Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

Summary: Prepare in advance for the inevitable 'Turkey Day' tech support requests.


Accept it, if you are a regular reader of this blog then your "Tech IQ" will be way ahead of your average PC users (and I mean wayyyy ahead!). And I bet that you're surrounded by friends and family who just about know how to switch their PC on, and who have only just got beyond the fear of the demons that make the "TV bit" work.

Thanksgiving is a time of year which sees the techies and the non-techies come together, and chances are that you being the techie, the non-techies will spot you and hunt you down (a bit like the infected seek out the normal folks in zombie movies), looking for free advice and "help" troubleshooting a problem. And why not. Don't doctors get asked for advice on boils and sores at every get-together they attend? Don't all lawyers help friends and family members with their latest lawsuits? No ... well maybe I'm just in the wrong line of work?

Gallery: The tastiest tech turkeys of 2011

With this in mind, I've put together what I call a "Turkey Day" tech support survival kit. While I've called it a "Turkey Day" kit but I'm pretty sure that it will work just as well at other times of year, but this seems to be the time of year when the techie's superhero skills are in greatest demand.

So, without any more preamble, here are my recommendations for a Thanksgiving tech support survival kit:

Several high-capacity USB flash drives

The foundation of the "Turkey Day" tech support survival kit is several large USB flash drives. 4GB is good but 8GB+ is better. Have several of them ready. Not only are they handy for storing your 'superpowers' (software) on, but they also come in handy if you have to move or backup any files.

Tip: Small USB flash drives make great gifts.

Download updates in advanced

I hate seeing PCs that are severely lacking in proper updates. Worse still is sitting around for hours waiting for software updates to come down the pipes over a slow connection (chances are, the updates haven't been applied because of a crappy web connection).

Be prepared and download updates in advanced. You know better than I do what OSes your friends and family are running, but here are some suggestions:


I always find it handy to carry around a free antivirus installer. My download of choice is Microsoft Security Essentials because it updates automatically and it is 100% nag-free.

I also find it handy to have a scanner that I can install and run to clean up any infected PCs I find. For this I use VIPRE PC Rescue Program which is a great tool for on-the-fly malware removal.

Remember to check whatever browsers are installed for updates (and add-ons). Here are some more updates to check:

Another good security tip would be to look for what the default PDF reader on the system is. If it's not an up-to-date version of Adobe Reader I'd recommend uninstalling it and adding FoxIt Reader, a move that will make the system in question safer.

A great way to make sure that people keep up-to-date with patches is to install the Secunia PSI 2.0 scanner. This tool not only identifies programs that are insecure or in need of updating, but can also automatically update many of the commonly used applications. Install this now, and next year you might actually get to watch the game next year.

You can also run a scan online using Secunia's Online Software Inspector (OSI) here.


My favorite portable troubleshooting utility is Ultimate Boot CD.

Ultimate Boot CD is now even better because it allows you to run the ISO from a USB flash drive, which means not having to carry a CD around with you any more (although for older systems it's still wise to have a CD in your bag, just in case it won't boot from a USB drive).


It's also good to have a few freebies. I find that browsers are good because chances are good that people asking your for help are running on Internet Explorer (and maybe even an old version of IE).

Another great freebie (especially for those who don't have Microsoft Office) is OpenOffice suite. If the PC is used by someone who wants to play with graphics then throw in the awesome Paint.NET.

For any relatives who might have a new PC (that's more than likely stuffed full of crapware), PC Decrapifier is a good tool to have on hand. The performance boost that running this tool will cause (even on a new PC) will earn you an extra slice of pumpkin pie!

For those still 'thinking about going to Windows 7' ...

I'm betting that a lot of the people you know are still running XP, right? But unless your family and friends have been living in a cave on Mars with their fingers in their ears and humming show tunes, there's a good chance that they will have at least heard about Windows 7.

Chances are also good that you'll be asked questions such as "will it run on my PC?" Well, be ready for them and grab the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.


You need to be packing hardware as well as software. I find that at minimum it's good to carry the following:

  • A #2 Phillips screwdriver (or a good multitool)
  • An anti-static wrist strap
  • Some spare screws (drive screws and motherboard screws are especially handy)
  • A few ESD bags

Or ... just say no!

This t-shirt from ThinkGeek will help!


Have a good Turkey Day people! Oh, and try to have fun!

(This is an updated version of an article that I've run for the past couple of years.)

Image credittuchodi

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

    Kingsoft Office 2012 is also a very good free MS Office alternative for personal use.
  • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

    Great list! However for those "special" family members, you know, the ones with the computers that still have the CRT monitors, still running Windows XP SP1, and are a great secret lair for those evil dust bunnies, a hammer is a priceless tool to keep in the kit. :)
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

      @Cylon Centurion

      I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but I have told "special" family members in the past that their mobo was fried just to get them to purchase a new PC. I knew thay could afford it, and I also knew that they would be [i]much[/i] happier with a new PC. So, I guess you could say I used my virtual hammer in that situation.
      • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition


        There's some machines that are just beyond help. I would gladly help set up a new machine over fixing something that's been around since the Pleistocene. Lol
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Virtual hammers vs virtual sense

        WozNotWoz | Cylon Centurion

        Woz: [i]I used my virtual hammer in that situation.[/i]
        Cylon: [i]There's some machines that are just beyond help.[/i]

        Are you guys still in school pray tell? Have you heard of this thing called a [i]recession[/i] that's set back millions of people across the country? It appears you're imbued with this notion that money grows on magic fruit trees growing in everybody's backyards.

