Aquarium Blog

Friday, April 29, 2005

Being your father's software support

I have been my father's primary technical support for years and I always enjoy helping him learn new ways to more efficiently use his computer.

During my recent stay in Argentina, I spent many hours wrestling with his computer.

In brief, with a lot of dedication on my part, the condition of the computer went from crashing half of the times it initiated a dial-up connection, to not being able to recognize the modem. On my last night at home, I managed to change it from a very unsafe Windows XP SP1 installation to a very "hardened" Windows XP SP2 that wouldn't boot. I had to leave before I was able to fix it!

Now, I know that my father loves me, but at the same time, I think he doesn't deserve to go through this.

I am blogging about it today, a few months later, because I have just learned how even Adam "The Proud" Barr gets in trouble when he tries to help his father with his computer:

When I was back in Montreal, my father had some trouble with his computer. This seems to happen a lot. What's frustrating is that although I used to be able to help him, these days I almost never can.

These incidents all follow the same pattern. First he tells me about something he is unable to do, usually involving networking. I confess that I have no inside knowledge, but I'll take a look. I futz around with it a bit. We both get frustrated because it appears that Microsoft has deliberately made it difficult to do something. I explain that there probably was a good reason for why it was designed the way it was, but the logic escapes me at the moment. Eventually we get it working, or not.

For example, this last time he had just purchased a new laptop and wanted to share
files between them. When I want to share files I usually bypass the GUI and run "NET SHARE" on the server and "NET USE" on the client. This has always worked, except for a slight blip with older Windows 9x clients that didn't let you specify the username and always tried to connect to the server as "Guest".

On his new XP SP2 machine, however, it didn't work. It turns out you have to run a wizard of some sort first. And even better, you have to run the wizard on your older, pre-XP-SP2 machines. Which is a bit difficult when your pre-XP-SP2 machine is a laptop with no CD drive, and filesharing isn't working because that's the problem you're trying to solve.

This is especially frustrating because I worked on NT networking for many years. There's probably still some of my 15-year-old code rattling around in there. But when I sniff it, all you see is the server returning some unhelpful error message. So it looks like the wizard you are run tweaks some magic bit somewhere to say "yes, it's OK to share files from this computer". But of course I have no idea what exactly it does, and there is no documentation that tells you.

My own father is not Ph.D in Math, but a Master in Economics, and he has been using a PC for the last 20 years. I am not up to the stature of Mr. Barr (for instance, I have never seen a single line of Windows Networking source code), but I am a professional developer and I am usually successful getting computers to do what I want.

I am sending a link to Mr. Barr's post to my father tonight. I hope it will help in restoring his appreciation for me :)


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