Re: For old times' sake
I rewrote a lot of my notes from C&G224 on the PCW.
Welcome once more to On Call, our weekly column where Reg readers share their tales of tech support problems solved. This week, meet "Arron", who told us about a user who got in touch to complain about a broken laptop, requesting a replacement. "I love it when they're vague and immediately go for the new-shiny-shiny approach …
"And better manuals"
The computer manuals from the '60s were great. They actually told how things worked. The early IBM manuals and, of course, the LGP-30 manual were all you needed to start using the computer. Nowadays manuals tell you how to do something but refuse to give you a model of what's happening. So you have to reverse engineer everything to do something slightly different.
In my early days as a PFY I was summoned to a director’s office by a frantic secretary. The Director had been on a trip to Hong Kong and couldn't get any audio on his laptop, neither for work purposes or for listening to music or watching films. He'd spent ages trying to fix it, but with no success, and it was still broken now he was back in the country.
A quick check confirmed that no sound was coming from the speakers. However, this was the mid 90's, the laptop was a Toshiba, and had a thumb wheel volume control. One quick twiddle later, and the laptop worked perfectly again.
Cue one embarrassed Director, and one smug IT support guy.
"One quick twiddle later, and the laptop worked perfectly again.
Cue one embarrassed Director, and one smug IT support guy."
Embarrassing the Director isn't necessarily a good career move. Avoid it and give the impression that you've worked a miracle. There are a couple of alternatives. One would be to take it out of the room to work on it and wait at least 20 minutes before returning it with an exhausted look on your face. If you're not allowed to take it away do something distracting and technical-looking whilst nodding wisely such as bring up the command line and scroll through few directory listings while surreptitiously twiddling the volume.
Sales and marketing were competing for who had the newest laptop, by breaking there almost new laptop.
New policy: You get a loaner while your laptop is repaired (it had duct tape holding the battery in).
New laptops go to the person with the oldest laptop, no exceptions.
Funny, no more broken laptops.
I got an expensive commercial ham radio power amp for free. Didn't work on one band, returned to mfr, who found no problems. User (licensed ham, as am I) gave up. When I went to get it, he had an expensive transceiver, with a microphone hooked up but no keys in sight. Correctly assumed the radio was accidentally in CW mode, so the transceiver went into Transmit when he hit the PTT button, but there was no audio and thus no RF. Sure enough, got the beast home and it worked perfectly. Could have straightened the guy out at his house, but sometimes you just get on that gift horse and ride it away.
I remember a particular person coming to me with malware on their laptop, I asked him what he had been doing, did any dodgy sites open up in the browser etc. He said he didn't look at pron or anything like that. Hmmm..too much information there and now i'm suspicious. Nuked it and gave it him back. A few days later i'm walking past his office and the whole screen is flashing multiple colours with a a single word in the middle of the screen. The word was SEX.
A local farmer a few years ago (still using dial-up) called me to let me know his computer was broken and could I help. We live in a friendly little countryside area and he snowploughs my drive each year so off i popped down to see what was wrong. "Can't connect to the internet, i think the computer is broken"
Well, he had managed to rearrange the icons on the desktop, and all that had happened was the dialup shortcut was now in a different place. I pointed this out to him, and he thought it was an actual "fix" I had done, tried to pay me and I gladly accepted his thanks but not payment...
A few months later, the phone rings, the same farmer... Similar problem...
Modem cable had become unplugged.... Still tried to pay me for plugging it back in.. This time I exchanged a small bale of hay for my chickens :) (Not as in I gave him chickens for hay though)
Someone I know, who looks a lot like me but definitely isn't me, drove a Vauxhall Corsa and over time the dashboard lights were getting dimmer and dimmer until finally they went off altogether. He was just about to take it in to be fixed when his significant other, who looks like my significant other but also definitely isn't, wondered if it was simply the dashboard dimmer dial (I believe that's the technical term for it). Not having heard of such a thing, he wondered where this was.
"Down by your knee."
He being 6'9" and driving a Corsa (I refer you to Hightower, Police Academy), his knee not only obscured the dial but regularly brushed against it, gradually dimming the lights. Once fixed, never forgotten, and constantly reminded of it.
