Friday, October 21, 2011

Buzzing Dryer

Q: "My dryer stopped working! We push the start and nothing, well sometimes a buzzing noise but that's it. We have pulled and pushed buttons and checked the lint trap. What could it be? I don't want to have to buy a new dryer!" -J

A: There are several things that can cause the dryer not to turn on. First, start with the electrical supply. Make sure the breaker has not tripped, which I don't think it has since it is buzzing. Next, unplug the dryer and check the plug for any charring or marks indicating its not making a good connection. You will also want to check where the cord attaches to the dryer. All dryer cords are removable and sometimes the screws may loosen up causing a bad connection. If it is only getting power from one wire, 110 Volts, then it can buzz as it doesn't have the proper 220 volts to start up. Make sure these connections are tight, and again check the general condition when looking at these terminals for any obvious signs of trouble.

If all the electrical supply looks fine, check the dryer vent. You will want to disconnect it from the dryer to inspect this. Make sure it is not clogged or any excessive build up. It is best to clean the entire vent line at least once a year to remove lint buildup which can cause the dryer to work harder. Also look into the vent on the back of the dryer, make sure this is clear too.

Can you turn the drum by hand? This is a simple way to check if anything has seized up. If you cannot turn it, the motor may have burned up, the blower may be jammed with lint, or a bearing has gone out. Most commonly it will be the motor or a jammed blower. You will need to partially disassemble the dryer to get the the blower wheel. This will depend on the make and model of the dryer for where this is located. For dryers that have the lint trap in the front at the bottom of the door opening, the blower is close to that and the front of the dryer will be removed to get to it. For dryers with the lint trap at the top, the blower is at the back, close to the vent. If the motor is bad, it is replaceable with the parts found online or at an appliance parts distributor.

For more visual reference, here are a couple videos that can help explain how to disassemble the dryer to get to the parts. While all models may be different, this is a good general overview.

Lets hope it just needs a good cleaning! Additionally, while it is apart, it would be a good time to inspect the drum belt for replacement and the drum rollers to see if they need to be greased.

Hope it helps!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No More Video

Q: "How do you replace a computer's video card on a desktop computer?" - J

A: When working on any electronics, be very careful about static discharge. It is best to work on a hard surface and handle the cards and other components by their edges. Do not directly touch the components, and do touch the metal case frequently to keep any charge difference to a minimum. 

Replacing the card is usually pretty simple. First disconnect all the cables from the computer including the power cable. Now you can open the case of the computer. There are usually two screws on the back that hold one side on. Take these out and the side of the case will slip backwards to release. The video card is usually held in with one safety screw that you will need to remove. This is on the metal plate at the back of the card where it has the output ports. Some video cards have power supply cables plugged into them that need to be disconnected. Now you can remove the card. There is usually a release on the slot for the card that needs to be bent out of the way as you pull up on the card to take it out.

When replacing the card, make sure everything lines up and press the card in the slot. This should not require much pressure. Once the card is in place do not forget the screw or the power supply cable. After everything is back together and hooked up, you can power on your computer to test it out. Most video cards come with either a driver disk or a web address to download the drivers. This will need to be done for the card to work properly. I usually suggest downloading the drivers no matter what so you know you have the most up to date versions as the DVD may be out of date.

The most difficult part of replacing a video card is finding the correct replacement. You want to make sure you are getting one to fit the slot type on the motherboard. The most common are AGP, PCI Express(x16) and PCI Express 2.0 (x16). 

 AGP is very old and most computers do not use this anymore. PCI Express has two versions with the 2.0 being faster. If you have a slot rated for that, then you can use both regular PCI Express or PCI Express 2.0 cards and it will adjust. You can run a 2.0 card in the earlier slot but it will run slower and can cause issues. Some cards are longer than others and some take up two slot spaces for the fans. You will need to make sure you have clearance for a card before you buy it. Last, make sure your power supply can handle the card. Some cards did not use an extra connector from the power supply for card power while others do. You need to be sure your power supply can handle the card you are purchasing.

Email me if you need help!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Super Secure Digital Card

Q: My school's Nikon D60 SD memory card got broken today. Somehow the grey slider got stuck on "lock" before getting broken off. Now we can't upload the pictures to the computer. What do we do? - V

A: Getting the data off will depend on the card reader. In this case the camera was incorrectly detecting the position of the lock slide and not allowing access to the card. Some card readers that are built into computers do not look for this lock on the card and can access the information regardless of the lock slide position or if it is even present. There is not a way of detecting what kind a reader you have so there has to be a little bit of trial and error. What was unique in this situation was also physical damage to the card casing which can prevent the card from being inserted into a card reader. In this case, careful modification (read: breaking) of the card's casing is - ehem - was necessary to retrieve the data and trick the lock reader.

