back to article Sysadmin’s worst client was … his mother! Until his sister called for help

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register’s reader-contributed tales of tech support tension, terror and technical tragedy. This week meet “Calvin” who told us that “For many years our small family business had run on paperwork, but increasing amounts of government red tape meant we had to go digital.” “After sharpening my …

Anonymous Coward

Re: Worse when they don't

"[...] to buy a PCworld machine ( not too bad as it went) with a shit load of other crap she didn't need."

Several of my friends have started to feel guilty about depending on me for their PCs and upgrades - so they did their own thing with the intention of saving me trouble.

A young friend said he wanted to replace his desktop PC with a laptop - but needed to sell the former for a good price. I bought it off him to recycle to a new user at some future point.

Eventually he showed me his new acquisition from PC World - another desktop PC and monitor that only had a marginally better video card compared to his old PC. In spite of a one year guarantee - they had also sold him an immediate breakdown policy costing him about about £15 a month. I stopped that immediately.

He also took advantage of the "no interest for six months" deal. Of course when it came to that point he was broke - and I had to pay off the deal for him before the prohibitive interest payments kicked in.

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Re: Worse when they don't

got one of those scam "tech support" calls

We keep getting calls at home where the CLI says "International/Out of Area". I'm assuming thet they are tech support scams[1].

One day, when I'm feeling bored and malicious[2], I'll answer and see if I can get the person at the other end to cry or swear at me.

[1] My Welsh-speaking brother got one of those. He spoke Welsh to them. After about 20 minutes they gave up and he hasn't had any more calls..

[2] Well - I am a cat-person. I can channel 6-month-old kitten fairly well after a few glasses of wine.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Worse when they don't

My late mother bought a PC.

Might that be why she had trouble using it?

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TRT
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I sometimes dread going home...

because when I do the family rounds, I get to spend only 50% of the time on seeing my relatives, the rest of the time it's fixing stuff. Like last weekend... my father (a retired CNC lathe operator and metallurgist, so not a dunce) complained that the printer now wouldn't work from the laptop. It was fine from the desktop still, though. Had they made any changes to anything computer related recently? No... well, (eventually) they had received a new box from Virgin, but they just swapped out the old one, and typed the new password into the laptops and phones and it was all working, so that couldn't have been the cause. I spied the Virgin box sitting behind the television, in a different room to the printer.

Had they put the new password into the printer, then?

No, because the desktop computer worked with both the printer and with the internet after the Virgin box was changed, so that couldn't be the problem.

Well, that would have been a reasonable deduction; except the desktop was plugged into the printer by USB, and it had been originally set up so the printer managed its own queue and was connected to the WiFi as well as the USB so they could print from the laptop without having to turn the desktop on.

Problem fixed, I then drove back to my mother's house to see how that Windows 10 Creators Update was coming along so that she could pick up her Yahoo! mail again after the OAuth2 update issue which had "frozen" her computer. By which she meant it hadn't picked up new email since early February rather than the mouse and keyboard didn't respond with a visible change on the screen.

At least my aunt next door is totally technophobic and without a single PC, Mac, laptop, smartphone or anything like that in the house. And no... that scratch on the kids favourite DVD isn't repairable, and yes, it is the reason the disc won't play properly anymore.

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What Server?

My mother would pick up random IT related words and start referring to "servers" for example, when there clearly was no server anywhere in the picture. Being a sysadmin these conversations drove me insane and me screaming "what f&*#ing server?" down the phone was not an uncommon occurrence. And don't even get me started on the time Outlook stopped working but she of course hadn't done anything. Apart from change her mail password via the web interface, as she finally admitted after much diligent telephone and onsite support from yours truly...

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Fingerprint scanners... and brothers.

My brother just bought a Yoga 520 i5 laptop which has a touchscreen, and also a fingerprint scanner just below the keyboard. It's actually a very nice laptop.

Anyway, after he'd had it for a day he brought it round to me so I could finish setting it all up and I enquired if he'd set up the fingerprint scanner.

Brother: "No, I couldn't get it to work".

