'Tis the Season of Family Tech Support

It’s the most wonderful time of year! When everyone gets together with family or friends they haven’t seen in who knows how long. Of course, the topic of Trump, social media, and burnt gravy stories will come up. But, my personal favorite topic is, “I have this issue with PIECE OF TECHNOLOGY XYZ. Please help me!”

Luckily, despite having not worked on anything other than Mac and Linux the past seven years, I don’t get too many wild questions from family. I’ll sit down with Grandma and help her with an iPhone issue from time to time. My mother-in-law has some legacy e-mail stuff all filtered in her Gmail. Sometimes AT&T changes something and it breaks. These things happen. Complex systems are hard enough. No sense in me being an asshole about it (although I will get frustrated from time to time).

Sign up for DevOps'ish!

DevOps’ish is a weekly newsletter covering DevOps, Cloud Native, Open Source, and the ‘ish in between.

I’m also lucky that most of my family follows my lead on technology. This means my wonderful wife can answer a lot of the questions too. It took some hard lessons to get to this point. They understand that and are happy to learn from our household’s experiences (and my profession of twenty some years helps too).

I am very fortunate this year to have two households going through the exact same transition. Both households, after years of us doing it and our youngest household doing it, are cutting the cord. They’re getting rid of their expensive TV packages and going internet service only. Both households will also switch to PlayStation Vue for their sports and Bravo fixes.

But, both homes have been on the lowest tier AT&T Uverse internet service forever. Also, neither have even close to good wifi setups as a result. This is an interesting leftover of the telephone era in which consumers bought all their hardware from the phone company. I’ve been on cable broadband since 2001 and we’ve owned our own modem for quite some time.

It would never dawn on me to leave the life blood of our home in the hands of someone who didn’t live with it day in and day out. When you work from home and have all your entertainment streamed through the internet, it becomes a critical service. I can lose power but I won’t lose internet access for quite some time. The family doesn’t need to that extreme though. Here’s the plan for both households.

Internet Service

Being in outside of Detroit we have to deal with one of two monopolies: AT&T and Comcast. Both houses were on AT&T. After one household called AT&T to see if a better deal was available. The AT&T rep explain that merely by calling in to ask they could reduce her current bill by $140/month. How long had they been able to do this and hadn’t? That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for both households. They’re both taking an introductory offer from Comcast for the same package we are using in the Short household ($50/month).

Modem

Since both homes are going with Comcast it made fiscal sense to buy a modem outright as opposed to paying a perpetual rental fee to Comcast. We have had two Arris modems now and have had no issues with them. I went to the XFINITY My New Modem site to find a recommended modem.

I saw an Arris SURFboard SB6190 is compatible. The price on Amazon was better than Target and both homes wanted it this week. Target will happily price match Amazon and give Red Card customers 5% off on top of that. Chances are your local big box store carries a few modems for use with your local providers. They’ll probably all price match each other too. Shop smartly.

Router and WiFi Access Points

I’m a glutton for mesh networks. Give me reliable, deadzone-free wifi or give me death. I have four access points in a mesh in our home. I have one dedicated to my office, two on our main floor, and one in the back of the house on the top floor. The last thing I want to hear a complaint about is internet availability. That means everyone in the home is affected in some way or another.

But, here’s where the plan for each home differs. One house (House A) will have two Apple TVs and a few Apple devices and laptops and that’s it. The other house (House B) will have an Apple TV, many Chromecasts, many Sonos, and the normal smattering of devices spread across three floors. House B is also a frequent meeting place for family gatherings.

Regardless both homes were going to follow my recommendation here but I didn’t want to be wasteful nor penny-wise, pound-foolish. House A is going with one Google WiFi that will act as a router and single access point. If they need another, they can get one more and be covered.

House B is getting a 3-Pack Google WiFi System. This way the three floors of their home can be covered. All devices should have great signal and speed while any operation is occuring on the network. Also, since House B is a frequent hang out spot, guests will be able to take advantage of the improved wifi throughout the home without impacting the game that is now being streamed over the same connection their Facebook is.

Maintenance

Both homes understand that their internet access issues are not my full time job. Both homes are doing exactly what it takes to have a reliable network. But, the nice thing about the Google WiFi System is that either home can grant me access to their WiFi System to troubleshoot issues. I can do this from my mobile phone too so even if they need help while traveling I’ll be able to do it from afar.

If push comes to shove, both homes can go through the setup process for Google WiFi with little guidance. They’ve been trained to get over their fear of breaking something by merely using software as intended (thanks every Windows environment these folks ever worked in). Couple that with a quick call to Chris or Julie for any questions and everyone is happy with their decisions.

Sign up for DevOps'ish!

DevOps’ish is a weekly newsletter covering DevOps, Cloud Native, Open Source, and the ‘ish in between.

Notes for Support Requesters

If you are someone asking a friend of family member for support during an event this time of year, I have some advice:

Your Problem is YOUR Problem

Keep in mind, not all us nerds work on consumer platforms. A lot of us spend a ton of time on a command line. Don’t immediately assume your buddy in tech can help you.

Your specific problems might not be solvable by your buddy in tech. They aren’t familiar with your specific needs, use cases, or that weird thing work makes you do with your phone. Don’t get upset when we tell you to get “real help” or that we won’t help you circumvent your work policies.

This is Our Downtime

If you’re at a party or a get together of some sort, remember this is your buddy in tech’s time off. A lot of us don’t want to answer questions in the same realm of what we do everyday. Most of us get paid to do what you’re asking us to do for free to. Keep that in mind.

Be thankful. Regardless of the outcome, be thankful. If your buddy in tech isn’t able to fix it, thank them for trying. If your buddy in tech does end up solving your problem, well, they say giving is better than receiving. Hook them up!

Don’t Be a Dick

If your tech buddy takes time to give you advice and explains their reasoning, question them considerately. Try not to save five bucks here and ten bucks there. Don’t take a considerable amount of time asking them for advice just to throw it all away and do your own thing. If you do end up doing that. Don’t be the asshole that asks that same buddy in tech to help fix it either. That REALLY says more about you than them.


See also