back to article How to help a user who can't find the Start button or the keyboard?

Welcome again to On-Call, our regular look at the things readers have been asked to do on duty as paid fixer-uppers. This week, reader “Raoul” writes from Germany, where in the early 1990s he worked as a customer support guy at a commercial bank. Raoul's lot included on-site support as well as picking up help desk calls, one …

  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Some people....

    Really need to be put out to pasture.

    With prejudice.

    1. Steve 114
      FAIL

      Re: Some people....

      Fun joke, but arrogance? Maybe the boss was told there was a 'helpline' for the 'new payments system'? Maybe he rang it to find out how to make a payment without a computer. A German will do nothing unless properly trained, and evidently they'd let him down.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Some people....

        Manager: No. I don't trust computers

        Or possibly a more accurate translation - "I've not been trusted to have enough intelligence to be allowed to have a computer." ?

      2. joshimitsu

        Re: Some people....

        His query was “could not get the payment orders to work”.

        If he wasn't clear how to get it to work he would have asked something like "how do I make the payments".

  2. RIBrsiq
    Holmes

    Start Button -- which came about with Windows 95 -- not found "in the early 1990s".

    Sounds reasonable, to me.

    But entertaining yarn, nonetheless. Thank you.

    1. Stuart 22

      Start Button

      Yep, it could be me at the other end ...

      When I get the inevitable "Microsoft have reported your PC has a virus" phone call on a dull day I rather enjoy playing up to it on the basis the longer I can keep them on the line the less chance they will be fleecing some poor vulnerable person.

      A standard part of the script is press the START button. They never check you are running Windows first. So starts a rather difficult discussion on exactly where this button is and what it looks like and why the windows key doesn't work. As long as you sound really dim they sense easy prey and hence are blind to spotting you are having 'em on.

      "Oh but I have a funny button there with a K on it ..." KDE users will appreciate where the conversation goes from here.

      1. RIBrsiq
        Thumb Up

        Re: Start Button

        @Stuart 22:

        Thank you, kind Sir.

        Your valiant efforts protecting the vulnerable from being ruthlessly fleeced are duly noted and appreciated. I will try to keep your idea in mind, should a similar opportunity arise... Might pretend I still have a DESQView installation and see how that goes.

        And KDE is indeed rather nice.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Start Button

          Ah! So removing it from Windows was all part of Microsoft's anti-scamming drive. Maybe I've misjudged them over it.

      2. AntiSol

        Re: Start Button

        @Stuart 22

        Yep, I've done that. It's awesome fun.

        A variant of the "I don't see a start button" game is to tell them you have Internet Explorer open and let them give you the URL they will inevitably give you to download their payload. Then start running a whole bunch of scans on their server and tell them about all the interesting ports they have open: "Oh, I see you're running windows server. That's brave of you. Ooh, and you have the filesharing ports open!". For bonus points, download their javascript, analyse it, and tell them what buggy crap it is, pointing out where they should be using try/catch.

        Strangely, at this point, they tend to lose interest in helping you fix your computer, and go away.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Start Button

          "For bonus points, download their javascript, analyse it, and tell them what buggy crap it is, pointing out where they should be using try/catch."

          I've started a similar thing with spam offers to improve my website. I correct the English in their email and ask them why I'd trust somebody who writes such crap to work on my (non-existent) website.

      3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Start Button

        @Stuart 22 - How about a customized MATE. Thanks for keeping the slime away from victims.

        1. lorisarvendu

          Re: Start Button

          The Microsoft Virus Scammers have got wise to the fact that other operating systems exist besides Windows. Sadly their attempt to identify which OS you are running seems to consist of asking you if you have a key with a Windows symbol on it. They have not yet grasped the concept that such a keyboard can still be connected to a computer running Linux, and so I can cheerfully waste 30 minutes of their time taking them through a KDE desktop. The frustration in their voice when their Windows remote control executable refuses to run is a joy to hear.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Start Button

            I agree keeping them on the line as long as possible is my goal but to stop from being too bored i try to get words in to the conversation without them twigging. first is always "The computer says NO" in the best Little Britain impression i can.

            I also record the conversations for Posterity...

        2. Soruk

          Re: Start Button

          I run IceWM - fast, lightweight, and even has a semblance of a Start button. IIRC one of the many themes available for it label the button as such.

          Of course another alternative could be Fvwm95.

