{picture of 
Bryan Hance} @#$%$!

Double @#%$!

 - Those have been my two favorite words during the last few weeks, and I'll tell you why.
 - Computers are wonderful things. They can be programmed to do anything, from figuring out your taxes and mixing drinks to keeping track of how much soda is in the Coke machine.
 - That is, when they work.
 - Unfortunately, they only do this when their hardware and software works, and someone is ultimately accountable for making those two elements behave. Most of the time that person is you.
 - And it's not easy, because for as wonderful and flexible as computers are they are also hideously reliant upon details. To make matters worse, they're the worst kind of details - technical details. {sound card}
 - Take the process of installing a sound card, for example. Your sound card may have five different settings on the card itself, and five different settings within five different pieces of software that came with it. Adding to the confusion, your computer m ay have five different ways of connecting to the card, and five other cards already installed and competing for the very same resources as your sound card.
 - Now, you're already up to something like 3,125 different possible ways of making everything work - which means you're in for a long weekend.

 - $*#%@!

 - Of course, manufacturers usually include software to help you with installation problems. With the thousands of different types of computers and peripherals made today, however, something is bound to go wrong, software or not. Most troubleshooting guides are no help either, as they read something like "Step 1: Make sure your computer is plugged in."

 - Triple $%#$%!

 - No, you're not an idiot, but you're not a technician, either. So what do you do, weeks later, when you're stuck with this nonfunctioning thing you shelled out a week's worth of pay for?
 - You call customer service.
 - This often a great way to get for help, but companies are fed up with nuisance calls from people who actually don't have their computers plugged in, and have switched their customer service department over to pay-for-help toll numbers. They vary fr om flat rate fees (say, $20 per call) to minute-by-minute charges, even if you're stuck listening to a sales pitch while on hold for half an hour.
 - Sometimes you can't even find a number to call, toll or otherwise. What then? (Besides screaming !@*#&&* again.)
 - You get on the Internet.
 - First, it's good to start with the manufacturer of the new product. Everyone has a web page these days, and it's not hard to find their customer service section within a matter of seconds. Even the smallest companies keep some kind of web presence, so yo u're not in trouble if you bought the last hard drive from a two-person company in Bulgaria and can't find their phone number. Unfortunately, this entails waiting a few days for a response to your email, but this is sometimes for the better - it forces yo u to forget about the problem for a while. {computer}
 - Next, try the people that built your computer. You'll find software available to 'fix' all the really nit-picky problems the company didn't work out before they released the computer to the public, although such software is usually tailored to very specif ic problems. Manufacturer sites often include listings of their dealers as well, so there is also a chance that you can dial the closest one and harass them into helping you
 - If that doesn't work, go global. Usenet news groups are the perfect place to find answers to your problems because untold millions of people read them every day - sometimes it's even the person who designed the very thing you're having trouble with. One o r more of the Usenet readers is bound to have had the same exact problem as you, and if you're lucky they'll have solved it by then. There is one drawback to this method, in that news groups are usually dedicated to one super-specific topic. So, if you po st to

alt.my.mouse.is.on.fire.and.I.can't.put.it.out instead of alt.my.mouse.is.AFLAME.and.I.can't.put.it.out {fire}

you might get yelled at. Make sure you're in the correct newsgroup before you ask for help.
 - Lastly, there are hundreds of independent Websites dedicated to building, maintaining, and repairing computers. The wonderful thing about the Web is that no matter how bizarre your problem, someone has probably composed a web page covering that very t opic. Adding to the value of independent sites is the fact that they often are run by regular people with the same financial and material constraints as your own. If you want an answer on the cheap, this is the place to go.
 - Below is a quick guide to the help resources outlined above, but the overall point is this: Don't give up. Someone, somewhere, has the answers to your questions, and all you need to do is look hard enough for that person.
 - And stop swearing.

Major Manufacturers
When possible, links go directly to customer service.
Apple Computer Customer Support
Compaq Online, Service and Support
Dell Service and Support
Gateway 2000
IBM Customer Product Support
Microsoft Technical Support
Packard Bell Support
Power Computing

Usenet News Groups
This is a very brief sampling, and remember to read before you post! Note: Your NNTPSERVER must have access to a particular group for the link to work.

Independent Sites
A few examples of the non-corporate help you can find.
Atipa Computers Info Sheets for Hardware Installation
Basic Hard Disk Interface Primer
Build Your Own PC
CNET Features - How To
Curt's High Speed Modem Page
The Hand-Me-Down PC
System Optimization Information
Tom's Hardware Guide