Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Security The Internet Technology

Easing the Job of Family Tech Support? 932

Posted by Soulskill
from the shock-collars-and-a-willingness-to-yell dept.
DarkDevil writes "Ever since I was introduced to computers at a very young age, I've been the resident tech support for a household of 7 users. I've been in a cycle for the last ~8 years where something happens to my parents' computer, I spend a week or two trying to non-destructively fix the problem (and try to explain to the users what caused it and how to avoid it), and then if it's not easily fixed I'll reformat and start from scratch. Most often, the level of infection warrants a reformat, which usually ends up taking even more time to get the computer back to how my parents know how to use it. 4-8 months later, it happens again. Recently, I found ~380 instances of malware and 6 viruses. I only realized something was wrong with their computer after it slowed down the entire network whenever anyone used it. My question for Slashdot is: are there any resources out there that explain computer viruses, malware, adware, and general safe computer practices to non-technical people in an easy-to-digest format? The security flaws in my house are 9, 26, and ~50 years old, with no technical background aside from surfing the internet. Something in video format would be ideal as they are perfectly happy with our current arrangement and so it'll be hard to get them reading pages and pages of technical papers."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Easing the Job of Family Tech Support?

Comments Filter:
  • Give Up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:12PM (#30074674)

    People use something they don't understand...Or just don't want to know how to...

    • Re:Give Up (Score:5, Funny)

      by Captain Splendid (673276) <capsplendid@gm3.1415926ail.com minus pi> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:22PM (#30074908) Homepage Journal
      Mod parent up. You failed at this back when you were at "a young age". What you should have done is fake some sort learning development problem, (eg dyslexia), and saved yourself a lot of hassle.

      (No, I couldn't find a link to that PA comic. Somebody else will have to do that.)
      • Re:Give Up (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Chapter80 (926879) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:56PM (#30075662)

        My usual approach is in the form of an analogy.

        "You're driving down the road, and you stop at a traffic light. A man, dressed like a mechanic, approaches your car and says 'I think your car has a problem. Please pop the hood, and let me do a free analysis." Do you let him?"

        "You get a package in the mail. You don't recognize the return address. You open it, and inside is a device with a note that says 'want a good laugh? press this button'. Do you press it?"

        "A stranger walks up to you on the bus, and says 'My name is Rev. Kwame. I want a reliable person who could assist us
        to transfer the sum of Twenty Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars ( $20,500,000 ) into his / her account.This fund resulted by way
        of gratification from a contract awarded by us under the budget allocation to my Ministry and this bill has been approved for payment by
        the concerned Ministries.' Do you give them your bank account number?"

        Etc.

        • Re:Give Up (Score:5, Insightful)

          by value_added (719364) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:34PM (#30076364)

          Reasonable and useful analogies. However ...

          "You're driving down the road, and you stop at a traffic light. A man, dressed like a mechanic, approaches your car and says 'I think your car has a problem. Please pop the hood, and let me do a free analysis." Do you let him?"

          In a GUI centric world, the average user doesn't understand the source or meaning of error messages, warnings, or confirmation dialogs. They're just another window that pops up on what they believe to be an "appliance". It isn't the window they're interested in, and not knowing what to do with it, they just want it to go away.

          "You get a package in the mail. You don't recognize the return address. You open it, and inside is a device with a note that says 'want a good laugh? press this button'. Do you press it?"

          A package in the mail has all it's shipping information clearly printed on the outside. With email, the information is in the headers, most all of which are routinely hidden (what is visible is often useless or suspect). The average user has no idea headers exist, and will reject any prodding that they learn how to read them, replying that they clutter up their screen (like viewing file extensions).

          Moreover, they certainly don't want to know about MIME structures. Attachments? If it's like a package in the mail, how to know what it is if you don't open it?

          "A stranger walks up to you on the bus, and says 'My name is Rev. Kwame. I want a reliable person who could assist us to transfer the sum of ... Do you give them your bank account number?"

          An example that's more "real world" to the average user. Regrettably, in the real world, people (especially older folks) do fall prey to scams or otherwise obvious fraud.

          • Re:Give Up (Score:5, Interesting)

            by KGBear (71109) on Friday November 13, 2009 @08:08AM (#30085340) Homepage

            "A stranger walks up to you on the bus, and says 'My name is Rev. Kwame. I want a reliable person who could assist us to transfer the sum of ... Do you give them your bank account number?"

            An example that's more "real world" to the average user. Regrettably, in the real world, people (especially older folks) do fall prey to scams or otherwise obvious fraud.

            No kidding. I still shudder when I remember what happened years ago to my aunt, who is over 70. I came to her house to visit and found a man in his 30s sitting in the living room drinking coffee. My aunt says "you remember so-and-so, I met him on the way to the grocery store and asked him in. Fancy that, he's now an antiques dealer and may be interested in buying some of my stuff." Well, this was NOT who she thought it was. It was a total stranger who realized she had mistaken him for somebody else and decided to take advantage of the situation. Now my aunt is a retired jeweler and "her stuff", some of which was exposed in the coffee table, consists of unique pieces and precious stones that she kept for sentimental reasons.

