5 Tips to Survive Your Next Tech Disaster

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Last week was an especially bad time to be in the Johnson household. In the span of a single day, pretty much all of my tech failed in one way or another. And that was no small feat: Keep in mind that the only residence I’ve ever seen that has more technology than my house is the International Space Station.

Here’s what happened. Around noon last Saturday, I tried to play music on my Sonos, a gadget that streams music from a PC to rooms throughout the house. (Sonos is probably my most prized gadget, ever.) Well, no joy: The computer on which I kept all my music had been getting old and appeared to have failed catastrophically, so my house was robbed of the sound of music. As a result I decided to replace the PC by making a trip to the store.

After setting up the new computer, I discovered that my wireless extender was no longer working, either. (I have an extender because my house is apparently made entirely of lead, and consequently I’ve had trouble getting a reliable Wi-Fi signal throughout the house using just my old and cheap router.) But when did it stop working? When the computer broke or when I installed the new one? Did one cause the other? Were the problems related?

As I struggled with those questions, I also found that I didn’t have easy access to essential setup information I needed to get the new computer up and running – stuff like configuration details for my email accounts, and how to connect the new PC to my wireless printer.

I got up and running – eventually – but it reminded me that I wasn’t following my Five Golden Rules of Home Technology. These are essential guidelines to protecting yourself from a tech disaster. Here they are, and fail to heed them at your own peril.

Always have a reliable backup. You never know when disaster will strike. But mark my words: Every hard drive fails eventually, and if you don’t have a good backup of your personal data (pictures, music, documents) then when your drive does fail, all that data will be gone forever. I (neurotically) recommend a dual backup. Use an external hard drive and a simple backup program so you have easy access to your stuff if you need it, but also spend a little money on a cloud backup solution like Mozy or Carbonite. That way, if your computer is ever stolen or it bursts into flames, you have a reliable copy of your data stored online.

Keep a recovery checklist. If you ever have to “rebuild” a computer – reinstall programs, set up email, reconnect to your printer, and so on – I’m sorry. It’s no fun. But it’s even less fun not knowing what to do, or having to aimlessly browse the Internet looking for instructions. Here’s what to do instead: Take the time right now to write down all the steps you need to get a new PC up and running, including all the special settings to get your accounts configured. Keep that paper printed out (not just stored in your Documents folder) and in a location that you can easily get to when you need it.

Only change one thing at a time. Need to upgrade, fix, or replace a few things? Make changes to your PC or network one at a time. Adding new memory to your computer? Install it, make sure everything still works for a day or two, and then replace the video card. If you change two or more things at once, it can be really hard to know how to troubleshoot the system when things go awry.

The simplest solution is usually the best solution. One of the problems with my home network was that it was needlessly complicated. My wireless extender made my entire network more fragile and convoluted. I tried troubleshooting for a spell, but in the end I did what I should have done to begin with: I replaced the router with a new, high quality model. Miraculously, the new router had the range to reach all around my house and solved all my glitchy network problems without the need for an extender.

Have a cookie. Having computer trouble? It can get really frustrating, really fast. Remember to occasionally walk away – take a break, have a cookie, and decompress. Then take a fresh look at the problem a bit later, knowing there are more cookies where the last one came from.

Hey, have a question about this or any other tech subject? You can talk directly to one of our nerds and get an answer right away.

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