Some lesser known aspects of owning a PC and how they can come along to bite you occasionally.
When people go to buy their first PC, they're thinking about what they'll do with it when they get it home. Actually, though, they should be considering how the computer will mess with them, instead. Here are just some of the crazy aspects to owning a PC that they don't mention in the marketing blurb.

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Loud Noises
If you connect them to speakers almost all computers are capable of making a racket, but they can also make a din more spontaneously. There are a number of ways, but my personal favorite is the power supply exploding, which I've experienced at least half a dozen times or more since I bought my first Pc.

Everything is going well, the frag count is rising in your favorite FPS, and then usually without any warning, there's a disturbingly close bang, followed by complete silence and the acrid smell of electrical burning.

Often it's caused either by excessive demands on the PSU or the build-up of dust that eventually creates a new circuit inside. Whatever the reason, they can go pop in spectacular fashion.
Those are good, but you can also experience some dramatic failures from old capacitors. When they explode it's like a digital seed pod opening, filling the air with a cloud of fine insulation. It's easy to believe that you'll wake up the next day and see capacitors sprouting from your carpet, though I've never yet witnessed this.

When a high voltage part lets go, the results can be spectacular and usually sufficiently make you go and buy a small fire extinguisher to keep near your desk.

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Confronting Expectations
The train wreck in slow motion that has been Windows 8 has personally taught me many things, even if Microsoft seems somewhat shy of understanding them. The critical lesson I've learned from it is that many technical people who use computers every day assume that everyone else uses their PC as efficiently as they do.

To them the Windows 8 Metro interface makes some sense, as do gestures and cloud computing. But not all PC owners are created equal, even if the systems they use are broadly similar.

The truth is - and it's as true for me as it is for anyone else reading this - we all use our computers differently. What's obvious to some people is a revelation to others, and some simple ideas never actually propagate. 50 the way that you use files and folders isn't the way others might, which can come as a shock if you try to use anyone else's system. Many users, for example, don't understand folders, file naming or even that certain files and apps are made to work with each other.

Given how long we've worked with these concepts, as they all predate the Windows OS, this might seem extraordinary. The thing is that most people use just the parts of the PC they're comfortable with and ignore the rest, even if they're using it in a bizarre way.

The extreme versions of these diversions are systems where every document ever created is in one folder, or others where there are only a few Word documents that each has more than a thousand pages. These are common, as are shortcuts to shortcuts, accidentally moved taskbars in odd places, documents in the Windows folder and desktops that can't accept a single extra icon.

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This is all indicative of a self-taught society, where those in isolation create their own solutions based on what little knowledge they have. That PC you're an 'expert' in: you're probably using it wrong. From the perspective of those that designed the operating system, at least.

Shock Tactics
I've worked on lots of electrics and even done wiring in my house, but I've only ever had a proper shock from a computer. I guess the problem with them is that when they're not running, you get the impression that no power is flowing around the system - something that in reality is very far from the truth. A screwdriver or finger in the wrong place, and you soon get a big lesson in why they're not to be messed with connected when to the mains.

The best kick I ever got was from an external floppy drive for an Amstrad computer, where the heads had somehow got out of alignment I took the casing off and was looking for obvious faults when I noticed a bent capacitor. Without thinking I decided to straighten it using my right hand. The discharge this action gave me caused my arm to go skywards and remain there like a demented follower of the Third Reich, for at least two hours. It was at least a week before I got full feeling back in my fingers, which was a salutary lesson in the dangers of computing electronics.

Small Finger Fun
There's a dark suspicion in my mind that PCs are generally made to be worked on only by the hands of small children and bush babies. Why? Because working on a computer often involves incredibly small connections and unlatching connectors in very small spaces.
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The worst of these is undoubtedly the ATX eight-pin, which is always placed on the motherboard in the top left, where there's only a narrow channel to access it. Should you ever want to change the PSU (see 'loud Noises'), then this is a connector you'll need to remove and replace. That would be fine if it wasn't in hemmed in by the PSU, CPU cooler and back wall. On occasion I've been forced to almost entirely dismantle a PC to be able to reach this connector.
Much knuckle skin has been lost to bring you this information.

The Anytime Trap

One of the most annoying aspects of the modern PC is that itís almost never ready to use, especially if you'd done something drastic like not used it for a couple of weeks.

Turn a TV on, you get 1Y. Go to the toaster with bread, there's a good chance you'll come back with toast. The PC isn't like that, because you turn it on and then you're bombarded with updates. Some of these might need the PC to reboot, so that notion of just flipping a switch and enjoying your tech is never so simple.

The very worst incarnation of this problem is when you do a fresh installation of Windows XP (while you can), Vista or Windows 7. It takes less than an hour to install the OS but another three to get all the updates in place. As a pick-up-and-use device, the PC is right alongside petrol mowers and Christmas lights.

It's a well-known fact that the more complicated something is, the easier it is to stop it working forever. The PC is the very epitome of that concept, because if all the parts don't pull in the same direction, then it generally won't work at all.

The problem for any owner is that in terms of clues, the PC can often be very obtuse in telling you what's actually wrong. Ambiguous beeping, blue screens of death or just ignoring your simple requests: they're all part of the unrivaled information flow you can expect.
Often it can come down to complete guesswork or even the selective replacement of parts until the culprit is eventually revealed. Given the number of physical parts and the thousands of files that constitute the OS, this can be very challenging.

