Ode to the Free Computer Tech
People come in two varieties - those computer savvy individuals who provide free tech support for their friends and family, and the people who rely on a computer savvy individual for free tech support. All other distinguishing characteristics amongst people are due to chemical imbalances.
If you are in the latter camp, please, treat your free computer tech kindly. Our lives are filled with psychological frustrations that would make Annie Sullivan shoot Helen Keller with a bazooka. IN THE FACE.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re good people. We want to help you. We also want to sneak into your house at night and hold a pillow over your face. It’s an interesting dichotomy.
To illustrate this point, I give you a snippet from case file #1711435, opened over the weekend.
Relative: Yo Tob. You got a minute?
Tricky question to get right. I seem to measure my minutes in different units of time than people that ask this question. I decided to throw caution to the wind.
Relative: I’ve got bad computer problems.
Oh. No. Relative’s case history immediately starts bubbling up in my head - Windows XP, talked him into using Firefox, no luck getting him off of Outlook Express, coached him out of deleting any file on his hard drive that he didn’t recognize…
Relative: This window keeps popping up saying my antivirus is out of date and I need to pay $49.95 to get it updated. Then when I close it all these things keep popping up and I can’t use my computer.
Me: Sounds like you’re infected with some malware. What kind of…
Relative: There’s one! It’s an ad for prescription drugs!
Me: Do you know what kind of virus scanner you’re running?
Relative: I’m running The Norton antivirus.
Me: OK. We’ll try switching your antivirus software and running a spyware…
Relative: There’s another one! It’s for Russian Brides!
Me: Check your email – I sent you a link to AVG antivirus and Spybot. We’re going to install those and run them in safe mode.
Relative: OK, I’m pulling up Outlook Express.
Relative: I don’t see it.
Me: Might take a sec.
Relative: I don’t see it.
Me: Might take another….
Relative: Porno! It’s showing me an add for porno!
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this malware before. One of my wife’s girlfriends had what sounds like the exact same thing. At this point while talking with her I may have fabricated the idea that this kind of infection comes from visiting certain adult sites, which may have led to a fascinating conversation about her surfing habits. I heard a faint gunshot as this part of my brain killed itself before it could ask such a question here.
Me: Did you get the email…
Relative: Another porno!
Me: I probably don’t need the play-by-play on the pop up windows.
Relative: Got it. I don’t see a link to anything.
Me: Should be underlined in blue.
Relative: I don’t see anything in blue. Wait, is that it?
Bear in mind I’m on the phone.
Relative: OK. Left-click?
Relative: OK. It’s launching my Internet.
Relative: Yes, Mozilla Firefox.
I think what followed was a lengthy conversation about downloading the files, which involved Relative reading every word of every screen he ran across. I’ve repressed the memory.
Relative: OK, they’re on my home page.
Me: OK. We’re going to reboot in safe mode. I emailed you the directions on that. Just restart the computer and keep tapping F8 until you get a menu.
Relative: What, the whole time?
Relative: As soon as it starts?
Relative: How often do I tap it?
Me: Exactly once every 2 seconds.
Relative: Are you making that up?
I believe another lengthy conversation ensued to get into safe mode, probably involving the reading of every word on the safe mode dialog. I may have even booted up XP in VirtualBox just so I could read exactly what it said. Again, repressed memories set to be wiped during my next drinking binge.
Relative: I see a blue screen. It says Admistrator, Owner, Shutdown….
Me: OK, that’s your login screen. I’m pretty sure both accounts are administrator accounts, but we’ll go in as Administrator. Click on that one.
Relative: OK, now I see the home page.
Me: Never mind. See the antivirus software we downloaded.
Me: OK. We must have downloaded that from the Owner account. Open up your file browser.
Me: Your file browser.
Me: The thing you use to look at files on your hard drive.
Relative: My My Computer?
Relative: I don’t see it.
Me: Hold down the windows key and hit E.
Relative: Windows key?
Me: Looks like the Windows logo. Between CTRL and ALT on the left side of the keyboard.
I could hear his eyes go wide over the phone at this show of magic. No matter what else happens I will be spoken of in my tech support circle in hushed tones, as one would a Hogwarts alumni.
At this point we figured out The Norton was AVG already - I must have fixed that on another visit. I coached him through virus scanning, which identified and fixed 718 infections not related to this problem, and running Spybot, which identified an astronomical number of problems, one of which removed the malware causing the popups. Another satisfied customer. I mentally appended Install Linux on next visit!!! to his case file.