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Family Tech Support 860

Donald Scott sends in this short yet resonant tale about doing tech support... for your family.
A couple weeks ago I got a package from my mother in Florida. It arrived by express mail, insured for four hundred dollars. In it was a surge suppressor. One of those big rectangular jobs that your monitor sits on and your computer sits under. I recognized it as the same one that, in the mid 90s, I personally placed under the monitor and over the computer that I bought for my mother.

This computer, from "Zeos", I think, had a catchy name which I've forgotten, and was marketed as an all-in-one, "zippetty-doo-da" fast, productivity-increasing, feature-packed system, from a company who'll be there tomorrow. It was, like most computers you'd buy for your mom, immediately obsolete, but great for email. It was also great for playing computerized bridge and pinochle which is as far as my mother wants to go in computer gaming. For a couple years this Pentium 75 zippety-doo-dahed along quite happily, raising my mother's productivity considerably before trying to retire early, by pretending its motherboard was fried. Unable to convince it otherwise, I buried the "fried" motherboard unceremoniously at the curb and replaced it with one scavenged from a derelict PC carcass which was camped in my office.

This "new" PC was even faster than the previous, which made it about as current as writing email on parchment with an ostrich feather dipped in India Ink, but bought me another year of not buying a new system. That was a little over a year ago. A few months ago, that computer died too. So, a new computer was ordered, with a place to plug a complete modern life right into the back. USB ports, Serial ports, Modem Ports, Mouse ports, Ethernet, Fishnet, Parallel ports, Perpendicular ports, car ports, Video out, Video back in, and PDA handheld-infrared-ultraviolet-see-in-the-dark-intradimensional wireless toaster ports, pipe anything and everything into a tiny beige box. This box is great for email, and for playing computer bridge and pinochle.

For a month, my mother became really productive (mom's productivity is measured in forwarded joke emails), and then, abruptly, stopped being productive at all. Concerned about the uncharacteristically empty "Mother" folder in Outlook Express (a subfolder of "Deleted Items"), I sent several emails which went unanswered. It occurred to me that she might have been sucked into some port on the back of the computer and was deadlocked in a virtual game of computerized cribbage with either Keanu Reeves or a rogue supercomputer from IBM, but I didn't follow up on this. The next time I heard from her was on my answering machine - "You can cancel my internet access, I've packed up the computer and put it in the closet. Bye."

My mother's messages often sound like epitaphs, but this sounded particularly dire. I knew that either Keanu had beaten her in cribbage or her computer had died. Despite being totally generic, the new computer was still new and still under warranty, a warranty that the computer gnomes in her closet were unlikely to honor, but which my local computer supplier probably would. I took drastic measures and called her. A frustrated woman answered, close to tears "Well, it stopped getting email two months ago and then one day I turned it on and no picture showed up and I didn't want to bother you because 'You're so busy' and I know it's my fault and..."

She was not particularly helpful in troubleshooting the problem. Furthermore, the computer's condition of being unplugged in a dark closet made successful diagnostics so grim a prospect that I patiently explained the whole "gnome-warranty" thing to her and asked that she send it back to me. Swayed by my logic, she agreed, and several days later a package arrived from her.

Understandably excited by the prospect of fixing a computer I bought because it wouldn't need much fixing, I tore open the package to reveal one unremarkable, heavily over-insured surge suppressor. Remember the surge suppressor? Confusion descended. I felt as though I'd ordered a latte and been handed a stapler. Was it the words I'd used? Did the gnome story scare her? Did I say "Please just send me any object and I'll use it to fix your computer from a thousand miles away." Again, I took emergency measures and called her. I pretended that I hadn't opened the box in case it was an early Christmas present. "Please tell me this is an early Christmas present" I said. "No, it's that damned computer" was the reply that I both feared and got. Because this surge suppressor is about as mistakable for a computer as an old leather boot, I had two painful options; one of making my mother feel like a total boob, and the other of configuring an email client on a mid 90s surge suppressor. Boob it would be. I said, as delicately as possible "Mother, this isn't a computer, it's an old boot!"

On my desk now sits the multi-port roadster of a computer that arrived today from Florida. Sure enough, there's the bridge and pinochle CD still in the drive and, sure enough, it doesn't work. I suspect that the huge dent in the case, indicating some sort of collision, trauma, impact, stampede or other violence might have something to do with that. Maybe the tech gnomes took a whack at it. Whatever. She's my mother. I love her. I'll just fix it.

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Family Tech Support

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  • Lack of Equipent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KosovoYankee ( 310988 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:33PM (#5529882) Homepage
    The trouble with doing tech support for your family, especially if they live in another city, is that I never have the right equipment or software with me to solve what would be a pretty simple issue if only I had a second pc with access to the internet....
    • by Koyaanisqatsi ( 581196 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:39PM (#5529930)
      I know. And that's why I *allways* have a Knoppix [] CD with me.

      Saves so much time!
      • by ktakki ( 64573 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @04:59PM (#5531625) Homepage Journal
        Amen to that, but with a caveat...

        With the exception of text mode, Knoppix is just too bloated for older machines, and by "older" I mean anything less than a Pentium Pro 200, and even then I doubt you'd find it usable.

        I recently had to diagnose a couple of computers a friend had found while dumpster diving, a P166 and a P-II 350, both with 32MB RAM. KDE ran like frozen molasses on the 166, though it was fine in text mode and I found out what I needed to know. The 350, however, a six-year-old Dell Optiplex, GX1 wouldn't boot from the CD, not even with the boot floppy inserted in A:\ (one of its problems was a busted IDE controller). I ended up using old Slackware boot/root floppies instead.

        So yeah, Knoppix is useful when it's useful, but I'd suggest having a back-up plan, like the Linux-on-a-floppy distro, or Tom's Boot Disk, or even a Windows Rescue disk or DOS boot floppy, just in case.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:50PM (#5530048)
      I think it's the new open source businessmodel!

      1) Write free stuff.
      2) ?
      3) Sell tech support to your family.
      4) Profit!
    • Re:Lack of Equipent (Score:3, Interesting)

      by egreB ( 183751 )
      And furthermore, it seems that family always thinks that any computer related problem can be solved over the phone in a matter of minutes. "Hey, just call $YourName! He'll know what to do."

      Granted, some problems can be solved per voice ("click the Start-button in the leftmost corner of your screen, choose Find, and Files and Folders. Type the name of the file you're looking for"), but the vast majority of the problems requires you to actually sit down at the computer.

      (And, since this is Slashdot, the obli
      • by Ashran ( 107876 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:25PM (#5530352) Homepage
        > The (albeit few) family members (and others) that has a Linux distribution haven't got nearly as much troubles as the ones using That-Other system. People using Macs hardly ever has problems. Hm..
        A Linux Desktop is hardly userfriendly that why you give your average mom a Windows PC.
        And since she is the average mom and not a Pro-User using Linux she will have more troubles which she can't solve than the Linux guy/gal who usually is more into PC's.

