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Asides

Anti-computer force field effect

penny arcade

The Gabriel Effect of Penny-Arcade makes for an angry webcomic strip, but it also hits too close to home. At least in my experience.

I’ve been scheduling annual “wipe hard drive and clean install everything” dates with my (now) girlfriend’s computer for years! And while I have very limited exposure to my extended family, the role of the “family tech support” person is still enough to make me wonder if some people are just naturally good at making software not work.

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Discussion

  1. Posted by Dusk Eagle | September 4, 2008, 10:24 pm

    The York Region District School Board has some great night school courses for these kinds of people, including, “Microsoft Word 2003 – Level I”, where (quote), “You will learn how to create edit, enhance, open and save files, and print documents.” How exciting!

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  2. Posted by Zeroth | September 6, 2008, 5:26 pm

    My solution is I charge them, even family, for the work I do. Don’t charge the girlfriend however. This gives them a reason, usually, to try to learn how to fix it to save money.

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    Tony replied on: September 6th, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Good call. Although it’s interesting to note that there appears to be a small (? maybe) proportion of population that takes their computer to a big chain tech store, hears how much it would cost to remove a virus (well technically it’s the whole “data backup + virus removal + reinstall the OS just for the heck of it + data restoration + store’s affiliated anti-virus package” deal). Anyway, some just get brand new computers instead of fixing old ones.

    Well… people either learn, or someone cashes in on them not learning. This isn’t limited to computers.

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    John Blackwood replied on: September 10th, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Charging money works great! If you get too many requests raise your rates. If you’ve got some free time and your family’s computers are all fubar’d maybe lower them.

    I’ve found the best method is to not do tech support for Windows though. My windows support rate (for people who I contract for…) is >$20 an hour. Linux support I’ll usually do for free.

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  3. Posted by Adam | September 7, 2008, 11:35 am

    I find it wonderful how much more I enjoy fixing Linux installs compared to Windows installs. You should pick a family member to be an Ubuntu-guinea pig and see how it goes. Worst thing that could happen is you wasted 40 minutes installing it and explaining how to use it, and you just have to install windows, which is what you were going to do anyways.

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    Tony replied on: September 7th, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Already tried it. Boot into Ubuntu’s Live-CD and show off the OS right away, no installation required.

    Except that my mother flips out over tiny UI changes. *sigh*

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    Adam replied on: September 7th, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Sounds like you just have to sit down with them for a few hours and teach them either how to prevent this annual clean-out, or teach them how to use this new operating system. You can’t just keep cleaning up their mess like a maid.

    “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you will not have to listen to his incessant whining about how hungry he is.”

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    Tony replied on: September 7th, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Well in my girlfriend’s case she took detailed enough notes to be able to zero-wipe her computer’s hard drive and install a fresh copy of Windows from scratch. The said notes have been improved over the years with just about everything that could go wrong. She also has an external hard drive with all the drivers her system will ever need.

    I think my family simply expects things to break. I think it’s this latter attitude that allows crap software to exist.

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  4. Posted by Tony | September 7, 2008, 12:40 pm

    Actually one thing I like to do is to deny tech-support unless Internet Explorer is swapped for any other browser, namely Firefox. Even if this has nothing to do with the original problem.

    Education through monopolistic position of tech-support.

    Firefox greatly reduced the amount of malware accumulated during the regular computer use over a period of a week (at least over IE6, back in the day). And it’s a much more reasonable leap for the user, than switching all of the OS.

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  5. Posted by Olga | September 8, 2008, 10:58 am

    Hey.. look at that.. my computer made it into your blog.
    I don’t remember how this trend got started… but I know that it continued because deep down, you enjoy killing my computer yearly. I know this because the second I said “you don’t have to help me kill it, I can do it myself by now”, instead of jumping for joy, you mumbled something about still wanting to participate. :P

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: September 8th, 2008 at 11:21 am

    It got started with 800 pieces of malware that crippled your computer. You then realized there is (or there is a perception of) slight performance improvement on a freshly installed system.

    Or maybe you just enjoy taking your frustration out in a form of wiping your computer’s hard drive clean.

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    Olga replied on: September 8th, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Oh ya.. the malware. lol
    I think the irony of all of this is the fact that it was your idea to reformat my computer in the first place.. I could have been living in malware infested, slow, yet reformatting-free bliss.

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    Tony replied on: September 8th, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I also induce all your privacy/security paranoia, through explanation of how all of this technology actually works. I should just learn to keep my mouth shut and let you enjoy your ignorant bliss.

    Where “enjoy” obviously means crippled computer systems that compromise your credit card information.

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    Olga replied on: September 8th, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    It’s okay… I know you only pop my ignorantly blissful bubbles cause you care. :)

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  6. Posted by steven yap | September 10, 2008, 3:58 am

    That the work for a technician.

    Better send all the computers to the computer shop. Keep the girlfriend for youself.

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  7. Posted by Beecher Bowers | September 11, 2008, 2:02 pm

    One of the easier ways to handle it is to install two hard disks. Set everything up(drivers,apps, etc), and point the My Documents and email folders locations to a location on the second drive. Snap an image of the first disk to a file on the second disk. (http://drivesnapshot.de)

    Instead of reinstalling everything, just restore the image back to the first disk and install any new apps. Done in under an hour.

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: September 11th, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Personally, I’m more of a fan of VMware for visualization (and disk snapshots); Though I think the type of users who would have the above maintenance problems are also the same type who would have trouble with extra clicks introduced into their routine. More so with trying to understand the technology and why they have to do it this new way, if they’ve previously done it “that other way”.

    Because really, some people should not be allowed outside of a VM sandbox.

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    wtd replied on: September 13th, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Maybe people should just buy Macs and use Time Machine with that second hard drive. :)

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  8. Posted by Mobius | September 11, 2008, 10:50 pm

    Its funny and strange at the same time that non techy people often have problems with their computers out of no where. Whereas us techy people playing with the computer and installing this and that have no problem at all.

    I graduated from UofT computer science in 2005 by the way :)

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    Tony replied on: September 11th, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Maybe it’s in the perception? I’ve learned by playing with computers, installing things, and breaking things in the process. Breaking things is a learning experience. Others might disagree.

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  9. Posted by sadiel | September 14, 2008, 7:30 am

    Whoever I would say to me that doing a favour to someone who had crashed the computer, would entail many years of falsehood and work for free. The mistake is to say the first “No problem, step by your house”

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  10. Posted by Tom | October 23, 2008, 11:05 pm

    The majority of my knowledge was learned from breaking things and learning to fix them (ive been breaking mostly everything from the age of 8). imo this is the best way to learn things because when your busting to play your favorite games or finish a university end of year project, you learn very fast and tend not to forget hehe ;)

    I have always charged people for fixing their computer or doing somthing for them e.g. website design, including my best friend and family.

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: October 24th, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    I too enjoy learning how things work by the process of breaking them (and putting it all together, if the learning was successful).

    As awkward as it might be to charge people close to you for your services, I’m beginning to incline towards that idea. If anything, simply to encourage them to learn on their own. Or, at the very least, pay attention to what I’m asking, and have me do things right the first time.

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