Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mother, Tech Support's Nightmare

For seven years, I have worked in the Information Technology industry. Part of my job was to provide technical support for people that really should not be working with computers at the first place. It was more like babysitting technical challenged adults.

Granted, most of people’s computer skills have improved with time, but there are always the last few dinosaurs that are still struggling with modern technology. On many occasions, I have thought about replacing their keyboards with fake keys painted on wooden planks and to see if they would ever notice the difference.

Out of the thousands people I have supported during my so called IT career, I have never had a client tougher than my own mother.

Ever since high school, I have been my mother’s personal 24/7 tech support. When mother calls, I would dreadfully answer the phone and hoping she is calling for something else. Yet, time after time, it was for the same list of things, can’t connect to ISP, email is crapping out, can’t print, or the scanned images are showing upside down. Not to mention the hundreds of hours I have spend to covert Chinese DVDs to NTSC standard, so my parents can watch them in their Region 1 American DVD player.

Unlike working in a professional environment, where I can stop by the client’s cubical, do my job, and leave. A job that usually would only take 15 minutes would end up being an hour or so with my mother.

Why? It is because all mothers like to talk. Talk about what exactly? I have no clue, because I always zone out the exact moment she finishes describing her technical difficulties to me. There are times where the subconscious side of my brain would register bits of her rambling and replay back to me.

My latest adventure was installing a DSL modem for my mother. After years of cruising the information superhighway at lightning fast 56Kbps (interestingly enough, older people drive slowly on the highway too!), my mother finally decided that she wants more speed. It is about time, especially when the computer I built for her has so much potential than what she is currently using it for (AMD Athlon 3000+, 1 GB DDR400 RAM, 80 GB 7200 RPM Hard drive, nVidia GeForce4 256 MB video, Soundblaster live! Audio, DVD/CDRW, etc.).

I don’t know if this is a common thing among older people, they seem want you to tell them everything, even when all the information they wanted are packaged neatly in a pouch labeled “Instructions” or “Users Manual”. I am guessing by having a live person read out loud from a booklet is somehow satisfying for them. (Well, at least I didn’t have to wash the feet of one diabetic great-aunt. ha ha, this one is for you, Andrea!)

After ten minutes of playing with the DSL modem, I could not get a solid connection. Mother’s buyer-remorse set in and she panics. There is nothing worse than talking to the telephone company in one ear, and having your mother talking to you at the same time in the other, especially in “machine gun Chinese”!

Eventually the problem was solved, but for the agonizing 11 minutes and 53 seconds, I have lived through hell.

Unlike any other job, this one, I can’t just submit my resignation and walk away.


  1. Ugh! Chinese mothers are the worst! Mine insists on talking to me while I'm reading my textbooks. Or when they continue to yell at you even when you're not in the room. The list is endless

  2. My mom is the same way but she usually doesn't do much damage. My dad however is like a freaking black cat. Everything he touches breaks and its never anything simple. Before he touched the computer it worked fine then he touches it and something stops working. And he's not tinkering around in setting or anything like that he just uses it and it breaks. Then i have to spend hours expending every possible solution until it works again, since its some bizarre problem. I still haven't been able to fix the sound he broke month's ago.
    It's not limited to electronics either the other day i was taking care of a #2 in the bathroom and the wall, mirror and light fixture in front of me start to shake. Earthquake? No I live in Florida. He was on the other side of the house and turned on the sink. WTF.
    Anyway i feel your pain. You gotta be like nasa where where you put old stuff that you know is stable and can take a pounding.
    What's with that computer you built. You should know better. Were you planing on playing games there at the time?

  3. I wanted to build her a computer that would not be outdated so quickly. Even with that configuration, it was still much cheaper than a Dell at the time.

  4. lol, omg
    my folks are just the same, but all we could do is to suck up to all of their "late adaptations to computerland"
    wish i could go on a strike..

  5. Oh, Tian, I feel for you, and I totally understand your situation, because my Mom is the same!

    And I also agree with the 1st Anoymous. My Mom doesn't get it when I'm actually doing something else. She wants my attention 24/7.

  6. You could get your mother a DVD player that plays all regions saving you from another "useless" chore. ;-)

  7. That was before I discovered the region 0 DVD player.

  8. I did an engineering degree, so if anything breaks, especially if it's something electronic, she'll direct people to me.

    'What do you mean you can't fix this VCR? Aren't you an electrical engineer?'

    Sometimes I try to explain to her how an engineer is not a repairman, but lately I just tell her that I'm a terrible engineer. Failure, she can understand.

  9. cibbuano, I know what you mean. I have a degree in English Literature, so my Mom thought that I could translate everything for her from English into Chinese. Well, I'd tired to explain to her that I didn't have a degree in Translation, but she didn't get it. I'm ready to believe that Mom thinks that I'm an "electronic dictionary" that works when she demands it, and wants me to translate things in the style of or So, yesterday (yes, yesterday), we'd a big fight about that. We haven't spoken to each other since. :(


  10. My mother bought a really nice computer, but was so apprehensive about it that it took her nine months to open the box! The worst part of it is that she's a highly educated doctor who regularly uses computers, albeit special purpose ones that she doesn't have to set up or configure.