        Its not Windows is giving more problems - its usually less computer savy people using Windows.
      • Re:Lack of Equipent (Score:5, Informative)

        by metacosm ( 45796 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:03PM (#5530668)
        The proper equipment is TightVNC -- it is the only way to help family without wanting to hurt them. It is multi-platform supports compression and is simple to install.

        The steps you should tell a family member are: goto ... click open, check all the boxes, click ok. Then you tell them to go to "" and read you what it says

        Then you are connected to their computer and can fix any software problem in 1/50th the time of trying to solve it over the phone.
    • Re:Lack of Equipent (Score:3, Interesting)

      by slide-rule ( 153968 )
      My recent trip to see [the wife's] family was an interesting comedy of errors with their various computers. Between three households and three computers, not one of them was in sufficient working order for me to do anything to them. ( One, a laptop, had the keyboard die *that morning*; another had been in "the shop" since the day before and, given the holiday nature of things, wasn't back home and plugged in until we were leaving; the last one was bootable and semi-functional, but needed a massive boatload
  • by Sgs-Cruz ( 526085 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:35PM (#5529894) Homepage Journal
    Did anyone else imagine this email read out loud in the Principal Skinner voice?

    Seymour!! I want to send "e-mail"...!!

  • Hmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by rickms ( 535706 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:37PM (#5529910)
    You have gnomes in your closet too? And here I thought it was just me.

    (Before you mod offtopic, ask yoruself this question: Is there a topic here?)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:37PM (#5529914)
    What was the problem?
    • by BoomerSooner ( 308737 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:58PM (#5530146) Homepage Journal
      That was the problem.

      I'm tech support for every damn person I know.

      The solution I found was to tell people I'm billing them at my software development rate ($100). That usually ends the calls pronto. It's kind of like calling a surgeon to tape up your scraped knee. To quote Y. Sam "That's alls I can stand, I can't stands no more!"
      • by NecrosisLabs ( 125672 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:49PM (#5530544)
        Eight years ago, I was in charge of the computer book section at a B & N book store. For some reason, a seemingly large segment of the local community decided that I was a free help desk. This was, needless to say, not fun.

        My wife and I were hanging out at home when the phone rang. My wife picked it up, and the one side of the conversation went something like this..

        No, he's not it, may I take a message?
        You are having problems with AutoCAD, and you thought he could help, Why? called the bookstore, and they gave you this number.. May I ask who you spoke to?
        Well, since he is not at the store, in order to help you, he will have to charge his consulting fee of $75 an hour, or, you can call on Monday when he'll be in store...

        I don't know who was worse, the idiot calling a bookstore employee for help on AutoCAD, or the complete f'ing moron who gave him my home number..

        Needless to say, I had some words with that employee.
      • by rirugrat ( 255768 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:16PM (#5530781)
        The solution I found was to tell people I'm billing them at my software development rate ($100). That usually ends the calls pronto.

        Aren't you the "Good Son"?

        Geez, I do tech support for my family and my wife's family. Do I always enjoy the frantic phone calls from them because they opened "that email attachment"? No, but I'm thankful that I can help them in my own way. Trust me, it's a *big* deal to them when you can magically fix their computer problems.

        I also remember that the ones I help are the same ones that generously put in a new hot-water heater in my house and new brake pads for my car. I know, because *I* called them once in a panic too (because I'm not that smart).

        Good deeds are eventually rewarded.


  • by RainbowSix ( 105550 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:38PM (#5529924) Homepage
    I was at a LAN party once, and my mom called me via telephone to tell me that she couldn't get the modem to disconnect from the Internet and that it was blocking the phone line. She told me over the phone that she needed the line to make a phone call.

    I was speechless
    • by mrpuffypants ( 444598 ) <`mrpuffypants' `at' `'> on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:46PM (#5530007)
      pffft...that's nothing

      At an ISP I used to work at we once got an email that said "I can't send email."

      RE: Fixed!!!!!
    • by Serra ( 42794 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:01PM (#5530161)
      My mother once complained that her computer wouldn't boot anymore. Eventually, I discovered she had pluged the surge protector / powerstrip into itself instead of into the electrical socket on the wall.

      "Uh, were you trying to surge protect the surge protector?"
    • Note: this is unrelated to your post. I'm only replying because I don't want to start a new thread, in the vain hope that perhaps we could gather all personal tech support stories in a tree with your post as the root.

      Right, anyway. A couple of years ago, when the Internet was still something relatively new, my father was going to buy a new computer, and I had joined him to the store to make sure he didn't do anything stupid. He said to the clerk in the store that he wanted to search the internet with his n
    • Not exactly computer related, but my ex-mother-in-law certainly has some technology/physics issues. She once told me a story about why she hated flying. She argued with me for an hour about the time she was on a 747 trying to land in St. Louis and the flight went pretty well until the pilot stopped the plane in mid-air because they were in a "holding pattern" and could not land.

      I tried to explain aerodynamics and lift, but she said "I don't know, but they did stop the plane and it was very bumpy. I ha

  • by Chazmyrr ( 145612 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:39PM (#5529931)
    Short answer: Don't do it.

    Long Answer: Don't do it. It isn't worth the aggravation. When something goes wrong, it's automatically your fault. It doesn't matter they dropped the box while they were moving and unseated the boards. It's still your fault. It doesn't matter that they tested the huge electro- magnet for the science fair project right next to the hard drive. They still expect you to fix it over the phone.

    If they can't put it together themselves after you tell them what parts to get and install an OS on their own, just let them buy the Dell and deal with their tech support department.
    • by true_majik ( 588374 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:46PM (#5530018)
      Chazmyrr says: Long Answer: Don't do it. It isn't worth the aggravation. When something goes wrong, it's automatically your fault. It doesn't matter they dropped the box while they were moving and unseated the boards. It's still your fault. It doesn't matter that they tested the huge electro- magnet for the science fair project right next to the hard drive. They still expect you to fix it over the phone.