Got more questions? Just email me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Drip Drip Drip

Q: My bathtub faucet is leaking a lot. Usually, I just take off the faucet head and clean out the buildup of calcium and it takes care of the problem. I have done this so much the screw has dissolved and I can't get it out. How do I remove it? I'll have to replace the whole faucet. How do I do it? I probably should shut off the water right? It is a single handle. It slides straight out to turn on and twists for temperature. There is also an access panel in the wall. -B

A: At this point you have a couple options. 1) try to rebuild the faucet or 2) replace the entire faucet. Either way, it may be a little challenging and you will definitely need to shut off the water and release the pressure in the water lines by opening up another tap or two.

1)  To rebuild the faucet you will need to the handle off somehow. You could either break it off, which would require you to buy a replacement handle, or drill out the screw to get the handle off. This handle will probably need to be removed regardless, of if you are replacing/rebuilding the valve. If you can drill out the screw, you can get the cartridge out of the faucet. If you can get that removed, take it to your local hardware store or home center to match it up with a replacement. Most common faucet brands and styles can be rebuilt with parts that are easily found. If you cannot find matching parts or get the cartridge out, you will need to replace the faucet. Rebuilding will likely be the least expensive and simplest fix for this.

2) To replace the valve, you will need to remove the handle and trim pieces on the shower wall side. This will allow access to the mounting screws that hold the valve in place. This is usually done by removing a couple Phillips screws. You are lucky to have an access panel to the back of the faucet. You will have 4 pipes connected to the faucet valve, one for the hot supply, one for cold supply, one for the tub spout, and one for the shower head. This is where things can get tricky. Getting the pipes off the valve may be difficult depending on how they were attached. Hopefully, most are attached with unions that allow the union to be disconnected without needing to turn the valve or the pipe. Sometimes, the pipes are soldered to the valve. If this is the case then you will need to cut the pipes and solder in couplers and unions to attach the new valve.

If you have further questions, let me know. It can be helpful to see a picture of what you have if you get a chance.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Now Streaming

Q: I am tired of paying so much to watch TV. I have 2 old TV's 10+ years old. Purchasing a new TV is not an option at this point. I would like to know what my other options might be to get rid of my cable but still be able to watch my favorite shows. -S

A: With older TVs the only option is to get a set top box or internet capable Blue-Ray player. The Blue-Ray player may not be worth it unless a new TV purchase is next on the list. You won't be getting any benefit from the HD content and some won't even output to the older TVs. Set top boxes are nice since they offer several sources for content and are often compatible with may older televisions. One popular one is Roku and specifically for you the Roku 2 HD and it runs about $60. You can use this with Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and Pandora Internet Radio. Many of these services are subscription based and run about $8 -$10 a month (or yearly subscriptions of around $80 as the case with Amazon). Others allow you to purchase single episodes, whole seasons, or rent movies. Roku also has some free content available (a movie channel, news, weather, and access to online pictures and social networking sites). Here is some of whats available on Roku's Channel List.

One big drawback to these is selection. Not every show on every network is available. Some networks allow you to watch their shows online, but only on their website. It's best to do a little digging to find out if what you want to watch is available streaming and where it is available.

Another option (that is more complicated for setup), is a converter box hooked to a media PC or a laptop. This would be like turning your TV into a monitor so you can watch web content on the larger screen. This may not look the best, or be the simplest to just sit down and watch, but is another options.

As with all streaming, a good internet connection is a must. You will probably want a minimum of 3Mbps or higher to stream video.

Local channels are not provided with streaming, so you'll need an antenna and a converter box if your TV does not have a digital tuner.

Happy Streaming. We've got all sorts of suggestions for great TV shows if you need them!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Car Needs New Shoes

Q: I'd like to buy some new tires for my car and I prefer Michelin's, but there aren't too many shops around that seem to carry Michelin tires and they're very expensive. Can I buy tires from a supplier directly and then have them installed here? Will it save me much? Is it worth the bother? Will the tires come with a warranty? If I do this, they'd need to be mounted, balanced and then I'd need an alignment, right? What supplier would you recommend if I chose this option? -M

A: I do a lot of research online when I buy tires. I actually recently purchased a set of Michelin tires from Tire Rack. After plenty of research and price comparison, I found it was cheaper to buy the tires online, pay for shipping, then have them installed at a shop of my choice. I saved about $150 by purchasing online, paying shipping (but no sales tax, and choosing my installer. Tire Rack also has a good selection and plenty of customer reviews to help in your decisions. Many local stores and chains have websites for you to compare tire prices and order online as well so you can compare buying online to buying at a local store.

