The View from Landmark

Trends and issues in personal computing from Bud Stolker, a long-time PC consultant. The View from Landmark features tips and techniques to make time spent with your computer more productive and rewarding, commentary on new personal computer policies and trends, plain-English explanations of new hardware, software, and network designs and their relevance to you, and answers to common questions. There may be personal material interspersed if Bud believes it is of general interest.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Visit to a senior citizen

I met a charming older lady the other day: Joyce Miller (not her real name) was having a problem with her computer.

What a nightmare. Joyce, though very nice, is clueless about PCs. That's okay; a lot of my clients are retired or just plain elderly, and I don't need them to be computer experts. In general we get along very well.

Joyce's daughter had given her a hunkajunk Compaq running a bootleg copy of Windows XP in just 60 Megabytes of RAM (didn't even know that was possible!). It was infested with spyware, and she had somehow triggered Windows Activation, which was timing out. When I got there the machine was barely wheezing, and it said she had one day left to activate Windows.

She didn't want to spend a lot of money and there was no data to save. I offered to nuke the computer and install a clean Windows 98, then add another 64 Mb. RAM so the system didn't have to work so hard.

It turned out everything was wrong with the computer. By the time I got it back to Landmark and turned it on, Windows Activation had timed out, and I couldn't boot it to look at any of the settings. I dug in and found the original key number, and when I tried to activate, I got a message to the effect that "this number has been activated too many times".

Windows 98 wouldn't load cleanly -- I tried 3 times. It wouldn't accept an antivirus program, only one of two spyware programs would run, it wouldn't load Office 97 -- things like that. It also had a broken floppy drive and a broken CD-ROM drive. (Joyce, a VERY basic user, didn't know that!)

It took (no kidding) 20 hours to get this computer to run, and though it sort of worked for me, when I returned it to her it did nothing but crash. Before we gave up on it, I asked Joyce for her user name so I could get her re-connected to the Internet via her dialup account. She knew the password, but not the user name.

"Well, what's your email address?" "I don't know."

"How can you not know your email address? That's all you're using this computer for."

"Well, I just respond to mail that I receive."

Hopeless. I called her daughter in the Midwest, who was also clueless. Then I called Joyce’s rather antisocial son-in-law at work. He was pretty surly, and insisted that I had the right user name (though the dialup service refused it each time). Other problems: The email address turned out to be eugenia johnson ( Eugenia Johnson (I forget her last name) is Joyce's daughter, but I didn't know that.

"So,” I said to Joyce, “your name is really Eugenia?" "No, I'm Joyce." "You're sharing an email account with your daughter?" "I don't know." "But I thought your name was Joyce, not Joy." "It is." "Then why is your email address (joy)?" "I don't know."

The dialup service refused to accept her user name and password. Finally the son-in-law pointed out that all2ez is actually all2easy (different spelling), which means her email address has always been spelled wrong!

Finally, a blessing: the computer crashed totally. I stood up and declared it dead after a two-hour session with Joyce. She admitted her daughter told her the computer was junk when she gave it to Joyce.

Ultimately I took the computer away and trashed it for her. But not before asking one more question:

"So . . . how are you going to get your email?" "I'll wait until Spring, when my daughter visits, and ask her to bring me another computer. I don't really need it."

Her parting words to me were, "Don't lose confidence in yourself."

Aaaarrrrrgggghhhhhhh!! 20 hours spent, and I only charged for an hour and a half. I'm sure she thought she overpaid.