      This is one reason I stay away from building custom PC's for relatives. If the PC breaks down, they expect me to fix it ASAP. It doesn't matter that they download and execute every file e-mailed to them, or that they click on YES for every Active-X control in websites, or as Bull999999 already mentioned (a.k.a. AOL, Real Player, Bonzi Buddy, Hot Bar, etc)...No, it's my fault. :(

      • well.. custom built pc's for relatives have their plus sides too, they're easy to upgrade, you _KNOW_ what parts are in there(unlike typical dell*), replacement parts are available for pennies still after couple of years(where they might not be available at all for the computers built of non-standard parts.).

        it's just best to make them understand that the magic you do to their machines isn't real magic but just something they can do by themselfs if they can read.

        and not even trying to do over the phone su
      • by chhamilton ( 264664 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:29PM (#5530376)

        true_majik says: This is one reason I stay away from building custom PC's for relatives. If the PC breaks down, they expect me to fix it ASAP. It doesn't matter that they download and execute every file e-mailed to them, or that they click on YES for every Active-X control in websites, or as Bull999999 already mentioned (a.k.a. AOL, Real Player, Bonzi Buddy, Hot Bar, etc)...No, it's my fault. :(

        I repeatedly came up against this problem. Having built my mother's computer, and performed ongoing tech support, things really fell to pieces when I moved 300 miles away. In fact, after only 4 months (with lots of over-the-phone tech support), the computer was so clogged with drive-by-downloads/trojans/viruses that it completely stopped functioning. Over Thanksgiving I cleaned everything up, put on AdAware and various Anti-Trojan/Anti-Virus programs, and hoped for the best. By Christmas, it was totally screwed again! This is due in large part to my younger siblings clicking yes to every offer of increased download speed, enhanced surfing experience, etc... (not to mention my 15 year old brothers penchant for internet pr0n)

        It had gotten so bad that I had to take the nazi-sysadmin route, upgrade them to Win2K, create every family member individual accounts, and then severely restrict them so that they could no longer download/install new crap. After a little education about reading email, a scheduled virus/trojan/spyware cleanup, and a new firewall, things have finally smoothed out a bit.

        I'm sure everybody here has similar experiences... it just seems that the geek of every family gets automatically assigned tech support duties. Hell, my family complains that they never hear from me, but the only time I hear from them is when it's computer related!

        • Know your family. (Score:4, Informative)

          by Lendrick ( 314723 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @04:21PM (#5531344) Homepage Journal
          My own immediate family is actually pretty reasonable when it comes to computers. I've fixed my sister's computer once or twice, and when I told her "don't download and install this crap anymore or your computer will get messed up again," she took it to heart, and now she's doing a lot better. Also, she never blamed me for her computer failing.

          Also (and please excuse my cliched comment here), if you're setting up a computer for your grandma who just reads email and plays bridge, Linux may be a good option. It's not vulnerable to most of the malware/spyware/adware feces that slows so many computers down. Just do her a favor and don't spend three hours preaching to her about the virtues of open source. She just wants a computer she can use.
    • by Ballsy ( 104411 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:49PM (#5530043) Journal
      ...and then, if even for only a moment, remind yourself that they provided for you for at least the first dozen or so years of your life, and that this is really a small favour for them to ask in the grand scheme of things.
    • Amen, brother. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mbourgon ( 186257 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:57PM (#5530131) Homepage
      Anymore, I recommend Dell. Why? Tech support more patient than I am. I haven't done phone tech support for several years now, but I still have to help Dad select multiple icons. Dell doesn't fix that, they keep the computer running so I don't have to - and can focus my attention on the shift key or click-and-drag.

      Same at parties - buy a Dell or a Mac. Both do tech support, and then I just _can't_ work on it - it'll ruin the warranty. :)
    • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:58PM (#5530136)
      I will build PC's for my family members.

      I will install hardware for my family members.

      I will install software for my family members.

      I will, under no circumstances, later support any of that for the same reasons. When something goes wrong, it's *always* your fault.

      Heaven help you if they actually watch you doing the install, too. My father-in-law, god bless him, is pretty handy with a Vic 20 or a Commodore 64's BASIC interperator. He can type in games straight from the 'Big Book of BASIC games' and then save them to cassette tape so he can play them again later.

      When he got a Windows computer a little while back, he was fairly dissapointed that he could not program the machine. I copied over a copy of QBasic for him, thinking that all his old BASIC stuff would still work in it, even if he had to re-type all of it. Later, I even gave him an old MS Visual Basic 4 CD that came with a book I had to buy for a college course.

      Unfortuneately, when he tried to install a new modem in his computer, I got called to clean up the mess. (This was the last time I ever did support for him.) At one point, he saw me fiddle with the COM ports in the PC's BIOS.

      "Is this where you program the computer?" he asked me, quite seriously.

      I should have known right then what I had inadvertantly done. A few days after I got the modem installed and working correctly, he called me again, quite upset that his computer would no longer work. It must have been the crappy modem driver software I installed.

      When I arrived, not only had EVERY single BIOS setting been changed, but the defaults had been wiped out. His BIOS had a 'Save', 'Save Defaults', and a 'Revert to Defaults', but not a 'Factory Defaults' switch.

      I couldn't even boot a DOS floppy to try to flash it. It took a long, long time to make that computer work right again.
    • by bongk ( 251028 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:09PM (#5530228)
      It saddens me that so many people have this attitude. I do tech support for a lot of the people in my (extended) family.

      However, in my family, if you can do it, you just do it. My uncle who is a plumber gave my hundreds of dollars worth of pipe, etc when I was remodeling (not to mention lots of advice). And he's roto-rooted our drain for free. Another uncle lets me hunt his 40 acres of prime forest. My in-laws sanded and refinished our floors. I could go on and on.

      You just help out if you have the skills, and don't worry about what your getting in return. It all comes around.
      • by dlakelan ( 43245 ) <> on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:03PM (#5530671) Homepage
        And that's exactly the way it ought to be. I feel so sad for these guys here who feel like they're being taken advantage of.

        I liked Paul Graham's observation about italian teenagers in his article on nerd unpopularity []. The italians don't have as many seriously disturbed nerdy teens, in large part because their families support each other and become the most important part of their lives.

        Of course there's always Philip Greenspun's guide to Java Monkeys [] to support those of us who are being taken advantage of.

        I helped my Fiancee buy a used laptop for her mom. Yes, I've spent several hours on "tech support" over the phone from 3000 miles away. I just feel that it's more than enough to repay them for the way they treat me when I fly out for holidays, and the interesting things I learn from them.

        I also think it's worth it because they obviously get a lot out of internet access. Her mom is a library fiend, constantly checking out books on myriad topics, now she also has access to a world of information that doesn't require reserving books, or driving out in 3 feet of snow.

        If you're really getting steamed about tech support, perhaps it's time to take more control over how it works?

        there's nothing that beats Knoppix [] for ease of use, easy recovery, and local and remote administration.

    • by greysky ( 136732 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:14PM (#5530269)

      Mom's car need an oil change? Don't do it. She'll only blame you when the car eventually breaks down.

      Dad need help putting up new drywall? Don't do it. He'll only blame you when there's water damage.

      Sis need help picking out a PDA? Don't do it. She'll only blame you if it doesn't work just right.

      Friend need a ride to the airport? Don't do it. He'll only blame you for the turbulence.