        News flash: No XP era machine is beyond help. You simply need to know what you're doing to revive one or rebuild it on the cheap. A reformat wipe (or refresh install for lighter muck) invariably does wonders. The tools AKH is suggesting here will often do the remedial trick alone.

        If you possess but a modicum of tech sense and a little hands-on experience, consider reviving a machine instead of replacing one during tough economic times. That way folks can spread their hard earned jack where it's better needed. You'll likely get an even bigger slice of pumpkin pie for your troubles.

        On that ground to earth note, wishing one and all a big fat bird.
      • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition


        I think you misunderstood. I (and I'm pretty sure Cylon) know there is a recession. I'm all for re-purposing machines and making what's available work if at all possible.

        What's better for the customer, though: spending $300 on SDRAM, a hard drive and a graphics adapter for an old machine, or telling the person to spend $300 on a faster machine with six times the RAM and 200 times the HD space? Have you priced PC133 SDRAM lately?

        Besides, buying a new PC helps stimulate the economy, y'know? :)

        Happy Thanksgiving.
      • Real world revival

        Hardware wise, never go beyond one bottleneck. Determine the make or break drawback - if at all - and zero in on that by way of upgrades (RAM and HDD/SSD generally being the best bangs for the buck). The great majority of XP era machines will do fine without any HW component upgrades however. A cleanup revamp makes far more sense in effecting real world revival.

        [i]Besides, buying a new PC helps stimulate the economy, y'know?[/i] :)

        Do the math, 80% of it will go to China (a $300 machine won't be anything to chirp about anyways). Remedial revamps stay at home, and are always cheaper.
  • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

    Great advice, Adrian! You know as well as I do, though, that if you just say 'No', you're relatives will blame you for whatever nasties fall upon their PC in the future. Being a geek puts us in a no-win situation.

    I always carry a 16GB flash drive. On that drive is a folder named "Windows Toolkit" which contains pretty much everything mentioned in your article plus Malwarebytes anti-malware. If I know ahead of time that I will be addressing a malware infestation, I'll bring along a live Linux CD, as well.

    Have a great Thanksgiving!
    • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

      @WozNotWoz It's not saying no that's the problem as much as saying yes. As Dilbert bemoaned in a recent comic strip, once you help a clueless person fix their machine, from then on anything that ever goes wrong with the machine until the end of time will be YOUR fault. It's very true; I know my mother will always say "Everything was working just fine until you touched it", even in the most recent case where she was apparently annoyed an e-mail attachment wasn't opening right away and she clicked the button "a few times" and I ended up closing *29* identical PDF files for her as a result. <img border="0" src="" alt="happy"><br><br>I started using Linux a little over a year ago so now I just say "I don't use Windows anymore" or "I never used that version at all" since I've only used up to XP. If it's a phone, I drag out my dumbphone and say I don't know anything about Android or WP7 or iOS. It's been working very well so far, although my mother's trying to force me to instruct her in using her new Kindle even though I've never touched one before. I guess it's my fault because I was kind enough to point out to her that she might have difficulties if she didn't remove the clear plastic sticker over the front of the touchscreen model first. <img border="0" src="" alt="happy">
  • The Best Solutions for Thanksgiving Troubleshooting

    Well, Aunt Meghan,

    After looking carefully at the configuration of your [make up technical term here] it appears that your [make up technical term here] setting has been calibrated over its capability which has caused your [insert technical term here] to crack. Unfortunately there's no way to fix it without replacing the [insert technical term here]. I can look up the price and order you a new one from my smartphone and come by and install it once it arrives, but I think the cost of the new [insert technical term here], shipping and sales tax would put you way over the amount it would cost to buy a new machine...maybe you should just do that. I hear there are some great specials tomorrow. ;)
  • I have almost everyone on Windows 7 at this point

    so no more tech support for me!
    William Farrell
  • Rise of FrankenThumb

    I too have a 16gb thumb drive that is a mix of bootable apps/os's and portable apps for cleanup and system recovery. I use YUMI for creation of the bootable portion and suite for the portable apps, primarily system cleanup and recovery. Works great.
  • Jerk

    I just say no, sorry Thanksgiving is NOT a good time for me to 'fix' your pos computers. Mom is the only one who can get away with this, everyone else can go to...
  • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition

    Secunia PSI 2.0 scanner good tool. Sometimes it flags for updates programs where you do have the latest version because an old version is still lying around which is good also because you don't need the old version around taking space and if you need to go back you should be able to find it online somewhere. With a family members having 10 versions of each program it can kill your thanksgiving. Back on topic my family members are tech knowledgeable and tech comes up at every family gathering.
  • RE: Thanksgiving tech support survival kit - 2011 Edition
  • Get yourself a Zalman ZM-VE200 virtual drive...

    Get yourself a Zalman ZM-VE200 virtual drive. I just discovered this thing, and it's been an immeasurably useful tool. It's a 2.5" HDD enclosure with USB and eSATA, nothing surprising there, but in addition to that it has an LCD on the front and rocker wheel on the side. Copy any .ISO file to the HDD, select it with the LCD interface, then select the mode (Protected, CD-ROM, or HDD), then connect it to the computer.

    The computer thinks the .ISO is a CD-ROM. At work I throw all my software on it. Everything form Office, to various incarnations of OS X and Windows, to the various support tools like NT password reset, anti-virus & malware, directory and data recovery; basically anything I'd need to troubleshoot on one drive.

    No more need for USB thumb drives.
  • additional &quot;tools&quot;

    on the M$ OS-Office update side -if one has "less" time one can have ALL M$ updates in a "WSUS ofline" flash memory stick - that is all OS's and OFF versions and not have to use internet - faster and (nearly) automatic - great tool !! Add it to your "arsenal"