Me: "Why not, did you put your finger on the scanner?"

At this point I pointed at the anonymous looking fingerprint scanner below the keyboard.

Brother: "That's the fingerprint scanner? I spent an hour yesterday touching my bl**dy finger on the screen...!"

Oh how I laughed. Hahahaha. Families. I swear he's not related to me, there must have been a mix-up at the hospital. Yep, that's got to be it.

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Dad wanted a PC

I recommended a Windows 7 one from PC Specialist. He got a Windows 10 one from PC World.

Cue avalanche of problems, although to be fair he did get through a lot of them himself.

But what can you do, people won't be told.

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TRT
Silver badge

Re: Dad wanted a PC

Had he previously used a non-TIFKAM system? Because if you're going to end up there anyway, one might as well start there instead of having to change. Mind you... Pissy World???!!!! WTF was he thinking?

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Re: Dad wanted a PC

To be able to take it somewhere if the hardware went wrong and badger them until it's fixed. I guess there's still a lot to be said for that.

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DJV
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"people won't be told"

Yeah, absolutely.

Some years ago a friend of a friend showed me a laptop he'd borrowed off someone else. The "someone else" had said he could buy it off them. I looked up the spec: not exactly new and used a Pentium 4 CPU. My advice: "Don't touch it with a bargepole - what he's asking for it is too much and, being a P4, it will probably overheat and die at some point" (as a lot of P4s had a habit of doing).

Of course, he ignored me and a few months later asked me to look at it as it was no longer turning on. As far as I could tell the CPU had died. "Told you so," I said, handing it back.

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Linux

Re: Dad wanted a PC

"Had he previously used a non-TIFKAM system? Because if you're going to end up there anyway, one might as well start there instead of having to change."

No you don't have to end up there. Just sayin'

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Re: Dad wanted a PC

There _is_ a lot to be said for that.

But if that's what you wanted, it would be a mistake to get it from PC World.

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Facepalm

Hello:

Has doing tech support for your family ended in tears?

No ...

Not for family or wife/girlfriend either.

Why, you ask?

Because it never started.

I preferred to keep my sanity.

Have a good week-end.

O.

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I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but when I was working at the fruit store, I told my mother I was contractually prevented from supporting her PC.

When she finally got a MacBook (just before I left), I made her buy AppleCare and deflected all questions with "but you have AppleCare (that you paid for), you can ask them."

Meanwhile, here's a nice summary of what it's like trying to teach a parent about computers from the brilliant Foil, Arms and Hog.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFX3Ju6cl-k

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Sigh some people just don't care so long as they can ask you...

My father runs to me with every friggin notification popup, you'd think he'd learn after few years to read the damn thing and think what it does..

Also teaching your parent total commander and assuming he'll understand explorer after that doesn't work. Learned it hard way.

Also quite often rather than try to understand things they make up their own imaginary ideas and rituals thinking it makes things better.

For example closing browser tab before opening new page/typing adress...

My mother on the other hand sticks to tablets and phones, sadly because those are limited and she's the one that actually asks me when something really unexpected happens... or when she can't do something.. often that something is damn annoying to do on tablet.

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iPad to the rescue

I spent a decade trying to help my wife (Ex) work with a computer. Finally I wised up, bought her the first iPad and pointed her at the Apple Store whenever she called.

While I hate to see Apple products on my support list at work they seem to be the perfect solution for the "less technically inclined" family members. Kind of like the iTunes/iPod/iPhone combination, buy it and play it from the same place, annoyed me but worked for my wife and daughter.

(To this very day I still swear that iTunes was the true genius of the i-Fad decade)

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Linux

I served my time....

as family tech support for both my mother (RIP) and father (RIP) so when my better half asked if her brother could have one of my still working laptops I said yes. On one condition....

The condition was agreed so her brother is now a Linux Mint user.

