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© June 2006 Anthony Lawrence

The people across the street seem like nice folks. They are lawn-less still; some problem with all the sprinklers not being put in, but they seem to accept it with good humor. What else can you do? This is a new phase of the community, and we're all waiting for something. I have my lawn, but my driveway needs finish paving. These things will get done.

They were also having computer problems.

Well, networking issues, actually. Apparently they had always had one computer hooked directly to their Comcast modem, but their daughter had bought Mom a brand new Dell, so now they wanted two computers hooked up. The daughter had also bought a wireless router, but couldn't seem to get everything working.

My neighbor mentioned all this while we watched dust blow off what will someday be his lawn.

I had a quarter second struggle with my conscience. On the one hand, I can't afford a lot of time helping out neighbors with various computer issues. On the other hand, how long could this take? I offered to "take a look".

So a few minutes later I stood looking at an old Compaq Armada running Windows ME. This was obviously the "old" computer; Mom's brand new Dell notebook sat beside it. The Armada was connected to the Comcast modem with a USB cable. The Armada had no Ethernet port.

Ok, this is simple. We'll skip the lecture on how you should never hook directly to a cable modem. I pointed out the Ethernet port on the Comcast modem and explained that the wireless router needed to be connected to that with an Ethernet cable. That would then let Mom's wireless Dell work. As for the Armada, I told him he needed to buy a PCMCIA card - either a wireless card or a plain old Ethernet. Either one would let us connect everything up.

I don't know if I really expected that would be the last of it. That's the problem with helping out friends, neighbors and relatives. You can get sucked in to a vortex that you'll never get out of, and soon find yourself spending way too much time helping people who aren't going to pay you. No, that's not really it, is it? They'd pay you if you asked, but there is just no way you are going to take money from them. That's the real problem.

I sometimes lie to people and tell them I don't know much about Windows to avoid getting anywhere near this stuff. But that can be a hard lie to maintain the moment you make an exception anywhere: people talk.

Two weeks later we were at a neighborhood party and I found myself talking to Mom. "Did you get your computer set up?", I asked. She sighed. No, her computer still had no Internet. Their daughter had come and tried to make everything work, but it didn't. She said her husband said he thought they needed different cables. She thought they needed to "call somebody".

Well, I qualify as "somebody", I guess. But you have to be diplomatic in situations like this. Hubby thinks he knows what is wrong, but wife thinks otherwise. You don't want to step directly between them waving your arms.

"Tell Steve I probably have the cable he needs", I said, and left it at that.

The next evening Steve and I were again watching dust blow off his front yard. We small talked and eventually he mentioned that I had offered access to my cable stock. "Hey, let's take another look", I said, so I grabbed my MacBook from my house and then we returned to the scene of the crime. The Armada was still plugged in with the USB cable, but he had bought a wireless Ethernet PCMCIA card and a few short CAT-5 cables.

I connected the Comcast Modem to the wireless router, disconnected the USB, and power cycled both. My Mac was hard wired to the router and obtained an IP address, but had no Internet access. I fired up a browser to look at the router configuration.

This was a Belkin-54g. Don't ever buy one of these. They probably work OK, but the browser interface doesn't give you much information about what's happening or not happening on the Wan side. I disconnected it and hooked my Mac direct to the Comcast. It tried to get an IP, but the modem wouldn't give it one.

"My daughter had the same problem", Steve explained. "She even called Comcast. It was very frustrating."

"Well, let's call 'em again", I said. Quickly enough I had a tech on the phone and explained the problem. "Sure", he said, "it needs to be reset to give up that USB connection".

"But I power cycled it." Steve nodded - his daughter had done the same thing. "Battery backup in that modem - reset button on the back", explained the Comcast tech.

Sure enough, recessed reset button in the back. I stuck a pen in it, and seconds later the Comcast modem was happy to talk on its Ethernet port. Steve noted that his daughter hadn't been able to find the reset - it really was hard to see, especially if her tech hadn't explained that it is the kind you stick a pencil or pen in. But now the router was happy, and I configured it for a security passphrase and made initial connections with the other two computers. Steve has his connection, and so does Mom. Everybody is happy.

As the the general problem of doing 'puter stuff for the neighbors, well, we'll see how bad it gets. After all, there are only around twelve hundred people in this community right now: how many computer problems could there be?

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Wed Jun 7 14:34:32 2006: 2073   anonymous

Sounds like an opportunity to offer support to the community;
1,200 housholds, 24-7 support around the corner.
Just keep raising your rates until the calls stop.
Might be worth a small ad in a local paper before the word gets out.

Wed Jun 7 14:42:44 2006: 2074   TonyLawrence

The only thing worse than doing free Windows support is doing it for money.

I have absolutely no interest in building a Windows support busines, and especially not for home users.

Thu Jun 8 13:20:34 2006: 2075   BigDumbDinosaur

So a few minutes later I stood looking at an old Compaq Armada running Windows ME.

I thought all of those things were in landfills.

As the the general problem of doing 'puter stuff for the neighbors, well, we'll see how bad it gets. After all, there are only around twelve hundred people in this community right now: how many computer problems could there be?

Just wait until they find out about you. You won't have enough time to take a bathroom break, let alone do any revenue work. Crass as it might sound, I wouldn't have gone as far as you did with the neighbors. You are now and forever their "goto computer guy" and you get to do it for free.

I'm very careful around my neighbors to not reveal what it is I do. It's not that I'm uncharitable. I just don't want to be sucked into the "do it for free" vortex. If I get questions about Windows I lie and say I don't use it much and know little about it.

Wed Jun 7 14:56:02 2006: 2076   TonyLawrence

Sigh :-(

I know.


But I just can't stand seeing people struggle.. character flaw.

Thu Jun 8 13:18:40 2006: 2081   BigDumbDinosaur

But I just can't stand seeing people struggle.. character flaw.

Not a character flaw. You're just empathetic and a soft touch. <Grin> Me, I'm empathetic but definitely not a soft touch when it comes to fixing computers. Just ask my daughter-in-law.

I commiserate with her when her late model Dell gets sick and vomits X's and P's all over the place. But you won't see me rushing to her house to administer any medicine. That's what the Dell 800 "support" number is for. She's tried just about every ploy a woman can think of to get me to work on the thing (no, NOT that ploy), but to no avail. She's a registered nurse and when I asked her if she'd come over and tend to me when I was sick, she said she had to do enough of that at work. I said, "Exactly! Now you know why I won't come over and monkey with your computer."

Sat Jun 10 12:07:58 2006: 2100   bruceg2004

Maybe you could write up some real basic documents, and point everyone to them? I feel like you may be the goto guy for the neighborhood. Maybe you could tell him not to mention anything to anyone, since you do this for a living?

I too have to tell, even my family members, that my support services have to be very brief, since I really get frustrated with Windows, since it is usually nothing logical about the problem. I am slowly converting my family over to the Mac. Most of my friends have converted, and I have not heard one peep for any support from them. They are also very glad they switched.

Maybe if you did offer support for the community, you could price Windows way high, so that nobody would want to pay those prices for fixing their Windows machines. Or, just tell them to use google to help find a fix for their issue.

I really enjoy fixing any Mac problems right now, because it gives me more experience. Plus, it's Unix under the hood, so I can fix many issues by firing up a shell, and use my Unix wrench head skills.

Good luck to you, Tony. It was a nice thing to do for your neighbor, and I am sure you will get paid back in another form some day. Things usually work out that way some how.

- Bruce


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