Troubleshooting For Dummies

April 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

“Is it powered on?” might be the most fundamental question you can ask when troubleshooting electronic equipment.

Laugh all you want, but when remotely troubleshooting a hardware problem, the immediate answer to this question might save you a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

Until it doesn’t.

And just such a thing happened to me this morning.

But before I dive into all that drama, how about an example from the past?
Ten years ago, when I used to support cardiac equipment, I would often work weekend shifts for the overtime pay.  One such weekend was excruciatingly slow and I was occupying myself trying to discover the end of the Internet when I received a call from a frantic nurse.

“My nurses’ station isn’t working and I can’t monitor any of my patients!” she said, with an touch of panic in her voice.

“When did it stop working?” I asked.

“Just a few minutes ago.  I was watching the display and it just went black.”

“Ok; Do you see any lights on the display at all?”


“Ok; Do you see any lights on the computer tower?”

(Insert several minutes trying to describe what a “computer tower” is here.)

“No; I don’t see any lights on it either.”

“Can you see where it’s plugged in?  Perhaps they’re connected to a surge protector that had a circuit tripped or became unplugged?”

“It’s pretty dark under the desk, I can’t see anything.”

“Have you got a flashlight or any other source of light you can use to help?”

“No; Another nurse is using our only flashlight.”

(At this point, curiosity had gotten the better of me and I just had to know…)

“Why is the other nurse using your flashlight?”

“Because it’s dark in the patient rooms,” she responded.

“Is it dark everywhere?” I asked.

“Yes; The power on this wing went out a few moments ago,” she said matter-of-factly.


“Ok ma’am, you’re gonna have to call your local Biomed or Facilities to help you if your power is out.”

She sounded increasingly desperate, “You can’t help me turn the power back on?”

“No ma’am.  I can help you with your nurses’ station when your power is back on — but there isn’t anything else I can do until that happens…”

Save yourself the headache later and begin with the most simple questions.  Some times you get lucky when troubleshooting from assumptions and some times you don’t:


This morning when I docked my laptop and turned it on, I saw the screen flash briefly before going black.  I waited several minutes for the swirly Windows 7 logo that never appeared.  Looking at the LED status lights on my laptop, I could see that it was powered on, but didn’t see anything on my external displays.

So I shut it off by pressing the power button and pressed it again to power it back on.

This time I received the “your computer has not shut down properly” message asking me if I’d like to start Windows in Safe Mode or normally.  I decided to take a walk on the wild side and chose to start normally.  The computer accepted my answer, display went black and I waited several minutes but never saw anything on the screen.  Again, checking the LED status lights, I could see some activity on the hard drive but nothing on the display.  I waited several more minutes and repeated the previous process to turn it on again.

Once again the computer told me that it wasn’t shut down properly and asked me if I’d like to start Windows in Safe Mode or normally.  Wise to my previous mistake, I chose Safe Mode.  Same thing happened again.

At this point, I’m dreading the call to IT (because I’m in IT) to figure out why my new HP UltraBook has conked out on me.  I powered it off, undocked it, opened it up and powered it on again.  The laptop functioned as expected and I booted into Safe Mode with little fanfare.  Believing I probably had some display driver issue that was cleaned up by starting into Safe Mode successfully, I shut the laptop down, redocked it and powered it back on.

I saw a brief flash in one of my displays and then it went blank.


Now there is something you should know about my desk: I have two displays connected to this docking station.

Only one of them was powered on.


I believe I would have discovered the problem immediately but for some unknown reason the primary-secondary designation between my displays switched.  I was expecting to see output in the one display and never noticed that the other wasn’t turned on.  (You don’t see output in both displays until you’re logged in and your desktop is up.)

So there you go.  Ten minutes later and I’m wondering why I quit caffeine in the morning.  Or, that’s my story anyway.

Aaron Melton


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