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Silver badge

Me, mine, not the late mother or father, nor the wife

It's her friends .... as a lawyer, she gets all the cast outs that need help ... and that are rubbish at computers ... like one, YESTERDAY, wants to print out an email attachment, has an android phone, email is two weeks old, cannot remember gmail password ....try to reset it ... after a notification on her device, on my gmail, entering her mobile tel number, and answers to various questions google refuses to reset her password (the only question she did not know was her 4 yo landline number that she had when she created the gmail account) ... not sure about the answers, but ... come on ... and default Android mail client is useless, brain dead (it is 2018, she has 64Gb of space on her device, AND the mail client does not want to sync more than 3 emails on her device, YES, I tried ALL sync options and I am patient) ... the email we wanted was I guess the ~8th ... she had written the password into her notepad, as I had instructed her ... and misplaced that at home ... she is a pensioner ...

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Headmaster

Re: Me, mine, not the late mother or father, nor the wife

Handy punctuation tip; if you stop hitting the "." key after single press the ellipsis becomes a full stop, and you can end sentences ready to start a new one!

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Re: Me, mine, not the late mother or father, nor the wife

"wants to print out an email attachment, has an android phone"

Ah, the old email on someone else's computer thing.

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Re: Me, mine, not the late mother or father, nor the wife

"you can end sentences ready to start a new one"

But that means using capital letters.

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Anonymous Coward

Support for family - no problems.

I seem to have had almost the opposite experience when supporting family and friends. My parents are fairly tech-literate; it's usually questions like "how do I disable the touchpad I never use?" and assistance in changing their email from POP to IMAP without losing anything. In other words, good, intelligent questions. (Still haven't convinced them to go Linux, or at least LibreOffice.) Considering they fixed our 486 (when my brother and I bricked it installing a sound card without asking when we were young) with only a minimum of grounding us, giving them free support is perfectly reasonable.

As for friends, I have a simple policy - questions and (quick) phone calls are free, but if I have to interact with your machine (in person or TeamViewer), you're buying me a meal. Except virus removal, which costs cash.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Support for family - no problems.

" [...] , you're buying me a meal."

Friends used to invite me for dinner - then apologise that one of their PCs needed attention. Now the kids have all left the nest I still get occasional very nice home cooked dinners - but rarely have to fix anything while I'm there.

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Re: Support for family - no problems.

I got my wife to switch to OpenOffice 9and then LbireOffice) when Word for Windows 2.0 wouldn't install on Win7.

On the other hand, she has absolutely no difficulty logging in (remotely) to our "alarm clock" (a Pi2Bv1.1 running Raspbian) to start or stop the streaming the local classical station. She really doesn't want to change the "alarm" time by modifying crontab, though.

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Calving says that to this day he’s never received a word of thank and his sister denies the whole incident ever happened.

Oh the denials are always funny.

We know what happened and that's enough.

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NXM

How to solve a problem

I used to get calls from my mother whose laptop settings, icon placement, and email account and so on had randomly changed since she used it last. I'd painstakingly help her through it over the phone, and sometimes I'd have to go to sort it out in person - an entire afternoon's worth. Though spending a bit of time with her is always worth it, this would invariably happen when I had no spare time at all.

Then I realised it was always be after my brother-in-law, also a techie, had visited. He'd piss about with the machine to suit himself or kids, and leave it in that state without telling anyone. Then I'd have to fix it. All so he didn't have to bring his own laptop.

I sorted it out by putting a password on it and refusing to tell him what it was.

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Gold badge

Re: How to solve a problem

That really pisses me off. People who change the defaults of non-techy's (well anyone's) pooters. Suddenly Chrome has appeared on the machine and become default browser - and all music is automatically playing through whatever their prefered program is, rather than iTunes. Where I put it, because the person who owns the damned computer uses iTunes, so it was logical.

The office is now nice though. Everyone is now on a PC set up from new by me. Which means they're all set up more-or-less identically. We all use the same stuff. So any time there's a problem, I can just sit down, and know where everything is. I've offered changes to my set-up to everyone, but they're all happy and don't know how to change stuff themselves. We outsource everything but basic IT, as it's not my job - but in small companies you do a bit of everything.

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Re: How to solve a problem

fI set up my machines with 3 accounts. One for Me, One for the Wife, both passworded, and one for everyone else, unprotected, and no rights.