      Girlfriend need a cat-sitter? Don't do it. She'll only blame you when it dies a month later.

    • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:25PM (#5530343) Homepage Journal
      If they can't put it together themselves after you tell them what parts to get and install an OS on their own, just let them buy the Dell and deal with their tech support department.

      I hate doing that as much as I hate watching my mom buy a $500 break job. It happens but like a patient Vorgon, I do nothing.

      Yet the picture you and the story presents is incomplete. There is a middle ground between boobs and people who bother to assemble PCs in their spare time. Also, barring failure of the machine itself, there's no reason an old PC can't live on for decades usefully serving ordinary needs.

      Most people can tell the difference between an extension chord and the box with blinking lights and fans. My mom is in this group.

      Her current computer could serve her for the rest of her life. I've only had one computer fail due to hardware failure. My oldest computer was an XT clone purchased in 1988. It was working when I finally dissasembled it in 2000. My next oldest machine is a 66MHz 486 and it's still running as a fanless gateway. My baby girl tried to kill it this morning by repeatedly pressing the reset button but most of it survived. My mom has better sense. Her computer is a rooten-tooten Dell lap top with an extra large screen she bought two years ago. I don't know what kind or processor is in it, but it's more than enough to run email. When the Windoze ME dies, I'm going to take the time to install Debian on it.

      I'll go through the costs associated with her options and I'm sure Debian will be the winner. I'll let her call Dell and get their advice. I'll call a CompUSA and see what they have. I imagine either of those options will lead to an OS "upgrade" of one kind or another for no less than $250, weeks of waiting, multiple hours of my time spent digging up Windoze drivers and the sure knowledge that it will flake out again in two years. Chances are Dell does not "support" it anymore. The Debian option will only cost me a few hours of time and the cost of a pccard modem to replace the nasty winmodem. With a periodic apt-get update and upgrade, I'm sure I'll never have to fool with it again but that I could remotely if I had to. Which option would you chose?

    • If they can't put it together themselves after you tell them what parts to get and install an OS on their own, just let them buy the Dell and deal with their tech support department.

      For me it doesn't work like that. See, my dad knew a guy who knew a guy who could get him a deal. So they bought a PC from some local shop. (this is in a small town of 3000 people). So when the thing kept freaking out, they kept calling me. They had the tech come down and replace this part, and that part, and it still ke

    • In all seriousness, though...

      The only people I help with computer-related problems are my mother and father, and possibly my sister, and then, ONLY on the weekends. My approach is, if something is seriously wrong with the computer, they turn off the power and I look into it on Saturday morning. Telephone tech support NEVER works... Unless you enjoy frustration, that is.

      The nice thing is, this works out very comfortably. I can generally straighten out the problem without too much trouble, and they apprecia
  • The dent in the case might be an effect of its breakdown, rather than the cause.
    John Sauter (J_Sauter@Empire.Net)
  • DENT? (Score:3, Funny)

    by nlinecomputers ( 602059 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:39PM (#5529936)
    It sounds like if you can pry that info(the cause of the dent) out of her that will be a good laugh as well.

    I have clients almost as bad.
  • by Kozz ( 7764 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:39PM (#5529938)
    I can entirely sympathize. Hell, I lost an hour explaining computer terms to Mom [].
    • In seriousness, I've had that problem in my job before. Ever explained stuff to someone in their golden years? It's not pretty, sometimes, and not because old people are stupid and incapable of grasping complex concepts--on the contrary, I find older people are willing to listen to explanations of things more than younger people are. It's a patience thing.

      The problem is that computers are rather esoteric, abstract things that really make /no fucking sense/ if you don't use them often. That sounds stupid,
  • At least... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bull999999 ( 652264 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:40PM (#5529942) Journal
    At least she admitted that it was her fault... Most people mess with the settings or download crapware (a.k.a. AOL, Real Player, Bonzi Buddy, Hot Bar, etc) and blame all their problems on the computer.
  • Favorites (Score:5, Funny)

    by dmorin ( 25609 ) < minus bsd> on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:41PM (#5529953) Homepage Journal
    "Ok, what I do is when I sit at the computer, I start by clicking on the Microsoft."

    "It just stopped working. I didn't change anything, I swear."

    "The computer wasn't working, so I pushed the button."
    -my wife

    "I turned the computer off, unplugged all my devices, turned it back on, uninstalled everything, then reinstalled everything. Now it works. Huh. I guess I'll just have to do that every time."
    -Dad again

    "Why do you keep putting that : and ) at the end of your messages? It looks stupid."

  • by xXunderdogXx ( 315464 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:41PM (#5529958) Homepage Journal
    The night before I left on a plane to another province my girlfriend reminded me that I promised to install her CD-Burner that she got for Christmas. Now, realizing that when I'm away from home it will be much much more difficult to guide her through the process than it would be to stay up at 3 am and install her burner.

    After successfully installing the burner and saying our goodbyes, I took off for a 4 month stint in a new province.

    Well she got what she wanted and dumped me over the phone! I guess the reverse is true for dumping- it's easier to dump long distance than to deliver tech support.

    Lesson: Never solve your girlfriends computer problems completely or she'll devalue your relationship.
    • So she was just using you for techs? []
    • you were suppose to have vnc running on her machine for 'tech purposes for when it breaks' (only if she asks what the icon is), then when she breaks up with you, slowly and methodically extract your revenge.

      Or just go get a new woman.
    • by finkployd ( 12902 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:35PM (#5530426) Homepage
      Lesson: Never solve your girlfriends computer problems completely or she'll devalue your relationship./

      My ex dumped me after five years of not wanting to hear anything about "that stupid Linux thing" (not that I ever tried to push it on her or talked about it all the time or anything). Now, months after the breakup, her boss at work installs Linux on all their computers. Now she decides she loves it and now thinks I'm her personal Linux support/training/guru. The irony just kills me. Of course, I'm providing her some help because...well...I'm an idiot.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2003 @05:21PM (#5531860)
        Of course, I'm providing her some help because...well...I'm an idiot.

        You're helping her because you have a penis. This is very similar to being an idiot, so it's hard to tell the difference.

        To spot the difference, try this: if her calls are predictable, jack off right before her next call. If you still help her, yeah, you're an idiot. If you're able to resist her soon after jacking off, your problem is with your penis-to-brain interface.

        Hope this helps,
        Penis Technical Support

  • by L0stb0Y ( 108220 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:41PM (#5529959) Journal
    Ok, this has *long* been a pain for me: Family Tech Support...

    Because you *can't* just tell them to go pound sand, or just tell them that they are stupid....

    And you want so badly for them to understand...but walking them through things on the phone- no more, stop, please....

