Snapping and Snipping

Recently, I blogged about the Windows Snipping Tool and how convenient it is for grabbing a copy of all or part of a screen. This is fine for normal purposes, when everything is behaving normally . . .

A dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death).
. . . but what happens if you suddenly see the dreaded “blue screen of death”? Sometimes a simple re-boot is enough to sort the problem, but if you see the BSOD again you will probably need to investigate. You will quite possibly need some help as to what to do next and how to get to the bottom of the problem. It would be very handy if you could use the “Snipping Tool”, but you can’t. The BSOD means you can’t do anything except switch off and back on again. And if you do re-boot after seeing a BSOD it’s quite possible that you will see some kind of message that relates to the problem that caused the BSOD. Once again, you probably won’t be able to use a normal Windows tool to grab the contents of the screen.

This happened to a client of mine last week. She valiantly tried to write down the gobbledeygook she saw on the BSOD and the screens that showed on re-boot, but I was unable to persuade Dell Technical Support that these suggested we’d got a hardware problem. The “PC Check” software that was installed on the machine gave the system a clean bill of health so Dell insisted that it must be a software problem and that the only thing to do was re-install everything from scratch.

I wasn’t at all convinced that it was a software problem. It wasn’t consistent, and I had already re-installed the driver (software that manages hardware) that related to the hardware mentioned in the error message. I had also looked elsewhere for possible causes. Nevertheless, we decided to follow Dell’s advice and re-install.

Photograph of the first screen after the BSOD
Fast forward to my next visit a few days later to begin the re-installation and, luckily, the intermittent problem cropped up for me (I hadn’t seen it before). And this is when I had a very simple (but you may say “obvious”) flash of inspiration. I used my smartphone to take pictures of the two screens that came up after re-booting following a BSOD. Unfortunately, I couldn’t examine the BSOD itself as it just flashed up and was gone. Then I phoned Dell Technical Support and arranged to email these photos to the technician I was speaking with. Wonder of wonders! After a break of about 10 minutes she came back on the line and admitted that we had a hardware problem! I won’t dwell on the fact that she then tried to convince me that we didn’t have an onsite warranty. I’ve learned before that it’s well worth checking the details of your warranty before calling on hardware support from the supplier. We had done that in this case so I knew I was arguing from strength when I asked for an engineer. The engineer arrived, as arranged, the following day and he fixed the problem.

Photograph of the second screen after the BSOD
That still left the client with no installed programs or data (as a new drive had been installed), but at least it meant that we hadn’t reinstalled everything only to find the problem was still there.

Smartphones are great for this situation because they make it very easy to email a picture. You could do it with an ordinary digital camera but then you’d have to upload the pictures to a computer and attach them to an email (which would be impossible, of course, if you only have one computer and it’s currently very poorly). You just need to take a reasonable amount of care when taking the picture so that any text on the screen will be legible in the photograph.

So, this was a lot of words to explain something very simple, but I think it’s worth it because it could often make a fraught experience a little easier. I’m not suggesting you should always have a camera at the ready next to your computer, but if you should remember this trick when a problem arises, it might make computer support from the likes of Dell a lot easier. It might also help when you wish me to support you with computer problems. I’d certainly be happy to try it and neither digital photos nor emails cost anything!

(Last updated 07/09/2023)