In Search of the Mysterious Yellow Wire

Thankfully I don’t get many desperate requests for computer-related assistance from friends and acquaintances. Maybe they’re frightened I’ll ask for money (I won’t), or they just don’t want to bother me. And those I do get are usually the common issues that – other than the requisite amount of “fiddle time” – don’t take much to fix. But this week I actually beat my previous record of fast fixing by solving a problem that just needed me to press Fn-F10.

Some friends had phoned to say that their ADSL connection wasn’t working. They’d talked several times to their Internet provider on an expensive premium phone line, but it didn’t seem to help. The router kept dropping out, it seems, though after a day the magic green light was back on. However, now their computer could not find any wireless connections.

The solution that their ADSL provider suggested was to “plug in the yellow wire”. They had no idea which wire was meant, and so the support guy told them they would have to go out and buy one. And if that didn’t work they’d need to replace their computer as it was obviously broken.

So my friends then phoned me because they were concerned that going into a computer store and asking for “a yellow wire” might give the impression that they didn’t really know what they were talking about, and they might end up with the wrong thing. I guessed that what they needed was a CAT-5 Ethernet cable, and confused them completely by saying I had a spare “yellow wire” that was blue, and that they could have for free.

However, I suspected that the real problem with the wireless was that it was disabled in the Manage Network Connections dialog, turned off by the hardware switch, or the wireless card had failed. After I got them to search in vain for a switch on the outside of the computer (it doesn’t have one) I toddled off to their house with my laptop (and the blue yellow wire) to investigate further. And, as you may have guessed, the problem was that the wireless connection on their computer was simply turned off.

Turns out that the support guy had told them to press “weird combinations of keys”, which I assume included Fn-F10, to ensure that wireless was turned on. This made no difference at the time because the router had lost its connection, and all they’d achieved was to toggle it off. By the time I got there the line problems that were causing the router to drop out had obviously cleared because I could connect to it without any problem. And so fixing their computer just needed a quick prod on Fn-F10.

Ah, if only all the problems I tackle were as quick and easy to fix. Of course, after the computer was working OK again came the “extra” questions: “Can you make the browser open my email”, “Where have all the photos I had on my camera gone”, and of course “Can you make it run a bit faster”…


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