Thanksgiving tech support survival kit (2014 edition)

Thanksgiving tech support survival kit (2014 edition)

Summary: Get some down time over Thanksgiving by preparing in advance for the inevitable 'Turkey Day' tech support requests deluge.


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 way ahead!). And I bet that you're surrounded by friends and family who just about know how to switch their PC on, and think that the more toolbars they have installed into Internet Explorer, the richer and more fulfilling their browsing experience will be.

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 — The Walking Dead style, albeit slower thanks to the tryptophan — in search of "help".

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 suits? No... well, maybe we're just in the wrong line of work?

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 -- I'm certain that it will work just as well at other times of year -- 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:

First rule of Thanksgiving tech support is...

Don't needlessly take on huge projects. They will end up sucking away all your time and you'll be back at work wondering where Thanksgiving went. 

Only take on projects that you can finish in a short amount of time. Also, if you're not making any headway with an issue, know when to give up. 

Collect 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 or more is better, and make sure you have several of them on hand.

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.

Download updates in advanced

You know that PC that you worked on last year? The one that hadn't been updated in a year? Chances are it has not seen an update since the last time you laid hands on it.

I hate seeing PCs that are running outdated software. Worse still is sitting around for hours waiting for software updates to come down the pipes over a slow connection (the chances are, the updates haven't been applied because of a sluggish Web connection).

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

Other patches and updates should be small enough for you to be able to download them over a poor connection. If not, then impress your family and friends by setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot using your smartphone or tablet and download them that way.


In my experience, about half of what I would affectionately call "home users" doesn't run any security software, and about half are running an outdated package.

With that in mind, I always find it handy to carry around a free antivirus installer. My download of choice is Microsoft Security Essentials because it's simple to use, it updates automatically in the background, and it is 100 percent nag-free.

For Mac users, I recommend AVG Free because it is free, simple, and offers comprehensive virus and syware protection.

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

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  • Your Secunia is out of date

    Version 3 has been out for a bit and goes a step further by installing those updates like Java and Flash in the background without user intervention. No more "It keeps popping up telling me it needs updating but I don't like to click on it" situations.
    • My most useful tool

      Another essential gadget I have is a write protected USB drive. It has a switch on the back meaning that I can update it when required but it will never get infected by a virus riddled system. They're hard to find but worth their weight in gold if you're looking at fixing more than one system.
      I've built mine using XBOOT and stuffed it with all the useful utilities I may need. I keep it read-only and use an external hard drive for any backups once I'm sure the system is clean.
      • Useful tool cont'd.

        I have just such a write-protected drive in my small Victorinox Swiss Army knife, which is handy to carry around. They also have "knives" with USB drives buth with scissors only instead of knifeblades, so thay can be carried on airplanes.
      • Easy way to write-protect USB

        Instead of a thumb drive, get an SD card and USB adapter. All the standard-sized cards (not micro) include a Lock tab. Lock it and then put it in the adapter.
  • This sort of sounds like

    and advertisement for Chromebooks. Get them to buy one, leave all that trouble shooting HW at home and enjoy the holidays. :-)
    • Then you have to deal with other problems

      Things like it won't connect, I can't run Office, I can't run my games, my printer doesn't work: the usual things people buy computers for.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
  • Is OOo still a going concern?

    It's my understanding -- and I could be wrong -- that OpenOffice.Org is moribund under Apache because most of the developers forked the project over to

    Certainly, Ubuntu doesn't use OOo -- they helped form Libre Office as soon as it became apparent exactly what Larry Ellison's intentions were. Larry Ellison is today's Bill Gates.
  • Secunia 2 vs 3

    My guess was that this was a deliberate choice. Check the Secunia forum (or just google) and you'll see that many people have had problems with version 3. I couldn't get it to run on either my Dell desktop or my HP laptop, and had to revert to version 2. Even if you can get version 3 to run, many people prefer version 2's more detailed reporting.
  • Security esentials

    Security essentials is bad anti-virus. Sure it doesn't bother the user, or pop up in your face much... but they have not taken care of it over the last year. They in fact recommend that you do not use it unless you know what you are doing.... most people who require tech support don't.
    • PC Pro wasn't being very accurate in their reporting

      Apparently PC Pro took some things out of context and added their own opinion and everyone else has run with their article. Microsoft has clarified their statements here:

      Other's have taken a less extreme view of what was said:
  • Thanksgiving tech support survival kit (2013 edition)

    Those are some good tools on the list especially ubcd. I always set things to autoupdate and rarely get asked about the computer.. I might go on their computer just to see how things are working and make sure they didn't change the settings.
  • My tech day survival kit consists of four words

    "Do you use a Mac?"

    If the answer is "no," I respond: "Sorry, I'm a Mac user."

    Now, the truth is, I can fix most Windows problems. I just don't want to anymore.
    • Sigh. Five words.

      Really need an edit button here.
    • awesome solution

  • More than just a service pack

    Any thoughts on apps such as WSUS Offline Update? If you've got the USB capacity then it certainly helps to supplement the Service Packs.
  • Ninite Software Updates

    another great tool for automatically updating common utilities is you select all the apps you want tot keep up to date and it creates an installer package. After that run it once a week and it updates everything you selected.
  • Difficult question

    Be prepared to answer the question "Why is Windows 8 so horrible?"
  • My best copout

    Sorry, I work with Unix and Oracle. They wander away with the look on their faces that asks "I wonder what those things are?"
    I'll take 10 of those shirts please.
  • You're on XP? Ignore Win 8.

    Win 8 requires PAE and a few other things that almost no XP-era CPU's include. So realistically it's a waste of time even checking for Win 8 compatibility.

    On the other hand, if the machine isn't too old (pre-2005) it can probably run Win 7 IF it has at least 1GB RAM. I suggest a minimum of 2GB for decent speed most folks with an XP machine will find perfectly acceptable. (However, that would be DDR, which goes for about $35 per GB now. Their machine may have 512MB and 2 slots, so they're looking at $35-70 just for RAM. And, no, you REALLY can't find it cheaper.)
    • One other thing about PAE

      By the way -- cute thing about Win 8 and PAE. It will do the ENTIRE install -- up to 90 minutes -- do the FINAL reboot and THEN crash with a cryptic "unsupported CPU" error code! Then it rolls everything back.