On the website you can look up registered installers in your area to compare installation prices and see customer reviews. If the shop is listed you can even have your tires shipped to them so they are ready for you when you show up. If a shop that you want to use is not on the list, you will need to ship the tires to your house and take them to the shop. All shops installation fees include mounting and balancing. Other costs will be old tire disposal, which is usually about $2 per tire, extra fees for vehicles with TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems, required on all cars 2007 model year and newer), run flat tire serviced, and extra fees for low profile tires. Most shops will have options for life time balance, which is up to you.

Tire warranties are provided by the manufacturer. If you have a warranty claim, it is likely that you will need to submit it to the manufacturer for reimbursement. Workmanship for mounting and balancing is usually covered by the installer. Tire Rack does offer road hazard coverage as well. Similar to the warranty, this requires a form to be submitted for processing.

Alignment is usually done when suspension or sterring components are replaced. If this has been done recently you don't need to do it again. If its never been done, or it has been several years, its not a bad idea. This can help ensure your new tires wear evenly. Again, check around. The shop where you are getting the tires installed may not be the cheapest place for an alignment. Check with some local shops as their prices can be lower than some of the large chains.

The tires we bought for our Ford Explorer has been great, and we were glad to save some money. Hope this answers your questions!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Das Beer Sign

Q: I have this awesome old beer sign (for Schlitz, ohh yeaaa) and well, the cord for the plug has been cut through. Would it be easier to replace the 40 some odd years old cord, or just splice and reconnect/tape it? - K

A: It would be best for safety reasons and aesthetic reasons to replace the entire cord. This way it will be new and clean without any splices, tape, or weak spots. Plus, the cost will probably be about the same. Splices are not ideal when dealing with electricity and it is best to always have a solid piece of wire between connections. It may be a little more difficult to get the cord out of the sign, but probably not too difficult and your efforts will be worth it with a proper repair that will last. You can get those cords at any hardware store, and if you end up needing help putting it together, just let me know! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In a Haze

Q: My headlights have gotten foggy and the beams aren't as bright as they should be anymore. I've seen products advertised that allow for the headlights cover to be sanded and cleaned back to original. Do they work? -M

A: While these products can work, a lot depends on how the plastic deteriorated on your headlight. Most of the time, as the plastic ages it can be affected by physical damage such as rocks, sand, bugs, and other road hazards, heat from the sun and the light bulbs, and UV radiation. This will usually result in a haze buildup or small surface cracks on the outside of the headlamp lens. These products are designed to lightly buff the plastic to smooth out these cracks and imperfections. These do work fairly well for damage like this. 

 Be sure to follow the instructions for the kit so you do not damage the headlamp. It is also a good idea to wax the area around the headlight and then mask it off with blue painters tape. This will help prevent accidental damage to the paint around the headlamp. Be especially careful if there is bare plastic or chrome trim around the headlamp as this can be soft and easily damaged with sandpaper or polishing compound. These kits will not make it look like a brand new light but will help a lot and it is a lot cheaper than replacing the light. To really try and save money, you can even try a cheap toothpaste and buff the light using the toothpaste on a terry cloth towel. This will involve a little elbow grease but can have some good results while being very inexpensive. I haven't tried this method just yet but will be very soon. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Sometimes the plastic will get the haze on the inside of the lens. Due to the design of these headlamps, there is no way to disassemble them to polish the inside because they are sealed units. If you try to take it apart you risk breaking the headlamp or not sealing it properly which will let moisture enter the light. If water is gets in the headlamp, this can cause the light to burn out quickly, more haze to build up on the inside, or the reflective plating to come off. If the damage is to the inside of the light, you will just need to replace the headlamp assembly.

Anyone else ever had this problem and/or tried any of these solutions? Let me know! I'll keep you updated on my headlight project...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bathroom Sink Drain

Question: "Our bathroom sink drains really slowly and we've put a whole bottle of drain-o down that sucker. Is there anything else we can do?" - J

Answer: Drain-O is a little questionable when it is used. If used a lot, it can actually damage pipes. Also if the clog is not in a spot where it can sit, it won't do anything. One option is very simple, cheap, and it's non-toxic. First, run the water on hot for at least 5 minutes to warm the drain line. This will help loosen and soften any buildup. Next put down about a tablespoon of baking soda followed by some vinegar. Let that sit for 5 minutes then run the hot water again for 5 minutes. You will probably need to do this 3-4 times to flush out the pipe. You can increase the amounts of baking soda and vinegar, just do not use to much baking soda to start with as it can clump and cause another clog! It also may be best to remove the drain stopper if possible so it is easier to poor the baking soda and vinegar down the drain. This method works best for clogs from soap scum, grease, oils, and other liquid like items that can build up over time.

