Taking computers apart

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Dear Geek,

If I want my children to learn more about the hardware side of computers, where do you recommend starting?

Some Assembly Required

Dear Some Assembly Required,

Great question! Many people talk about how great they are with computers, but all they actually know is how to use the Internet to find facts, or utilize social media. When I was growing up, “knowing computer” was a big thing people said was important. It was just “computer,” not “computers,” and the lack of pluralization indicated just how little people understood the concept.

Your question brings back a memory from five years ago. My son was in kindergarden, and I visited the classroom with an old desktop computer that was no longer functioning. After reiterating the point of not doing what we were about to do when they got home, one by one I had the students unscrew the case, open it up, and pull out all of the components. We talked about what each one did, and how amazing it was that everything snapped together like a 3D puzzle. Thankfully, I never got a call from an angry parent yelling about how their child had disassembled their computer!

If you don’t already have an old laptop at home, ask around; I’m sure at least one of your friends has one. Do not attempt this with a laptop you currently use or is important to you, just in case something goes amiss. Search YouTube and/or Google to make sure a video exists for how to replace the keyboard for that make and model of laptop. Go to eBay or Amazon and buy a new keyboard for the laptop. It’ll probably cost approximately $30, and it’s educational, so it’s well worth it. Again, make sure the keyboard is for the correct make and model of laptop — they are not one-size-fits-all. After you receive the keyboard, power up the laptop and have your child start typing. Power off the laptop, get a butterknife or a flathead screwdriver, and have your child pry off a bunch of the keys. Please be smart and put some safety goggles over your kid’s eyes just in case a piece flies off in that direction; gloves to cover fingers couldn’t hurt. I don’t want nasty emails about eye or finger injuries, and more important, I want your kids to be safe.

Now that the keyboard is sufficiently destroyed, show your child the replacement keyboard and video mentioned earlier. Watch the video all the way through before working on the laptop, then have your child follow the steps, pausing the video after each step until completed. There are fancy toolkits you can buy for this project, but a set of small screwdrivers and that aforementioned butterknife will work just as well. I also recommend a white sheet of paper to put any small screws on, so they don’t get lost. You shouldn’t end up with any extra screws afterward, just in case you are wondering. That happens to me with IKEA products but thankfully, hasn’t resulted in any trips to the ER … yet.

Once your child is done and the laptop is back together, power it on, and have your child type with the keyboard he or she installed themselves. Watch the enormous smile knowing that you empowered them to do something they never imagined they would do. If they try to take a page out of the old John Hughes movie “Weird Scienceand attempt to create a real-life supermodel from the computer, you can tell them that this geek tried that with his friends when we were teenagers, and no, it didn’t work.

Thanks for writing in, and enjoy this project!

The Geek

Adam Darack is the IT administrator for the town of Edgartown. He writes regularly about the technological issues facing Island business owners. Got a question? Send it to onisland@mvtimes.com with the subject line “Dear Geek.”