            I didn't want to scare her by exposing the impostor, so I asked to have some coffee too. When she left I told the guy I knew what was going on and if he didn't want me to call the cops immediately he would show me his ID and, as soon as aunt was back, make an excuse and leave. Fortunately he was not a violent criminal, just a lowlife who saw an opportunity to scam an old lady. So he left and aunt never figured out what had happened.

            When I read about old people giving thousands of $$ to Nigerian schemers, it reminds me of this story.

        • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara DOT huds ... a-hudson DOT com> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @04:12PM (#30078066) Journal

          Read the subject line carefully - "Bank of Arnerica" - it isn't spelled "B a n k [space] o f [space] A m e r i c a" either in the subject or on this line.

          1. Scammers will always find a way.
          2. Older people and crappy monitors don't mix well.
          3. If something "looks" familiar, people see what they expect, not what's really there. Look at how you thought it was "Bank of America."
      • Re:Give Up (Score:4, Funny)

        by bcmm (768152) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:02PM (#30075774)
        Baby vs. Rhino [penny-arcade.com]
        And you picked a bad example. Dyslexics tend to be better with computers than the rest of the population. If you're practically illegible when using a pen like I am, you tend to develop fast typing (spellcheckers are pretty cool too).

        And dyslexia doesn't stop one's family asking for tech support. Got all but one of them on Linux now though, which helps.
        • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @07:20PM (#30081062) Journal

          My approach, actually, is that if they have time to be surfing for cutesy screensavers on www.i-pwn-u.ru and follow links to www.xploits-r-us.ro and to re-confirm their ebay password 10 times a day, that's the problem: they have time. Forget addressing the symptoms, go for the root problem.

          Me? I gave my parents WoW. Sure, it's just about as hard as giving them Linux, so you have to hit them when they're down. It's for their own good. I got mom when she was too sick to do anything else, and she contaminated dad from there. If that fails, mention that she can talk to you on group chat. It's funny what moms are prepared to do for a son as a captive audience :P

          Fair warning, it takes some time investment. Be prepared to answer questions like, I swear to FSM I'm not making it up, "HOW DO I SWIM UP?? WHAT CAMERA? I DON'T HAVE A CAMERA TO ROTATE!! NO, I LOOKED IN ALL THE BAGS AND I DON'T HAVE A CAMERA!!! WHERE DO I BUY A CAMERA?" or, again, true to FSM quote, "HOW DO I GET OUT OF THIS CAVE?? NO, I DON'T SEE YOU! I CAN ONLY SEE THE TOP OF MY HEAD AND MAYBE 3 FT IN FRONT AND TO THE SIDES!!"

          I can see you're dying to ask, "but couldn't I just teach them to use Linux, or heck at least Mozilla in the same time?" Not so fast, grasshopper. This time they'll actually be willing to learn. In the same month you can teach them to play WoW like a pro, or you can be running in circles around "how do I start IE? This paypal password site says I need IE and Javascript" and "why does this taxform.xls.exe attachment not start when I click it???" if you gave them Linux.

          Fast forward about a year, and they don't even have time to sleep. No, really, they're only recently up to 5 hours sleep a night. Surf for cutesy IE toolbars and install crap? Good grief, they don't even have time to shop for groceries outside of wednesday mornings. I think they even lost some weight, what with the occasional wednesday when the servers are back on from 5 AM.

          Ah, life is good.

          'Course, this might cost them a few years off the life expectancy, but it's you or them, really. The hours to support their computers would have probably added up to the same number of years of your own life. Ask yourself this, really: do you want to spend that time supporting them or grinding your own epic gear? Thought so.

      • Re:Give Up (Score:4, Informative)

        by cream wobbly (1102689) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @03:31PM (#30077378)

        Yes he failed ... to correct Microsoft's problem for them.

        (But note also his lack of social skills. Note his use of the terms "the users" and "security flaws". Taken alone, the latter (a reference to members of his family) could be simple jocular language; but together with the former, he plainly has problems relating to other humans. Indeed, he asked /. rather than asking the very people who are affected.)

        "My question for Slashdot is: are there any resources out there that explain computer viruses, malware, adware, and general safe computer practices to non-technical people in an easy-to-digest format?"

        Yes. First is engage them in conversation. Explain to them that it's an unnecessary burden to keep repairing their computers. Go on to say that on your leaving home, they might have to begin paying someone to do the same job, but they're not going to be as diligent. Then ask them, ever so nicely, how you can help them to understand how to maintain a clean, virus-free system.

        Next, assess their needs. Is Linux or Mac an option? If not, is Windows locked-down hard an option? (Take away admin rights and you solve a whole swathe of security problems.) Before you say "no", check out the status of Wine-based projects for running games and so forth. Also assess whether a console might not serve their gaming "needs" better than a PC. In other words, separate work and play.