As for providing support, my parents lived 250 miles away from me, but close to my brother, a technically sophisticated police officer so he provided all the onsite tech support for them.

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I wish my mum's IT problems were as simple as that.

At 65 her problems tended to revolve around getting her NAS working with her MAC, and PC at the same time, keeping imap folder in sync, how to have multiple versions of MS office, so she could help different organizations she was part of with different office macros. Database normalization etc. Pffft.

These days (at 70) she's given up on PCs as it's getting too confusing for her to remember how to do things on Windows and Mac at the same time. It's the more "normal" support of "well, $ISP said to reset the router and I did, and now my mac can't see the nas box "

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My Mum occasionally springs something like, "how do I use a braille embosser?" She'd got it for a blind kid she was supporting - for the charity she helps since retiring. First, find software. Specialist stuff like that doesn't tend to be user-friendly either, the companies that make it don't have the money.

If you're nostalgic for the racket of old daisywheel printers, you're in luck.

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Devil

Oh massive PITA, Braille printers, sent from Hades and noisy as hell, had to put ours in cupboard so it didn't wake up floor of 250 staff

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mouse golf!

My father-in-law has a tablet, and constant training has got him to use the basic functions through pure muscle memory.

However, it's a joy to see him at the computer, where he moves the mouse by delicate whacks until the cursor is where he needs it. Actually holding and moving the mouse involves gestures so extravagant that if the pointer wasn't limited to the screen, it would end up in the next room.

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Re: mouse golf!

My mother in law has the same mouse technique, with the addition of a furious stabbing action when a button click is needed, one so aggressive that it causes the mouse pointer to move off target for the second of the double clicks.

I took one look and bought her a trackball. Job done and she loves it.

Now we have to come up with a way she can use her digital point-and-shoot camera without switching the field of view to everyone's kneecaps.

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Re: mouse golf!

Get him a trackball.

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Re: mouse golf!

"However, it's a joy to see him at the computer, where he moves the mouse by delicate whacks until the cursor is where he needs it. Actually holding and moving the mouse involves gestures so extravagant that if the pointer wasn't limited to the screen, it would end up in the next room."

Your Father in Law is Magnus Pyke and ICM£5

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My best (worst) call ever was from my Dad.

"Help! The moon's all covered in walnuts wrapped in paper"

WTF?

Turned out he'd changed his desktop wallpaper to a photo of the moon, and the walnuts wrapped in paper were the Windows config file icons (cog on a sheet of paper) that some software he'd installed was dumping on the desktop every time he ran it.

He also used to 'forward' interesting emails by printing them out, scanning them in, and sending the resulting jpg as an email attachment. Great fun in the dial-up days.

When their grandson was born I emailed some photos. My mum asked for me to sent them all again. "Have you deleted them by accident?" I asked. "Oh no, but we want another copy to forward on to your Uncle".

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Coffee/keyboard

"Help! The moon's all covered in walnuts wrapped in paper"

It's not easy trying to explain to SWMBO what I'm laughing at when every attempt results in a fresh outburst.

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this, several times a month, in 2018

At which point Calving explained the screen was a screen and the computer was another box entirely.

“What?” was the next retort, followed by some insistent commentary to the effect that Calvin’s sister was not stupid and knew just what was what and which thing was where.

Calvin resolved to be a supportive sibling, so asked his sister if she’d ever noticed “that big, beige box under the desk?”

“That is the computer,” he explained. “The screen is just a screen.”

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Painful memories of a dr (who shall remain nameless) and a stinkpad (when IBM was still IBM and OS/2 was available) with win95 installed - and no free IRQ's... It was a delicate juggle to get things to work perfectly, then you'd bugger off post haste - only to hear that he've purchased another doohicky for his stinkpad and need to get it to work...

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New folder > New Folder > New Folder

and then some:

New Folder

New Folder (2) along the way after a few years of updated Windows...

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Re: New folder > New Folder > New Folder

Gotta look at a powershell script to create this iteration :)

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What would it take...