      4. Lars Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Start Button

        Yes Stuart 22, But then again what was there for you to gain. Who ever they are selling what ever they sell they are probably under payed and hoping to find something better to do. So why fuck with them. It's not that I don't get disturbed by those phone calls but I cut them off with something like "sorry I am broke" or "my wife took all my money" or "I am just going to jail" or whatever. Why should I fuck with them. You mentioned KDE and that reminds me of something that happened to me some five years ago. On my journey to the country side I stopped in a town and got a dongle for my laptop. Hell if I got that working, but I did phone that ISP and having spent 10 sec him assuming a Windows problem I told him I use such and such Linux distribution, and to my surprise he was a Linux user at home if not at work and promised to phone me the next day. And that he did, and it was all RFM due to me but then again the RFM was on the internet. Am I getting old, fuck yes, but on the phone no.

      5. philthane

        Re: Start Button

        I also use KDE and had the Broken Windows call in 2011. Luckily I have a voice recorder on my phone:

        http://pthane.co.uk/broken-windows/

  3. chivo243 Silver badge

    Land line joke

    This sounds like the old landline joke:

    A friend once called me, we chatted for a minute, then he pipes up, where are you? *awkward silence* Where number did you call?

    So this guy is calling computer support with out a computer needing help? Frame this one and hang it on the wall!

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Land line joke

      "Where"

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    BOFH on the line.

    Did this occur on 1st April perchance?

  5. Tony S

    The disturbing thing is that I actually guessed the problem, before getting to the bottom of the article.

    The really disturbing thing is that the particular situation doesn't surprise me in the least.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I was guessing that the monitor was off. Being a programmer I'm not cut out for tech support.

      1. Danhalen

        Having done both I would gladly spend an eternity debugging the most awkward of issues than return to the days of tech support.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I was guessing that the monitor was off. Being a programmer I'm not cut out for tech support.

        I used to love those old 80s/90s ads where they have a bunch of smiling happy young executives huddled around looking at a monitor which clearly is missing its power cable.

    2. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

      Can't find the keyboard

      I used to support HP-UX back in the late 80s. A lot of our customers used their systems to run CAD packages, typically HP's own one. Most of these people had their workstations configured to boot straight into the CAD package and so never used the keyboard.

      It was typical to get a call where you'd ask the customer to type something and there'd be this awkward silence.

      Me: Do you know where the keyboard is

      Customer: Errr I think it's around the back somewhere

      Me: OK can you go and have a look for it.

      Pause: followed by a few banging sounds, some muttering, the occasional swear word then the sound of the phone being picked up.

      Customer: OK got it, now what was it you wanted me to type?

      ...

      Eventually you'd get them to having a terminal window

      ...

      Me: Lets start by find out where you are on the system, please type p w d

      Awkward silence

      Me: OK you'll find the "p" key on the top row of letters at the right hand end

      Customer: Errr

      KER CHUNK!

      Me: Now you'll find the "w" key towards the left hand side, but still on the top row of letters

      KER CHUNK!

      and so on

      Talking them through a "vi" session was so much fun.

      Of course keyboards were do much tougher back then, the modern ones would probably have cracked in two halfway though the first command.

      Can't really blame most of the customers, they'd bought a fancy new drawing board as far as they were concerned. Things like keyboards were just a distraction.

  6. wolfetone Silver badge
    Gimp

    Best I can come up with is about 12 months ago when I worked for a charity in the UK as their IT Manager. I should name and shame, but the BCFH (Bastard CEO From Hell) with her arse licking "Comms" Manager aren't afraid to use charity money to throw lawyer balls around.

    Anyway, I had to deal with 1500 volunteers who used various systems but to them this seemed to extend to all sorts of IT support. The one call rang me up and spoke to me like an arsehole because obviously it's my fault that her computer doesn't work. 5 minutes in to this conversation she's trying to print something off and her printer doesn't work. I told her that if her printer isn't working it isn't my place to fix it as it's her own personal printer - not one given to her by the charity.

    Transpired anyway that she was trying to print off her laptop and that she hadn't plugged the USB cable in. But you know that was still my fault. And it was my fault that she had to print something off to fill out and return it to the charity even though I had built an online portal for the charity for this information to be filled out on. But she doesn't like computers, she doesn't know how to use them, and that I should be training her how to use it.

    I don't know how I spent 3 years working in that place with cockwombles like her.

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
      Alert

      She found you and learnt how to downvote!

      1. Arctic fox
        Thumb Up

        She found you and learnt how to downvote!

        Thumbs up for that one Captain Scarlet!

      2. wolfetone Silver badge

        "She found you and learnt how to downvote!"

        I bet she bloody has too! I'm going to have to find out who stuck 50p in the idiot aren't I :(

    2. Quortney Fortensplibe
      Thumb Up

      Upvote purely for the use of "cockwomble".