        Anecdote: My brother shares a computer with his family, and keeps having to have it seen to. I recently exposed him to Google Documents and Gmail, and he thinks it's wonderful. Even though he runs a business, he doesn't have anything that requires dedicated, locally installed software, so he's happy with a machine that just has a browser. So long as there are no keyloggers installed on his family Windows machine or an Internet Cafe, he's safe. Best option now is for him to get a large-screen netbook and run Linux.

        It's a real shame. When my Dad first got involved with computers in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, I could tell him "Just play with it -- you can't break a thing!" Later on, just in time for him to find it harder to learn, when introducing him to email, I had to repeatedly warn him about spam, phoney ads, and malware. Thankfully he was using a Mac, so phoney downloads weren't really an issue.

        I can only imagine how hard it is to maintain a household of computers when you're running Windows everywhere. Sucks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eln (21727)
      I agree. Family tech support is a no-win situation. I solved the problem by moving 1,000 miles away. If that's not an option, you're left with either saying "no" or committing multiple homicides, whichever seems easiest.
      • Re:Give Up (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:34PM (#30075178) Journal

        I live six states away from my nearest blood relative. Of course, that didn't stop my sister (who lives on the other frickin' coast of the continent) from calling me up, asking me to help her troubleshoot an issue with qmail on one of her webservers (she owns a small webservice company).

        She was mildly miffed when her company got invoiced at the 'family rate' ($75/hr) - but at least haven't had any further requests for pro-level help since. :)

      • Get a Mac (Score:4, Insightful)

        by goombah99 (560566) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:31PM (#30076310)

        No I'm not trying to be smug. I simply refuse to maintain windows computers. Linux is not an option for most people. Ergo, a mac. Someday perhaps macs will be rife with trojans too. I'm not living in a dream where macs are perfect. But the very problem raised here is solved by a mac. So why fart around. Is your time worth nothing? if not these folks can cough up $599 for a mac mini. You don't have to use a mac, cause you are not the one with the problem. But they do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KGBear (71109)
      I actually blogged about this, and I don't blog that much. In short, I realized that Windows is thought to be user-friendly and the common denominator everybody uses and understands, when in practice every Windows user who is not a technically inclined person tends to have some relative (or an IT guy in corporations) who does the "hard" stuff for them. My conclusion was, if we all flat out refuse doing it, MS will be done and over it very fast.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xest (935314)

      I actually have to agree, although I'd argue part the issue is that the person asking the question doesn't have a massively high level of technical competence if it takes them so long to solve these sorts of problem which compounds the issue.

      I had the same problem with my Dad, and although it didn't take long to fix each time, it was annoying because having spent all day fixing stupid IT problems back then at work, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was exactly the same thing.

      The real solution is

  • MS SteadyState (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:12PM (#30074676)

    Try MS SteadyState

    http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/sharedaccess/default.mspx

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:12PM (#30074678)
    get them all macs
    • by ColoBikerDude (947706) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:39PM (#30075308)
      That's what I did, and have been stress free for years. :)
      • by coopaq (601975) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:53PM (#30075602)

        Same here. Please mod parent up. Its the damn truth!

        Unsure what all the hating of Apple hardware is on /. lately.
        Solid Unix based OS that your parents would never know about. Google developers use them.
        It's actually not about being hip. It's about getting work done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by v1 (525388)

        Even if you don't like, macs, get them a mac anyway. Regardless of how well windows or linux or whatnot works for you, you're not buying it for you so quit making the choice on what works for you and not for them. Recommend something that will be easy for them to use without frustrations, as unbreakable as possible, and require as little maintenance as possible. Never forget who will be using the computer, and that it either (1) needs to be maintenance free, (2) they need to be able to maintain it - real

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      Or just get yourself a Mac and then claim you don't understand 'that Windows thing'.
    • by El Jynx (548908)

      My mom switched to Mac. Result: I only have to really do something semi-serious (i.e. more than 30 mins work) once every 2 years. My (mentally handicapped!) brother uses a Mac. Aside from an occasional correction of his mail settings via ARD Admin I'm hassle-free.

      My brother and his g/f still use Windows. I just spent four f***ing days reinstalling Windows XP because Vista figured Autocad was either already installed, couldn't be installed, or shouldn't be installed. I told them it was the last time and I wo

    • by InlawBiker (1124825) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:13PM (#30075962)
      I got my wife a Mac and the tech support nearly stopped. The biggest benefit has been lack of viruses. Otherwise she didn't care one way or another. For the rest of my family and friends, I just help them. Sometimes it takes me a while to help them, but I fit them in eventually. Why wouldn't I? If I need help fixing my car, borrowing a tool or watching my kids I have people to call. It all comes around.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sootman (158191)

      Yes, we will hear that... BECAUSE IT'S TRUE. Not ONE serious widespread virus in the wild IN THE EIGHT+ YEAR HISTORY of the operating system. The only reason I have to qualify that statement AT ALL is because yes, there are a couple trojans. But NOTHING like Windows. There are NOT a million drive-by downloads, self-spreading worms, or a bunch of malware-infested crappy freeware apps like Windows has.

