The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

March 2, 2014

Ryan Richardson: Pets can pose problems for computers

JOPLIN, Mo. — I didn't always want to be a journalist. Where I started was a long way from where I ended up.  

When I started college back in the 1999, I was a computer science major. I had a promising job at a local cable service, working tech support and system-side support for our servers. I've always been the go-to guy when a computer breaks down with my friends and family.

That's quite a large jump from that field to this one. I love what I do now, but there is something to be said for exercising your mind and dexterity when you are knee-deep in computer parts.

So when my trusty MacBook and my home file server both went down in the span of a week, I figured I could save some money and try to fix both myself. The file server issue was just a bad power supply unit (an easy fix), but my MacBook was the victim of a water spill at work. Fixing it involved taking the whole thing apart.

The file server sits in an old full tower case, cooled by several fans.

Two fans pull in air while an exhaust fan pushes the air out the front of the case. This is the first time I have opened this case in about two years, but my dog has been around it daily.

The inside was a mess of dust bunnies covered in dog hair. There was hair trapped in the fans, the front grill and all over the case.

I'm not exactly sure how this thing didn't overheat long ago. I'm sure if I had pushed the computer more, it would have.

I spent the next three hours cleaning every fan housing, visible part and crevice from the plague of puppy hair. I then jumped into the box-o'-computer-parts that every computer guy has in his closet, and I pulled out two fan grills to put near the intake fans. This will still let air come in, but it will catch the hair before it gets trapped inside.

This wasn't a daily use computer, but I should have thought of this long ago.

My MacBook was the same mess, especially when I got to the keyboard. If you have never seen the inside of a laptop, there isn't a lot of room for movement. It is quite eloquent how so much is packed into such a little box.

So after removing the logic board, disconnecting all of the wiring and getting to the keyboard, I got a firsthand look at how dirty everything had become.

Little hairs had got pulled inside, and dust had collected around the major parts. The layer between the keyboard was a mess of dog hair, food crumbs and water stains from the last spill.

For advice, I reached out to a friend who services laptops, and the first thing she tells people with pets is to get a keyboard cover if you will have any pets around your computer. These covers are giant pieces of rubber that sit right on top of your keyboard but act as a guard between the elements and your keyboard.

That had never occurred to me either. I was more concerned with it overheating than I was with an accumulation of pet hair. I guess I was worried about the wrong thing. Those covers are also a good way to protect against accidental spills.

Sadly, I was not able to fix the keyboard on my MacBook. The replacement that I was sent was for the wrong model, and I learned that the secondary market for mine is near impossible to find. It was one of those types that were a transition piece between the old model and the new one. It would be a $20 fix if I had any other computer but the one I had. I had almost five years with this computer, so I'm not complaining.

In the future, I'll have to pay more attention to my dog and my electronic devices. It is one more thing to throw on the checklist, but this is one of those things where prevention would go a long way.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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