Never Underestimate The Value Of Prevention

This is column #183 of my series on helping seniors become computer literate. Throughout the time I have been writing, my friends have referred to the series as a blog, which it is not. Blogging is similar in that it uses words and occasional graphics to communicate from one person primarily to many people. But for some reason I have refrained from going the pure blog route. Why is that? The technology is not difficult, and the time requirements to keep the blog timely are probably not as great as writing a distinct and separate column (which I still insist this is). Any comments on the pressures to blog are welcomes, but in essence, such a dialog might become a blog.

All this is an aside from discussing another example of the types of problems seniors can get into. A senior client recently returned to the business of being a real estate broker after several years of being a homemaker. When she and her husband broke up, she was confronted with the necessity of earning money, so she returned to the business she knew from before marriage, but things had changed. A computer was an essential tool. She has a strong aversion to investing the time necessary to become computer literate. She started off by learning by rote the few things that are absolutely necessary to do her business.

However, things changed after she started selling a few houses. She came to appreciate the value of the new tricks she could do. Soon her listings even featured virtual tours. Her email traffic is several tens of important letters a day. But I can only think she lived in either a state of denial or quiet desperation because she called recently and said that her computer was acting up. It would freeze suddenly, and other times it worked, but slowly. That was about the only description of the ills I could get from her. Simple things like had she been doing when it locked up and whether she had received any warning screens were not part of the scenario.

Shortly after I arrived at her house, I activated the graphic display of CPU usage and showed her that the computer had not strictly speaking stopped. It was quite busy doing something, but that something had nothing to do with her. It was pinned at 100% usage.

She had not updated her Norton anti-virus in some time and when I tried to do it for her, I got the LU1803 error message. When I finally got Norton working, it did find she was infected-no surprise there. She swears she doesn’t open attachments-unless they are from someone she knows. But there were obviously other things wrong with the computer, so I reluctantly told her I would have to take it home for a day to look at it.

In fact, it took two days, and an incredibly frustrating time getting a corrupted Norton off her computer. The effort involved more registry surfing than I care for. This was followed by a Windows re-install (after backing up her personal things on CD). Then for giggles I installed the latest McAfee security suite and scanned. Still more infections were found. Then spybot and ad-aware were used to find a plethora of spies and tracking cookies.

After re-installing her Office suite, I was ready to roll. She fluttered about me like a worried bird while I set the computer back into its rightful spot under her desk. I showed her how everything worked better and then asked what her email password was so that I could set up her account to work again. She literally went white. “I didn’t know I had a password, my husband took care of all that. I only opened Outlook Express and my mail was there.” A short struggle later we had her mail going.

Occasionally during this job, I asked for the various CDs needed, and she never knew where any of them were. Certainly they were not in a central place. Some were tucked inside manuals, and others were in various drawers. I asked if she had a place for passwords. “On second thought, never mind. Just try to have the passwords all in one place the next time I come, and setting aside a shelf for CD would be useful too.”

This is an educated and organized woman who supports herself probably better than her missing husband did. But somehow that organization did not migrate to the most important tool in her business. Her failure to use simple rules of conduct to protect data and the installation combined with a lack of general organization is sufficiently common among senior clients that I now expect it.

Those of you who read my decision theory and probability column probably are screaming right now that I have just committed the most common sampling error. By definition the clients I see have problems and if being disorganized and having bad surfing habits increases the probability of running into trouble, then obviously I will see fewer people who keep their systems organized. Fair enough, but I also have many senior friends, and I look at their computers outside of problem-solving sessions. Many of them show equally poor habits.

The bottom line is that a conscientious tutor/computer mechanic will emphasize preventive techniques in addition to simply fixing problems.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]blogging,blog,sherman deforest,senior computing,senior education,senior learn,preventative technique[/tags]