      Is it because it's a better OS? Smaller market share? Lazy virus writers that's can't be bothered to learn to

  • Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HalifaxRage (640242) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:12PM (#30074680) Journal
    > no technical background aside from surfing the internet Sounds like a perfect audience for an OS with fewer security flaws.
    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Corporate Troll (537873) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:23PM (#30074938) Homepage Journal

      ... and if it has to be Windows for some strange reason. Give them Limited User accounts. You'll be the sole Admin (and you won't use it yourself... just User for day to day tasks) and because of that you'll have to approve or disapprove all software that has to be installed.

      I have this modus operandi with my family and it works very well. Technically, you have to see a family as a small business operation where you are the IT guy.

    • Re:Install Ubuntu (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@ g d a r g a u d . net> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @03:40PM (#30077508) Homepage

      no technical background aside from surfing the internet. Sounds like a perfect audience for an OS with fewer security flaws.

      In the same situation, let me relate my story: Over at my parents' for the WE almost a year ago I had yet again to reinstall the whole shebang after a hardware improvement was 'refused' by XP. After a day and a half installing XP, downloading SPs and updates, downloading all apps, configuring them, etc, it crashed during the XP3 install. Wouldn't boot. I had 2 hours left.

      As an experiment and a last minute move, I installed Kubuntu. 10 minutes for the install, 20 minutes to configure custom icons on the desktop links to firefox, kmail, dolphin, Xsane and a SD card image transfer script. I didn't even show them the result, just as an experiment. And I left. They called only once after 2 weeks: "Yeah it works fine, but we don't have skype anymore", which I promptly remotely installed. I consider this experiment a great success.

      On the other hand, in order to escape Linux, my sister bought a Mac.

  • Buy them a Mac (Score:3, Informative)

    by rjstanford (69735) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:13PM (#30074696) Homepage Journal

    Seriously. I had similar issues and now have both my parents converted over to being happy Apple users. My support time has dropped to a truly negligible amount, and they're happier as well. It may sound facetious, but prevention works far better than education when those concerned have no interest in learning.

    • Re:Buy them a Mac (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dynedain (141758) <{slashdot2} {at} {anthonymclin.com}> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:16PM (#30074756) Homepage

      I completely agree. I did the exact same thing.

      The most beautiful part? When I was convincing them to pick up a Mini to replace their dying PC, my dad's first question was (I kid you not): "But will it run Firefox and OpenOffice?"

      I almost cried.

      And if I do need to give them support? 99% of the time I can just have them fire up iChat and share their desktop with me. Quick and easy for them, and doesn't require messing with opening ports in any firewalls or NATs.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:49PM (#30075526)

      How much is your time worth, in any unit you care to name? If the answer is any amount greater than zero, then convincing friends and family to buy a Mac helps so, so much... I have several people I used to help all the time, and now I get a question maybe once a year. Not to mention that any frustration you are saving yourself, you are triply saving your friends and family who try to figure things out before they call you.

      But I would add in addition to this advice, to buy a TimeCapsule for them as well. Yes it's a little more expensive than an access point and external disk combined. But refer back to my first point, the bit about time and so on? If they have a TimeCapsule set up they WILL USE IT, because it is on ALL THE TIME. If you try to make anyone connect an external drive they WILL NOT DO IT, and that means WHEN a drive failure occurs you will have to come help try and recover data. If the have a Time Capsule they can bring the system and TC into an Apple store and get the data back even if they can't figure out how themselves (which they probably will figure out).

  • Related question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:13PM (#30074704) Journal

    I keep sticking a knife into my eye every three months. Can anyone provide detail instructions on how I can do this without causing so much pain?

    Sometimes giving an answer to the asked question isn't appropriate. Sometimes you have to tell the asker that they are looking at it all wrong.

  • by RhapsodyGuru (1250396) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:14PM (#30074728)
    http://www.howstuffworks.com/virus.htm [howstuffworks.com] That should give them an idea. It also includes a video about trojan horses. :)
  • by jeffy210 (214759) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:15PM (#30074748)

    I've found the best thing is to treat them like a corporation. Make sure their accounts are only user level, and either hold on to the Administrator password or make sure they know the real reason to use it. Done that with a few family friends I do work for and the amount of trouble i've had has dropped drastically.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by anom (809433)

      Mod parent up; this is the only way to do this. I give my family a basic user account, and then furthermore go through their registry and then deny all write permissions to the "Run" sections of the registry so nothing can install itself in their user account. If absolutely necessary, give them an admin account to be used only for installing things (I gave it to my little brother and not my mom and this arrangement worked quite well).

    • by emm-tee (23371) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:50PM (#30075546)

      I've found the best thing is to treat them like a corporation. Make sure their accounts are only user level, and either hold on to the Administrator password or make sure they know the real reason to use it. Done that with a few family friends I do work for and the amount of trouble i've had has dropped drastically.

      Absolutely, I did this for my brother's machine, compared to my parents machine it's remained extremely tidy and worry free!

      The only issue is Firefox updating. On Windows XP, Firefox cannot update itself when running in a non-admin account. (Bugzilla:407875 [mozilla.org]) Probably means my brother is running a months-old Firefox..