      It's been far too long since it graced these learned pages.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Happy

        Upvote purely for the use of "cockwomble".

        It's been far too long since it graced these learned pages.

        Agreed! It's been at least 48 hours! Unless you are reading the "wrong" comments sections :-)

  7. AustinTX

    Can't click any of the things on the screen

    Reminds me of when I did Dell tech support. One lady asking for help adjusting her monitor WOULD NOT STOP trying to mouse the on-screen menus. I'd get her to do one thing using the buttons on the frame, then her hand would apparently shoot back to the mouse for another playful round of "nothing happens".

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

      I've heard of people asking for a bigger mouse mat because with their small one their pointer can't reach the whole screen.

      1. Pkl2015

        Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

        I logged in just to upvote this. These are the very same people who think that fax machine send the actual sheet of paper down the phone line!

        1. Thoy
          Unhappy

          Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

          You mean they don't ??

          Is that why there is all that paper on the floor ??

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

        I've heard of people asking for a bigger mouse mat because with their small one their pointer can't reach the whole screen.

        Hmm. I sense a business opportunity involving the production of widescreen mouse mats.

        1. Boothy
          Happy

          Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

          Quote: Hmm. I sense a business opportunity involving the production of widescreen mouse mats.

          Don't forget to brand them as HD Ready.

          You can then get them to upgrade to the True HD version later on, and then even later still, to the Ultra HD version. :-)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

          Already done

          http://www.allsop.com/mousepads-and-wrist-rests/widescreen-mouse-pad-black/

      3. Scott Wheeler

        Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

        > I've heard of people asking for a bigger mouse mat because with their

        > small one their pointer can't reach the whole screen.

        Well what's wrong with that? Would you want to spend all day lifting your mouse and re-placing it under the circumstances? Yes, you know that it's possible to "gear up" the mouse movements. They don't, so a larger mouse mat is a reasonable solution from their point of view. And since it would actually work, what's the problem?

      4. Myvekk

        Re: Can't click any of the things on the screen

        [quote]I've heard of people asking for a bigger mouse mat because with their small one their pointer can't reach the whole screen.[/quote]

        No no! They need a SMALLER mouse, so that it can go 'further' on the same size mouse mat!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My personal input.

    Customer: My little box that i click to launch my word processor has gone off my screen.

    Me, Can you see the "my Computer" icon on the desktop?

    Customer, what do you mean "Desktop"?

    Me: The main picture on your screen where you launch your program from after your computer has started uo..

    Customer. Oh yes, i think can see it.

    Me, right can you put the mouse pointer over it and double click the left mouse button.

    Customer. What does double click mean.

    Me. Sigh, i'll come out...

    Sometimes, the time spent pissing around on a phone call is wasted. Just go to the job..

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: My personal input.

      I once recall a "better fool" call where a guy talked to a customer who blatantly asked, "What's a mouse?"

      1. apepper

        Re: My personal input.

        Well, I was present when one IT manager described a "gadget that moved a pointer on the screen"; I said I thought that was a "mouse" - but that was in 1982 - about a year before the Apple Lisa or the Microsoft Mouse appeared.

        1. TheOldBear

          Re: My personal input.

          [quote]

          Well, I was present when one IT manager described a "gadget that moved a pointer on the screen"; I said I thought that was a "mouse" - but that was in 1982 - about a year before the Apple Lisa or the Microsoft Mouse appeared.

          [/quote]

          Could have been a digitizer puck on a CAD workstation, or even an early mouse driven environment like Visi On or Epson Valdocs

        2. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: My personal input.

          "gadget that moved a pointer on the screen"

          You must be new to this: light pen, obviously...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    If I were in Raoul's shoes…

    Raoul: If you would use your brain for a minute…

    Manager: It's not there.

    1. Fatman Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: If I were in Raoul's shoes…

      <quote>

      If I were in Raoul's shoes…

      Raoul: If you would use your brain for a minute…

      Manager: It's not there I have shit for brains.

      </quote>

      FTFY!!!!! (and more likely the case).

    2. Vic

      Re: If I were in Raoul's shoes…

      If you would use your brain for a minute…

      Sadly, comments like that tend to get you sacked[1]...

      Vic.

      [1] No, I don't speak from experience. But it was a close thing...

  10. Allicorn

    Doing some basic IT training for classes of novice adults at a college I asked folks to point at the Word Perfect icon (yeah it was... a while ago) with the mouse and one feller physically held the mouse to the screen and then glanced around awkwardly with that "Am I doing this right?" look on his face.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Many moons ago when I worked at Escom (remember them UKers?) I had a guy do exactly the same thing so it wasn't that uncommon.