I'd also once turned the fog lights on that way. Or he had. We no longer talk about it.
Bonus points: the red paint had faded to pink over the years. Loved that car, and I still see it parked outside my house on Google maps.
My son had, as his first car, an old junker. He called me up one day and said his car wouldn't work. "Is there gas in the gas tank?" I asked. "Oh, I'm sure there is," he replied. Turns out that he and his sister shared this car and he was extremely parsimonious about putting gas in the tank. Putting gas in the car magically made the car work again.
Many years ago I worked for a company running a dial-up information system. We used to give out terminals (Wyse or similar) and modems to clients.
One day a client calls saying they've switched on the terminal but the screen is blank. Tech support guy asks can you try the brightness dial on the side of the terminal?
Hey-presto one working monitor and one suitably embarrassed client.
About 20 years back a customer brought back a computer someone had "fixed" for him. his complaint was that the computer wouln't turn on.
Told him it wold take a couple of minutes, laid my hands on the top of the case and said "HEAL" in my best faith healer voice.
Plugged in the computer, turned it on, and there was his start screen.
When he offered to pay me for the quick fix I told him next time to make sure the switch on the power supply was on 110, not 220 (being in the US, ya know).
Since then I've had customers swear that all I have to do is touch their computers and they work.
OK, so, in the days we used to have huge CRT monitors on top of horizontal desktop boxes on the real (wooden) desktop (this was about 1992 or so), keyboard in front, I was also wielding a project data lever-arch file that we also used to use "back then". I managed to whack the CRT with the corner of the lever arch file. I mean, this was a heavy file, and it was a heavy whack. The screen went blank. Oh c*ck, I thought, and thought I had better not do anything but call on the support guys who were very good and one had for exampled secreted some extra memory in there for me once, by getting round "the system". Anyway, aforesaid technie turns up, takes a look at the set-up, leans over, and turns the brightness control up, which was one of the line of controls at the front of the CRT. CRT now working normally. Face red.
Back around the turn of the millennium, a regular customer called to report a dead printer. Job duly handed to me as the local techie. Call customer for the usual pre-visit checks and talk to the insurance firm's IT manager.
Machine dead, "Have you confirmed it's correctly plugged in ?"
"Of course I have" she barks down phone...
"No problem, I'll be in tomorrow morning first thing with a new power supply"
next day, arrive, escorted to machine, glance at machine, test with power switch (proper hard switch, no soft switches then), dead . . check power lead firmly inserted, yep, trace cable back to socket, turn on switch on socket - machine whirs into life.
Never again did she doubt me and answer a query without going to double check.
While not in the UK, and not switched power plugs, many of the power outlets in this building have individual circuit breakers, outlet and breaker both installed in a trunking, at hips level...
And it is not only the hips; as the trunking runs just under the windows, if you pull the curtains, you could accidentally activate the lever on the circuit breaker.
Whilst on a contract as Unix/Database support and fixer I was just leaving for home one afternoon when the client's director buttonholed me because his PC wouldn't turn off - this was in the days of Win95 and software power-down was a new and not reliable thing. Leaned over, pulled mains plug out of back of PC & went home.
At my first IT job I worked repairing PCs in a small computer shop in the north west, we had a guy come.in demanding a new graphics card because solitaire wasn't doing "that think when you choose a card"
After he had screamed and shouted at a colleague for half an hour... With his PC plugged in on a bench to demonstrate the problem AND had his graphics card swapped I overheard what the symptom was and asked if he had ticked the "show animations" check box... Sure enough that was it.
Hours of wasted time because he unticked a box.
When I was working for a small publishing house, I was friendly with the IT guy (George). One of the Field Reporters returned his 386 laptop with the complaint that only the right hand side of the keyboard worked, the other half was completely unresponsive. George spent quite a long time booting and running some diagnostics from floppy, and declared that it was BER. I said I was looking for a laptop, so George gave it to me. On getting it home, I opened the case and found that only one of the two keyboard ribbon cables was connected to the motherboard, the left one had snapped off just above the socket. Teased the broken stub out with needle nosed pliers, stripped back the insulating varnish off the broken cable, and plugged it back in. I still have that 386 laptop, but don't use it, even though it gave me good service for several years until I could afford a better one.
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