      Makes me wonder if Internet Explorer would actually be safer for him, at least it would get updated automatically.

  • by Martin Spamer (244245) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:16PM (#30074754) Homepage Journal

    An insight into Mentoring & coaching

    One day a man finds a cocoon for a butterfly with a small opening, he sits and watches the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared stuck.

    The man decided to help the butterfly and with a pair of scissors he cut open the cocoon. The butterfly emerges easily, but something was strange. The butterfly had a swollen body and shrivelled wings. The man watched the butterfly expecting it to take on its correct proportions. But nothing changed.

    The butterfly stayed the same. It was never able to fly. In his kindness and haste the man did not realise that the butterfly's struggle to get through the small opening of the cocoon is nature's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight.

    Like the sapling which grows strong from being buffeted by the wind, in life we all need to struggle sometimes to make us strong.

    When we coach others it is helpful to recognize when people need to do things for themselves.

    • by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:39PM (#30075298) Journal

      So you're saying that the next time Mom asks for tech support, he should bind her up in duct tape, leaving a little hole and saying "fight your way out Mom! It will do you good!"

      While amusing, I don't think that would really solve her or his problems.

    • by theskipper (461997) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:31PM (#30076294)

      Dude, don't leave us hanging...

      So what happened to the butterfly? Was it like Forest Gump and it went on to meet presidents and stuff?

  • by GreatDrok (684119) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:19PM (#30074810) Journal

    I have systematically made all my family members get Macs over the years and this has reduced requirements for my support services to near to nothing. I have tried a few on Linux and that helped but they tended to be the most technically literate. Others who insisted that Windows was all they could use got XP with non-administrator accounts and I would remote desktop in as needed. That worked pretty well but not as well as a Mac and that person (my wife's 92 year old grandmother) is about to get a Mac mini.

    I can't understand why you have people who only want to do basic tasks with anything other than an non-admin account? Even on a Mac I reserve the admin rights for myself.

  • by celest (100606) <mekki&mekki,ca> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:19PM (#30074816) Homepage

    In my experience, it is not an issue of easy-to-digest material, and explanations that they understand. It's a hard mental block. I've been in the same cycle for 10+ years, and my parents have said, flat out, they they "just can't learn". I've tried written, step-by-step instructions; I've tried demonstrating; I've tried tutorials. It's not the information or how it is presented. It's a mental block about learning new things.

    "Why can't it just work?", and the fact that it doesn't is put on my shoulders as the "tech" generation. And that's that.

    What really gets me angry is that they are helpless to do anything in their daily lives without their computer, and blame me for that fact (Cause *I* created all malware and put it on their computer, clearly), while simultaneously ridiculing my choice of career as worthless, because "technology is not important". The irony is lost on them. Completely.

    The war you are facing is a cultural one, not a technical, or information/communication one. It's one better asked to a psychologist than Slashdot. Best of luck.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:36PM (#30075210) Journal

      parents have said, flat out, they they "just can't learn".

      Proper response: If you can't learn, I can't help. Sorry.

    • by Jazz-Masta (240659) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:39PM (#30075302)

      I agree. My long-time girlfriend is a veterinarian and always makes fun of my career choice when I am "on-call" or have an "emergency."

      Obviously her on-calls, and emergencies deal with life-or-death situation (of animals...) and mine deals with thousands, and possible hundreds of thousands ($$) in lost productivity, revenue, etc.

      Whenever I even mention the $$ argument as a way to back up my claim as my job is important - I get the "saving lives" is more important. One of our good friends is a doctor and uses the "save lives vs. save useless lives" argument with her...funny actually. The only reason why she did vet school instead of med school (truth be known vet school is more difficult to get into) is because she likes animals better than people.

      Anyway, back to the story, whenever her computer screws up, I make it a point to note that I'm saving its life. It gets her all riled up, stating she'll just buy a new computer - to which I reply I'll simply buy a new dog when mine gets hurt - or even a new girlfriend when mine is broken.

      It's this back and forth that makes me wonder if we'll ever get or stay married.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        PROTIP: If your girlfriend ridicules your career/life choice, she's not marriage material.

      • by JerryLove (1158461) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:31PM (#30076290)

        Anyway, back to the story, whenever her computer screws up, I make it a point to note that I'm saving its life. It gets her all riled up, stating she'll just buy a new computer - to which I reply I'll simply buy a new dog when mine gets hurt - or even a new girlfriend when mine is broken.

        So how comfortable is that couch?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AMuse (121806)

        Sounds like you both enjoy poking fun at each other and bickering about inconsequential things. Assuming this doesn't rise to the level of genuine arguments (like couch guy below) I say it sounds like a normal and healthy relationship. Just thought you might appreciate the thought after all the other comments soon to follow.

