It's an outside job!

WE BATHE everyday. Some of us at least, wash our clothes every few days — or when we run out of things to wear. Yet when it comes to looking after that precious personal computer, we tend to forget about minimum maintenance. Till disaster strikes.

It doesn't matter whether the PC belongs to you.If your employer has provided you with a machine at home or workplace, it's still your duty to do the minimum daily cleaning that will keep it working well (and looking good).

How many PCs does one see, where the monitor is grimy with dust; the keyboard almost black with the dirty paw marks of its user/s; and the mouse abused and worn out to a standstill! Quite often, so-called whizkids who lavish tender care on the software, keeping track of every upgrade, are the ones who are most tardy when it comes to the physical cleaning of the system.

This week's column is devoted to a few hints about what needs to be done about the externals of the PC.

In the next edition, we shall discuss how to purify the PC's software soul.

For starters, every PC user needs to spend a little money on acquiring the following cleaning tools: - A bottle of Colin or a similar brand of glass and household cleaner, preferably one that comes with a sprayer.

- A cleaning cloth: the writer has found the ten-rupee windshield cleaning cloth sold by petrol bunks (and by young vendors who accost you at traffic lights) to be the best bet.

It is soft enough not to scratch the monitor screen.

- A small supply of cleaning buds — Johnson and Johnson's or similar.

If one makes a habit of wiping the monitor, CPU box, and keyboard with a cloth soaked in the cleaning solution every day before starting work on the PC, it will look clean and almost new even after five years. There is more to this than aesthetics: after a few hours continuous use, you may have noticed the crackling sound when you pass your hand over the monitor: this is the static electricity building up, because the older CRT-type displays work on very high voltages.

Spraying some cleaning fluid and wiping dry will neutralise the static — which can otherwise be quite dangerous, and can even give you a small jolt.

The keyboard needs some extra work — at least once a week. When machines are used by more than one person, keyboards take a beating: The great thinkers among us tend to scratch their heads as they ponder on what to type next... and bits of hair end up in the gaps between the keys. Some of us munch a burger as we work - and the keyboard soon resembles a menu of our last meal.

However, cleaning the keyboard with a wet cloth is not enough. You need to dab between the keys with a cleaning bud. However, do remember that most keyboards, particularly the cheaper ones, use a somewhat delicate plastic film beneath the keys to make the interconnections. So don't pour cleaning liquid on the keyboard — it will cause an electrical short.

And no keyboard to our knowledge is "coffee proof". Spill hot fluid on it and the plastic film will be irreparably damaged. You have to throw away the keyboard and buy another because these days no one can be bothered to repair keyboards.

The mouse is another delicate device that we tend to abuse.

After a month or two of use, it will attract a lot of dust, lint, and other particles that will make the rods, rollers, and the ball insensitive. You can safely open the mouse once in a while, and gently rub the parts, blowing away the dust before closing it. Don't use liquid for this cleaning. Most PC units come with mini fans or blowers... . And over months their blades get clogged with dust.

Also, the ventilation holes on the back of the CPU units also work in reverse — and a lot of dust will get in. With the PC switched off, it is not too difficult to open the casing.

But removing the dust and grime within, requires a vacuum cleaner — not the big domestic one that will suck half the wires inside, but one of those "minivac" battery-operated types.

DON'T try to clean inside the CPU unit with a cloth, since in all probability you will dislodge some jumpers and will not be able to put them back again.

However, if you are not comfortable with opening up the PC, it is wiser to entrust this to a service engineer at least once a year.

To clean CD and floppy drives, never poke its innards with a bud or a cloth.

Use the special cleaning tapes or lenses that one can buy in most PC accessory stores — and follow the instructions.

A PC is a sophisticated machine — and should be treated with respect. Do the minimum chores outlined above, and it will serve you for years to come.