I have a vision of Family GPO coupled with LastPass family accounts coupled with app blacklists. Mum, Dad and Idiot Brother have their own PCs, but live in the bounds of group policy to stop the most egregious abuses they might think up. they set whatever passwords they like, but a pw manager stores them elsewhere (and protected so one sib can't see another's entries unless granted.)

There's got to be a better way to support family members PCs than the "retail" 1-on-1 model.

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Re: What would it take...

"There's got to be a better way to support family members PCs than the "retail" 1-on-1 model."

With the ubiquity of broadband, I suppose if you have enough family members to make it worthwhile you can set up a policy server and whatever else remote management/support tools and then limit what they can do without your prior approval. It should cut down the support calls but impact what you get at Xmas.

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I love my mom

If 'm 1500 miles away she can fix just about any issue she has with out calling me. If I'm with in a mile I

get pestered to death with simple questions. Lord help me if I'm five feet in front of her.

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Anonymous Coward

re: teachers

My relatives seldom call me for tech support because I live far enough away (thankfully) that if I say "I need to be there to figure out what is going on", they can find someone much closer to handle the situation. Also, perhaps I have said that often enough that they doubt my abilities.........

But as a general rule I have found that over the years the worst customers to try and help have been grade school teachers and real estate agents - but I can qualify that now to say that the teachers are finally getting better - real estate agents not so much.

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Re: re: teachers

As a tech in an educational environment, yes. A thousand times yes. It boggles my mind how they can do so many online classes to maintain their teaching licenses and still be so utterly helpless with computers.

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Several years back I had recently built a new computer for my dad. My dad, while probably not as competent as most of the El Reg reader base, is pretty handy with a computer. He calls me for anything that involves opening the case or for especially stubborn software problems, but generally speaking he's comfortably in the 'power user' category. My mother, on the other hand, would never touch a computer if she had a choice and is really only able to run the few programs she needs for her job as a nurse, none of which would be likely to be found on a home PC.

The case I had gotten for dad had a huge power button, a 3 inch circle on the front of the case, with a much smaller reset button inset into the edge of it. For some reason mom needed to get on the computer - a circumstance that already trips the "what is going on here" response - and called me in a panic.

"This computer won't turn on!"

"Ok...you're hitting the power button on the tower, right?"

"Yes, I'm not quite that hopeless."

"Which one?"

"What?"

"Which button on the tower are you hitting?"

"I only see one."

"There's a big one and a little one and they're right next to each other."

"All I see is a button and a logo."

And at that point it became obvious what she was doing.

"Push the logo."

"Oh, it's turning on now."

"Yeah, that was the power button. The little one you were pushing was the reset button."

I love my mother to death, but I thank all that is holy that the computer room at their house is my dad's domain, especially after that call.

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"a huge power button, a 3 inch circle on the front of the case, with a much smaller reset button inset into the edge of it"

You're describing the effects of style over function, the bane of the IT world over the last few decades.

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subfolders hell

heh I have a user from the olden days who inists on creating subdirectories in a numbered format starting with 1. <longwinded product string>\then1.1 <longwindedproduct string + validation product string>> right up to folder 12. (1.x\1.1 - 1.10 then that right up to ripe 12 and subdirs) She literally sees it as a filing cabinet on the screen..........

And she wonders why we just sit and bubble now, when asked, its claimed, so the folders sit in order....

Doesnt explain the 1. bit though! I suggested perhaps let them sit in alphabetical order, then every product folder she creates from this template (i even built her framework folders empty and ripe for copy & pasting for each new product) will sit in the same order.....but no not good enough....she renames each folder after copying and pasting........

Its got that bad and no-one call tell the stubborn dinosaur the error of her ways, weve started to deploy a sharepoint solution just for her depts paperwork :P

;o)

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Re: subfolders hell

A common problem for us is files with file names so long that they can't be deleted through normal methods. I've yet to figure out why Windows will let you give a file a name over the length that it can handle when you later want to delete it or why a user would WANT a file name that's 300ish characters long, but we see it all the time.

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