        (5 year wedding anniversary 2 weeks ago, goin' on 9 years together, bicker like it's been 80)

  • by donaggie03 (769758) <d_osmeyer@hotmai ... minus physicist> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:20PM (#30074830)
    It sounds like you have all the control here, so simply lock down those computers. Install a decent anti-virus, firewall, and script blockers. Install a decent web browser and delete the IE icon on the desktop. Ensure all these and the OS are able to update themselves automatically. Install the programs your family uses. Then create a non-admin account for them and do not give them the admin password. That's what I've been doing and the only problems I've had to deal with in the last few years were a hard drive crash and some minor issues. If they need to install a new program or need the admin password for any reason, they have to go through me to get it done.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pz (113803)

      It sounds like you have all the control here, so simply lock down those computers. Install a decent anti-virus, firewall, and script blockers. Install a decent web browser and delete the IE icon on the desktop. Ensure all these and the OS are able to update themselves automatically. Install the programs your family uses. Then create a non-admin account for them and do not give them the admin password. That's what I've been doing and the only problems I've had to deal with in the last few years were a hard drive crash and some minor issues. If they need to install a new program or need the admin password for any reason, they have to go through me to get it done.

      Inevitably, something else bad will happen (an unrecognized virus will get through), and you'll have to re-install the system. So, once everything has been set up, including installing all of the tools mentioned above, then, checkpoint the system to an external drive that's physically compatible with the primary disk in the system. Next time things crap out, copy the disk image back.

      Also, keep the system in one disk / partition, and user data on another. When you have to restore the system, it's easier t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Parent makes a good point - you DO have control. Have you considered making their system into a VM host? It doesn't matter what you put underneath it - Linux, Windows, whatever - just make sure that it's completely tightened down. Then, when they screw up their computer *AGAIN*, all it takes is for you to stop by for a visit, back up any critical files, replace their current VM with a clean backup that you made months ago after installing some of the software they use, and letting them have at it? They
  • Make them pay (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TrippTDF (513419) <hiland@gmail. c o m> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:20PM (#30074858)
    Your post says a lot about your family dynamics... there is a cycle going on here where they use the computer willy-nilly, and then when it gets screwed up, they know that you will fix it for free. What you need to do is make them pay for your services, so there are some stakes behind them asking you to fix it. That will probably curb their behavior when it comes to installing every toolbar known to man.

    There is probably one major offender, and you could probably do some detective work to figure out who that person is if you tried.
  • by orsty3001 (1377575) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:22PM (#30074896)
    I had an old man that had trouble using computers, always getting viruses and what not. I installed Ubuntu to head off a lot of these problem but he refused to use it. He wouldn't even let it boot all the way up. He saw the splash screen and just turned it off. Next thing I know I got a request to appear in court in the mail and had to defend my actions to a judge that was just as ignorant of computers. I actually lost the law suit but was able to get the court to agree that my punishment was going to be to set the machine back like it was. In my book that's not a loss. It's what I wanted to do from the start if he didn't like it. After that I refuse to do anything for anyone that isn't paying me. No more favors, if any friends, neighbors or family want their computers fixed they can take it to a shop and pay to have it fixed. Something a lot of computer techs need to learn to do. When someone asks of you can fix their problem recite, "I really don't know that much about computers." I say this in the mirror from time to time.
    • by kylegordon (159137) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:42PM (#30076538) Homepage

      Wait... so, you installed Ubuntu for someone and left them to use it with no discussion. It would appear that you never let him see it boot before handing it over, and never discussed the differences. And, as you say, he refused to use it.

      I assume this level of casual computer fixing is reserved for family members, yet you say he took you to court. If your family are taking you to court, I think you have other things to worry about than the computers. If he wasn't a family member, why the hell were you fixing it for free and/or not discussing/explaining the solution?

    • I installed Ubuntu to head off a lot of these problem but he refused to use it.

      It doesn't matter if it's friend, family or client.

      It doesn't matter if your are working for a cold beer and a plate of pretzels or charging twice the going rate for your "professional services."

      You never make fundamental changes without asking.

      Without informed consent.

      If I ask you to secure and return my Windows system -
      I expect you to secure and return my Windows system - not to replace it with whatever Linux distro and Open

  • Oblig. XKCD (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kadagan AU (638260) <[kadagan] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:22PM (#30074898) Journal
    Give them all this [xkcd.com]
    • Re:Oblig. XKCD (Score:4, Interesting)

      by metamechanical (545566) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:58PM (#30075684)
      I did this for my younger sister a few days ago, after about 1.5 hrs of trying to diagnose why her laptop's mic wouldn't work with Skype (doing this remotely with someone uncooperative, when you've never used Vista before, is a pain). After I gave up I sent that to her, and explained that it was nearly literally the process I was following (and that I wasn't actually omniscient about computers), she just brushed me off, and told me that it couldn't be true! How are you supposed to get something across to people who not only don't care, but think you're lying??
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by doug (926)
      Actually, I did give it to my Mom. She didn't get it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Just thought I'd note that this is absolutely, positively the wrong thing to do if the problem is malware and viruses.
  • Get a Mac (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:22PM (#30074922) Homepage Journal

    I got my mom a iMac 5 years ago & have maybe spend a total of 7 hours working on it since then. Two of those were upgrading the RAM & two more were upgrading OSX.

