Could you have a look at my computer?

Since 1979 I have had daily, intimate, contact with a computer of all shapes, word lengths (yes, pre-byte days) and clock speeds. 1 Apparently this means I am just sitting by the phone waiting for the call “Could you have a look at my computer?”…

When I get this call the effect is a bit like the phone going off in Trumpton Fire Station 2: I’m into my uniform, down a shiny pole, and off to save the unfortunate – I like to think of myself as Barney McGrew – the only one to have his name called out in full (because he was the driver).

Dream on.  The problem is that I am too nice 3:  I like to help people in distress (especially damsels).  Well it’s coming to an end. From now on I apply the DNA test: if you and I share DNA with at most one level of separation then I’ll happily help out (i.e. Mum, Mum-in-law exception, brat) 4.  Beyond that then I’m afraid it’s “let’s talk about my hourly rate, and it’ll make a lawyer look cheap” 5.  And the old “here’s a bottle of wine” gambit just ain’t going to work any more, unless we are talking Chateau Lafite 1961.

So to spare you the embarrassment, here’s a handy checklist to go through before calling:

  1. Am I related by at most one level of separation from Kev and have a DNA test to prove it?  (The three people mentioned above need not supply results of DNA test.) If no: goodbye.
  2. Do you have a case of Chateau Lafite 1961 and will gladly use it to purchase the best technical support on the planet?  If yes: then please contact me about my Premiere Support with a sample bottle – I will be available 24-7 on a dedicated phone number to help your every problem (until the wine runs out when the line goes strangely dead – and a case doesn’t last very long these days).
  3. Is my computer using the latest version of the operating system and all patches have been applied?  If you don’t understand the question then: goodbye.  If no: goodbye, numpty.
  4. Have you recently clicked on an email attachment or some nice web page claiming to clean up the nasty virus that they say is on your computer?  If yes: then I would rather get intimate with an Ebola victim.
  5. If you get this far then it’s a points-based system.  If I ask “What’s your computer’s backup mechanism?” then the points you get depends on your answer.  (If you don’t understand exponential numbers then goodbye.)
    Answer Points
    What’s a backup? -108
    It’s on my To-Do List -103
    I put all my data on a DVD every year 5
    I make a backup every week to some cheap thumb-drive I bought in Tesco 10
    I have automatic backup set to run every night to an external hard-drive 100
    I have automatic backup set to run every night to an off-site backup service 1000
    I have automatic backup set to run every night to an off-site, encrypted backup service 2000
    Obviously I have multiple disks configured as RAID 6 with automatic, encrypted backup set to run on change to an off-site backup service on a different tectonic plate. I also give my relatives a DVD of the important stuff whenever I visit, and NASA an annual DVD to send to the ISS as I don’t want any of those planet-wide failures affecting my backups. 106

    Now being a bright sort of person you’ve probably guessed that unless your score is 1000+ then you’re not going to like the response you get from me: howls of derisive laughter, at best. The really good thing is that if you are at that level then you don’t need me to help you!

    Executive summary: don’t even bother asking.


  1. You can tell this is degenerating into a techie rant so probably best to skip unless you’re called Fenton or Stuart, or still have pleasant thoughts about the VAX-11/780.  We can have a pleasant argument over a glass or two over whether VMS or BSD4.2 was a better OS on this platform.
  2. If this makes no sense to you, then clearly you are not a child of 1970s BBC output.  Sad.
  3. As my friends will attest
  4. Notice that the Missus is not on this select list: that’s because she is more than capable of fixing her own computer and is even more anally retentive about backups that I am.  We also don’t have DNA in common – well, for a few generations at least.
  5. Phone usually goes dead at this point.  As an aside: I once freely helped my solicitor decide on a suitable computer for their spawn. Next time I asked him to look at a document he charged me £70 for approximately 10 minutes reading. A major lesson was learned that day.
  6. An esteemed reviewer pointed out I hadn’t specified which version of RAID I use – for this he gets an extra 1000 points. For home use I’d recommend RAID1 as a minimum.