Are you the family “computer person”? V 2.0


Are you the family “computer person”? The one summoned when a parent’s/uncle’s/aunt’s/elder relatives’ PC has problems or “set up”? I found myself in this role without realising it. Fact is you don’t have much choice.

My parents’ generation has adapted surprising well to personal computers-for people who lived in the low tech third world for most of their lives. During the whole time they have endured the endless hassle inflicted upon them by Microsoft. Despite this they have become reasonably comfortable in the world of email, word-processing, powerpoint, and digital cameras. But when it comes to arcane world of installing hardware, dealing with “complicated” stuff like malfunctioning windows, they feel understandably lost. Who wouldn’t be?

An offspring unit like Cerno is the natural solution for the problem. It began when I was living abroad with long futile (expensive) attempts at telephone tech support. In Sri Lanka this moved into setting up Skype for elderly parents to talk with their exiled children and grand children. This remains the most frequent  type “service call” I make. 

A lot of the computers I encounter are museum pieces, creaking under the weight of a worn out Window installations. Antivirus and firewalls are outdated or non existent. 

All these things make a simple 10 minute software/hardware install drag on into the afternoon. A few times it means a bit of major surgery since it is pointless installing anything on an unstable computer. Usually involving removing spyware, cleaning the registry, and ripping out dead applications. 

The worst culprits are shady computer shops that sell cheap underpowered PCs running cracked copies windows. A widowed elderly aunt thinks that the “this is not a genuine licence of Windows” warning is just another indecipherable box the computer throws up. She can just manage to access her yahoo email after painfully entering a password written in an out dated diary. Against all my instincts I set her up with an auto login while increasing the default font size.

A more esoteric type of service call involves doing “fancier” Powerpoint presentations for parents when they have to give some sort of talk or lecture. When academic parent tends to write books as a single rickety Microsoft Word file with billions of ad-hoc styles. Naturally yours truly volunteers to clean the mess. I eventually created a master document based system with a style template that worked better. Then I hear about the mess created by somebody else’s blotched MS Office upgrade. Then its back to square one. 

At this point it would be easy to launch into a Microsoft bashing tirade. But that’s draining, unproductive and ultimately benefits no one. I don’t try to make a run from my “tech support” commitments for family members. The calls are thankfully not too frequent. Admittedly I enjoy it though I’m not sure why. It is certainly not the part spent crawling  under dusty tables to check to check cables on a weekend afternoon. There is a definite a nerd factor. My weakness for home made ice coffee certainly plays a part. I do confess to mysterious sense of satisfaction in helping people out. Something I don’t admit vocally or elaborate further in writing (I’m not that good with words to describe it accurately).

21 comments

  1. I have been there a few times, but sadly I don’t have the time to up grade my skills so it seems like I am getting kicked out of the game. Yes, there is satisfaction do doubt, like getting you head rubbed by your grandmother.

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  2. My eldest is in the testing position of being the geek of the family! He fixes everything from the PC,to the Mixer in my kitchen! He hates it. But unfortunately he has no choice.

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  3. I know what you mean I have been designated that role since I was 12.

    And can totally relate to the satisfaction bit. =)

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  4. I have learned much of what I know concerning malware from working on the family’s PCs. My mother can take the most secure PC and in 5 minutes make it a quivering wreck of everything from Bonsai Buddy to Zlob that takes 3 days and 60 man hours to remedy with plenty of manual unregistering services and the like.

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  5. Yoyo: 🙂 that’s a good (and accurate) way of putting it !

    Indyana & sabbyaz: Two sides of the coin about the unavoidable compulsion of family IT😉

    Reggie: I never understood how people can managed get machines infected like that. Thankfully haven’t had to deal with similar stuff (fingers crossed). Hope you do too🙂

    chanux : That sounds like a totally bloody melt down😐 I hope you’ve recovered. At least you don’t have to write a Linux driver for this.

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  6. have you thought of setting up everyone on himachi network and using a tool like VNC to see what their issues and provide remote support…anyway thankfully this task has passed on to someone else in my family – much more competent than I am.

    btw does anyone know of good support person who can come out to see to a friend’s mother’s pc – she is willing to pay

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  7. @cerno Yeah I’ve recovered from that & again fell in. I’s a cycle man. Or it’s more like an infinite loop. All you can do is getting used to it.

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  8. maf:😯 far too complicated for me. Anyway, locking down those stray windows boxes with cheap firewall/antivirus (invariably a resource hogging version of Norton) is bad enough😉

    Chanux: Good luck!

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  9. i remember my first computer. our punchi amma sent their old one from aussie. it was actually ment to run windows 3.5 but i had to spend hours to somehow install 95. amount of hours i spent on it was incredible…
    then suddenly you manage to convince your parents that the internet is good(or they just give in thinking their child has to grow up…). after all i am way past the VHS generation, that old computer taught me a lot about reproduction. hahaha

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  10. Hi cerno,my first comment from my MAC OS X mini! (IPhone). When I know I have to help, I always give Apple Macs! Windows are hard to keep alive for two weeks. So it is ubuntu or forcefully suggested Mac. Surprisingly my grandma with cisco teleconference+Mac(2)+Linux box gives least trouble.

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  11. pandithaya: Sounds like you are quite the hacker! Must have been hell spooning win 95 into that old box..

    kalusudda: Commenting from the iphone! You are quite definitely on the bleeding edge – particularly for the SL blogosphere😉 I though about going the mac direction, but hardware support for the mac (not to mention the cost) is quite dicy in Sri Lanka. So far so good of late my luck has held. Regular registry cleaning has worked wonders.

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  12. Yes I just got a new laptop 17″ 8400 dual 4gb 1tb storage but alas with vista 64. I am adding ubuntu this weekend if I am not too busy. (again from iPhone from a Japanese restaurent while waiting for Miss Fukuoka)

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  13. yeah i still remember that good old compaq baby..
    it had a 1.2 GB hard drive man… (good old days ah..) no usb slot, mp3 codec, etc etc
    the crazy thing was when every thing was put in, the free space was less than 50mb. had to save every thing in those(i hope you might remember) Rs25 floppy disks… good fun.
    and one day ammi got so fed up with me experimenting with it all the time, she bought me a proper pc.
    come to think of it… i am not a fan of mac!?.. actually i love its appearence, but not a fan of the fact that i am going to have to buy all the software registrations. old habbits never die you know. plus the home button in my itouch is broken- because i slept over it… but somehow its apples fault(at least in my mind). haha

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  14. pandithaya: Sounds like your old machine could run nicely as a headless Linux/BSD box🙂

    As for the mac – you can find a lot of good open source programs that run native on OSX. M$ oddice replacements like Neo Office etc. And all the usual unix goodies. You should give it a go.

    I can’t believe you broke a itouch by sleeping on it😐 seriously;y?

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  15. it works perfectly ok, but since the home button don’t work i got to restart it everytime… which is a pain. infact next time when im back in sl, i must have a look for it and try and get it running just for the crack, but got to wait till summer though.. i wish the white devil changed his mind to think it would be a good idea to give the long hols during the winter….! i actually dont mind working during the summer.

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