Even road warriors can spin out and crash

Failed hard drives, sputtering laptops -- it's anyone's guess how some users will handle tech problems when on their own

Ah, the venerable road warrior -- to business execs, he or she is a company hero who brings in the contracts and ropes in clients. To the IT department, the same person could be a loose cannon. For all the road warrior's skills in wheeling and dealing, there's no telling how a mobile employee will handle tech problems when miles away from home base -- or if IT can think through enough variables to help when working against tight deadlines and stress.

Our company has employees on the road constantly. To their credit, the vast majority of them try to be careful with their machines, even though other priorities might take precedence.

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And travel is tough on computers -- especially, it seems, the screen. We have a tally going for what we're told most often causes cracking:

  • Laptop picked up by corner of screen, the pressure causing a fracture
  • Broken while thumping around in the carrying case in overhead cargo bin of the airplane
  • Random accident (at least one screen fractured when a booted soccer ball flew into the stands)

But on-the-road equipment meets other perils as well.

Hard drive hide-and-seek

Few users possess the geek qualities needed to handle problems on their own. Over the years, my two-person staff and I have helped travelers troubleshoot every imaginable kind of issue, from "where's the power button" to corrupt registries to the negative effects of p-to-p programs. And yet, we continue to be surprised.

I got an urgent call from a staffer early one recent Saturday morning. It seemed the user's brand-new laptop, which worked perfectly the night before, now was reporting "no hard drive found." After working through a few possible fixes over the phone, I had to conclude that the drive in his laptop had shot craps. It happens, even to new machines.

The next Monday, the user brought his machine into the office and handed it off. "Same problem," he said. "It still says there's a problem with the hard drive." I was in the middle of a couple of other crises, so I told him we'd start the paperwork on a new ultralight and call him back. As he was leaving, I turned the machine on and, sure enough, got the "no hard drive found" message.

An hour later, I finally had time to take the laptop to our tech shop. On the way, I flipped the machine around to check its general condition -- and suddenly realized what the message meant: There really was no hard drive in the bay. It was gone, with just a little cubbyhole left behind.

I called the user and told him I'd tracked down the problem with his computer. I asked him to look in his suitcase or computer bag and see if he could find a hard drive.

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