      I also had someone ask about a printer - B&W inkjet. He asked whether it could print with a single colour background. I got him to clarify and he said something like "Print with black text but on a red page". I said that you could put whatever colour paper in you wanted if you wanted a coloured background, thinking this can't be what he meant. He said "So I can buy red paper and feed it in and it will come out red when it prints", I did confirm that it will print black text or pictures onto red paper and he was quite amazed... Still sounds as weird now as it did then, but he really did not seem to understand that coloured paper doesn't turn white when you put it in a Black and White (yes, yes pedant monochrome...) printer.

      1. Shades

        "I worked at Escom (remember them UKers?)"

        I remember them well.

        Signed: An Amiga fan

    2. Christoph Silver badge

      "physically held the mouse to the screen "

      Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do - if this is the very, very first time you have ever used a computer.

      When teaching absolute beginners, please do remember that things that you don't even think about are utterly unknown to them. Even stuff that can be perfectly obvious the second time you use the computer. You've introduced them to several things and words that they've never met before - it would be weird if they all got them all right the first time!

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        "Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do - if this is the very, very first time you have ever used a computer."

        No, I would argue that it really isn't. That would be like me not having ever driven before thinking it perfectly reasonable to drive around on the pavement or backwards everywhere. Thing is, because I have what's called common sense, I didn't do that, because I observed drivers driving on the road where they are meant to be and certainly not going backwards. So if someone was going to be learning how to use a computer, as computers have been around for even longer than I have, I would at least expect that the learner has been able to observe how others use the computer (specifically the mouse at this point) either on TV in pictures or perhaps even around them at the college while they are sat there. I used to do the same job as you some time back and this mouse on the screen thing actually happened while I was watching. I fear there is little chance of someone who hasn't learnt via observation at least a little bit is not going to get very far with a computer. Children learn by observation and they are unlikely to do this having never used a computer before.

        1. keithpeter
          Childcatcher

          Common sense...

          @ Martin Summers

          The chap up the screen mentioned the word perfect icon so we are talking about some time ago. There may have still been a lot of DOS computers around, and the Amstrad PCW may have been more common than a Windows machine.

          I'm seeing the other end of this one - 16 year olds today spend many more hours on mobile interfaces than they do on Windows and it is beginning to show. Try asking about backups of work...

        2. Loud Speaker

          The first thing you learn at a help desk is that "common sense" is not actually all that common. In some parts of the country, it would appear the horses have monopoly on it, hence "horse sense".

      2. Vic

        "physically held the mouse to the screen "

        Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do - if this is the very, very first time you have ever used a computer.

        Indeed. I never saw anyone fail to understand what to do with a light pen. I don't know whether this was because they expected more from personnel back then, or if it was genuinely a more natural way[1] of running a pointing device.

        Vic.

        [1] Albeit inferior to a mouse in every other way I can think of...

    3. Soruk

      That reminds me of a South African TV advert for an insurance company (shown on one of the BBC's Commercial Breakdown clip shows), showing a bunch of IT no-hopers clicking on the screen, pushing the mouse off the edge of the table, and of course, the coffee mug on the CD tray.

      Best quote: Our website is so simple even a six-year-old could use it. Of course, if you don't have a six-year-old available you can always give us a call.

  11. Mark McNeill
    Linux

    Sounds like me, when "Microsoft" calls to tell me that my Windows is faulty and they'll fix it if I give them access.

    1. Rol Silver badge

      Ha, ha ha, yes nothing funnier than playing the idiot when you get a tech call from "Microsoft's" subcontinent division. The fun I had doing everything the guy told me to do and truthfully conveying the results, he was getting really frustrated that none of his nobble the computer tactics were working and spent almost half an hour trying to get me to install his "useful and totally necessary" program.

      It was me in the end, who got bored and started dropping ever less subtle hints about how Windows is not the only OS, but no, he had no idea other operating systems existed and continued to punch through his script despite me telling him I was running a Linux distro. It must have been at that point that I realised why some people have no other recourse than to turn to crime, because he honestly hadn't got a clue.

      1. AbelSoul

        Re: no idea other operating systems existed

        Very similar thing happened to me 3 years ago, albeit I was using a Mac at the time. Strung "Microsoft support" along for over an hour, including two ten minute spells of leaving the 'phone sitting on the table whilst pretending I went "to the east wing of the house to see if the router was switched on".

        Eventually started to draw to a close when I got bored and asked how he slept at night.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: no idea other operating systems existed

          And if he answered, "I don't. I'm a zombie."?

