Geek service

A friend of mine said something comical on IRC today.

<@rasp> the other day I have a friend of mine - an mba in finance - ask me if I’d come over to her house and try and figure out what’s up with her external usb drive
<@rasp> I asked her if she’d come over to my house and help me balance my check book
<@rasp> she laughed and got the point

There is a tiny nugget of wisdom here.  Pretty much all of my geek friends act as tech support for their family and friends, and almost always do so begrudgingly.  How many other trained experts get asked for this sort of help on a regular basis?  Would you ask your CPA sister to do your taxes?  Or your auto mechanic cousin to fix your car for free?  Or hit up your lawyer neighbor to draw up divorce papers pro-bono?  Probably not.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  When it comes down to it, I don’t really mind helping out.  For me it is a service I can provide periodically that makes my friends and family happier, that’s simply being a good member of a community.  I do have to wonder if there is something a little special about that plain looking silver box on their home desk, which they’ve been repeatedly told is Easy To Use™, but turns out to be infuriatingly incomprehensible when things start to go wrong.  Most of the people I know can use a computer to do wonderful, interesting, neccessary, or creative things.  But as soon as the first error message crops up they freeze up like a unpatched copy of Windows ME and elect to call an expert.  Usually, this is a good judgement: the worst fixes I’ve had to do for people involve first undoing their attempted fixes.

I know that recovering a broken system is a long-tail problem unlikely to get much attention.  Who wants to work on making it easy to repair something that, theoretically, isn’t supposed to break?  Is it even possible to make things easier when the second click into troubleshooting a sound card displays information about IRQ conflicts and rows of hex digits?