As everyone knows, Thanksgiving is this week, and that means too much food, day-long binges of parades, football games, and favourite TV series marathons. It probably also means that as the family IT genius, you get to fix Dad’s computer, provide advice to your brother-in-law on which tablet to buy, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll be dragged kicking and screaming to the Thursday night shopping madness for your “technical advice” on whether a deal is worth it or not. Who are they kidding? They just want you to drive, and run interference on the crowd while they scoop up trinkets of questionable value because they’re ON SALE.
To help you survive this Thanksgiving Day in style and relative comfort, here are 14 fun and useful hacks for Turkey Day that should help you get through it all.
1. Cyber Monday
Friends don’t let friends shop on Thanksgiving evening, and getting up at three in the morning to hit the Black Friday sales is just crazy. There are people already camping outside some stores just to be first in line. You couldn’t get me to go to one of these sales if you gave me for free a 60” TV! If mobs and queuing up at an early hour are your thing, have fun. But if your family is trying to drag you off the couch on Thanksgiving evening because they have to go buy that new piece of tech, remind them that better sales online will start on Cyber Monday, anything they order will be delivered in time for the holiday festivities, and they don’t have to get dressed to go shopping!
Set up each and every member of your family with a Dropbox account. Use your own referral code so you can get a little bump of space too. Then, you can share all the photos and other files you want to with them easily and not worry about email attachment limits, or leaving out anyone who “doesn’t do the Facebook.”
3. Print out your recipes and post them
If you’re cooking this Thanksgiving Day, print out your recipes in advance, put them in those little plastic sheet protectors, then use masking tape to hang them up on the wall or cabinet door in the kitchen. That way you can easily read them while cooking, they won’t take up counter space, and are protected from spills or anything you might have on your hands.
4. Blog your recipes
You know Aunt Gertie is going to love your cranberry relish and beg you for your secret recipe. Post it on your blog (or Facebook if you must) and give them the URL. That way, you do it once and everyone who asks for it can get to it. Next year, you’ll be able to find it too.
If your family member hosting everyone for the big day complains about their email service, all the spam they are getting, how hard it is to use… it’s time to move them to a new system. Look at Outlook.com for free web-based email that doesn’t read your email to serve you ads.
6. Microsoft Safety Scanner
If that computer your brother has is running a little slow, hit up the online antivirus scanner at http://safety.live.com to scan and disinfect any ickies. Once clean, consider loading up VIPRE Antivirus so this doesn’t happen again.
7. Check for updates
Sure, you should run Microsoft’s Windows Updates to make sure their operating system is up to date, but then check out Secunia’s scanner at http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/ to find if they need updates for Adobe, Java, and other third party products. This online scan will show you everything that needs updating, so you don’t spend all night at the computer.
8. Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder
At least some of you are going to arrive at your host’s home to find, or one of your guests is going arrive with, a sick PC. You’ll spend a couple of hours trying to watch the big game and fix the box at the same time, only to want to give up and format the whole thing. Before you do, make sure you run Magical Jelly Bean http://www.magicaljellybean.com/keyfinder/ to recover as many of your family member’s software keys as you can so you can reinstall apps.
9. Remote access
When you save another person’s life, you are responsible for them forever… at least that is the premise of any number of comedy movies. When you fix a person’s computer, you’re going to be their IT support guy or gal forever. Since you cannot avoid that, you might as well make it easy on yourself by setting them and you up with one of the remote access apps, like TeamViewer so that when they do call, you can quickly get an eyeball on their machine, fix the boggle, and get out.
10. Carry a rescue disk
Check out this list of rescue disks, download and burn your favourite, and keep it with you. Should the sick PC be a dead PC, you can try to boot from a rescue disk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_live_CDs to at least recover data before you wipe the drive.
11. A big USB key
Make sure you have a big USB key you can wipe, so that if you can get access to that dead drive, you have a place to copy your family member’s data.
12. Alternate entertainment options
If you don’t like parades, football, or James Bond movie marathons, you can use YouTube to roll your own marathon of Star Trek episodes or seasonal music, or if you miss the traditional Twilight Zone marathon SyFy usually runs, use this one that “elf Holbrook” put together. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSOIwCcP8sx_Wh9MSm29udvhJb10bA1IK
13. Another big USB key with a write-protect switch
On this key, that should be write-protected so you don’t have to worry about catching any nasties, you should put the installers for antivirus software and some of your other favourite apps so that if you need to install anything on a friend’s PC, you don’t have to wait on downloads. This is especially useful if you are also trying to stream Twilight Zone, or they don’t have the same 50Mbps Cable you are used to.
14. Windows to Go
And since many stores are selling USB keys in three-packs, look at installing Windows To Go on the third one. That way, if you have to do anything on a family member’s or friend’s PC and don’t want to leave your stuff or install something like a VPN client, you can just boot from the Windows to Go USB key, do what you need to do, and shut back down. That can save you from having to haul your laptop with you.
With these 14 hacks, you should be able to make it through any family gathering on this Turkey Day with a minimum of IT-related headaches or any of the withdrawal symptoms that can strike during a big event. If you have others you would like to share, please do so, as we can all benefit from one another’s experiences, and we’d love to hear some other great tips!