Protecting the computer: From geek to …

He's not as geeky as he once was, so it's time to compensate.
He’s not as geeky as he once was, so it’s time to compensate.
Dad got his first computer around 1990 or so, and after some resistance he got to liking it. He got to where he could make it twist and shout if he wanted it to.

Same thing with the Internet. He thought it was little more than a toy, until he bit that apple. He came to do everything on the computer, even getting into online banking before I did. He taught an Internet 101 class at the local senior center. I’m geeky enough but he gave me a good run for my money.

Now, different story. Have to admit, the fact he’s still using the computer is huge. All I ever see him use any more is Yahoo! News and Google Calendar, but that’s still pretty good. However, I’m more or less on call when he boots the thing up.

So yesterday he inadvertently downloaded/installed some piece of software that, to put it charitably, screwed things up. The NCH suite is one of those highly-questionable programs that hijacks your computer and takes an act of Congress to remove. To give an idea, try a Google search for NCH Suite. I checked today. Of the 10 links on Google’s front page, five asked a) is NCH safe, or b) how do I get rid of the stupid thing?

Back in the day there was no way something like that would have slipped by him. But now?

Damn dementia.

So the tech crew (all one of me) trotted in. After considerable research I removed the program, which is really kind of similar to defusing a bomb. For sure, some things needed fixing right away. Forgive me if I go all techie on you, but you might find this useful.

Dad’s computer has three user accounts — his, Mom’s unused one, and mine. Generally the both of us use his for simplicity’s sake. But we uncovered some problems:

  • His account is also the administrator’s account. Which means you can install stuff, delete stuff, and do a whole lot of damage.

  • Somehow his account was set up so you didn’t need a password to get in.

Security? What security?

Especially when a guy clicks randomly on some blinking ad to get some computer tool that could be promising. Hey, if you see it in an ad it’s probably malware, so forget that.

But without the safeguards in place it’s easy to install some garbage without even a thought. And blow up your computer in the process.

So I did a few things right away:

  • Renamed his administrator’s account as ROOT (taking a page from Linux) and gave it a solid password.

  • Created a user account for him. It wouldn’t let me set it up without a password, so I gave him a simple one. Still looking for a workaround there.

  • Inventoried how he uses the computer. Not much. Google Calendar and Yahoo!, and maybe a few other things.

  • Cleaned out his icons & menu commands. Just the basics. He’s stopped using Open/Libre Office so that icon is gone. As he needs to use more tools they will be made available.

  • Working on transferring his documents from /ROOT to his own account so he could get at them. If he ever needs them, which he is absolutely sure he will in the future.

Still putting the workarounds together. Trying to lay out the screen just the way he had it, and if he could sign into his user account without a password that would also be cool. Mostly working on look and feel. The main task — protecting the computer — has been done.

Now I’ve seen ads for computers designed for seniors. Forget ’em. Those I’ve seen are ridiculously overpriced. Like even more overpriced than an Apple. Those I’ve seen are quite condescending; sending the message that the poor incompetent senior needs a totally dumbed-down rig and a ton of handholding to run a computer. Which is a bunch of yak squeeze.

But still …

Updates, 1/1/2017: Managed to have his account come up by default without a password. That’s the good news. The bad news is, I can’t remember how I did it.

Meanwhile, he uses the computer less and less, and has to ask me how to turn it on again. Give him points for trying, though.