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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?"

Or maybe it's just a matter of cleaning out some low-grade malware. Because there's always malware. I don't care if your in-law claims he doesn't go to "those kinds of websites." There's always malware. That support call usually starts with a vague complaint: "My laptop is acting really slow — can you check it?" But I don't mind the request, because after I've fixed the machine, I'm free to hide in the den watching YouTube videos while my wife and in-laws think I'm wrenching on the machines. I get to skip all the tense political discussions, as well as Uncle Joey slurring his way through dinner, too.

Sometimes it's real work, though: a malware infestation so bad, I have to soak my USB keys in Holy Water when I get home.

But even that's better than sitting through an Uncle Joey tirade.

Don't get too cocky, kid

Helping people has its own rewards, but you still need to honor two important holiday tech-support rules. 

Rule number one: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Your relative's desktop PC might benefit from a number of upgrades, but it's best to leave it alone, because even the smallest software update could send someone into hysterics. Then there's the Pottery Barn rule: If you do  break something, you better rush out of the store before the clerks notice.

If you don't follow these two key lessons, you'll be making the 120-mile drive again next weekend to "fix" (explain) whatever you "broke" (upgraded). That's the last way you want to spend a Saturday when CompuBin is having a special holiday sale on Core i7-5960X CPUs for $25.

While I might update the UEFI on my home machine just because I have nothing else to do, I would never, ever do it on a relative's machine unless I absolutely had to. That galactic law that says your in-laws' Internet connection will suck as much as the channel selection on their HDTV also says that after a BIOS update, their machine will stop booting. And, yes, this has happened to me. There's nothing like sweating bullets for the next 45 minutes, trying to figure out if there's an easy way to recover a broken BIOS update.

So, yeah, working the holiday tech-support desk is a chore, but I don't mind. Really, I don't. I'd rather take a few hours to perform annual preventative maintenance than have the in-laws pay $75 an hour to the local computer store after disaster strikes.

Just like Spiderman, family tech-support superheroes don't complain. We do our jobs for the good of mankind. Also, I noticed they just got a new truck, and, hey, I've got this old carpet I need dumped. 


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