    Ok, but the WORST part about family tech support is when they start telling their friends, neighbors, etc, that they have a son (or daughter) that can help them too...suddenly its like when you have a truck: you help everyone move- A tech family member: you fix every damn computer in their circle of friends. Hell, it's getting so bad with my family that I think before too long Kevin Bacon is going to call me and ask me to fix his computer....

    Kill me now...
    • There's a solution to that:

      Charge money.

      I do tech support for several of my in-laws. I have no problem doing it, because I charge them $25/hour to do the work. And they're fine with it.

      Now my parents are another story, but.. well, they're my parents. And my mom is a geek-in-denial so when it breaks I can be reasonably sure that it's really broken. :)


    • "Because you *can't* just tell them to go pound sand, or just tell them that they are stupid...."

      Your family operates on a completely different level of diplomacy than mine ever did.

      "suddenly its like when you have a truck: you help everyone move"

      I'm seeing a pattern here. You are responsible for allowing yourself to be persuaded. I'll bet there are people with trucks who said "no" before they called you...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:41PM (#5529960)
    And stop wasting time posting on slashdot!

    -- Your Mom

  • by Ogrez ( 546269 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:43PM (#5529979)
    In my own personal experience, being a computer professional is like being a car mechanic... Your family and friends, and even people you dont know expect you to fix their computer problems all the time. Not a week goes by that I dont have 10 people at work telling me about their computer problems, another 5 at home (neighbors, ect) and family is the worst... At a certain point I became like the computer guy on SNL... Its parody, but true, most of the time the problem can only be fixed by saying "MOVE"...

  • by gwizah ( 236406 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:44PM (#5529985) Homepage
    My Dad, Greatest guy in the world he is, Somehow lost sound in his HP PC I got him 3 years ago.

    I failed to notice until a few weeks ago while I was visiting. I saw that for some strange reason there was what appeared to be a tiny white cord dangling from beneath the front cover of the machine. I looked closely at it and realized it was a earbud. Not just any earbud. It was one of those tiny little white ones that still come with cheap AM/FM radios. You know? The one's you use when you listen to the radio in your bed and don't want to wake your wife. SO here sat this tiny little white earbud (actually yellowed since it was probably around the house since the 70's) sitting on his desk. I asked him why he needed it? (Perhaps silent viewing of video files or music?)

    No, he didnt have sound. "The sound thingamajig is busted" he said. I take a look at the rear of the PC and notice the speaker wire is missing. SO I scrounge beehind the desk and plug it back in. The speakers are now functional again. I ask him when the sound stopped working and he says, "Oh about a year ago" but I didn't want to bother you.

    Something funny about an Old man using a circa 1998 PC with Circa 1960's technology. :/
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:44PM (#5529987)
    The most hilarious story I have is when my dad called my about eight years ago at work. He was using Quicken and wanted to know how to make a "new Quicken for your aunt." I had never used it at the time, so I said, "Okay, look under the 'file' menu. Is there something there that looks like 'New' or 'Create new?'"
    Yes, there was, and my dad selected it, and made a new account for dear Aunt Nan. Then I told him, "Dad, what we have here is your basic RTFM problem."
    "RTFM? What's that?"
    "That's 'Read The Fuckin' Manual', dad." (my dad is tough, he can take it)
    My dad paused and said, "Well, I just decided to CMFS."
    Which baffled me. "What's that?"
    "Call My Fuckin' Son"


  • PCAnywhere (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzybunny ( 112938 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:44PM (#5529989) Homepage Journal

    Do not install Linux, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    Put Windows 98 on the damn thing, install PCAnywhere and a reasonable personal firewall package that they can't break (ZoneAlarm works just fine) and tell them not to touch ANYTHING that's not on the desktop. In fact, put a piece of sticky tape with 'WHEN IN DOUBT, HIT CANCEL' across the top of the monitor.

    I've managed to keep my girlfriend's parents' $100 P166 up and running for ages now like that. I got them a cable modem, they can check their email and play their card games and look at web sites, and they're happy campers. What more could I ask?

    And on those occasions when I have to stop by and actually sit down in front of the thing, it usually takes me about 15 minutes (5 to fix and 10 to reboot) and I get a free home-cooked meal out of it...

    • by spoonyfork ( 23307 ) <spoonyfork&gmail,com> on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:02PM (#5530165) Journal

      ... and with pcAnywhere installed you could remotely hook yourself up with a free meal whenever you want one! >:)

      *click* *click* *CRASH*
      *riiiiing* *riiiiing*
      "Hi honey, it's your mom again. I can't check my recipes on the computer again. I'm trying to fix that pot roast you like so much for dinner."
      "Oh really? I'll be right over to fix it. I think I might know what the problem is."

    • Re:PCAnywhere (Score:3, Informative)

      by Xibby ( 232218 )
      Or, forget PC Anywhere. Install WinXP (Home or Pro), install [url=]Op e n SSH for Windows[/url], install [url=]Tight VNC[/url]

      Set up users without administrator access. hell, use empty passwords for the normal users accounts. Do use seperate users! Setup an admin account that IS NOT administrator, just incase they change the administrator password on you and forget it.

      Now, explain to them how to use the admin accoun. Use it to install and upd
  • Next on /. (Score:5, Funny)

    by BluGuy ( 617572 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:45PM (#5529993)
    I got new shoes! With laces!
  • by X ( 1235 ) <> on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:46PM (#5530009) Homepage Journal
    Thank you so much for this article. Tech support for family members is a source of great stress in my life, however, none of them have sent me a power bar in the mail. I never realized how easy I had it. ;-)
  • My solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yamla ( 136560 ) <> on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:46PM (#5530012)
    I ended up providing tech support to pretty much all of my family. And that's fine, it is a skill I have that I am happy to share.

    But supporting hardware makes me frustrated. I am a computer programmer at heart and I can't stand working with hardware, though I am good at it.

    So I have a strict policy. I will fix at most one hardware problem a day. That's it. If I already did some hardware work on my computer, you are out of luck for the day. You have two hardware problems? Well, pick which one you want fixed.

    It works remarkably well. I can keep my sanity when fixing other people's hardware. I don't get angry. I don't spend entire days working on the stuff (because it never takes _that_ long to fix a single problem). And most of my family's hardware problems get resolved quickly.
  • by Presence2 ( 240785 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:47PM (#5530031)
    Great read, the pains of pushing parents into the computer age has been one of my continuing traumas ever since I was old enough to dial a 2400 baud modem. Building and maintaining my own machine was always fine, but working on theirs always involved some sort of voodoo and stab in the dark diagnosis. I swear to god "disk image" technology was not created for replication of server setup and backup of critical business applications, but by some guy tired of fixing his parents computer.

    I got smart about 4 years ago, after building and repairing (and being responsible for) about a half a dozen various models of pc for them.

    I bought them a 800 number.

