Home > Uncategorized > Caring for the innocent

Caring for the innocent

December 13, 2009

Last week, I got a call Monday from my pal J., who had apparently let the smoke out of his computer. Not being able to capture the smoke and replace it, his quandary was what to do about it.

So pal Br. and I met with J. and had lunch and talked about stuff – like what J. should do. Br. was all for him getting an Apple Mac. J. was initially thinking about repairing his old clunker PC. I couldn’t care less as long as I didn’t have to oversee the repairing.

Now J. is a very smart person, he made a lot of money from engineering consulting, but he can’t seem to get his head around some of the underlying concepts in computing – not being able to differentiate ‘the Internet’ from his local area network, for example. I am sure that many people are like that. The problem is that it leaves him prey to computer technicians who generally charge $200 for doing a half-@ssed job of solving his problems, leaving him no wiser. Therefore I was kind of sympathetic to what he wanted to achieve – the restoration of his computing facilities and the retrieval of his data.

To cut a long story short, after a trip to Fry’s to get a ~$400 Compaq dual-core PC ‘stripper’, a USB 3.5 inch disk enclosure and a $30 network print server, several hours of explaining things and several hours of problem-solving, we had a newly working WPA2 secured wireless network (in anticipation of his daughter’s new laptop) and a working network printer. J. had his new computer adorned with all the Windows 7 updates, MS Office 2007, AVG anti-virus (he was about to buy Norton), Lavasoft’s AdAware, iTunes, Flash, and had a re-install DVD set for the computer (something not at all highlighted in the instructions), and I left him copying all the files he wanted from the disks of the old ‘smoke-free’ computer.

The next day I got a call from J., saying that SWMBO couldn’t ‘pick and place’ an image into an outgoing email. It turns out that she had been using Outlook, but J. had her try to use Yahoo web mail, and she couldn’t copy and paste an image into web email. Over Skype chat, I sent him a URL to the AT&T support page about how to set up Outlook 2007 email to work with an AT&T ISP. Later, after an email saying that he could now receive, but not send email, I dropped by (he doesn’t live far away) to see what was up.

He had followed the instructions to the letter. Every single setting was correct. Apparently, he had agonized over this overnight, getting very little sleep. After I had checked the settings, my reaction was to call AT&T (via internet chat). After a laborious scripted chat, it turned out that the AT&T web page was incorrect (in two places).

Problem is, if you are a naive user, if you follow an ‘authoritative’ web page and it’s still wrong, you think it’s you rather than the web page instructions.

So now all was OK with ‘pick and place’. Meaning, they could send Outlook email.

Next morning, I get an email. The printer on the print server isn’t working on the ‘mule’ computer on which I’d done the testing.

At J.’s I discover this fact to be true. It doesn’t work. After testing the print server on J.’s new computer (it worked), I have him delete and then reinstall the printer on the ‘mule’. It then works.

Yep, it worked when I installed it on Tuesday, and then it didn’t on Thursday. Now it does, again. WTF?

This kind of crap is what makes users fearful, and makes me think that he should really have bought a Mac. Except that none of these issues were OS dependent, they were just general flakiness in the case of the print server*, and not enough emphasis or attention to detail in the instructions supplied with the Compaq (amongst many other manufacturers) to matters like ‘what the heck are you going to do if the computer loses its smoke?’

I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of people who have come to me and said, ‘Save me, I’ve lost everything.’ There’s often, in the case of a disk failure, nothing much you can do without spending big $$$ on disk bit engineering. A little forethought would have paid dividends.

Just to show that I’m not all ‘mouth and trousers’, we have attached to local machines here (in our den) a variety of USB secondary storage devices, and a tertiary 1 terabyte network attached storage RAID array. And we have the original DVD re-install set for all of the operating systems and application software that we are running.

* It turns out that the print server software assembles a UNC name for the destination printer that is longer than some Windows software can handle. Duh.

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