Woman holds four remotes, looks confused (with drawn-on beard & moustache)

It really bugs me that all the stock photos of people looking confused by tech are pictures of women, so I decided to give her a beard and a jaunty hat.*

One of the joys of living in a multicultural society is the experience of welcoming someone from a different heritage into your home, and introducing them to the various artifacts, practices and beliefs of your own culture. It is in this spirit that we sometimes receive visitors to our home who use Windows machines rather than Macs, paper rather than Evernote, or who still think of a phone as something you hold up to your ear.

Until someone publishes 1001 Questions and Answers About Computer Geeks, it’s easier for people to find out why we have a little metal box affixed to our doorway than it is for them to imagine why there is a wireless keyboard under our coffee table. When we are here in person we can happily demo our home media server, but sometimes we actually like to leave the house. (Q: With high speed Internet access and a 42″ screen, why on earth do you need to leave the house? A: Most Amazon.com products can not be delivered to Canada.)

Over the years we have had ever-more-frequent occasion to leave people in our home, without access to tech support: Dogsitters. Home exchange partners. Grandparents. Babysitters. (Contrary to our foundational parenting philosophy, it appears that even people who don’t know PHP can do a not-bad job looking after kids.)

Once the dogs are walked, the counter wiped down and the kids put to sleep, these visitors from Analogia may yearn for a little CNN, some relaxing music, or a chance to watch a movie. If they hope to achieve their dreams with a single remote, a stereo or a DVD player, well, good luck to them. Our house is not for the faint-of-tech.

That’s why we have, over the years, developed and maintained a running guide to our home media setup. After all, if someone is kind enough to take care of our dog, or our kids — or to lend us their house — then the least we can do is make it possible for them to put up their feet at the end of the day and watch every single episode of Star Trek ever aired.

The more complicated your home tech setup (and the more kids you have), the more important it is to document how it all works. Not only does this make your TV, music or computer setup accessible to other people (including your partner, kids or parents) but it may also save you from the horror of forgetting exactly why you have an HDMI switch attached to your TV, or an extra keyboard for your computer.

Today I’m sharing the documentation for our home tech setup(.doc file). (Click here for .pdf version.). If you use a Shaw cable box, or Plex, you may find that a chunk of this documentation is useful to you personally. It may look a bit complicated, but it’s a lot simpler than the 2004 instructions and 2007 instructions that I wrote before we discovered the joys of Plex.

As for non-Shaw, non-Plex techies: I hope you will use these documents as a jumping-off point for your own home tech manual (though Mac users should check out Plex). Take a look at the different topics the document covers  (not only home media setup, but wifi, phones, etc.) and think about how you’d prepare someone else to visit or stay in your home. And please do let me know if you’ve got a home tech guide of your own — it would be great to collect more examples here.

I know there will also be a few people who are baffled by the whole premise of this post. (Q: What kind of person would actually spend 10 hours writing a guide to their home tech setup? A: The kind of person who would spend 100 hours optimizing their home tech in the first place.) To you, dear friends, I simply say: welcome to our homeland. We look forward to immersing you in our culture, and to learning more about yours.

* She got the cap once I realized that her confused look simply reflects the fact that she can’t tell which of these remotes has the kind of decoupling capacitor she needs to hack together her own USB remote control receiver.