Monday, May 21, 2012

Computer Illeterate

I have a dear elderly who is in his 70's. We used to lived about 30 minutes drive away from each other in the suburb of Chiacgo and I have helped him a lot in buying computer laptop, netbook, printers, and set up his broadband network. He like to call himself (in front of me) a computer illiterate and thanks me every time we have chance to talk. He is one of those who, despite have no formal training in any recently technologies, like to explore and learn new things.

He is one a the very few friends of mine who have internet phone service. I told him about Vonage several years ago after I signed up, and he immediately took interests and went ahead and cancel his land line from the local phone company. He was so glad he never have to deal with all those hidden charges from the local phone companies, and enjoyed free unlimited calls to overseas.

Because of this Vonage service, his home network is a little different from many normal household. Throughout the years, when he called his broadband company or Vonage, he has received different advice, and gradually his network has become very different from how I helped him set it up.

A couple of weeks ago, he called me and asked me for help. This time, I am no longer 30 minutes, but 4 hours flight away. He has also purchased another winter house in a different (warmer) state, where he carries with him some of his equipment whenever he travels to between the two states. Last month my wife and I visited him and his wife at this winter home, and gave him an iPad 2 which we got during a sale. We tried out best to show him and convince him he could eventually stop using his PC, and just work on the iPad. As a result, his home network now should look different, since his wifi access point has been taken out of the picture, directed by one of those tech support people at some point in the pass.

I drew a nice and easy to understand network diagram with real photos of all piece of equipment he has, and have him reconnect everything accordingly. After a couple of hours of struggles, back and forth of what I asked him to do, and what he saw on his screen, we finally get everything going. iPad, phone dial tone, and his Window 7 netbook all working happily together.

It wasn't even a week before I hear from him again. I received an email he sent from his iPad (hooray!) that he could go "online" from his netbook anymore. Before I have time to call him and spend sometime trying to understand the problem, I notice the next morning his online status on MSN. When sent him another email in the evening the same day, I was told one of his friend came over to his house, and helped him solve the problem.

I was happy because it was quite difficult trying to help him on a Windows machine, when I don't have one to look at. Well, things are never that easy. Two or maybe three days later, again I receive email from him saying things have stopped working on his netbook.

I decided to call him after waiting for a couple of days sending him emails with some instruction of what to check. After trying everything I could, and even having him running network commands on DOS window, I can't get his IE to talk to any website. I decided to take a dinner break and call him back. Our second half of the session started with a good news. He told him while I was taking my dinner, he pulled out the network diagram I had sent him, and compare to actually connections of all equipmnent, and found that his friend has made some changes. Instead of connecting the router/wifi access point to the cable modem, he decided to connect the Vonage voip box to the modem, and have the router connected to the voip box. I was silence furious but kept my cool and have him make things right according to the diagram. Within a few minutes, everything works again as they should.

I name this blog post this way not to look down my friend, because I think he is one I admire. Despite his age, he is still willing to learn, always willing to explore new and foreign things. Though I was furious at his friend who rearranged the network and wasted my time,  I don't blame him for network is indeed pretty complicated. I think the more you know, the more you would understand what I mean.

This past week, a scientist with Phd degree and many years of experience at where I worked, open a trouble ticket complaining he could no longer log on to a workstation. After some investigation, it appeared that he has made some changes on his own such as his sessions immediately terminate upon logging on to a workstation. I pointed out the mistake and offer him to make the change the correct way for him if he would like to. Several days later, I received an update with such a request, but also with a note indicating what he did was how it all used to be 20 years ago when he was playing with Linux. Having been in this line of work for that long a time, I understand that anyone telling you that is simply implying he has experience in Linux since day 1 and he knows what he was doing. Well, I don't want to question his experience, and after calming myself down, decided not to "educate" him with what have chance in the past 20 years, and also what needs to be done differently in an office multiuser environment, versus on a private isolated computer that he has 20 years ago. On the same day, he has also voiced through a trouble ticket, indicating I have broken something important on some computers he was using, because I did some software updates, Well, the ticket wasn't really to ask for help, but to point out that he wasn't informed of the updates and he has not given permission to do so. Being very certain that the software updates would not have broken anything he was trying to use, I kept quite and wait. Within minutes, replies to the tickets came in from someone else who admitted he made changes to the application, and offered to fix.

My friends, if you read this and you think you are never any good at computer technologies, engineering, don't be. The only computer illiterate are those who thinks they are too smart and know it all. Knowing something for 20 years is not a good thing to be brag about, if you are not already on the board of Google or Facebook. That means you are outdated and left behind.