    I had never even touched OSX until we opened that iMac up. I had no problems setting it up & she has had no problems using or maintaining it.

    • Re:Get a Mac (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fahrvergnugen (228539) <.moc.liamtoh. .ta. .vrhaf.> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @03:18PM (#30077152) Homepage

      This. My 60-year-old father can tell the make and model of any car manufactured before the catalytic converter, just by hearing the sound of an engine. As a career veterinarian with 30+ years of experience and an interest in staying abreast, he is intimately familiar with the latest in small animal medicine. But when it comes to anything with transistors, he knows only the basics. He's always found them frustrating and irritating, and only started using email about 6 years ago when forced into it by an extended vacation my mother took alone. He only got a cell phone 2 years ago. I used to spend hours each month helping him maintain his slow-because-he-bought-a-P4-with-SDRAM Windows computer.

      After being fed up with years of parental support, I convinced him with much prodding this past spring that instead of an HP, he should spend a bit more to buy a refurbished aluminum iMac with a full extended warranty and a Time Capsule. I was done with limited Windows profiles, spyware,Firefox with IE skins and changed icons, and all the rest. The Mac was a great decision. He's in love with it, and my Mom is now plotting her own mac purchase.

      I spent the largest part of the two hours of setup copying files via thumb drive, configuring his Safari Top Sites page, and getting Skype turned on so he can talk to my brother in Italy. Haven't really thought about it since, but after years as a reluctant computer user, he's blossomed with the Mac. The iPod he never used to use is suddenly full of podcasts and music, and we'll talk about the Writer's Almanac show a couple of times a week. His digital camera no longer stores all of his photos for viewing on the little screen, and he doesn't go to Walgreen's to get help make prints anymore. - instead, they're in iPhoto with face tags, organized into events, and he uses his own inkjet with photo paper now. He never has to futz with the mic or camera when he's doing a video call with my siblings. He's an avid skier, so we put the snow reports for his season ticket resorts on his Dashboard, as well as the weather reports and clocks for various places around the world where we have family.

      This is turning into a Mac ad, and I didn't mean that. Clearly all of these things can be done with Windows/Linux. My point is that the right combination of technology, in my case an iMac, managed to excite my father into an interest in my own passions, while simultaneously opening up all the really cool parts of the internet to him. And in the process, I no longer have to do any tech support for him. I don't have to worry about backups, I don't have to worry about viruses, I don't have to worry about email attachments, I don't have to worry about "How do I..." phone calls.

      Instead, we have more things to talk about, and he's able to finally use these fantastic tools from which I've made my career. So: if the technology your family is using doesn't work for them, whether they're currently on Apple, Linux, or Microsoft OS's, try a different one. It's made all the difference for me.

      Caveat: I really can't recommend buying a computer without a user-serviceable hard disk unless you also buy the extended warranty. Apple wants $450 to replace the 320GB hard disk on an out-of-warranty iMac with another 320GB. I found out the hard way on my own iMac. To replace the disk in an iMac you have to remove the glass and the screen. Get dust between those two during the repair, and it's game over. This is the rare case where the warranty is money well spent.

  • Lock it down (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IP_Troll (1097511) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:23PM (#30074926)
    Create a limited access user profile for non-tech savvy family members. Lock it down as much as possible. Or use the guest account feature that clears the profile when the user logs out.

    Using an operating system other than windows is a good idea also, but unrealistic that it will result in a better situation for the tech support family member. Your virus issues will be replaced with compatibility complaints. If the family doesn't want to learn how to avoid viruses they don't want to learn a new operating system.
  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:27PM (#30075056)

    Sounds like it's time to transition your support job to the next generation.

  • I've learned a lot of lessons from filling that role for too many years. Here they are:
    • Make a folder for all their base install sources so there is easy access to the source.
    • Teach them to download everything to a single source on the data drive to make scanning and root cause easier.
    • Make sure they have their cab files on their system.
    • When you rebuild their system seperate out their OS and Data on two seperate drives.
    • Once seperated you can then image their system and have a back of a known good state for that computer. Make sure they also have a backup.
    • Better yet, teach them how to perform their own images.
    • Ensure they one antivirus scanner and another malware scanner - not from the same company.
    • Set up automated downloads and scans.
    • Insist that they use firefox with noscript - show them how this makes browsing the web fun again without all the clutter.
    • Set up for automatic patches.

    Their cost is a second hard drive that they pay for, typically this is well under $100. It's more work up front on this, but teaching them basic safe browsing, automating what they don't want to deal with and have an image (and the ability to freely blow away the boot drive) are all things that will save you time in spades in the long run. I've significantly reduced how often I have to perform the friends and family computer work this way, and they feel better knowing that they have regained some level of control over their computer.

  • by moz25 (262020) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @01:43PM (#30075392) Homepage

    How about running Windows in a virtual machine (e.g. virtualbox.org) in Linux? You just have to configure it so that the VM starts in fullscreen mode automatically.

    So, once installed to a state that you know is OK, you can simply make a snapshot image. If need be, it's easy to revert to that snapshot, or any future snapshots.

