Ain’t it the Truth – family tech support

As soon as you embark on a career in IT - you get classed as a free technical support resource for all your friends and family - it's the norm.  I got this email from a friend of mine (Richard Hagemeyer - a prof. in CompSci at Algonquin College) who got roped into a support call while visiting family on the return trip from EnergizeIT in Toronto.

Has this happened to you? Do you cringe when you are visiting relatives and the question comes up?  What's your worst / funniest story of Family Technical Support?  Post a comment with the details.

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A funny thing happened on the way home last weekend. I was planning to stop over for the night at my parent's home in Cobourg, ON on my way home from the EnergizeIT conference; a nice relaxing 24 hour visit after a few charged days in Toronto. Oh well, the best laid plans and all that.

John Oxley, who is the Director of Community Evangelism for Microsoft Canada Co. asked the 1600 or so attendees during his opening comments “Who here isn't tech-support for their family?”

Well, after letting me get a good night's sleep and feeding me a breakfast that rivalled breakfast the day before with Microsoft Canada President, Phil Sorgen, my mother finally let it out. “So, when are you going to install Vista on my computer?

Now, I did have a spare copy of Vista Ultimate ( with SP1), and well, she is my mother, so I downloaded and ran the Vista Upgrade Advisor on both my mother's Dell desktop and my father's Toshiba laptop. The results indicated that my mother's machine could run Vista, but not with the new Windows Aero premium desktop experience. My father's machine didn't have a compatible video card and had to stick with XP SP3. And although the advisor indicated that the memory on each machine was sufficient, I knew better! After all, to mis-quote Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor you can never have too much memory or too many CPU cycles!

A quick trip to Staples and we had enough memory to max out both machines (I also slipped in a nice Logitech blue-tooth mouse for my own laptop).

I quickly popped in the new gig stick on my father's laptop and moved on to my mother's desktop. The Upgrade Advisor pointed out that some applications may need some care and feeding after the upgrade, but when queried, my mother said she didn't use most of those programs anymore. So to free up a bit of space and be kind to the upgrade, I uninstalled a half dozen or so applications.

I then proceeded with the upgrade, first booting XP and then feeding in the Vista DVD. Everything looked good until I reached the screen informing me that the system couldn't be upgraded! Not good!

The problem indicated that FrontPage Server Extensions was preventing the upgrade. Hmmm, I not sure how it's related (well, MS is moving from FrontPage to SharePoint, but I still don't see the connection to an upgrade), but it's also a feature my mother doesn't use. So I popped over the Control Panel, Chose Add or Remove Programs and modified Microsoft Office, deselecting FrontPage. Bob's your uncle and I'm off and running.

Now, this process, while relatively quick, did score me a wonderful smoked meat sandwich from Dunn's in Ottawa (my folks picks up vac-packs of Smoked Meat whenever they can) and a Montreal style “All-Dressed” Pizza from Jim's Pizza Palace in Cobourg for supper. Did I say I grew up in Montreal?

So John, my answer to you is, “Ain't it the truth, ain't it the truth!”

Richard Hagemeyer
Ottawa, ON

Comments (8)

  1. ye110wbeard says:

    I’ll add this to it.  It’s the same here but my family for the most part knows the time I invest, so it’s ‘Ask Sean only when we’re really stuck’.

    So I get to avoid the silly questions and only seem to get pulled in when ‘A Miracle is needed’

    Now neighbours on the other hand….

    "Ok ask Sean, he can fix it cheap."  

    Then of course you get the flipside to that one.

    "You fixed it and it broke again (12 year old computer) you need to fix it again."

    But I’m certain NOBODY has ever had that one right right?

  2. Ed Braiter says:

    Well, I don’t have any funny stories but every time I head to Toronto, my brother there always has a nice long list of things to do with their PCs. The last time, in April, was that he bought a quad core desktop and my neice was getting the old "family" PC as hers. On top of that, I brought in a 17" flat panel for her.

    So, I started setting up the new PC by removing all the trial versions and other junk the brand name manufacturers put on [feels like at least 45 minutes there – could of been faster by reinstalling from scratch!] and then apply about 20 updates [as the Windows XP build hasn’t been updated for a little while], followed by the standard stuff [WMP11, Flash Player, WinDefender, etc.].

    Then migrating the data for 3 accounts [brother, sister-in-law and younger nephew] from the old PC to the new. So I took out my 8GB USB key thinking it was enough.

