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How to be your family's tech-support hero during the holidays

Gordon Mah Ung | Dec. 16, 2014
My first car was a truck. While I loved that beat-up, rotary-engined Mazda, I didn't like the question it spurred everyone to ask: "Hey, you own a truck, right? By any chance can you help me move?"

My first car was a truck. While I loved that beat-up, rotary-engined Mazda, I didn't like the question it spurred everyone to ask: "Hey, you own a truck, right? By any chance can you help me move?"

I ditched the truck because I valued my weekends. But l'm also a nerd, and all my in-laws — as well as my wife's co-workers and co-workers' cousins — know it. That means I get a whole new set of requests every Thanksgiving, Christmas or bat mitzvah: "My CPU won't turn on — can you tell me why? I'm running out of space in my Photos folder — do I need more RAM? I'm still using Windows XP — but it's still safe for online banking, right?"

During my truck-owning days, I never wanted to spend Saturdays hauling boxes, but I've grown to accept and actually enjoy my nerd superpowers. Sure, in the nerd pecking order, I'm more of a Willie Lumpkin, but to those who still can't understand that they shouldn't open email attachments, I'm a technology superhero. 

And this is what I've learned from helping tech-challenged relatives during the holidays.

Prep like you're the last boy scout

Besides my own laptop, I bring spare USB flash drives, one of which is packed with updated utilities and full installs of Chrome and other applications I'll need. Why not download software at your relative's house, you ask? Because in-law Internet is always horrible. It's some galactic law or something.

When visiting relatives, I come with a Leatherman Surge and a 4Sevens flashlight holstered to my belt. Yes, it's a dress belt, but I'm a nerd and married, so I don't care how I look. I also bring a box packed with a spare hard drive, a wireless USB adapter, network cables, and an old router.

To this I'll add a can of compressed air and monitor cleaner. Hmm, might as well grab that old video card and some spare RAM, too. And, oh yeah, that powerline network adapter I found in the clearance bin — that could come in handy. All this and more gets thrown into the back of the minivan before we go to the big holiday dinner.

It may sound like I'm prepping for the techpocalypse, but I know that when we arrive at the party, I'll be asked if I can "look at the computer," "look at the router" or "look at the tablet" before I even get in the door.

The typical problems...

If I'm lucky, the night's on-site tech support call will go easy. Maybe someone's CPU cooler is just clogged with dust. Or maybe it's just a loose VGA cable. (Yes, VGA. Do you think in-laws run DisplayPort?) Or sometimes it's just a matter of setting up a powerline networking adapter because, "Hey, I can't get WiFi in the basement. Any ideas?"

 

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