Thursday, January 03, 2002

"A Friend Who Knows a Lot About Computers"

They have computers, and they may have other weapons of mass destruction. - Janet Reno

I don't know anything about computers but want to set up an online store and hope you all can help me. - Member of an online computing support group

Can you help me; I want to get my computer working again. I had a mate over who knows a lot about computers, and he worked on it and now it doesn't work. - Someone I know

I don't know why it is, but many people, who are happy to employ a mechanic to fix their car, a dentist to fix their teeth, a doctor to cure their illnesses, a qualified hairdresser to do their hair, are just not willing to call on a computer professional if they need their computer fixed.

Somehow they think that computer work should be free. And invariably these people will ask some friend "who knows a lot about computers", to help them. Now this might be a friend of their kids who did a year's computer literacy at high school, a friend who is an accountant so knows how to use spreadsheets, or a hobbyist acquaintance who enjoys mucking around with hardware. Whatever.

The fact that this person knows a little in a certain area, can use a computer or just likes tinkering, does not mean that they can fix system problems. Would the same people get someone to do a root canal and bridgework who had not completed a university course in dentistry? I don't THINK so!

Many of these people who call on a friend "who knows a lot about computers" are very well off. It isn't that they lack the money to pay; it is just that well - who needs an expert with something as easy as a PC. Who indeed? In most cases they do after the person "who knows a lot about computers" has worked on it.

As a computer professional with post-tertiary qualification and over twenty years experience, I am simply horrified at the off-hand way that many people treat one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in their house. Would they let an amateur have a go at fixing their fridge? Could Johnny-down-the-road be entrusted with trouble-shooting problems with their new car? Would they get the cable guy to have a look at their A/C unit?

And then there are the virus experts. Those people that send on chain letters advising of "a virus that will ruin your hard drive". So sure of themselves about computer software and so confident are they about the knowledge and expertise of their friend "who knows a lot about computers" the friend  who sent THEM the hoax chain letter, that they forward on the hoax email to everyone in their address book. Including me at times.

I am insulted! What do they think? That I don't know about viruses? That I'll be silly enough to follow the hoax instructions and delete a necessary system file that the hoax letter typically claims is a virus, from my PC ?

Would they email their medical doctor friends and tell them that their is a danger of AIDS with unprotected sex? Would they call one of the Sydney firefighters and tell them, watch out, there are bushfires around Sydney. Would they call the anti-cancer council to tell them that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer? I don't THINK so!

Somehow in the land of computer-users, the man with a little knowledge is king. A friend of mine recently sent me a virus hoax. I emailed straight back, taking the trouble to explain that it WAS a hoax, and giving him the URL for the Mcafee information on the subject. I explained to him that the file mentioned in the email was a normal NT system file; that in no way was it a virus, and yes, of course he'd find it on his hard drive, if he did a search as the email instructed. A week later he called me again. His computer didn't work any more.

And yes, he HAD followed the hoax email instructions and deleted the file  in his system directory. And from the trash can. And he HAD forwarded the email to everyone he knew.  "Why?" I asked. "Oh well", came his answer, "I was sent the email by a friend 'who knows a lot about computers'". I was silent. I bided my time, knowing what he'd ask.

"What should I do now?" he said, almost in tears.

Without hesitation came my answer. "Well, I'd ask your friend, "who knows a lot about computers".