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Don't touch

We had our community Computer Club meeting last night. The subject was "The Windows Control Panel" and it was presented by one of the members who offers free help to people in our community. The talk was non-technical and filled with regular admonishments of "Don't touch anything in here!" as he went through the various panels.

I was biting my tongue at a few points, not because I necessarily disagreed but more because I wasn't sure whether I disagreed or not. For example, while showing "Add/Remove Programs", he warned not to remove any programs because they might be needed by Windows. He did note that Windows itself will warn you if you try to remove anything critical, but left the impression that removing ANYTHING could have dire consequences.

Well, sure. If someone removes their A/V program or Microsoft Word because they don't understand why they are installed, I guess that could make for a bad day. But are people really that clueless?

I don't really know. I'd like to think that most people would have enough sense to understand what they see there and if not, they'd know enough to type what they see into Google to find out what a program is and does. I'd assume that just about anyone who bothers to show up at a Computer Club meeting could handle that much.

But I could be very wrong.

I sometimes see an astonishing amount of infantile helplessness exhibited by people. It's not just in using computers; it can be with anything. I've had people tell me that they can't balance their checkbook, calculate the miles per gallon of their car.. maybe it is too much to expect them to figure out what programs might be safe to remove?

I had written about being Jack of All Trades a few years ago. Certainly some of us have much more of an "I can do that" attitude than others. People with a mechanical or engineering background are much more likely to approach things with a positive expectation than others. On the flip side, today's technology can be daunting and can require tools and experience most of us don't have. However, to flip that yet again, there has never been a time in history when it has been so easy to find knowledge. If you want to learn how to change the keyboard on your laptop, you can probably find an illustrated tutorial on-line that will show you exactly what tools you need and how to use them. Certainly you can find information about a program you find installed on your computer!

But.. perhaps I assume too much. The information you find may be confusing or contradictory. It may require a fair amount of reading and studying to really understand what you have. It simply may be more effort than the person is willing to make. I needed a new keyboard for my laptop recently. I wimped out and had Apple fix it. My excuse? It's a moderately complicated procedure involving a lot of small parts and I just couldn't raise enough confidence to do it. I was never very "mechanical" anyway, so I turned the job over to someone who does it regularly. Is that substantially different from a computer user who is hesitant to delve into their Control Panel? I don't think it is.

We all have our comfort level. I think the presentation at our meeting aimed a little low - I know that at least some of the people there aren't that helpless and intimidated. But others are, so his "Don't touch" advice was appropriate for them.

I'll be doing a talk next month based on my Windows Performance article. My pitch will be more toward the "roll up your sleeves and learn how to do it" members, but I'll try to remember the fears and uncertainties of the others.



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Tue May 5 16:39:36 2009: 6327   BrettLegree

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I encounter that kind of thing a fair bit, at work, at home, everywhere - the reasons seem to vary.

Often though I find people are afraid of breaking something, so they do nothing. And then, as you say, even with all of the help available out there, some folks just can't find it.

If I had a dollar for every time I solved some problem with a 5 minute Google Search, well, I could probably buy Google. And then people will say, "How did you know that?", and I'll say that I found it online.

But they never make the connection...

And then like you, there are things I leave to other folks. I'll try to solve the problem myself, or at least research the solution, and if it seems too tough, or if I can pay someone less than half of what I make per hour (say), I will pay someone else to do it for me.

I've done a couple of keyboard swaps myself, and it's not a lot of fun, so I don't blame you!



Tue May 5 16:44:21 2009: 6328   TonyLawrence

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Well, I do have a dollar (actually quite a bit more than that) for every time I solved a problem with a 5 minute Google Search and I can't buy more than a few shares of Google now and then :-)



Tue May 5 16:56:40 2009: 6329   BrettLegree

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It's the new math up here in Canada, you see... :)

I liked your Windows Performance post, BTW (I never knew that about Foreground/Background Priority - the bit about how changing and then resetting it makes it different from the default...)



Tue May 5 17:12:42 2009: 6330   TonyLawrence

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Well, it's not actually different. I didn't make that clear in the original version - I just pointed at a page that showed you what the bits meant but didn't explain that for XP, nothing actually changes. The registry entry changes, but the meaning of the bits comes to the same thing. I've cleaned up that paragraph since then.



Tue May 5 17:25:38 2009: 6331   BrettLegree

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Ah, okay - though I wouldn't have put it past Microsoft (I remember that program from many years ago that you could run to turn NT4 Workstation into Server, sort of...)

And of course other people have taken Server 2008, installed and or enabled everything that is in Vista, and found it was still faster than Vista - which seemed odd.

In any case, have fun doing the talk. We used to have a small computer club where I live but it died out when a lot of the members started having children. Of course, the kids are getting a bit older now, so maybe it is time to start it up again. I like giving technical talks myself.



Wed May 6 16:31:07 2009: 6345   RickBrandfass

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One of the guidelines for public speaking is “Know your audience.” Of course, if you speak only to the least knowledgeable of the group, you risk alienating part of the group. I’ve found that quite a few people view their computers the way they view their cars in that they know how to turn it on and drive but know little to nothing beyond that. So, if the presenter was specifically talking to the people who don’t even pump their own gas, then his comments about “don’t touch” were on target. One technique I used when teaching some how-to classes was to find out (by asking) who was comfortable with what level of expertise then talk just below the level of the largest group. I would, however, talk/explain directly to those below that level to help them along. If you try this, be sure to talk loud enough for everyone to hear or you will lose the crowd.



Wed May 6 17:04:33 2009: 6346   TonyLawrence

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Very true. This audience is very difficult. We have members like last months speaker who was an IT person for a group of nursing homes before he retired. We have a former IBMer who knows more than a little bit about anything. We have former and current business people who use or used computers extensively. Then we have ordinary people with no background whatsoever.

We try to vary the talks so that we aren't boring the more advanced people and always try to leave plenty of time for open questions from the rest, but it can never be perfect with such a mixed group.

Speaking loudly.. Whenever I do these I come home hoarse :-)

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