Monday, June 15, 2009

Fire From the Sky

I would like to take a moment to thank Mother Nature for her recent contributions to my Geekonomic Stimulus Plan. The stormy weather we have enjoyed the past few months has not been good for my tan but has done wonders for the “New Sailboat” segment of my personal economy. Immediate after a good storm rolls through the area our shop experiences a very welcomed stimulus package from you, our valued customers.

An interesting thing about so-called lightning damage is that the damage is caused not by a direct bolt of fire from the sky, but by an indirect charge (called “induced”) from a nearby lightning strike. When Mother Nature sends us a lightning bolt, the bolt emits a ginormous amount of radio waves on all frequencies. Your power line, phone line, cable TV line and the electrical wiring inside your walls act as a giant antenna. This “antenna” turns these unlicensed radio signals back into surges of electrical energy which, in turn, inflict terrible carnage upon the innards of your computer. Sometimes, components can be repaired or replaced inexpensively. Sometimes, the only way to undo the damage is to whine to your insurance agent.

These dangerous electrical surges can enter your computer system in three main ways. The most common is through your home’s AC power but it can also enter through the phone line or high speed cable/DSL Internet connection. All of these entry points must be blocked if you want to adequately protect your computer.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from being smitten again. If you are near your computer when a storm strikes simply unplug everything from the outlets. That’s what we do at my shop whenever possible. Next, you need a quality surge suppressor. I’m not talking about those six-dollar power strips that claim they suppress surges. Those little strips have a fuse in them that might protect you from a single zap. After that, the power strip continues to provide power but offers no surge suppression. To get quality protection, you need to spend upwards of $20.00 for a quality protector from a well-known company such as American Power Conversion or Tripplite. They include an indicator light that tells you if the surge part of the surge protector is working. Green good. Red bad.

If you use high speed DSL it is important to know that there is a difference between regular phone-line surge suppression and “DSL phone line” suppression. Look on the retail box for “DSL protection” or your DSL line may run slow or not at all. If you have high speed cable, be sure to purchase a surge suppressor that comes with a coaxial connector that accommodates the cable. Don’t forget to buy one for that fancy plasma TV, too.

American Power Conversion makes a “Home/Office SurgeArrest” that combines DSL, Phone line, Cable and AC protection in one package. It’s available at most local retailers for about $30.00.

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