As I started to write this on the bus on my way to “work” on Tuesday 9th August 2016, I happened to notice that (after knocking off one week for my holiday last month) this is my 21st Tuesday morning to be spent voluntarily teaching what Americans would call “Personal Computers 101” to people with absolutely no idea as to the workings of PC, Mouse and/or Keyboard.
Actually, to back-track a little, the words “I happened to notice” that I used above may give you a rather inaccurate impression of how my mind works.
I do not really have a perpetual calendar permanently visible to me in my head!
I should have said “I wondered how many weeks I have been doing this, opened a calendar on my mobile phone, counted the Tuesdays from March 19th then knocked off 1 for the holiday”.
But that wouldn’t have been as concise, now would it?
Anyway, I am sure you are wondering just how much difference my wonderful good intentions and laid-back casual teaching style have made to the computer-illiterate (one of my colleagues once called them “terminally ignorant”) users of PCs at Peterborough Central Library.
The answer, I’m afraid, is “NOT MUCH”!
I think that, in terms of numbers attending, everyone has decided to go outside for the summer so there haven’t been very many to teach anything to in the first place – but I should stress that that’s hardly down to me!
As I’ve mentioned before, I have to direct those who DO come seeking very basic computer know-how to a site called “Learnmyway.com” on the Internet, which involves their creating a user account, which in turn sends a confirmation message (which needs to be acted on) to a valid email address.
So, my first question to a new “pupil” is always “Do you have an email account?”
With the usual, slightly older customer, this normally turns out to be one of the things they are coming to find out about – so creating a new email account is not only necessary but instructive too.
That gets them off and running on the on-line course which (if they have a computer and Internet access) they can continue to access from home at their own pace after their free 90 minutes each week is up.
Just lately, however, I have come across a new glitch in this process with some customers wanting specifically to know about using emails on a PC who when asked my opening question reply with “Yes it’s set up on my mobile”.
“OK”, says I, “We’ll open it up as Webmail in a browser and I’ll show you how to use it. What’s the email address? Fine – now just pop in your password for me”.
And that’s where it all falls apart!
It turns out that they’ve never known the password because “a bloke down the pub” or similar set it up for them and never mentioned that he was putting a password on it! Either that or they’d had one too many pints of Olde Bladderbuster Ale that night and forgot all about it!
This means we either abandon things for this week while they try to find the “bloke” concerned to get the password from him or we try to set up a new email account with Gmail or Outlook.com using a similar address to their phone-based one just for training purposes.
You would think by now that the number of Data Theft scare stories going about would have imparted in people the message that you do not let anyone know your password EVER, wouldn’t you?
Actually, it is extremely difficult sometimes to stop people giving away their passwords.
A large amount of my time as an IT support person has been spent with my fingers in my ears and saying “La, La, La” very loudly while someone tries to tell me their password so that I can type it in for them!
The conversation that usually followed went roughly thus:
ME: “No. YOU type it in – I’m not supposed to know it.”
PC USER: “Does it really matter? After all, you reset it for me whenever I forget it!”
ME: “That’s true but when I do that I reset it to something that requires you immediately to change to something of your choice.”
PC USER: “Aren’t you being unnecessarily pedantic about this?”
ME: “Possibly – but will you still think that after I log in as you and send the Managing Director an email telling him that I (that is to say, YOU) think he’s a small-dicked kiddie fiddler who likes to hang around the docks on Saturdays dressed as a tart named Brenda? And copy in the entire company.”
A swift change of heart about password security often followed!
Incidentally, as this seems to have turned into a teaching session, can I just mention that the entire world now knows the thing about setting the word “incorrect” as a password? This is apparently so that if you forget it or spell it wrong a message appears to remind you that “your password is incorrect”!
It is now one of the obvious guessable passwords for hackers to try (as “Pencil” was for years after the film “War Games” came out in 1983) – so don’t use it!
That’s about the end of this lecture but I should say that I DO understand the difficulty of keeping track of the dozens of different accounts and passwords that modern life requires – especially as we are always told not to use the same one for everything. What my wife and I do is this:
We have an Excel spreadsheet with a tab for each of us on which we record all accounts and their associated passwords. We have then password protected the spreadsheet with an alpha-numeric password that means something to us (and us alone) which means that THAT is the only one we absolutely HAVE to remember. We find that not having the worry that forgetting any of the details contained in that record would cause actually makes us much less likely to forget them and we seldom need to use it. We also don’t have Post-It notes everywhere with passwords written on them.
I make you a present of the idea – now go forth and be secure.