    We all know a compaq and a dell and a gateway and a sony are all the same pentium chip, variations on a theme behind a mitsui cd-rom, sygate/quantum HD, etc etc etc. It's the tech support and the flashy brand name plastic case you buy. So buying one of these machines for a vastly overpriced sum is merely the cost of peace of mind when stamping in HUGE print on the top of the monitor a 800 support number for -anything- that they have questions about, and save those boxes kids, send it back to wherever if there's a problem for free.

    Of course it doesn't reduce the flow of calls completely, (do I need to leave the cd in to play music once it's started?) but it cuts down on them significantly enough to make that 800 number worth any price.
  • by N8F8 ( 4562 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:48PM (#5530033)
    1) How do I copy and paste again?
    2) How do I open this email attachment?
    3) How do I install this new program?
    4) What did your nephew do to my computer?
    5) Dad bought a new (?), how do I install it?

    I do tech support for many family members. My mom actually started referring her friends to me. One thing I have learned is to not be too nice to the elderly. Unless you piss them off a little they won't remember the instructions.
  • My fav... (Score:3, Funny)

    by somethingwicked ( 260651 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:49PM (#5530045)
    A particularly clueless user, who luckily no longer works here, I will call Eve.

    Eve INSISTED on storing important HR documents on floppy disks. Tho I explained 20 different reasons why this was a bad idea and better, safer alternatives, she did it anyways.

    This lead to "INVALID BOOT DISK" error messages on more than 10 times during a two month span.

    As someone who once worked as a trainer, I am quick to politely explain how to fix an issue and many times even a layman's explanation of why.

    "Eve, just take the floppy disk out..." etc.

    I thought about disabling the option to boot from a floppy disk, but EVERY time she SEEMED to get it.

    So finally one day it happened. She called me up:

    Eve (stressed)- "I am getting an error message that says 'Invalid Boot Disk' and I did what you said, I took the floppy disk out"

    Knowing that FOR ONCE just maybe the hard drive had died, I told her I would come right down.

    Luckily, when I arrived Eve was on the phone.

    She was right.

    She was getting the error message.

    She had taken the floppy disk out.

    She had NOT, however, read the message that said "PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE"

    I waited for a moment, decided that it wasn't worth the effort, and because she was leaned over the keyboard, I turned the comp off and back on and walked away.

    She was terminated in next month...
  • Linux!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kruczkowski ( 160872 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:49PM (#5530047) Homepage
    I moved away from my parents that live in Germany to Tampa. What I made sure was working before I left was my linux box. When my mom want to send me a photo or something I just tell her, "leave it on the desktop", or when I want to send my mom a quicktime movie I upload it to my linux box then copy it over, so she never knows how it got there.

    It's funny becouse I talk to my brother sometimes and tell him that he is low in HD space, 3000 miles away.

    Sadly my mom said that they might have to move soon to a diffrent town. I hope my server comes back up!
  • Remote assistance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:53PM (#5530083) Homepage Journal
    At least there are tools like Remote Assistance in WinXP that can help - I was able to use it a couple weeks ago to save myself a 45-minute drive. I was actually pretty impressed with the performance, considering my in-laws machine was just using dial-up access...
  • that is why (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kraksmoka ( 561333 ) <> on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:53PM (#5530087) Homepage Journal
    my mother was the proud recipient of . . . . an iMac. the story is like this . . ..

    about three years ago, i was in compUSA lookin around with some friends when i stumbled thru the floor models area and there were two, 333 mhz imacs, just sitting there. i got a price, $500 bucks, called home, and after goading them for six or so hours convinced them to get the machine.

    they had been talking about getting a computer since i was in jr. high, and they really needed to get into the digital age. at that point i was long out of the house, and they kept bitching that they couldn't figure out why i thought the internet job i had was any good. so i figured, they needed the machine.

    bottom line. my "mommy spam" folder has been flooded ever since. for a 50 year old woman who had never seen a computer before, it is her life, completely. she won't let anyone in the family touch the machine, me included. and it sure is a good thing that it has not had a single serious maintenance issue since they bought it. best of all, since it only has one plug, they figure out how to plug it back in after they clean around it.

  • by lynx_user_abroad ( 323975 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:54PM (#5530096) Homepage Journal
    A former senior manager once asked me (in a room which held a Windows support tech, a Linux zealot, and myself) what soft of computer he should buy for a relation of his. I answered the question with two of my own:

    Who is going to be responsible for supporting this computer?

    "Me, of course." he answered.

    Are you going to be paid for the support you offer?

    "Of course not." he replied, wondering why I even had to ask that question.

    "Then," I replied, "Simple choice: Get a Macintosh. If things change, and you find you will no longer be required to support it, suggest Linux for the power, flexibility, and reduced cost. On the other hand, if things change and you will still be supporting it, but find you will be paid for the support, recommend Windows."

    This Director soon became responsible for Information Technology Support at our site, and recommended a cutover to an all-Windows environment. Fortunately, he allowed some of us to run Linux, under "no support offered" terms.

    Just a story, of course. ;-)

  • by prof187 ( 235849 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:57PM (#5530132) Homepage
    there could have been nothing wrong with it in the first place, the mother could have just unplugged the monitor...

    or have done a gem like i've had to troubleshoot
    a couple PCs weren't working at school, so I went over to fix them. I flipped the switches and sure enough, nothing worked. So i crawled underneat the table they were sitting on to check if the were plugged in. Sure enough they were plugged into power strips. Only problem, Power strip A was connected to Power strip B, which was connected to Power stip A. If only...
  • by Cy Guy ( 56083 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @01:58PM (#5530138) Homepage Journal
    My Brother-in-Law is a victim of the tech-support provided by his own brother who has instead of giving up the ghost and making him buy a new PC for a couple hundred bucks, kept upgrading his box, but keeping the same hardrive (at one point adding first a zip drive, and then a second HD for storage). As a result he had sort of a mismash of hardware with a 16-bit soundcard, and other legacy cards running on a Pentium II system with the original Windows 95 (and no remaining install disks).

    Well eventually it was suffering from serious problems (in fact it still is having problems - but is generally working), and then stopped booting into Windows altogether.

    Of course this had to happen just days after our most recent visit and likely many weeks before either his brother or I could make a "housecall". Over two hours (free long-distance on weekends is definately a mixed blessing) I carefully walked him through the process of (using only the Windows/DOS command line) of locating the most recent (2 years old!) backup of his user.dat & system.dat files (which being 'hidden' system files are not easy to find or move) and using them to overwrite his current copies. Which, following several reboots, got him into Windows.

    That following weekend he went to a computer expo and bought a Win98 ugrade disk for (I think) $10. His system now generally works, but still doesn't shut down cleanly, though I think I will be able to get that fixed during the next "housecall".

