Family system administration

My mom’s house phone has been busy every time I’ve called for the past two days. I finally got ahold of her through her cell phone this evening (she usually has the cell turned off). As expected, she was fine but was annoyed that her regular phone wasn’t working. Completely dead—not even a sssshhhissshh sound when she picks up the receiver. Because she lives outside a small town, with no reasonably priced broadband options, she still uses a modem. Her landline isn’t just a way to talk to people; it’s her connection to the internet. The phone company’s sending someone out to look into it.

I thought it odd that I was getting a busy signal on a dead line, but I had other things to talk about. After I brought her up to speed on some family news, she mentioned that she’d gotten a new computer.

“Oh, really? I’m surprised you were able to find a computer with a modem nowadays.”

“Well, it has everything.”

A small glimmer of light flickers at the back of my brain. “When did you get the new computer?”

“Oh, let’s see. Just a couple of days ago.”

Light burning faintly but steadily now. “Were you ever able to get online with it?”

“No.” At this point, there’s an unnecessarily long diversion regarding her service provider not supporting Windows 7 with their godawful (my opinion—she thinks it’s fine) connection software. I’ll spare you the details.

“So your phone’s been out since you set up the new computer?”

“Well, [local computer “expert”] set it up. You know I don’t know how to do that sort of thing.”

Light is now pouring out of my ears and threatening to burn through the back of my skull. “Uh-huh. Do you think he connected the phone line to the modem like you had with the old computer?”

“I suppose. He set it all up.”

“OK. Can you get to the back of the computer and disconnect the phone line?”

“I think so. You know my eyes aren’t worth a damn anymore.”

“Mine aren’t either. Can you get reach the wire and unhook the plug?”

“Yep, it’s out.”

“Let’s test something. Pick up your phone.”

“The dial tone’s back!”


Of course her new computer doesn’t have a modem, it has an Ethernet port. The local computer expert had stuck an RJ-11 plug into an RJ-45 slot. I don’t really know why that made the phone line act as if it were off the hook, but it did. I ordered Mom a USB modem from Amazon; she’ll get it Friday.

I should mention that Mom now lives in Kentucky, a state that believes the words creation and museum belong together. The local computer expert is a product of the state’s education system and therefore should be treated with sympathy, not disdain.

I suspect most of you will recognize the situation, if not the specifics. The weather is cooling and the relative-visiting holidays will be here before you know it. During those visits, many of you will be called upon—or will simply take it upon yourselves—to fix the various maladies that computers accumulate when they’re left for long periods in the hands of normal people. Try to see it less as a burden and more as a way to collect funny stories.