Local IT technician Andrew Tsai shares tips for managing computers and family life

Imagine this – you’ve just spent hours working on that report which you’re about to submit after many late nights. You brew some tea to prepare for the final stretch. Youclose your eyes for a moment and feel smug about finally mastering work/life balance and the fact that you’re ahead of your deadline – and then it happens. Your husband/wife/cat/dog/gerbil/errant child/own clumsy appendages haveknocked the mug over and deposited its entire messy contents into your laptop. Your face sinks. Panic ensues.

You thought it would never happen to you but the truth is that it can happen to anyone – it’s happened to me twice, the second timeas recently as last year. And evidently it also happens to many parents in Tufnell Park. I get the,‘Can you fix my laptop, I accidentally spilled tea into it?’ call once a month on average. It’s no longer a question of preventing or minimising the risks, it’s about preparing for the inevitable, and doing the right things before you call your local IT repair person.

So here’s a short run-down, starting with what to do immediately after your accident, acting as fast as possible.

1) Power down

As quickly as possible shut down, disconnect the power, remove cables and give the laptop a wipe down with a dry cloth. At all costs, do not give into the temptation to switch on for at least 24-48 hours or until you are confident the laptop has fully dried. Powering on the laptop whilst there is residual liquid insidecan cause electrical shorts resultingin damage that cannot be repaired.

2) Remove as many parts as possible

Try to take out as many components as possible, starting with the battery. Liquid can pool underneath components and cause unfixable corrosion after just a few hours. If your battery is not easy to remove (as on modern MacBooks), I highly recommend acquiring a small glasses-type screwdriver to remove the bottom plate so you can remove the battery. Try to remove other parts such as hard drives, RAM, keyboard etc. if you can.

3) Drying and cleaning

Once the inside of the laptop is exposed, use a clean cloth or thick kitchen towel to mop up as much liquid as possible inside. Use cottons buds to get into hard to reach parts.You canalso use a hairdryer, but make sure not to blow liquid deeper inside, and use a cool setting to prevent damage. Rice is a natural absorber of liquid so laying a laptop upside down on a rice bed can also work in extreme circumstances, but make sure that rice does not enter any vents or areas inside the laptop or this will cause a lot of problems later. A layer of fine fabric or kitchen towel offers a barrier against that.

4) Prognosis

Unfortunately you will need to accept that you probably won’t get your laptop to work exactly the way it did pre-spillage; and if more than a thimbleful of liquid has seeped through the laptopit is unlikely you’ll get away without some reduced functionality. In the best-case scenario the liquids will leave behind reside which simply interfere with how specific keys or the trackpad work (usually the clicking mechanism). In the worst-case scenario the liquid damages the motherboard/logic board (an expensive part) so the laptop cannot be switched on. Make peace with the idea of a slightly damaged laptop, and count yourself very lucky if you can get it back to switch on at all.

5) Data backup

Hard drives are hardy but they can easily be damaged by water. That being said, if you remove your hard drive and dry it immediately, your data is likely to be safe and can be made accessible through an external hard drive enclosure.

However, the moral of this story is that you should be backing up as much as possible, and there really is no excuse not to. A 500GB backup drive can be bought for less than £40,making it the best value deal.

Apple supplies its own wireless backup package (Time Capsule). There are low-cost solutions that automatically backup your entire computer to the cloud (CrashPlan/Carbonite/Backblaze). And you should be syncing your current documents to the cloud (Dropbox/SkyDrive) so that they can be accessed on any device. However, if you have any quantity of files, there will be a cost associated.

And you should definitely also be keeping your thousands of family photographs and videos backed up on the cloud (Picasa Web Albums/Google+ Auto Backup). After all, it doesn’t hurt to keep things backed up in multiple places, especially for data that is precious and irreplaceable.

Andrew Tsai is a TPPSG member who has lived in Tufnell Park for more than six years. He is a freelance IT technician and website designerworking with families, freelancers and small businesses. He also runs the new My Tufnell Park online discussion hub. If you’ve had a recent laptop liquid accidenthe’s happy to be contacted for advice on 07714 524 635.