    The only issue is going to be data. Well, you can store that on a separate partition and make daily/weekly backups using cron jobs. Now that 1TB and 1.5TB harddrives are standard, it should be no problem at all to have a liberal backup scheme.

    Then, if there's some issue, you can simply SSH into the machine and revert to a working image and the machine will be reset to an acceptable state again.

  • by bill_kress (99356) on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:10PM (#30075900)

    I work as a programmer and we have this conversation a lot.

    In the last few years I've noticed a serious trend. We're now mostly 35-40 and we are tired of working on home computers.

    The solution? Get a mac.

    EVERYONE who has one agrees (Don't believe me, ask around). If you want to know, go ask a PC user how he supports his family's computers--the story will generally be like yours, then go ask a mac user how he supports his family's computers--If he's been using one long enough it's going to be by getting them to buy macs, then not having to mess with them any more.

    It really is THAT easy. Many mac users that I work with just tell their families that they don't understand the new-fangled windows even though they work with it every day (few programmers are lucky enough to be able to use macs at work).

    For yourself--get a mac and install a windows partition for gaming, or if you are into high-performance gaming buy two computers... It's worth it.

    By the way, this is from someone who occasionally tried macs before intel and couldn't stand them (and still would not use a pre-intel mac). The dual-core and OSX are essential for usability because the Mac UI tends to be pretty chunky with just one CPU.

    I've owned a computer since 1978. I run a Linux server at home, and have 2 windows computers I NEVER turn on at home. I use windows all the time at work. I've built almost every computer I've owned except my 2 macs. I'll probably never buy another non-mac (Might convert the mac mini to a linux server eventually.

  • It's very sad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmai l . c om> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:19PM (#30076088) Homepage

    I find it sad an disturbing that both the OP, and many of the posters, only want to force the family to do one thing or another so he doesn't have to deal with them anymore.
     
    I spent many hours patiently fixing my dad-in-laws computer when he'd managed, somehow, to mess it up again. Didn't bother me much as it gave me a chance to visit with him and mom.
     
    They're both gone now - and I'd give much to hear the phone ring and Dad say "son, I've managed to mess it up again, why don't you come over and fix it, and then we'll have dinner and catch the ball game".

  • Stop "helping"! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BLKMGK (34057) <morejunk4me@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @02:38PM (#30076442) Homepage Journal

    For 8 years they have relied upon you to solve their issues and apparently not learned anything! they are "non-technical" but have been using computers this entire time? I'm sorry but after that many years of using the damned thing if they haven't learned anything it's because you're always there to help them - stop helping. The excuse that they're non-technical doesn't fly after that length of time IMO. If they are so disinterested in the device but rely on it so heavily then there's a serious disconnect.

    They aren't learning anything because they don't have to. If you always had someone to wipe your ass you probably would never have learned but somewhere along the way your parents decided it was time you did it yourself and TaDah YOU learned. Think of it as AA for computers - they have to hit rock bottom before they will get off their butts and bother to learn anything. A once in awhile help session is one thing but not to the extent that has been laid out here. Do they even bother to sit and watch while you fix their stuff? Or do they get to go off and do other things all the while whining that they want their computer fixed? Make them feel pain, make them sit and watch silently if you work on the computer for them and answer questions if you want. You're being taken advantage of and it;s not helping anyone except maybe you a little as you find out ever more innovative ways to solve their issues.

    Here's another thought - stop trying to fix their computer. Simply reformat the thing, patch it, and walk away. Let them have to go through the pain of fixing it up the way they like it - maybe with some ramifications they will begin to get a clue and understand the cause\effect that's going on here....

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya ... m minus math_god> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @08:45PM (#30081956) Homepage Journal

    is to make them pay a professional. after a few hundred dollars they will get better.

    My family is smart enough not to need this sort of infantile hand holding, but I am to understand some people come from inferior stock.

    Hmm, maybe I shouldn't reply to /. posts after role playing a dandy.

    Tell them in the virtual world things are turned around. Instead of assuming trust, assume everyone has an angle to get you.

  • What? (Score:3, Funny)

    by darkpixel2k (623900) <aaron@heyaaron.com> on Thursday November 12, 2009 @09:18PM (#30082238) Homepage

    computer viruses, malware, adware

    Viruses? Malware? Adware?

    What are those?

    Can you explain them to me? Pretend you are explaining them to someone who has no clue what they are.



    (I run linux)

  • Linux + VMware (Score:3, Informative)

    by jandersen (462034) on Friday November 13, 2009 @06:57AM (#30085056)

    My solution is crude and simple:

    1. Install Linux at all machines
    2. Install VMware
    3. Install whichever OS in a virtual machine.
    4. Make a backup copy of it in a safe place
    5. Let people use the virtual machine, but don't let them use the base OS
    6. Make sure that all essential data - documents, whatever - are always on a networked disk

    - when they screw up, simply copy from backup. Not perfect, but it is amazing how much hassle it has saved me.

Computers will not be perfected until they can compute how much more than the estimate the job will cost.

Working...