Expertise is often no defense against these dark forces. I once spent three entire days trying to get a PC to talk to Virgin broadband, only to discover that it had a failed LAN port, and the LAN card I replaced that with was also faulty.

The more I see of these adventures, the more amazed I've become that any PC works at all for any length of time, because statistically none should.

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A Little Knowledge

Owning a PC is a cultural badge of honor, I've decided, but once you've accepted that award, it's almost impossible to give back. I know doctors will often lie to people at social events, so they don't start talking symptoms, and being a PC owner is a similar situation.

However little you know, there is always someone out there who knows less and thinks you're an untapped information resource. If, like me, you get an unwarranted reputation for 'knowing everything' about computers, you'll be amazed at the people who come to your door with all manner of digital woes.

It just died, my friend was sick on it, the cat won't leave it alone, I was just about to back it up, I found some files in the Windows folder I knew I didn't need ... I've heard them all.
But what amazes me more is how, usually having no involvement in the purchase of the computer, when it goes wrong it suddenly becomes my problem. And if I start sounding less than enthusiastic about resurrecting their silicon buddy, they'll chuck out real stingers, like 'But the pictures of my daughter's first birthday are on there!'
Deny you own a PC or even know what one is, if you know what's good for you.

The Keyboard-Seat Interface

A system contains many parts that, should they go wrong, can cause problems, but the one that's by far the most dangerous sits between the chair and the keyboard.

What users can do to their own systems never ceases to amaze me, along with the incredible explanations of how they managed to take a rather minor problem and get it all the way to DEFCON1. I've seen people take parts from a PC and wash them. No, seriously. I've had others take a 12V connector off a part, hack it off and place a 13 amp plug on it, with hilarious electrical fire consequences. Others try to jam video cards made for legacy interfaces into modern PCI Express lots, and others bend every pin on a VGA cable trying to make it connect to a serial port.

But by far my personal favorite was the women who complained all her Windows 3.x menus had nothing on them, who had turned default text color to white, on a white background. The PC can be a difficult mistress, but it's got nothing on some of the idiots who use them. As a PC owner, know your limitations and the ones of those around you.

Pandora's Box

Own a PC for long enough and you'll inherit a bits box, where parts that you're currently not using reside. It starts small enough, perhaps with a few cables and connectors you don't use, but it grows. Soon you buy a new CPU cooler that comes with the parts to connect it to every known socket since the i486. And, being a sensible person, you keep all the bits you don't need, in case you re purpose that cooler at some point.

A few years pass, and your entire house is now overtaken by ultra SCSI cables, blanking plates from a PC you junked a decade back, a decorative grill for a 77mm fan, a 6GB IDE hard drive, the world's largest collection of USB headers and a viable platform for creating the first museum of VO shields.

How crazy this can get was outlined to me recently, when I was looking for a spare part, and I came across a gizmo that was designed to unlock an AMD socket a processor, circa 2000. The irony is that I've got so much of this ancient junk that it's almost impossible to find any of the parts I actually want or need. When you factor in the storage of old computers, redundant Deskjets and worn keyboards, owning a PC probably decreases the storage space in most homes by an easily quantifiable amount.

Way to a Dusty Death

Thanks to James Dyson, among others, my home is generally dust free. Or rather that's the impression I get walking through it, which as it turns out is compete bunk. How do I know this? I own a Pc. Whatever clever cyclone technology that Dyson can come up with, it pales into insignificance against the PC when it comes to trapping dust.
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Place a PC in a dustless environment, and within days, dust will migrate there and start to coat the internal surfaces. Leave it long enough and the inside of the computer will resemble one of those tombs Indiana Jones raids, resplendent with dead creatures and lethal traps.

It doesn't take long, depending on the home or office. Six months is plenty of time to dust impregnate a PC, and a year's worth of dust can easily kill it.
This natural process is enhanced by the number of people who own a desktop PC who decide they'd really rather not know what's going on inside. It's like those people who never lift the bonnet on their car, until the engine seizes, as it's got no oil or coolant. If you're reading this thinking you have a laptop so you don't have that problem, you've got a shock coming along too.

Get a can of compressed air and fire it into the cooling vents of your portable computer to discover just how much dust you're carrying around. The phrases 'PC owner' and 'dust hoarder' are fully interchangeable.

The Unfinished Masterpiece

Those that own a PC soon come to realize that it's only 80% there, because it's got slots for cards and memory that aren't used. And unless you've spent very big, there is usually a better processor and video card available.

Owners often comfort themselves with explanations like 'it's plenty for me', knowing deep down that they'd like that really expensive Core i7 CPU or the video card that needs its own personal power station to run.

In this way the tech industry is always ready to step in and offer that upgrade where your system reaches a greater amount of its potential. But we all know, of course, that 100% just isn't attainable. And if through a lottery win it was, within five seconds of you getting that fully maxed out PC, new technology would come along, making it entirely defunct. It's time to start over.

The true irony of the system you can never really have is that the one you do own is sitting there now feeling utterly bereft that with the billions of computing cycles it has at its disposal, you're using it to access Facebook or watch YouTube.

We all want a quicker Pc. even if we've no plan for how we might use that speed and power if we actually owned it.