Here is a story without an end yet. You can speculate on how it will turn out. A senior friend who lives about an hour’s drive away has a small business in his home, which requires a LAN with server and five work stations. He does not have a regular tech service provider and knows nothing himself about computers. I have helped him occasionally, but it is a wonder that he seldom has problems. When he does have a problem, he emails me (or calls, depending on how bad the problem is and whether his email is still working) to see if I can either solve it by telepathy or be wheedled into driving to his place. For personal reasons I do not attempt to access his system remotely.

Recently he called in a panic and said that he had turned off his server while away on vacation and when he tried to start it, nothing came up. The power strip was hot because he got a power light indicator from his monitor. I asked him if he got any action at all on the monitor. He said it was totally blank. I asked if he heard any noises from the computer. He heard nothing. He went on to say that he had unplugged and re-plugged in everything with no change. We confirmed that the power light was not illuminated in the front. Then it hit me. He had been messing around in the back. I asked him to check the power supply on/off switch. That involved me telling him where to find it, but it was in the "on" position and exercising it and trying in both positions made no difference.

I suggested he take it to a shop and ask them to check the power supply. He did. They replaced the power supply and had him look at it in their shop. I have no idea if they confirmed the supply was bad or if he just confidently said, "Here, change the power supply. It’s bad."

The computer came up. He was greatly relieved to see his stored data was still intact. (He has a different backup strategy than I recommend. His strategy seems to rely a lot on favorable response from a deity.). So everything looked good. By phone he thanked me for my brilliant remote diagnosis and went home to set it up again.

Nothing worked. He tried plugging into a different circuit and still nothing worked. He went back to the shop and with their mouse, keyboard and monitor, it worked. Rather than take a chance, he stayed around and had them burn backup discs of all his data (good idea). Then went home again where it still did not work.

His calls were getting frantic and it was obvious that he really wanted me to come up and make his problem go away. I tried to calm him and assure him that he was likely in good shape and that something stupid was happening. He had his backup and so the worst that could happen is that he needs a new server. That did not make him happy. He was convinced that his system had been compromised by a virus while he was gone and the power was off. This made sense to him because the computer was unattended in his absence and it never had a problem while he was there.

To keep him busy, I suggested he try to make the problem move. Exchange the server with a work station and see if the problem then appears on the work station while the server boots normally. He liked that idea. He will call me back in a while with the results.

You know as much now as I do. If he lived closer I would drive over just out of friendship, but this is a busy time for me. So here are two questions: (1) what do you think is going on, and (2) is he taking advantage of me or does this come under normal friendship duties?

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.