    Nine friggin' months! She just left it in the box. My grandmother did better than that!

  11. Tian, are you the only son? In that case, maybe she just want to talk or hear your voice.... Maybe you didn't call her often enough, so she had to made up some excuse to hear your voice or to make you visit her. :)

    For an easier to use computer, get her an iMac. I'm not a mac zealot, I'm a hybrid. In my work as a tech support in area of 60%mac and the rest is pc, me and my staffs spent 90% with trouble shooting PCs, and almost 0% troubleshooting with Macs. (regular problem such as virus, trojan, printing, slow down, etc).
    Get her an 17" iMac intel. It can run XP if you want to.

  12. My parents did have a Mac at one point but hated it. Things like how there is only one button on the mouse, or when an application is closed, it still lingers in the Chooser.

    I think the reason why there are so few virii for Macs is because it not worth the hackers' effort, since comparing to MS Windows, their marketshare is still low.

  13. Your parent should give mac the second chance. Tiger works beautifully. One button mouse? two button mouse? It's a mighty mouse!! :) I got my father an iMac, and he got no complain whether it's one or two button mouse (since he don't know that there's thing such as two or ten buttons mouse).
    On other case, every time my aunt called me for tech support (on Windows of course), I have to do some trivial with her... "which button to click?" "The left one"... "which button?" "the left one" eventough I mentioned several times that if I do not mention "Right Click", it's "Left Click".... oh well...

    Yes it only got a small marketshare for now. But the decision to choose a computer should based on what we want to accomplished. For daily use (and Games now!), Mac can fullfil the needs. For visio-buff, or 3DMax or Autocad drafter, get a Dell instead (although the equivalently good application exist in mac world, but personally I think Visio is still da best).


  14. Thankyou so much for easing my pain a little in knowing that it is shared - yes, *that* call came through from my mum today.
    And it was a double whammy - since I missed her last call, she went and *asked my dad*...
    My dad is a professional programmer, but he is the retro bearded kind that gets misty eyed at the mention of punch cards and goes around saying things like "If god had meant us to use GUIs, he never would have given us the command prompt!" Armed with my dad's wild speculations about technology a good two decades beyond anything he knows or cares about, my mum is now convinced that she has specialist insider knowledge, and will happily argue with me for hours about the advice I am trying to give her, despite not understanding a good 50% of the words she is using... *sigh*

  15. My aunt called me at work regaring how her computer says "" is missing or corrupted.


    After a few seconds, I made the realization that she is still on Windows 98! Took only a minute or two to find the instruction on how to fix this issue by booting into DOS and copy from the Windows 98 Cd.

    Problem fixed, I thought, I mean this woman got her degree in computer science!

    A day later I got a call from her saying that she could not do it and the technician she hired cannot do it either because "he is not familiar with DOS". This is despite the clear step-by-step instruction of 1. reboot computer, 2. press F8, etc!

    Morover, the technician decided to install Windows XP over Win98 on her computer without a chance for her to backup her data so now all data are lost.

    Great - now I am in the data recovery business?

    Well, my aunt arranged to have another technician to come to her home to diagnose the probem who then got on the phone with me because she told him that I am somehow a tech wizard.

    After a while, I soon realized that this technician, while a nice friendly fellow, did not know 1) just because her "My Document" folder is empty does not mean that her data was not erased but still available in c:\Documents and Settings\[former user name] and 2) he can find where her Outlook Express data is stored by turning on the view hidden folders options in Explorer.

    To make a long story short, even though I am not a tech support person, I did her technician*s* work by first walking through the steps with them via phone and Skype (which they have never heard of or used before) and then via remotely logging into her computer via XP's remote control which I think they found amazing.

    All yeah, this was done over a 56K dial-up connection.

    The kicker: I am in Los Angeles and she is in Australia. This was an international tech support call.

    And yes, she is Chinese.

    -Ken L.

  16. Chinese parents are undoubtedly the worst. W/ my parents, everything remotely technical they expect me to fix, despite the fact that I don't work w/ computers. I have a good handle on the basics, and b/c of this, they expect me to have the answer to every arcane tech question they encounter.

    The buyers remorse is double annoying. After fumbling with the controls themselves and getting nowhere, they run to me to fix the problem, and all the while I'm trying to fix it, they're in the background going on about getting ripped off, why doesn't it work right, yada yada. Sometimes I have to call tech support(yes, I'm that lame), and so on one side I have the tech person who's got no idea what he's talking about, and then you've got the parents nagging on the other side. Drives me nuts.

  17. This is so easy to relate to. It's even worse when they live a long distance away and you can't get your hands on their machine.

  18. I hear you buddy! My father is the same damn way. I can give the advise my buddy gave me when his aunt asked him what a DOS is after her computer was hacked when she didn't even have the internet.
    Show them windows help! Then let them do it! Let them destroy the computer, we can always put the peices back toghter again.
    It was a painful 2 weeks of avoiding my fathers calls, however in the end I am now only called for the major fixes.
    Good luck, too all of you!!