By John Hammer, Contributor

“Help, my computer’s not working” is a cry often heard as we’re all confined to our homes by Covid restrictions. “Who can I call to get it running again soon?” The name that pops up most often is Melissa Mendelsohn.

Melissa Mendelsohn

Melissa Mendelsohn. Photo by John Hammer.

These days, as home computers have taken on a much larger role in our daily lives, we’re depending on Zoom, remote learning, more emailing and ever more complex but convenient applications. The challenges of computers come almost weekly. Melissa is a New York ex-pat who moved to Charlotte 15 years ago to escape the hurly-burly life of suburbia. Facing a new life in a new town, she applied her highly analytical mind to addressing what she saw as a pressing need for home computer repair and maintenance. To her, the challenges of computer operations gave her the kind of stimulation that she craves, that of connecting things and solving problems.

So, with only nine months of understudy with All Systems Repair in Winooski, Melissa branched out on her own. She started out initially repairing Windows machines, but she spent nights learning Apple systems on her own and soon was specializing there too. From her charming small cottage behind a cedar picket fence, she attacks the myriad challenges that are brought to her from all over Vermont. In these days of limited face-to-face interaction, she is able to work directly on a problem machine by remotely connecting without leaving home.

Most often she is called to see why a computer or application isn’t opening or is running too slowly. She quickly begins by checking on whether the computer operating system is up to date. Then she moves on to determining if it needs tuning and that the desirable applications are running properly. For this, she might run a quick and free cleaner program and she’ll recommend some alternatives. She is quick to suggest a free application but will normally offer the advice that you subscribe to the premium service. While the freeware often does the job adequately, the move up to premium will perform much of the manual and time-consuming work for you.

Many of the questions she receives are related to software and applications that have already been installed. Melissa will say that “people are always going to need help … and if I don’t know the program, I just learn it so I can help them. It benefits both of us.” In these cases, she is openly honest and even thanks the client for giving her the opportunity to learn. If the problem is beyond her scope, she is quick to recommend other services.

Melissa treats every computer like an individual. She says, “Every computer has its own character, its own idiosyncrasies.” Each has its quirks and pitfalls, and she admits that she never knows what’s going to happen when she gets a call. Often an issue arises from a lack of proper maintenance. Failure to carry out updates as they are issued will frequently lead to problems. Updates not only address software issues but, more importantly, they clean the operating system of security holes as soon these can be corrected. That important check is one of the first things she will look at.

Another threat to good operations are useless applications running in the background, leading to inadequate storage space. Very often old, very large or junk/temporary files and folders sit unnoticed, eating up valuable space. These slow things down, so she will suggest an application to clean out useless files that eat up space. She’ll also recommends malware screening programs. While these programs are of great importance, she is quick to warn you not to have more than one. As she says, “They will just fight each other.” Just pick a good one and sign up for the premium edition. She will give a lot of choices and some recommendations.

As for overall security and privacy issues, she recommends that you don’t use simple passwords and change them often. Never open a URL from a site that is unfamiliar to you or has the word AD next to the URL and beware of any site that asks you for personal information, even if it’s only a telephone number.

While Melissa doesn’t use social media all that much, she has been very happily working on her family genealogy. Ask her about it and she gets excited in what she has found using various means to track down her family. A key application for her is Google Translate that allows her to make queries to people in locations in Eastern Europe where her family came from in the early 20th century. She’s been at it for 10 years and follows up with all her finds, translating them into visits and trips to find her past relatives.

She is quick to say that there are no dumb questions concerning computers. “People just don’t know. I’m here to teach them.” That’s what turns her on, and she plans to carry on with that for as long as she can. Heaven knows we all need her. If ever you need her help, she can be found at Orchard Road Computers on your favorite search engine. Her favorite search engine is DuckDuckGo.com, which she will say is more secure.