Moving Past Panic

When something goes wrong, it’s very easy to assume the worst, and panic. By systematically stepping through various potential causes, it’s easy to keep your cool so at the very least you know what isn’t the problem.

There’s a reason one of the first tech support questions that is asked is the one that causes groans, “did you check that it’s plugged in”? The specialists you call have check lists to follow for a reason even if they sometimes annoy you. Many common problems often are caused by a simple thing that is overlooked. It’s human nature enter panic mode first and look past the obvious solution.

The other day I Skyped with a client, and when I answered the call was surprised to find audio coming out of my speakers and not my headset as I expected. My first thought was to the extreme: I had just installed a few updates the day before so I assumed something had influenced my settings. I thought back through all the updates I installed and remembered I was listening to music through the headset when I was doing them. It likely wasn’t that! My second thought wasn’t too far from the first: my cat Buddy likes to chew wires and did a number on a charging cable last November when he was still a kitten. While I haven’t seen my current foster kittens jump on my desk, it was a possibility. A quick feel through the wire ensured that it hadn’t been used as a chew toy. Finally I checked the obvious, yes it was plugged in, but needs a convertor, so I checked the connection at the headset and the convertor. Once I reset that connection, it worked as I expected. It sounds more convoluted than it really was, the entire sequence took less than 30 seconds while I was still talking with my client, but shows my thought process of stepping through and evaluating potential causes of an error.

If something is suddenly wrong with your website, while security is very important, please don’t assume your site is hacked if it doesn’t display at all or show as expected. If you suddenly can’t reach your website, check that you can visit other websites, internet service blips happen. If it’s only your website try connecting to other services you use (such as SFTP or webmail) or use a website such as downforeveryoneorjustme.com. That helps figure out if the web service is having issues or the entire server.

Then start stepping through what the last changes you are aware of before it stopped working. That’s why I advocate incremental WordPress updates (with backups).

What if the site loads but it’s just displaying what appears to be a blank white page? If you are on WordPress there are some common things to try. If updates aren’t the potential cause, then with your web browser view the page source. Does it at least look similar to basic html? If you know what text should be displaying search in the page for that text, is it there? If so, we need to figure out why you might not see the text, or why the text doesn’t look how you expect. For that I like to turn to the web developer options with my browser and begin to inspect elements. I’ve seen issues where the text colour was accidentally set to the same as the background, making it seem as if there was nothing on the page!

Learn more about my Think Through IT series and feel free to contact me here or head over to my monthly column at The Patterned App Blog and Ask Penny your technology questions.