          1. AbelSoul

            Re: And if he answered, "I don't. I'm a zombie."?

            That would at least have been vaguely amusing.

            What I got instead proceeded rapidly through the three stages of:

            1. I have no idea what you could possibly mean. I *am* an honest IT expert just looking to help you

            2. Well, this is the only way I can earn any decent money, even if it means ripping off your granny.

            3. A bunch of English expletives, delivered in a thick, Indian accent,* followed by him hanging up.

            * to be fair, number three was also amusing

            1. LaeMing Silver badge
              Megaphone

              Re: And if he answered, "I don't. I'm a zombie."?

              If being a detriment on others' lives is "the only way you can make a living" than possibly you shouldn't be (living, that is).

              NB: this applies to Wall Street bankers et.al. just as much as to 3rd-world phone scammers.

  12. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Headmaster

    It's not just tech...

    Speaking as a parent who takes his daughter to guitar lessons every Saturday morning, and for at least the first 4 weeks we were there another parent brought his son along, but didn't seem to feel it necessary to actually bring a guitar along too...

    So sadly I have to report that it's not just tech that suffers from such people, although the look on the tutors face by about the third week of it happening despite his repeated hints, prompts and suggestions to get one was priceless..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not just tech...

      Then again, how many people buy a car in order to get driving lessons?

      1. Toltec

        Re: It's not just tech...

        Then again, how many people buy a car without being able to drive.

        OK, lets face it, that probably covers at least 50% of private car sales...

      2. websey

        Re: It's not just tech...

        Well it will shave a 3rd off the cost of lessons so a fair few

    2. smudge Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: It's not just tech...

      ...for at least the first 4 weeks we were there another parent brought his son along, but didn't seem to feel it necessary to actually bring a guitar along too...

      Clearly the kid was learning air guitar.

    3. lawndart

      Re: It's not just tech...

      You've not heard of an air guitar?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not just tech...

      Or take a piano along for their lessons ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not just tech...

        Or take a piano along for their lessons ?

        If you were clever about where you positioned the piano hinges, you could make a full-size synthesizer that folded up to fit in a backpack.

        Or you get a little one like this.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Observed many times ...

    something about "tech" seems to send *some* brains into some sort of FUD-crash.

    I've seen perfectly intelligent adults (teachers, actually - when I started "Computer Studies" in 1980) completely freeze in terror when confronted with an Apple][ and treat is as if it were some sort of demonic box. But because they had already convinced themselves it was "sorcery", they had no chance of mastering it.

    What's more worrying is, I still see it to this day.

    One of my earliest - and possibly greatest - insights at school, was that people who started off anything saying "I couldn't possibly ...." almost invariably never did.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Observed many times ...

      Not sure who to attribute this to..

      "Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they will be yours"

    2. Naselus

      Re: Observed many times ...

      "something about "tech" seems to send *some* brains into some sort of FUD-crash."

      So does something about the presence of tech support. The moment someone on the helpdesk answers the phone, many people's brain will basically go limp and they go into a kind of malleable blank state. They respond to questioning and will accept orders without question, but won't actually think in the slightest. I'd estimate that about 50% of the workforce at any given company fit into this category, and it used to be much, much higher.

      This applies at literally every level of the company, too - I've had MDs on phone calls who would happily tell me if they wore women's underwear if I'd asked during an outlook support call, finance directors who hand over the passwords to the salary database to minimum-wage contractors working on issues that have nothing to do with it etc.

      I think this actually makes IT staff think users are thicker than they are. In my current job, we work in an open-plan office with all the rest of the company, and it's noticeable that most users will generate about 300% more calls if they are seated next to IT. If we move them just a desk or two away, this falls dramatically and instantly, because they can now either think about how to deal with a problem themselves first, or else thy have to stand up.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: Observed many times ...

        many people's brains will basically go limp

        I've seen this in techies too.

        An old colleague of mine took great pleasure in seeing what ludicrous things he could get other techies to do "as a quick favour"

        "Could you check something for me? Go to the desktop. Press ctrl-a. Now hit Delete? ...

        Yep, I thought that would happen" <walks away>

        1. Naselus

          Re: Observed many times ...

          Yeah, I don't think it's a techy/non-techy divide tbh. It's just more obvious for techies because even the most junior members of the department are likely to encounter it within an hour or so of starting their first day. It's more likely to be a cultural thing in the way companies work - the techy is in control, and so all higher brain functions are shut down to prevent the user being distracted in case they're given an order. Medical doctors probably see it a lot too.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Observed many times ...

