This week’s posting is a continuation of last week’s in several ways. Last week I mentioned that a senior client called with a problem apparently caused after an unwanted email started installing something without asking permission. I wasn’t present, so don’t know exactly how it happened. This week I got a call from another senior from a different area who had a similar thing happen. Now I don’t claim to be a security expert and I’m certainly not up on the latest malware. But both of these clients were using OE with the preview window activated. They both did this in spite of my warning them about potential dangers. These are adult people. I feel the best way to interact is to tell them the situation as I understand it along with a disclaimer on my own limits of knowledge and then let them make their own decisions about how to use their machines.

Is that really the best way? As readers of my decision theory column know, most people do not know how to make the best decision based on available data. Most of us just muddle through and hope. A common example is the person who insists on driving across country for fear of flying (Technical note: more people died in New York state from automobile accidents in 2001 than died from falling buildings – what are you afraid of?). The same readers know that most physicians will greatly overestimate the probability of having a disease based on the results of clinical tests because they have no feeling for simple Bayesian theory. So who I am to duck the responsibility of making behavioral decisions for my clients who are paying me good (well, almost good) money to help them? Would the two clients mentioned above been better off if I had just said to them, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it just because I said so, and that is a good enough reason.”

The other client I mentioned last week had me look at her laptop which was booting slowly and had some other problems. She had added a gig of RAM to her laptop because her friends told her that more memory would make it go faster. Later she partially uninstalled Norton to see if that would help.

When I got her machine, I first had to clean up the leftover Norton and earlier McAfee references and things. This involved going into the registry (sigh). Then I reviewed her startup procedure and cut out a lot of them, finally I defragmented her HD. You could almost hear it saying, “Thank you”. Later I asked her how often she had defragmented it. Her husband interrupted and said he had done it once about a year ago and it took several hours. In addition, I cleaned up and organized her icons, programs, and favorites. The net result was a winner. Her boot time was back to where she remembered it had been when she bought the laptop and it snapped when loading her work. There was nothing technically wrong with her computer.

In fact, I even added Iconoid to her startup with no problem. She liked it as eye candy.

So she was out the money for a gig of laptop DRAM and my fees, but together the cost was much less than buying a new laptop of the same or better performance. This is doubly true when you also consider the setup time for a new computer.

Will she defrag routinely? Will she be more careful about the security programs she uses? Will she be alert to pushy programs which want to get in the startup line? I don’t know, but as part of my de-briefing with her, I went through each point and explained why I did what I did. When I was done, I admonished her to get the SP3 update for her Office. She had updated Windows, but not Office, and I couldn’t do it for her because I had not thought to ask for her installation disc when I picked up the laptop.

I left their house shaking my head because when we logged onto their wireless to test surfing, I thought XP might want the password. “It’s not encrypted,” she said. “It’s a nuisance and this is a good neighborhood.”

“Have you enabled file sharing?”


“Okay, catch you later.” I packed up and left. They had already had the lecture on encrypting. They are adults. They made a decision. Time to move on.

One last coincidence linking these three separate events. All of the senior clients asked if they should simply get a new computer. They all had the model that if something bad happened to it, then when it was fixed, it would not be really as good as before. I think they have the mental model of an automobile collision. Sur, the shop can make the car look good again, but it never drives the same again. Therefore the same thing must happen when a computer starts acting up. It must be time to trade. None of these clients are true power users and none of them are active gamers. Their current computers are overkill a dozen times over for their normal usage. Even worse, I don’t think they consider how much effort is it to back up and transfer all their data and personal preferences. Let’s face it, they don’t even do normal backups.

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]tutor,ram,senior learning,senior computing,bayesian theory,boot time[/tags]