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by Ray DeCosta

Q. Quite often when I touch my computer these winter days, it crashes and reboots. Because of this, I sometimes lose data and have to start my project over again. What's going on and how do I stop this from happening in the future?

A. This problem is quite common on dry days when there's no humidity in the air. It is caused by static electricity which can build up on your clothes and body and it's looking for a place to discharge. So when you touch your computer, keyboard, mouse, flash drive or other peripheral, the static electricity tries to get to ground. Because your computer motherboard is very sensitive to electricity, it quite often gets "confused" (that's a technical term) and spontaneously reboots. The result is equivalent to hitting the Reset button and that, of course, causes you to lose any unsaved data that you may have edited. Occasionally, the computer will simply freeze up and won't do anything. If this happens, you'll have to power up from a cold start.

The fix to this problem is in remembering to discharge any static electric charge that may have built up while you have walked across the room or maybe adjusted yourself in your chair. On days of very low humidity, you should be aware that a sizable charge can build up with very little movement on your part. Your best choice is to touch something that provides a ready path to ground. However, simply touching a doorknob will not take care of this problem because that knob isn't actually grounded. It's attached to a wood door and there's no place for the static charge to go.

I suggest that you look for a bare metal screw which holds the cover plate on an electrical outlet. Most screws are painted to match the cover plate and this will almost always not discharge the electrical buildup on your clothes and body. In this case, you can replace the painted screw with a bare metal one. Now your static electric problems will vanish but only if you always remember to touch the screw before you touch your computer.

Published: Courier 12/27/14 - Page 11A