"The first thing we'd like you to do is fix our printer. It doesn't even turn on."
My mother-in-law over Christmas break. They've recently settled down in Arizona and my presence was requested to get their tech up and running, starting with the printer.
The printer was easy. They hadn't plugged the power cord into the machine or the surge suppressor. It was also out of ink. Problem #1 solved.
Problem #2 was tougher. We had to get her father a cell phone. While I was at it, I had to see about fixing the problem with their cell phone bill. This is tougher because my father-in-law is tough as nails.
He's generous until he thinks you're trying to screw him, and then he wants you dead.
Unfortunately, screwing you is the cell-phone industry business model. The whole process of selecting a variety of calling plan options are really just trying to get as comfortable as you can get for the no-lube rogering the company's going to give you for the length of the two year contract they saddle you with.
Your goal is to make it as comfortable as possible while minimizing the bleeding.
Example: Never, ever, ever, try and guess exactly how many minutes the plan needs. Always go over by a comfortable padding, because that'll probably cost you three bucks a month. If you go over by twenty minutes, though, they're probably going to break your legs.
For some reason, my father-in-law finds this distasteful. The part that makes it funny is he thinks the guy in the store can do something about it. And also sell him a new phone. For two hours, my father in law gets this guy to explain the different possible plan options. Every time the poor bastard salesguy stops to breathe, my father in law implies he's a filthy crook trying to take his money.
Eventually we solve his billing problem ("You can't get a 300 minute plan and use 600 minutes or you'll have a billing problem"), get him and his wife set up on a sensible minutes plan, and buy the cheapest phone in the store.
Merry Christmas, sales guy, don't spend the commission all in one place.
I also set up an entertainment center for them. Like all modern televisions, there are input channels - one for the DVD, one for the cable, one for the Playstation 3, etc.
This completely blew their minds, and I realized if I got on the plane without giving them some sort of magical remote, they would disable the TV within the week.
I bought and programmed a Harmony One remote. (great product, by the way) That's when I learned this was going to be harder than it looked.
"How do I make the DVD work?"
"Press the play button."
"Which one's the play button?"
"The one with the universal symbol for play."
A blank stare.
"The big triangle pointing to the right."
Two days later, they had it, and were jumping between cable and the DVD player with few bumps. They learned to use the "Help" button on the remote and all was well with the world. The DVD player sparked a new complaint about "having to buy DVDs" which inspired us to teach them Netflix.
My wife and I laughed and laughed about that and decided we'd just manage a queue for them and it would be like magic. We paid for the first year, and my wife is throwing movies in the queue they'd like.
It's been a couple of weeks, and we should have known something was wrong with the first sideways complaint from my father-in-law: "We're watching too much TV these days."
They went through so many movies, Netflix has started throttling them.
Turns out, the only model they have for borrowing movies is VCR tape rentals. They've been watching every movie right away to avoid late fees. Sometimes that's 4 hours a day.
I still haven't stopped laughing. We're kind-hearted souls so we explained that they can keep the movies for as long as they want without incurring additional fees.
I'm terrified what's going to lose me in 30-35 years.
(queue I'm Losing My Edge, LCD Soundsystem)