  • I love my parents (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PhipleTroenix ( 240551 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:13PM (#5530265)
    I can never repay my parents for everything they've done for me in my life. My dad is very smart and has been able to offer sage advice my whole life (he's in his 80's, I'm in my 40's). I'm the only one of my siblings who is able to offer advice to my parents. The rest of them must lift heavy objects or rake leaves to give something back.

    I get warm fuzzies helping them. I help their friends, it makes them proud.

    My mother grew up without central heat or indoor plumbing (in Michigan). They've come a long way, and deserve to take it easy in their old age. I'm amazed at the ruluctancy of the /. crowd to help those who've helped them so much.
  • by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:14PM (#5530275) Journal
    Mom (on phone): My computer stopped working.
    Me: What are you doing?
    Mom: Writing a letter. I tried to check the grammar and it just stopped.
    Me: Did you save it first?
    Mom: What?
    Me: Save it. Save the file. You're in Microsoft Word, right?
    Mom: Yes
    Me: How long is the letter?
    Mom: About 10 pages.
    Me: And you didn't save it along the way?
    Mom: No, I just type it, print it, and then shut off the computer when I'm done.
    Me: Sigh...

    The rest involved a late night dash to my folks house. Turns out that indeed MS Word had crashed when trying to grammar check (surprise), but luckily Word was smart enough to recover the document following a reboot.

    It's impossible to explain the concept of a "file" to my parents. If they "save", this cryptic box comes up in front of them asking for a file name, file type, location, etc. If you don't understand the basics, understanding that box might as well be like understanding greek.

    The other thing is general technology. I KNOW I'm going to be called upon for tech support on any technology item in their house (TV, DVD player, computer, programable thermostat, etc.). And usually I don't mind helping at all, but if I'm going to be doing tech support, I want to be involved in the purchase decision. It's gotten to the point where I've had to tell them that they're on their own if they make an impulse buy of some piece of technology without talking to me first...

    • by TedCheshireAcad ( 311748 ) <ted&fc,rit,edu> on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:57PM (#5530609) Homepage
      I KNOW I'm going to be called upon for tech support on any technology item in their house (TV, DVD player, computer, programable thermostat, etc.).

      Last Christmas my mother decided to buy my father a complete home theater system with DVD player, surround sound, the whole bit. Of course my father, being a complete technophobe, let it sit in the boxes for days. Finally, my mother asked me to set it up because I "am good at computers", which of course, as the Slashdot crowd knows, makes you an instant expert at anything powered by electricity.
      • by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @04:35PM (#5531445) Homepage Journal
        ...I "am good at computers"...makes you an instant expert at anything powered by electricity.

        Actually, it's basically true.

        "Good at computers" often just means, "pays attention to what is going on, reads the screen, reads the directions, and isn't deathly afraid of simple experimentation." This is why little kids often find computers easy, they don't have any fear and they view reading the documentation as an acceptable price to pay for playing with the cool toy.

        Given those qualifications, you're qualified to do lots of things and look like a hero to others. You may not know the specifics of the stereo, but I expect you'll be comfortable skimming the docs and plugging things in. If it doesn't work, you'll not panic, you'll just jiggle cords and try testing each connection one at a time until it does work.

  • by AppyPappy ( 64817 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:15PM (#5530278)
    My sister calls me "My computer doesn't work". We talk over a few things and find out she deleted something she wasn't supposed to delete so we restore it. The conversation continues:
    Me: What kind of PC do you have?
    Her: It's a Compaq. I've had this over a year so I guess it will die soon
    Me: Huh?
    Her: Yeah. all my computers die within a year. And I don't like this one. It won't fit in my desk.
    Me: Huh? (note trend)
    Her: Yeah, I put the box thing in the desk but the door won't close.
    Me: Door? (she now thinks I'm a clueless fuck)
    Her: Yeah, it has this large box on the side with a door so I always put the PC box in there and closed the door. This one is too big and I can't close the door. It's a pain

    She burnt up a computer every year.
  • by old_skul ( 566766 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:17PM (#5530287) Journal
    A friend has a t-shirt that reads:

    "No, I will not fix your computer."

    It is required attire at all holiday family gatherings.
  • by KewlPC ( 245768 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:29PM (#5530378) Homepage Journal
    Not 100% on-topic, but still relevant IMO, is this picture []

    Please, think of the kittens.
  • by tacocat ( 527354 ) <tallison1&twmi,rr,com> on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:57PM (#5530615)

    My Father in Law called me one day and told me that he deleted the Internet.

    "I deleted the Internet"
    "Yep. It's all gone. Can't find a thing"
    "Well then... If I were you I would run and hide because I think you are in a lot of trouble"
    "Hang on..."
    (I start Mozilla)
    "Seems OK on this end..."

    To this day, he still thinks deleting a shortcut for Netscape is the same as deleting the Internet

  • I don't do windows (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gsfprez ( 27403 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @02:58PM (#5530625)
    I've finally convinced even my mom that I can't do windows. The last 3 times i've tried to help her, i've done more damage than help.

    This is because, upon each subsequent "repair attempt" at fixing windows machines, i find myself *actually* unable to fix them - short of formatting and installing windows, that is.

    I mean, i honestly don't know how to do it any more.. my Windows repair muscles have completely atrophied in the last 6 years....

    I don't know wtf anything is, i don't understand why changing the IP forces a reboot, i don't know which DLLs to uninstall when i uninstall something....

    and seriously... what the fuck is up with the start menu in XP? Is that supposed to be "easier" to use? where the fsck did all the programs go? where the fsck is the printer folder underneath the Settings folder so i can see what printers the computer thinks it knows about? and where can i go to get a fscking command line?

    I'm 100% totally lost using Windows XP - i feel like my grandafther trying to stop the VCR from blinking 12:00.

    so i just tell them all, honestly..i do not know how to fix windows - and i won't help you because I *CAN'T* help you.

    But i'll talk your ear off to get a Mac... and if you get one, I can help you then. But i cannot fix your problems with windows.

    Mac OS X problems take me 30 seconds to resolve, and most often involve someone being too fearful to just hit a button.

    I don't know what to say.. it think i'm getting old.
  • My parents (Score:3, Funny)

    by khendron ( 225184 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:02PM (#5530662) Homepage
    My parents just do not get it. They are worse than most, I think.

    You have to explain to your parents how to cut & paste? I have to explain to my parent what cut & paste is.

    Last time somebody emailed my dad some photos, he couldn't view them. I tried to get him to save the attachments to a file and view them with his browser. He didn't know what a browser was. I eventually had him forward me the message, I uploaded the pictures to my website, and sent him an email with links. He *does* know how to click on a link to open a browser. I think. Last time I checked my web site stats, the pictures had not been viewed.