        "The moment someone on the helpdesk answers the phone, many people's brain will basically go limp and they go into a kind of malleable blank state."

        That's because the helpdesk caught them unaware. They weren't expecting an answer.

    3. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Observed many times ...

      completely freeze in terror when confronted with an Apple][ and treat is as if it were some sort of demonic box

      Strangely enough, I used to do that every time *after* I was first confronted with an Apple][ network in 1987. In fairness it was probably something to do with that godawful Corvus box sellotaped to it.

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Apple ][ network ?

        (actually it was an ITT 2020).

        AIR Apples had no intrinsic networking, and I don't recall an interface card to do it either, although it did have 6 expansion slots.

        For some reason the standard one for the disk controller was 6. I can still remember the command "PR#6" to initialise the peripheral on slot 6. I realised I was the schools (actually the boroughs) tech expert when reading the manual revealed that "PR" was to initialise for output (PRint - geddit ?) and "IN" was to initialise for "INput" (possibly a light pen) and that for the disk controller (being both, either would work).

  14. Barbarian At the Gates

    Been there, hated that

    I've had the pleasure of attempting to help a user get started with an application when the following conditions applied:

    1) Not familiar with "double click to launch application from shortcut" concept

    2) Not familiar with "double click" concept

    3) Did not know there was a "left" mouse button, and preferred using the "right" one

    4) Neither of us spoke the other's native tongue

    5) User did not want to use application

    The user was not happy to have been stuck in front of a computer in the first place, as they were a pilot, and they really didn't see the need to be sitting at a desk when they could be flying. I agreed, really.

    1. Known Hero

      you can't fix everything

      2) Not familiar with "double click" concept

      you can set it to single click since XP

      3) Did not know there was a "left" mouse button, and preferred using the "right" one

      Set the mouse to left handed.

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Stop being a smartarse who makes things worse

        Yes you can do it, no it won't help when they go to use a different computer, or the next poor bastard has to diagnose an issue and doesn't know that the mouse buttons have been changed.

        1. IanDs

          Re: Stop being a smartarse who makes things worse

          You think that's bad - my son's left-handed, and to prevent RSI he not only puts the mouse to the left of the keyboard (obvious) but swaps the mouse buttons over (not so obvious). And when working with test equipment like multichannel oscilloscopes -- with channel control buttons and knobs helpfully colour-coded to match the on-screen traces -- he changes the trace colours so he can distinguish them (he's also red-green colour blind). Watch people trying to use it when the red buttons now control the (some other colour) trace...

          1. Boothy

            Re: Stop being a smartarse who makes things worse

            It always puzzled me why it was called 'clicking' in the first place.

            A click is a sound, not an action.

            Wouldn't 'tap' have been a better word to use?

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: Stop being a smartarse who makes things worse

              I quite agree. My FIL who's 80 and started using a computer 5 years ago calls it "poke" which works for him.

            2. Anonymous IV

              Re: Stop being a smartarse who makes things worse

              Some of the cheaper mice make a clicking sound when their buttons are pressed.

              One I encountered recently made a sort of wheezy squeak - bin job...

              1. Vic

                Re: Stop being a smartarse who makes things worse

                One I encountered recently made a sort of wheezy squeak - bin job...

                Years ago, we'd have fixed that...

                Vic.

            3. David Roberts Silver badge

              Re: Stop being a smartarse who makes things worse

              "It always puzzled me why it was called 'clicking' in the first place.

              A click is a sound, not an action.

              Wouldn't 'tap' have been a better word to use?"

              Those of a certain age can remember when mice were more robustly constructed.

              So pressing a mouse button did produce a very loud "click".

              With regards to "tap" the image this gives me is of an air space between the finger and the mouse, pre and post tap - as I sit here tapping away at a keyboard.

              Oh, and my venerable Logitech Track Man Wheel does still produce an audible "click".

              [I say venerable because I turned it over for a look and it has a sticker on to confirm that it is my personal mouse. Added when I took it into work to ease the beginning of RSI. That was *cough* years ago.]

      2. Naselus

        Re: you can't fix everything

        So... you have a user who isn't familiar with the concept of 'double click', and you're suggesting that he instead talks him through the process of opening the control panel and re-configuring the mouse settings?

        Might be difficult when you get to the bit where you say 'now double-click on the Mouse icon...'

      3. JimmyPage Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Set the mouse to left handed.

        1) If it's possible.

        Many "lock down everything" IT departments remove the mouse settings. Happened to me once, when I attended an interview. They had a technical test on a standard RHS mouse PC. I asked for the mouse to be set up left handed, and it took 30 minutes for them to find a tech who could log in as admin to make the change.