    The old PC was an earlier Pentium 4. I figure it wouldn’t take too long by using F&STW …. but it was. I stopped the process and took a look. One of my nephew’s games dumps a whole wack of files [they were audio files mostly] into each account on the system. You’re talking a few gigs for each profile.

    Now I know my brother and sister-in-law may have opened the game to see what the game was like but wouldn’t need it. So, I ran F&STW again. This time excluding those specific file extensions.

    It went blazing fast for my brother’s. Actually too fast. I took a look at the results. 6 MB file. Huh? Where’s the documents, MP3s, Email files, …?

    I decided to make life easier. As my brother & sister-in-law wouldn’t be playing the game, I removed the files from their profiles. I did the same for my little nephew. The game would have to be installed again on the new PC anyways.

    Next time around. I ran F&STW and I got a file size that I expected.

    The things we do for family!

  3. Edward Letendre says:

    Actually I though it was funny.  Last Christmas, my mother and I were going to go out to dinner with my uncle and aunt for xmas dinner.  We though that we would be going to a restaurant, so we got up early in the day, washed up and got all dressed up.  When my uncle came over to pick us up, he was not dressed that well so I though something was up.  After getting to his house, we went by his new HP computer system that was running vista.  After looking at the machine, I spend the next 8 hours fixing errors, installing applications and patching the software with the latest updates.  What a way to spend your Christmas working on a computer.

  4. kenton says:

    I avoid doing "work" for friends and neighbors like the plague. It is a never ending stream and they almost never have the original media.

    When it comes to family though, I kind of feel that it is sort of the least I can do. My wife often comments that she doesn’t understand how people get along without having an IT person living in the house full time. If I can’t take 30 minutes or so to help my mom setup a new printer or troubleshoot an email problem then I’m being pretty selfish. I do, however draw the line at relatively simple stuff. If a machine needs to have Windows reloaded or something significant like that, I won’t spend my vacation doing it, I’ll recommend that they go to their nearst big-box and pay the $100 or so it will cost to have it done there. Then I’m not to blame when a file goes missing.

  5. Ed Braiter says:

    Kenton: I keep a copy of the latest [working] XP service pack plus a bunch of typical add-ons [Defender, Flash Player, etc.] in my CD pouch. If I know in advance that I’m doing it, I also have the latest updates to the OS on a USB for after the OS installation. Recent systems have a copy of the OS in a recovery partition.

    As for possibly missing some files, in this case it never left the old PC. In other cases, I warn them before hand.

    It wasn’t a vacation either….

  6. Graham Jones says:

    Friends I don’t mind helping. What goes around comes around. Neighbours can be a nuisance because they believe that you can work miracles. A guy (now friend)who owns a computer store moved in 2 doors away. So that is less of a problem for me now. He gets all of the calls :). People lacking the original CD’s is always a problem expecially when you tell them that the best thing to do is rebuild their PC. I am sure that we have all heard "you mean that you have to do that occasionally?". I have a situation like that right now with a friend/neighbour. The PC is so slow that something that should take about 10mins took an hour the other day. They have a 5 year old Dell which has never had any TLC. The lady doesn’t want me to "touch" it right now becuase her son is preparing a PowerPoint for their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Rather him than me! That PC is slow that he might even miss it. BTW typically nothing was backed up which I took care of just in case the HD decided that 5 years was enough.

  7. Rodney Buike says:

    I had to move 2500KM from home for my family to find a new tech support resource.  The first few months after the move I was using LiveMeeting quite heavily to get my mothers new PC up and running, and OneCare installed on my brothers PC.  Since then he has picked up the ball and surprised me with his knowledge of computers 🙂

    Now when my new neighbours ask me what I do I am scared to tell them:)  One day they will find out and I am sure I’ll be back in the same boat.

    Rodney Buike

    IT Pro Advisor

  8. Gis Bun says:

    Rodney: I guess we should have an alias or an alternative life that people will believe.

    You could tell your neighbours that you sell software on behalf of Microsoft [not real untrue] but are not technical [not true].

    Of course if you tell them you do work for Microsoft, either:

    a) they will hound you for help anywats

    b) they will hiss at you – with them prefering another OS

    c) will ask you what Bill Gates is doing following his [semi-]retirement – as if you know first hand.

    So, just tell them you work for CSIS – and they’ll be very quiet!

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