- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

ATLANTA The beeping was driving me crazy.

Every few minutes, as I drove to work in the car I bought a few weeks ago, it beeped at me.

Since it is a way-too-fancy car with a built-in computer, I figured I had accidentally set one of the many alarms for temperature, time or for all I know approaching meteor showers. So I tried resetting all the electronics. The next morning, as I drove to work, the car beeped at me again. It wasn't a loud beep. But it was torturous, nonetheless, sitting in the car waiting for the next beep.

In desperation (and in violation of the "Rules for Guys") I read the car's manual. Based on that, I reset some of the controls. But the car still beeped. Finally, I disconnected the battery cables, figuring that would be equivalent to rebooting the computer and would return it to normal settings, stopping the danged beeping.

The next morning the car beeped at me like a lovesick duckling. It made me jumpy.

When I got to the newspaper garage, I reached over to the glove compartment to check the manual once again. That's when I noticed a tiny object on the passenger side floorboard.

It was a pager. A beeping pager.

An acquaintance of mine had dropped her pager. Since there were messages waiting, the pager was beeping.

Sometimes life hands a guy like me a column that only requires telling, not writing. This is one of those times.

Here's the lesson: I broke a basic rule of repairing computers, cars or choo-choo trains.

I started fixing something before I knew what was wrong. In almost every case, this results in messing up something brand new and not fixing the old problem either.

In my case, my efforts to fix the beeping messed up the computer system. Disconnecting the battery made the radio stop working. When I turned it on instead of seeing the frequency the display said: "CODE." Since I had owned a car like that before, I knew I needed to punch in the security code. And, being practically a genius, I remembered the code.

I punched it in. That didn't work. I tried again and again and nothing worked. Then I checked the card that had the code number on it and discovered I had the code number wrong.

No problem I thought. I took the card with the correct code down to the car and punched the correct numbers in. Those stupid letters CODE stayed on the display. No matter how many times I punched in the correct code, the radio wouldn't work.

In terror and desperation, I turned to the manual again. It told me that after three incorrect tries the radio would not accept any code, including the correct one, for an hour and a half. So I turned off the key and waited. Then I tried the code again. It still didn't work.

That's when I turned to the Internet. I figured that one of the Internet's news groups little gatherings where the information is more specialized and in-depth than on the Web would be devoted to my car. Sure enough, there was a news group for my car make (as well as one for any make you can imagine).

Within five minutes of checking out the messages posted there, I learned what I was doing wrong. The hour-plus wait the manual mentioned meant the radio had to be turned on for that period of time. You couldn't turn off the key, as I had done.

Eventually I got everything fixed.

But the point of this story is that nothing at all was broken before I embarked on three days of fixing. So learn from me. The next time something goes wrong with your favorite computer or gadget, make sure you understand the problem before fixing it.

You'll save a lot of beeping time.

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