        2) If it's practical

        There's quite a few industry-wide mice that are clearly intended to be held in the right hand. So even changing settings won't help.

        FWIW, ever since I started suffering a touch of RSI, I've found I'm ambidextrous when it comes to mousing, so use my left hand now.

        1. Vic

          Re: Set the mouse to left handed.

          ever since I started suffering a touch of RSI, I've found I'm ambidextrous when it comes to mousing, so use my left hand now.

          20-odd years ago, I damaged my right hand quite severely, and couldn't use it for ~6 months. So I learnt to use a mouse left-handed[1].

          It didn't half freak out the guy sat to my left when I got the wrong mouse...

          Vic.

          [1] I deliberately didn't use left-handed settings, as that would mean changing things round every time I used a new computer.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: you can't fix everything

        2) Not familiar with "double click" concept

        you can set it to single click since XP

        You could set it to single click in Windows 95! However, as others have pointed out, that takes effect on the computer immediately in front of you only, and only if your user account is permitted to make such changes.

  15. joshimitsu

    Almost sounds like an urban legend.

    The punchline would have been "delete any references you have to this help line, you're not in the right frame of mind to use it"

  16. Shane McCarrick

    Fire!

    Reminds me of my days on Tech support for Iomega (back before the turn of the Millenium). I had one German customer call who asked to be put directly through to me (I was Tech Spec at the time). The guy was obviously agitated- so the team leader asked would I take it. I agreed. The call went along the lines of........

    Can you help me really fast please?

    Certainly- what appears to be the issue?

    There is smoke coming out of my monitor!

    Unplug the computer and monitor at once- and call the Fire Services!!

    No, no, no- I want you tell me how to back up my documents folder- really really fast!

    At this stage- I advised I was terminating the call and calling the Fire Department on the customer's behalf- as I didn't trust them to do so themselves.........

    Sigh..........

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Fire!

      You could have just told him that the monitor isn't where his files are stored and that they are safe, and can therefore immediately proceed to the lower priority of saving their life and possibly preventing the building they were in from burning to the ground.

      1. ChrisC

        Re: Fire!

        Unless of course it's something iMac-esque with the display integrated into the main unit...

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: Fire!

          "Unless of course it's something iMac-esque with the display integrated into the main unit..."

          Let it burn I say. ;)

          1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

            Re: In case of fire - let it burn!

            Film tip

  17. joshimitsu

    Do organisations not use 360 feedback for support services?

    Stupid calls would get closed down as category "user error". Then you have a metric for amount of time wasted and unprofessional behaviour affecting efficiency.

    Compare it to say, not parking within the lines in the company car park - the FM can complain and get people to stop doing it. Or leaving litter and expecting the cleaners to sort it out. This type of misuse would be out of order, so the same should apply to IT.

    1. Fatman Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Do organisations not use 360 feedback for support services?

      <quote>Stupid calls would get closed down as category "user error". </quote>

      Around my company, we have instituted a requirement that all employees must demonstrate a minimum level of computer "competence". They are expected to know and understand many computer related basic concepts, like what is meant by "double-clicking". At the time this dictate was imposed, many would have failed miserably, executives included; so training classes were instituted, and everyone had to demonstrate their competency. A few """dinosaurs""" who abjectly refused to learn were eventually let go. New hires will not even get past the first interview if they are not """computer literate""".

      It cost us some serious 'pocket change' to train people, but the effort was worth it, as we don't have to tolerate that bullshit any longer. Now, these days, if we get a 'stupid user' type of help desk ticket, and the reason is due to user incompetence, they get written up, and directed to the proper training, or are shown the door. It helps that our salaries are somewhat higher than what is typically paid in this area, so we do get to pick the 'cream at the top' as opposed to 'scraping the bottom of the barrel'.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Do organisations not use 360 feedback for support services?

        wish we did that! It bugs the hell out of me. We have a load of admin staff who spend their whole life using Word or other office products, yet they still come to us to ask how to do something in Word! FFS I packaged it and installed it I don't really use it!

        1. Anna Logg

          Re: Do organisations not use 360 feedback for support services?

          A problem I've seen at several employers / clients is that there is no 'expert user' or whatever for applications, so people turn to IT support. I use Word pretty much every working day, but there are many many functions within it I've seldom/never used. So, when I want to use one of these functions it's just me and Google to try and find out how to do it. Microsoft's major league dicking around with the GUI over the years doesn't help either.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Do organisations not use 360 feedback for support services?

        I wonder how you dealt with illiterates in high places.

        1. Anonymous IV

          Re: Do organisations not use 360 feedback for support services?

