Helping a user with his home computer - a confusing conclusion

An interesting discussion ensued when, in my last blog, I wondered about helping a user with a problem on his home computer (his wife’s computer, actually). I also voiced my displeasure with a technician who charged him for two hours of time ($150), but couldn’t fix a problem which was apparently caused when this user’s son (or son-in-law, I forgot which) did something to the computer when checking an e-mail account - after which a variety of things didn’t work right, including the user’s own e-mail account. At least these were among the symptoms described to me.

After I wrote my piece, I told the user that I’d be willing to go over to his house and fix the problem (free of charge, by the way), being pretty confident that I could identify and repair whatever it was in a short amount of time. Of course, what caused a great deal of initial uncertainty in identifying the problem was how he described it. What he was saying just didn’t make sense, which, because of his lack of computer literacy, was pretty understandable. On a scale of 1-10 in being able to discuss a personal computer, I’d put him at about a one, probably less.

Nonetheless, I figured that once I got there and sat down in front of the computer where I could actually see what was going on, it wouldn’t matter how he was describing it. I was certain I could fix it. After all, I’m the one who gave him the computer in the first place when we had an everything is free garage sale. (Every couple of years, or so, we make obsolete computers, parts, and pieces available to employees - all free for the taking.)

The next evening I received a call (at home) from this user, asking me what the main computer password might be. At first I was unsure of what he was asking, but I quickly realized that he was asking about the BIOS password. (I apparently forgot to clear it when I gave him the computer.) He said that his son (or son-in-law) was there again, and he wanted to try to fix the problem himself. Based on how he described the problem in the first place, it made absolutely no sense to me that any setting in the BIOS had anything to do with it, especially considering the fact that nothing in the BIOS had changed. After all, no one had the password to gain access!

Well, I told him what the password was, he told his son (or son-in-law), he thanked me, and hung up the phone. Okay, I thought, when he calls me back to come over and fix the problem, I can then find out what's really going on. Absolutely nothing was making any sense to me at this point, and I sure couldn’t rely on him to accurately describe anything. Actually, I almost called him back to tell him I was on my way over. My curiosity was beginning to trump everything else; I simply wanted to find out what was going on!

However, I resisted the urge to go over to his house, thinking I would hear all about it the next day when he came into the office. Well sure enough, he did indeed look for me when he came in the next day. “Thank you for that password,” he said. “That did the trick and my son (or son-in-law) was able to find those lost three weeks of e-mails and documents.”

Okay, I thought. Even though none of this makes any sense to me, I don’t even want to ask. At least the problem was fixed; and it was fixed by the person who broke it in the first place. I considered it a small consolation that I was being thanked for providing the right password, but it only added to my confusion.

Now I’m beginning to have second thoughts about the conclusion I drew about that independent technician. Since nothing was making sense to me, I can't exactly pass judgment based solely on ignorance and confusion - and that's all I really had to go on! At first, I considered calling him to give him a piece of my mind. Now I’m considering calling him for my own peace of mind.

My conclusion: Since curiosity killed the cat, I decided to just let sleeping dogs lie.