BitDepth 558 - January 09

Tech toys, even as gifts, often need aftercare...
Taming a new tech toy

Circuitry and decorative ribbons mix well at Christmas, but attention to the details of new devices can make for a more enjoyable experience after the wrapping paper hits the bin.
Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

It's new, it's shiny and it probably needs more of your attention than you might expect.
In the afterglow of Christmas and the excitement of getting the gift of your dreams, it may come as a surprise that it probably needs some work to make sure it works at its best.
If it's technology, it probably uses a battery, and if that battery is rechargeable, then you'll need to "exercise" it.

This tip works whether the device is an iPod or a laptop and will make your experience of a battery driven electronic device more predictable.
Many high tech devices that use rechargeable batteries track the best possible charge the battery can take and the lowest energy trickle that will keep things running to predict how long you will be able to use them before you need to recharge.
The first thing you should do with a new device like this is to fully charge it and then use it until it runs out of juice. Recharge it again and the device will have a fairly accurate calibration of how long it can run on a full charge.

Once you've done this for the first time, it actually isn't a good idea to do it too often, because that will unnecessarily cycle the battery through its useful life. Once a month should be good enough to keep the calibration accurate.
Unsurprisingly, most technology items aren't complete right out of the box. Manufacturers need to have a strong after market ecology to drive the popularity of their products, both to sell you on new stuff and to encourage other vendors to support their product. An Xbox or Wii must be fed with games, a computer will need more memory and an MP3 player will almost always need better headphones and a good carrying case.

But many new devices are already showing their age as they pass through the doors of the factory. Improvements to the digits that control today's technology devices will always move faster than the ships and planes that move them to consumers.
To minimize the potential for problems, always visit the device vendor's website to check on software updates that might address problems before they happen.
Printers, scanners, digital cameras and MP3 players all arrive with shiny new CDs that look brand-new. Don't be fooled. The lead time required for mastering a commercial CD almost guarantees that the version on disc will be a version or more behind the downloadable software on the manufacturer's website.

With computer operating systems undergoing frequent revisions and patches, the best device manufacturers stay on top of changes by updating and posting new versions of their software to keep pace with the changing landscape of computer systems.
Finally, read the manual, a bit of advice that is so commonplace that it has its own rich truncation on the Internet, rtfm. It's taken as a kind of digital street cred that hardcore geeks never bother with the manual, ripping new toys out of their boxes and plugging them in.

Don't try to impress. Most manuals offer detailed instruction on best practice handling of sophisticated electronic products. At the very least, read the illustrated quick start guide packaged with most new devices these days to make sure that you don't make a costly mistake when you set things up for the first time.
In spite of all these precautions you may still have trouble. I spent chunks of the holidays puzzling over a weird DVD burner problem on an iMac and downloading a massive HP update to solve a scanner conflict on a PC.

When puzzles like this crop up, I hit the forums, the Internet based discussion lists that aggregate the wisdom of dozens, sometimes hundreds of other people who are facing the same issues that you are dealing with.
Smart companies monitor these discussions, even the independent forums that they have no control over, and offer inside tips on how to handle issues that sometimes comes straight from the keyboards of the programmers who worked on the software in the first place.
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