Browsing articles tagged with " Computers"

5 Things to Do to Help Your Family’s Tech Ecosystem over the Holidays. With Pairings.

Nov 22, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Fun, Snark  //  4 Comments

We tech professionals usually cringe at Cousin Ed’s "I’m having a problem with my computer…" conversation.  It’s not that we don’t want to help; it’s that helping is often difficult to do verbally and impossible to do for people who won’t take our advice.

So when someone asks me to fix their slow or broken computer while they are stuffing themselves with Grandma’s Green Salad Tuna Jell-O mould and oyster stuffing, I first start with my list 5 things they must agree to do before I’ll help.  These conditions are mandatory; any hesitation and I point them to their NerdFixSquad at their local retailer.  Let retailers make money off bad computing practices. It’s good for the economy.

Knowing how painful the fix and the conditions can be, I also require liquid refreshments to help me along.  I thought I’d share my Fix + Pairings advice with you to help you through the holidays.

These are in no particular order; depending on Cousin Ed’s issues, you may want to focus on them based on 1) how messed up his computer is, 2) how thirsty you are or 3) how messed up you already are when he asks.

Gran Patron Burdeos1. Install a dependable anti-virus/anti-malware application

There are plenty available, some free.  Installing is not enough, though.  It must be configured to download and run updates automatically.  Sure, I don’t apply updates automatically on my work machines, but a a regular non-IT user isn’t going to have the type of background to judge when is the right time.  Now is the right time for most.

I often find that the "anti-virus" they have installed is actually some malware they downloaded from a questionable website. Or Norton.  Either way, that has to be replaced with something reliable.

When I visit the computer in the future to help again, if the antivirus has been disabled or is out of date, they need book an appointment with their local retailer. 

Pairing:   Since this is the first course, and we are with the family for a while, I’d normally recommend starting with heroin. Unfortunately the US has oppressive drug laws, so while you are downloading and cleaning, I recommend a very dry Martini to cleanse the palate. In my case, straight from the Grey Goose bottle.

If this step takes more than 5 hours to complete due to multiple infections, I recommend Gran Patrón Burdeos, a $650 bottle of tequila that does not taste like gasoline. By the way, "burdeos" means from Bordeaux.  That’s doubly pretentious.  This is mostly about the price, but why not feel a comfortably numb and like a high-priced consultant at the same time?

2. Uninstall all the applications they have no idea what they are or when they installed them

Arrogant Bastard AleIt’s likely these applications were installed as "helper" applications to some free and useless photo editing software that was recommend during a late night commercial or came free in a box of Breeze. If I’m lucky, they actually come with a functional uninstaller.

I have a 10 second rule: if Cousin Ed can’t tell me what the application is or when he last used it in 10 seconds, it needs to go.  Application Hoarders may be the next TLC program, but not on this machine.

Pairing: This is a slow, painful negotiation and process.  It deserves a great drink, but mostly just just needs alcohol. I hope the family is at least on Windows 7, but if they aren’t, this task will likely involve several hours of control panel and registry editing, followed by actual deletion of files. I recommend a German Riesling or a Moscato as the alcohol is low enough that you can drink the whole bottle and still be functional.

If Cousin Ed is still rocking Windows Me, I suggest Arrogant Bastard ale by Stone Breweries.  Because that’s how you are going to feel doing this task.

3. Uninstall the multitude of toolbars, plugins and widgets they don’t use

Chances are Cousin Ed’s browsers (and he will have all of them installed, even if he only uses one to surf the Information Super Highway) will have so many toolbars and plugins installed that he only sees a fraction of the web as he surfs on by.  These also have to go and I have no 10 second rule here.  If he really needs one, he’ll find a way to install it again.  Trust me.

Pairings: Since most browsers support just turning these off, this activity works well with Everclear Jell-O shots, one for each toolbar.  By now you need a bit of sustenance to maintain your blood sugar and to ward of the pending coma from all the work yet to be done.   If things have been going well, a nice session beer in the 3-5% range might work. However, if things are extra rough, I recommend the wonderful 9.5% Péché Mortel as the strong dark espresso flavour will help you feel like you are drinking for work.

If things are really terrible, go with a nice Pinot Noir. Buy it on the family credit card, and go to France to drink it.

4. Install and configure offsite, automatic backups.

The key to this is that the backup service must run with no intervention from the user.  Even seasoned IT pros have been burnt by not having proper backups. Sure, they meant to run that script that copied their photos up to a cloud service, but they never did.  Or they had it automated, and turned it off for testing something else.  Another key is that the backup must be offsite.  Yes, that wonderful 4TB NAS they bought at Costco for a real deal is wonderful.  But it’s parked right next to their computer.  Where a thief or blazing inferno can destroy all those bits in seconds.  In one breath.  I’m saddened to read on a regular basis about people losing their thesis, all their baby pictures or all their work because they failed to do proper backups. 

I use Carbonite and Iron Mountain for these things.  There are many such services, some for as little pennies a day. I use these in addition to syncing stuff to a local server and the cloud.  And yet I still pay redundant services to store my important stuff someplace else, automatically. I do this because copying is not backing up.  Also, I test restores from these services from time to time.

Remember, automatic and offsite are the keys.  All the other stuff is nice-to-haves. Another drive or computer in your home is not a backup.  Heck, another computer in your city may not be enough.

Pairings: Offsite backups take time, often days. If you make it this far, and one usually doesn’t, it’s time to go big.   I suggest a glass of Laphroaig 25 Year Old scotch to be savoured as you watch the blinky lights on the modem count out the number of times you’ve told yourself you’d never ever do this type of family tech support again.  At least the scotch will be peaty and pleasant.  Cousin Ed’s keyboard will most likely be slightly peaty, too, so this pairing may complement your environmental conditions better.

5. Install Updates

Usually when I get to the machine in question, I find that there are 300+ operating system and application updates waiting to be downloaded and applied.   I configure updates to automatically download, but not to automatically install. I’m not that uptight. But I make this a condition of my next visit that if I return and there are more than 10 days old updates to be applied, Eddie will have to head off to BestStapleMax to get his PC fixed.

Pairings: Since updates haven’t been run on this machine since Bill Gates worked at Microsoft, this will take a while.  The end is near, though, so it’s time to celebrate — with vintage Champagne. If you are billing by the hour (and who are we kidding, Cousin Ed won’t even bother to thank you when you are done) choose Krug Vintage. If you are only doing this because Mom asked you to, ask her for some of her little helpers and a Milwaukee’s Best .  It won’t matter at this point anyway.  Oh, and if you are in Washington or Colorado, you might just see if Ed’s slacker kid Eddie Jr. can hook you up with something nice for dessert.

Done

If you’ve made it this far without just walking 7 miles to Wal-Mart (remember, don’t fix+pair and drive) to just buy Cousin Ed a brand new $200 PC, you deserve a major award and another drink.  Congratulations.  And you might want to get some rest.  Dad also needs help with his WiFi Router and the new printer he bought on Black Friday. 

Thanks to Joseph (@jdanton | blog )  and Joshua (@joshuafennessy | blog ) who helped with snark and paring recommendations.

Courage and Happy Holidays.

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