks."

"It's working?" I asked with surprise. "You fixed it with a few taps and a shake?"

I don't know why I was so astonished. My husband may be the gentlest man around, but he has no compunction about punching components if that's what it takes to make them function again. He has been applying what he calls "percussive maintenance" to stubborn electronic problems for years.

Radio not working? DVD on the fritz? Toaster stuck? Computer acting up? Ralph's answer to them all: A good whack will put them back on track.

I hate to admit it — it goes against my sense of propriety — but his method is effective more times than not.

"Maybe there's dust in there, and a light pounding moves it around," he explains. "Or it could be loose wires or a poor connection, and the shaking puts things back in place."

His explanations seem lacking, but I can't deny the effectiveness of his hard-handed approach.

There's a $50 bill in my wallet thanks to my husband's ability to think outside the box. On the subject of percussive maintenance, label me pro-pounding.

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