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Find Solutions to Tech Problems at FixYa

Need help solving a computer problem? I usually start with PC World's community forums, home to countless crackerjack users who graciously share their expertise. You can browse the forums to see if your problem has already been posted (and solved), or create a new post and wait for someone to come to the rescue.

In the meantime, there's another destination worth visiting: FixYa, a site that offers free tech support and troubleshooting for all manner of consumer products.

All you do is enter the name of your problem product (or a brief description of your issue), then click Search. Alternately, you can browse lists of product manufacturers and recently posted problems. No luck? Click the Ask button to post your question. FixYa "employs" a volunteer staff of fellow users who may be able to find a solution. (And if you're a tech expert yourself, why not sign up and lend your expertise?)

If you've got a busted printer or something else that requires repair, FixYa lets you search for repairpeople in your area. The site even has downloadable instruction manuals for a variety of products, just in case yours goes missing.

Find Hard-to-Find 800 Numbers

Believe it or not, most companies would prefer that you didn't call their toll-free service and support numbers. It's true! They have to pay for the call and the live humans who staff them. Now you know why it's often impossible to find toll-free numbers for so many companies: They hide 'em.

Enter Hard to Find 800 Numbers, a must-bookmark site that maintains an alphabetical list of hundreds of customer-care, tech-support, and other toll-free numbers. Amazon? Check. AOL? Check. Apple corporate headquarters? Yep--and I'm only on the A's.

Many listings include the department's hours of operation, notes on circumventing automated menus, and so on. There's also a link where you can add hard-to-find numbers you've found on your own that aren't on the list.

Use Emoticons or Suffer the Consequences

Google recently trotted out a big ol' batch of emoticons for Gmail users. PC World's Ian Paul has that story, but it got me thinking: how much pain and suffering could have been avoided if Gmail had done this sooner?

Hear me out. I know plenty of people despise emoticons, and some flat-out refuse to use them. But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that emoticons are not only useful, they're often vital.

Consider: How many times have you been sucked into an e-mail or message-board argument over some misinterpreted comment? It happens, and happens often, because written words don't always convey the intent of the writer.

Consequently, an otherwise genial and spirited online discussion can quickly turn ugly, or an e-mail intended as a joke can genuinely hurt someone's feelings. Like when I told Digital Focus blogger Dave Johnson that some band he recommended made my ears bleed, he got all bent out of shape. True, he's a big baby, but I'd neglected to cap my comments with that familiar wink-smile emoticon so he'd know I was joking.

Obviously this is a different kind of "hassle" than I normally address, but the Gmail announcement reminded me how valuable those little emoticons can be. And, hey, if you're not one for smileys, there's always the dancing lobster. Nothing says "I'm kidding" like a dancing lobster.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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