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The Easy Computer Maintenance Kit

The Easy Computer Maintenance Kit

repair

    Computers can be fickle things. Whether you’re a zealous follower of Getting Things Done methodology or you don’t have any productivity system to speak of, these buggers can get in the way of day-to-day life so often that you might think the modern human spends more time getting technical issues fixed than they spend doing real work and getting things done. I’ve been on caught in situations where I had computer issues on a deadline far too many times, and many of those times, I was completely unprepared. Here’s a list of things I’ve found essential to have ready to go at any moment — things that all too many times, I haven’t had around. Here’s the most basic computer maintenance kit that I think any user should have.

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    1. Comprehensive Screwdriver and Torx Set

    There’s almost never a hardware maintenance, repair or upgrade situation that doesn’t require the use of a screwdriver. A good portion of today’s computers may also require the rarer Torx tool, which is not quite as common, so make sure you have some of those in different sizes. As far as screwdrivers go, you’ll want both standard blade and phillips drivers in a variety of sizes that allow you to quickly deal with both small and large screws.

    2. Soldering Equipment

    Sometimes unscrewing your computer case and jiggling your PCI cards around isn’t enough to fix a problem. You might have to whip out a soldering item and deal with some bad connections. It’s very wise to keep a soldering iron, a roll of solder and desoldering equipment handy at all times. Much of the time, having a soldering iron around means you spend ten minutes repairing a component instead of hours or days in frustration.

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    3. Wire Stripper & Cutter

    In the world of audio engineering, they say that 95% of the time, your technical problems are with faulty cables and wiring, not with the hardware itself. It’s the same when it comes to computers. Make sure you have the tools to deal with bad wiring!

    4. Pliers

    Simply put, you never know when you’ll have to yank something out of some strange crevice.

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    5. Small Handheld Mirror

    If you’re working with a standard tower PC, there are a lot of places in the box that are hard to get a good visual on. Having a small mirror can come in handy when you want to see what’s going on behind your line of sight. Especially useful if you have a large head!

    6. Small Flashlight

    Just like you may need a mirror to see behind obstacles in the cramped compartments of a tower PC, you may need to illuminate your PC’s guts more clearly than your ceiling lights can. Get a small flashlight that is compact enough to get into tight spaces, but not so small that it doesn’t light anything up enough.

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    7. Linux Live CD

    Not all problems are hardware related, of course. One of the most useful tools to keep on hand is a live CD of some sort of Linux distribution. This way, if your Windows, OS X or Linux installation is having issues you can’t fix from inside the system, such as partition table problems on the boot drive, you can take a look and do something about it. One of these CDs and an external hard drive can help you save your data when the drive is on the brink of failing, too.

    8. Maintenance Software CD or Flash Drive

    Load up a CD or a flash drive with maintenance software, such as antivirus, disk checking, various spyware scanners, and so on, and keep in reach of your computer. The best option is to get a cheap flash drive that is dedicated to maintenance and does not get used for data storage or anything else, ever. A bunch of portable apps can be really handy, and if you drop in on a friend with computer issues and have one of these in your bag you can be a real lifesaver. Keep the software up to date.

    9. Spare Hard Disk Caddy

    If you want to take a look at your boot drive in another computer or without the use of a live CD, you’ll need a caddy to whack it in. You could go as far as to have a hard drive loaded up with your operating system of choice and set up for maintenance and troubleshooting situations and keep it in the spare caddy. When your main drive needs looking at, you just swap them around.

    10. A “Super Tool”

    It doesn’t matter which kind of so-called super tool you go for; just having one of these around, even if it’s of the most basic variety, can help out in many situations. These things are handy for computer maintenance and for day-to-day life, so it’s worth getting one no matter what. You can see some of my favorites at the Maker Shed — there are a few varieties to suit your tool-wielding inclinations. These are great for super quick repairs, or “when all else fails” situations.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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