If the clog is from hair or other solid or mixed with soap and other lovely things, you may need to take the drain apart and clean the P-trap out or look for the clog. This can usually be done without any tools but can occasionally require a set of slip joint pliers, like Channel Locks, to get stubborn slip nuts loose. I would only suggest doing this if you have a plastic drain line. If yours is metal, it can corrode easily. This will make it very hard to take apart and very easy to break. If you break it then you will need to replace the P-trap section of the drain line or possibly more. I would only take apart a metal drain line if you feel comfortable accepting this possibility and replacing the P-trap.

Here is a basic breakdown of a drain line under a bathroom sink.

1. Shut off the water to the faucet or a least make sure no one turns it on while you have the drain disconnected.

2. Place a small bucket or pan under the P-trap (curved U shaped part of the drain line)

3. Loosen the slip nuts on both sides of the P-Trap. It will probably be easiest to start with the top one on the tail piece(part of the drain attached to the sink itself) As you loosen the lower one, water will start coming out.

4. After both nuts are loosened up, pull the P-trap down off the drain. Be careful since there is water in the trap.

5. Once the trap is removed, pour out the water and see if there is a clog in it. You may see the clog in the trap or in the open ends of the drain line from the sink or to the wall. You can clean this out the best you can, if you see a lot of build up, wipe it out the best you can and rinse out the trap in another sink with hot water to remove as many of the deposits as possible.

6. Now you can reassemble the drain. You will notice there is a beveled section of pipe that connects to the lower part of the trap as this is not adjustable up and down. On the taller, straight part, there is a plastic or rubber washer that has the same bevel. This seals the drain line. It is OK if this slides as the coupling nuts will push them into place. You will want to make sure both of these beveled sealing surfaces are clean as any debris will cause a leak.

7. When tightening the slip nuts make sure they are snug, but do not over tighten. You should be able to tighten these by hand without needing to use pliers.

8. After everything is back together, test for leaks by running the water for a few minutes. If you notice any drips, tighten the nuts a little more as this should stop them.

Hope it helps!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

iPad Conundrum

Question: "So.... What type of iPad should I get? I want to be able to create/edit documents from the iPad. I want it to be 3G capable (do I actually need that though?/ is it worth the price?). How much space do word documents/ apps really take up. I won't need any or much space for music b/c I already have an iPod (32g) full." - J

Answer: First, the memory question. Documents do not take up much space at all. Most are a few kilobytes (KB) or a few megabytes (MB) at most. With a 16 Gigabyte (GB) iPad you will have about 14-14.5 GB of actual free space to start with. If you even got to 1 GB of documents I would be surprised. Also, if you do not plan on putting much music on it that is another reason to go for the lowest memory option. Apps do not take up a significant amount either unless you go App crazy. You might take up 1-2 GB with your apps. So say you put on a little music, had a ton of big apps, and some documents. You would be at 3-4 GB used and have 10GB free. This will give you a decent amount of space for any videos, movies, or other items you want to load. Media content is really what takes up all your free space. If you want lots of movies and music, you will want a lot of free space.

Having 3G is a good question. This will depend on how and where you intend to use it. If you are primarily using it in locations where Wi-Fi is available, there might not be much to justify the extra initial expense (adds $130) and the monthly expense($15-80) of a data plan with Verizon or AT&T. If you are on the go a lot and in areas where Wi-Fi is not available or is difficult to connect to these extra expenses may be worth it to you. You can monitor your data usage on the iPad so you are sure not to go over your plan. Be sure to do this since overages charges can be expensive. The carriers often allow you to go month to month without a contract so you can activate or cancel your data plan at any time. Both carriers offer different plans with different amounts of data for the price. For example, Verizon has 2GB per month plan for $30 and AT&T has a 2GB plan for $25. You do need to choose a carrier before purchasing the iPad as carrier specific software is loaded for the band of cell signal they use. To make sure you do not go over, turn off the 3G radio on the iPad an run it just on the Wi-Fi when you can, like in your home. This will not only guarantee you to not use any cell network data but will save a little battery life too as every radio turned off will save power, and don't forget Bluetooth counts too.

Let us know what you choose!


Let the Questions Begin!

Welcome to "Ask Stephen," your question and answer source for information that is 100% correct, guaranteed! Ok, so there isn't a guarantee and let's face it, no one has all the answers, but many friends and family certainly think I do (sometimes). They come to me with all sorts of questions regarding technology, electronics, computers, automobiles, home improvement, tools, and other related subjects that I do my best to answer. I will be posting these questions and some great (and maybe some not-so-great) answers here for all to enjoy. Ask away!


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