    I once had to explain to my parents how to resize a window. That included pointing the mouse at the corner of the window, clicking and holding the left mouse button, moving the mouse to get the desired window size, *and* releasing the left button. That last step eluded them.

    My mom once looked at my t-shirt and said "What a funny sized shirt you are wearing. Extra-Medium-Large!".
  • by ethank ( 443757 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:03PM (#5530676) Homepage
    I'm working toward standardizing my family. With just my west-coast family (which is my mom's parents and brother and grandparents), we have 16 computers. So far I've got my fiance, my sister and myself on Mac's, and have everyone else on Windows XP. This is good: common install base.

    Geographically, we are all over from central coast CA to way southern CA so I make sure every house (four of them) has broadband with a way for me to get in (VPN).

    But I do have a rule: don't buy anything you don't ALREADY know how to use. My grandpa is a gadget freak and will often buy equipment he has no clue what to do with:

    Case in point: his webcam. He bought it, set it up and returned it immedietly. Why? "I do not want to see naked people on my computer screen whom I would run screaming from in the real world." He discovered the "joy" of Netmeeting.

    Not good.

    My dad is computer illiterate and doesn't understand the difference between "minimize" and "close." My mom is computer literate, but doesn't delete anything. My sister has a new Imac, but doesn't close any programs. My fiance hates her TiBook, and loves it at the same time. My uncle works for EMC, so thats fine. His wife runs her store on a WinXP dell, which is not a good computer to have break.

    So here's my advice to family tech support people:
    • Standardize! Have everyone on the same versions of software.
    • Use the tools of each operating system: none of my family have full admin access to any of their machines. Only I do. It prevents them from screwing everything up. This includes WIndows and OSX
    • Use multi-user if the computer warrants it: my parents computer has multiuser setup on XP and its a blessing since my dad likes killing files and my mom doesn't delete.
    • Have a way to get in remotely: I can get into any of the computers in the family via VNC, Windows Remote Desktop or Mac Remote Desktop.
    • Centralize backups - I currently do this with only mail, as I run the family mail server from my apartment. I'm thinking of using WebDAV or something similar to do it with documents.
    • After installing, make an image - I do this on all the computers so if things go bad, I restore the image.
    • Try to temper hardware purchases - Make sure family members run purchases by you before buying, either so you can say "get me one too!" or "NO!"
    • If you have the bandwidth, run a mail/web server for your family. I do this (since I also do it for my site) on a business 1.1 mbit SDSL line. Saves lots of trouble with support and also lets you do virus/spam checking for them all.
    • Cascade upgrades - all old computers come back to me, get repurposed and used for either older family members (for just e-mail/word processing) like my great-grandparents, or they get used as "special" servers such as a backup server. Either that or get donated to salvation army for tax deductions.
    • Make sure you get consulted on any new computer purchases. I have had to have my grandparents or parents cancel many purchases because they were purchasing crap.
    • Go Mac, its much easier.
  • by simetra ( 155655 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:15PM (#5530776) Homepage Journal
    Mom: Why is my computer so slow?

    Me, looking at the dozen icons in the systray: Because you've got all that crap running.

    Mom: I need that.

    Me: Okay, suit yourself.

    A week goes by

    Mom: I bought this printer and it doesn't work, I get this exception error whenever I plug it in.

    Me: That's probably because of all the crap you have running.

    Mom: Why doesn't this work!!!!

    ===== A not-far-from-reality dramatization follows =====

    Mom: Godddamn it!!!! Why doesn't my computer work! You like to play with computers!!!!! Fix it, damn it!!!!

    Me: Look, I told you not to install and run all that crap, but you do anyway!!!!

    Mom: But I need it!!!!!!

    Me: No, you don't!!!!!

    Mom: I do too! I think I know a LOT more about computers that you do, mister!!!!

    Me: Then what are you calling me for?!

    Mom: Because I can! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!
  • by kanotspell ( 520779 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:30PM (#5530918)
    Once I came home to my mom holding the vacuum cleaner hose up to the computer. When I tapped her on the shoulder she jumped, obviously panicked. She had mistakenly put a cd in the old 5" floppy drive and was trying to "suck it back out" before anyone came home.
  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:32PM (#5530932)
    Everyone's making fun of non-techie computer owners, but cup-holders aside, most of the problems that people have with their computers are because of how complex PCs have become. No one has this kind of trouble with cell phones, game consoles, or DVD players. All this fiddling with BIOS settings, re-installing operating systems, trying to get video cards to's all so baroque and 1970s.

    Maybe, just maybe, PCs have reached the end of their useful lifecycle. If you work for a corporation and have on-site tech support, then okay, but not at home. And the alternative doesn't need to be a dumb e-terminal thing either. Anyone who thinks that is narrow minded.
  • by -tji ( 139690 ) on Monday March 17, 2003 @03:45PM (#5531053) Journal
    - Ghost is your friend: Before sending them the system, get it working right, then create a ghost image. Burn it on a CD, and have them put it in a safe place. When they screw it up beyond repair, walk them through the process of repaving their system.

    - Knoppix: Those hard drives only last so long.. Once that puppy fails, they're offline for a while. A great disaster recovery method is a Knoppix Linux Live-CD. It pops them into a nice X-Windows interface, with all the expected app's, including office apps and Mozilla. This will get them back up and reading e-mail, bidding on EBay, and all those other important tasks. Maybe they'll even convert to Linux.

    - VNC: Don't even try to have your dad explain what he sees on the screen (reading for 5 minutes, then skipping over the important error messages). Just connect remotely & poke around for yourself. This becomes a bit more difficult when both sides are on DSL, behind firewalls.. configure port forwarding on your firewall (or use a linux box as a firewall & do VNC on it).

    - Use NT/Win2K: Win98 seems to attract all the garbage that can be thrown at it, and not hold up well. Win2K is much more resilient.

    - Use NTFS: It may be harder to debug, but it holds up much better to the power-off's and resets that it will inevitably get.
  • ABout 6 years ago when I was married and living in a small town, there was a lunar eclipse and a somewhat pagan/alternative religion lunar eclipse party 15 miles up in the woods that my wife wanted to go to.

    There was a nice big log cabin with a stream running through it, a wood stove, and a big bonfire outside. A whole bunch of people were dancing around the fire, playing drums and various musical instruments and singing songs about the moon. Even the local Anglican minister was there! He was cool.

    If it were warmer outside, most of the people would have been skyclad.

    So I am standing near the fire and the dancing singing people in the middle of nowhere.... and this guy walks up to me who I do not recognize.

    "Are you Jeff Koftinoff?" He asks.

    "Yup." I reply.

    "My computer doesn't boot. How do I fix it?"

    Now I know how doctors feel at parties. I felt like throwing him into the fire.


Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling