Fixing the Computer

When the phone rings and I see my parents’ names pop up on the caller ID, I feel a slight sense of dread. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to my parents on the phone. I’m just worried that I’m going to hear my father say these words:

“The computer isn’t working right.”

While my father isn’t completely unfamiliar with technology, he isn’t exactly on the cutting edge either. He knows just enough to be able to break the computer, but not enough to fix any problems that may arise. So whenever his computer isn’t functioning exactly the way he expects, he calls his more technologically inclined son.

I’ve learned that “not working right” can mean many different things. Some past examples of “not working right” include: The display is too small, the mouse isn’t clicking fast enough, Internet Explorer is slow to open, or the printer isn’t printing dark enough.

Thanks to the invention of screen sharing software like, I am now able to start an online session where I can view my father’s computer screen and even take control of it if necessary.

On one hand, this has made it easier for me to help him. Nothing is quite so frustrating as blindly trying to talk him through a fix while receiving vague descriptions about what is happening on his end.

“There’s a box that says something.”

“What does it say?”

“Wait, it went away. Or no, I can’t see it because that thing’s in the way.”

“What thing?”

“You know, that gray thing.”

Of course, now that he knows I can do this, it’s tough for me to claim that there’s nothing I can do to help. And I’ve found that at times, getting the screen share running can be more difficult than fixing the actual problem.

Recently, my father came to the conclusion that he needed a new computer, partially due to some bad decision-making on my part a few years ago.

Maybe it wasn't quite this old...but it was close. (Image source)

Maybe it wasn’t quite this old…but it was close. (Image source)

In the summer of 2011, my father was complaining that his Dell desktop was running slowly. This wasn’t surprising as it had been purchased in 2005. Despite my father’s insistence that it “wasn’t that old,” I managed to convince him that it might be time to purchase a new one.

The mistake I made was advising him to buy a laptop. I thought that my parents would enjoy the portability it provided. I was wrong.

My mother – about as technologically challenged as they come – was the one who seemed more enamored with the idea of a laptop, but I’ve learned that you shouldn’t count on her to ever use a piece of technology. Once she encounters any problems, she usually just gives up. The laptop they purchased had some issues – most notably with connecting to the printer – so it wasn’t long before she stopped using it.

My father remains convinced that laptops are inferior PCs. He preferred the desktop despite his constant claims that it was too slow. So the laptop went mostly unused while the old Dell soldiered on.

Finally, Microsoft accomplished what I was unable to when they ended support for Windows XP. (Despite that being the only version of Windows that people actually liked.) I informed my parents that they wouldn’t be able to effectively use the desktop anymore, and would have to switch to the laptop full-time.

“But aren’t laptops slow? And I don’t want to use the smaller keyboard and screen.”

Lesson learned: Do not force technology upon your parents.

I connected the laptop to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse so that the environment would be as similar as possible to the old setup. And yet, I still heard complaints that “there were too many wires hanging down,” and it still wasn’t printing correctly.

Unhappy with the laptop, my father decided that he wanted to buy a new desktop. Mrs. Cutter began to suggest that they get an “all-in-one” model, but I told her that if she pushed for that, then she could handle all the inevitable problems that came with it. No, they would be getting a simple desktop, and they would (hopefully) like it.

My father found a couple of computers on sale and asked my opinion of them. They seemed like fine machines, except for one problem: They were running Windows 8.1.

I don't see how this could possibly go wrong. (Image source)

I don’t see how this could possibly go wrong. (Image source)

Windows 8.1 has gotten mixed reviews. While it may work well with touchscreen computers, desktop users haven’t been that pleased. Knowing my father’s resistance to change in his computer operation, I shuddered to think of the problems he might have. I told him that we’d both likely be much happier if he got a Windows 7 model.

As it turns out, most retailers aren’t carrying Windows 7 models in their stores. Apparently, Microsoft is aware of the complaints that users have had, and their response has been to push retailers to only sell computers with 8.1. When I went up to visit this past weekend, we were unable to find an acceptable model in any of the stores.

My father decided to wait until the next time I come for a visit, and he’ll order it online ahead of time. Or at least that’s the plan.

In the meantime, I tried to get the laptop working as efficiently as possible. As part of this process, I ran a registry cleaner. To my horror, I discovered that once the registry cleaner was finished, Internet Explorer was no longer working. It wouldn’t load any sites and only displayed a blank page.


This didn’t seem like a major problem since the registry cleaner included a rollback function…which didn’t work.

No big deal, right? I’d just do a system restore back to earlier that day when I had run a few Windows updates; Only that didn’t work either.

We were well beyond “oops” at this point.

I couldn’t leave the computer as is, but I was running out of ideas. I eventually determined that an IE add-on wasn’t running properly. I disabled all add-ons, downloaded Firefox, and was then able to uninstall and re-install Internet Explorer.

Ah, good old Internet Explorer!

That solved the problem, but I didn’t have enough time to double-check everything, and I’m fairly sure that some other problem will arise because of it. On the bright side, I left detailed instructions on how to manually connect the printer to the laptop so they could use the printer again.

Hooray for small victories!

Now that he’s had time to think about it further, my father seems to be reconsidering Windows 8.1. He’s worried that they’ll stop supporting Windows 7 (despite my reassurances that by the time that happens, he’ll likely need a new machine anyway), and that it will likely become harder and harder to find them on sale. (This concern is legitimate.)

Sigh…There’s a very good chance that further “service” calls are in my future.

About The Cutter

I am the Cutter. I write some stuff. You might like it, you might not. Please decide for yourself.
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11 Responses to Fixing the Computer

  1. djmatticus says:

    I love having an older brother who knows more about computers than I do. I get to deflect all questions to him. Plus, when my parents got an iPad I got the added bonus of getting to say – “i’ve never owned one and have no idea how they work, (older brother) is your only option for support.”

  2. Green Embers says:

    I would actually recommend 8 for him. The Touch Screen stuff works fine with a mouse and the desktop is still there. Also the upcoming update to it, pretty much makes it Windows 7 with Metro. Which despite what you said, Windows 7 is by far the preferred version of Windows over XP.

    The reason why I recommend 8 though is if they mostly use apps from the app store there is no registry involved.

  3. CeeLee says:

    Hey Cutter?
    I didn’t want to ask but…
    My laptop isn’t working too good.
    Is there any chance you could help?
    I wish I could see your face~
    I’m betting there might even be a finger involved. 😉

  4. I feel your pain. When my mom (early 60s) gave up on her aging PC last year, we helped her buy something modestly priced and just powerful enough to run Word and YouTube, which should cover the full spectrum of her computing needs. Unfortunately I forgot that Windows 8 was a thing, and at that point *I* hadn’t even learned how it works. So I had to educate myself on its new features first (feature #1: it sucks), and then teach her just barely enough to get by. She doesn’t have a touchscreen monitor either, so this was really not fun.

    If she has computer problems in another ten years, I’ll have to call in my son to bail us both out!

  5. JF says:

    I might be older than your father. Let me ask you the following: I have already about 570 posts on my blog. How can I speed up opening of posts? Thank you. PS. I play chess too 😉

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