The two questions you must ask when something stops working

I had a frustrating experience in troubleshooting yesterday that I thought I’d share with you. Tech expert, heal thyself. I was happily working away, writing an article about password retrieval when my mouse stopped working. It’s wireless, so I thought that perhaps the batteries were the problem. Changed the batteries, but that didn’t make a bit of difference.


Then I noticed the keyboard wasn’t working either. But the computer wasn’t frozen. Video was still playing on a website. So, it was time to duck under the desk. The receiver for the mouse and keyboard had slipped behind the desk. I put it back in place, but still no luck. Then it was back under the desk to trace the cord for the receiver. BINGO! When the receiver fell, it had slowly started to pull the cord out of the USB port in the back of the PC tower. Either my leg or one of the cats had given that final pull and taken it clean out of the plug. I plugged it back in. Still, no go. I did a hard reboot of the PC (Turned it off and on with the button instead of properly powering down).  When it came back up, all was well. That leads me to the two most important questions you can ask yourself when you troubleshoot anything:

Is it plugged in? Is It Turned On?

Many years ago, a wise engineer gave me the best tech-support advice I’ve ever received. He said that if something isn’t working, always ask yourself two things: “Is it plugged in? Is it turned on?”

This sounds ridiculously simple, but in the course of a career spent surrounded by computers and other highly technical and infuriating equipment, I’ve found it to be the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever received.

First of all, is it plugged in? Check to make sure the plug is actually securely plugged into the wall or power strip. A few days ago I was staring at my electric kettle wondering why it refused to boil and realized that I had plugged in my coffee grinder instead. If you are plugged in, make sure the power strip or outlet is turned on. If it’s turned on, double-check to make sure it is functioning. Outlets break just like anything else. If your device uses batteries, make sure they are properly placed and working. Even if you’ve replaced them recently, try a fresh set and see if that makes a difference.

Power cords aren’t the only things that come unplugged. If your device has cables of any kind, make sure everything is securely in place. Sometimes cables to a monitor, modem or headphones can work loose.

Is it turned on? Don’t take this as an insult. I’ve seen an engineer with a master’s degree struggling to figure out why something wouldn’t work for half an hour before realizing he’d neglected to flip the on-switch for a server. On/off switches are not always clearly marked or conveniently placed and it can sometimes be difficult to tell if something is powered on or off.

Hopefully, these two simple questions can save you a lot of trouble when dealing with electronic devices.

One thought on “The two questions you must ask when something stops working

  1. Absolutely! And if you have a wireless device (rodent, keyboard, printer, adapter), is it connected to its receiver/network? Sometimes connections seem just to drop out, for no apparent reason. If it’s plugged in and turned on, try locating and pushing your “link” button to see if that solves your problem. This problem is especially likely if you have just been through a power outage or have just changed the battery.

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