          > I wonder how you dealt with illiterates in high places.

          They have PAs to do menial computing for them, surely.

          <anecdote>We once had an IT manager who advertised for a 'Principle Secretary'. We thought this was a brilliant idea, for he had no principles of his own...</anecdote>

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Do organisations not use 360 feedback for support services?

          "I wonder how you dealt with illiterates in high places."

          I doubt something like this could have been put in place except at the behest of top management so I'd guess they were already literate.

  18. Kraggy
    FAIL

    Sorry, this piss-take of a 'stupid user' is a fail!

    Yes, it's been fashionable in IT circles for the 4 decades I was in DP/IT/whateverthe millenialscallit to deride 'dumb users', but not knowing anything about the organisation this alleged episode happened in it's impossible to know what expectations the end-user being jeered at would have had when he placed the call, however the support person who supposedly took this call made a fundamental assumption which we cannot know if he was entitled to make.

    We don't know the remit of the 'support' department, so don't know if he was entitled to presume the end-user had a 'computer' problem without checking, and even if he was so entitled then clearly he didn't ask sufficiently general enough question to have realised the end-user wasn't using a computer payment system.

    In any case, sneering at the user in this article is simply fatuous, he was asked questions and answered them, dealing with 'tech support' people that's what I do.

    I also love many of the user-jeering replies made here, so typical of 'IT' discussions everywhere.

    Me? I was a programmer/systems programmer/ database designer and more for 42 years until retiring in December, so I know full well the attitude of many in the 'computer industry' who deride non-techies.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      FAIL

      I think you may have bypassed the bit where the IT bod was clearly asking questions related to a computer - the user could have mentioned that they didn't have a computer quite a bit earlier in the conversation without requiring specialist knowledge to do so.

    2. IglooDude

      Perhaps a bit like calling a "transportation support" agency. Sure there may be a series of mistaken assumptions about whether you're calling about a problem with your car, but when the support person asks you to engage the ignition, "I don't have a car" is considerably less unhelpful than "It's not there" even though both are technically correct responses.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      I'm casting my mind back to my first encounter with these things as a schoolchild.

      I stared in absolute wonder at an early electronic calculator, imaging some sort of organic brain at work inside.

      I couldn't understand why a ZX81 that I saw didn't have a bank of flickering lights and I sort of expected it to be "threatening" in some spooky way.

      Then I got a summer job in an IT company at 16 years old, I sat down in a lunch break at a disconnected VT100 terminal and tried to type in a BASIC program, finally typing "RUN" at the end.

      I expected UNIX hardware to be covered in cooling fins, that they would be buzzing and humming at 50Hz and any wrong move would trigger a disastrous sequence of events.

  19. Dominion

    I have all of these call, several times a week. From my aged mother!

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      It's worse when it is your Mother in law, believe me.

  20. JEF_UK

    Clue-less

    I've had similar calls at my last job which usually started with me yelling at my "team" to answer the F-ing phones, I pick up the phone and deal with an irate customer, in one extreme case about there "internet" not working on the PC but OK on "eye-patch".

    I ask why they are calling from a mobile, with bad signal....

    Turns out the ipad has 3G and they canceled there phone line.

    There is no excuse for being this utterly clueless in 2015.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Clue-less

      "Turns out the ipad has 3G and they canceled there phone line."

      You have to remember that some of the commentards here think it unreasonable to have to rent a local loop connection to use broadband when they make all their calls on mobile or Skype.

      1. Boothy

        Re: Clue-less

        <off topic>

        Personally I'll like to be able to get a line without the phone bit.

        That way I could use the whole lines bandwidth for VDSL, rather than having to give up the lower end of the spectrum to audio, that doesn't get used.

        </off topic>

  21. Nick Woodruffe

    monday morning?

    About 20 years ago I had a user pop into my cubicle and ask if there was a problem with the printer as every time he printed his document, only one sheet of paper came out. I looked at the sheet of paper he was holding, took it out of his hand, turned it over and gave it back to him.

    The printer was defaulted to double-sided printing and the poor guy had spent the last 30 minutes trying to figure out why it only printed one sheet of paper.

    The look on his face was priceless and one I shall cherish for many years.

  22. Tooth Fairy

    Tales from an ISDN helpdesk

    spent days off and on the phone with a customer who was having problems fitting an ISDN card to a Mac. He swore blind it wouldn't fit in the slot, so I sent him a different card thinking he'd got the architecture wrong (PCI not Nubus). After about the 5th call, I asked him where he was and luckily he wasn't too far from our office so he brought the machine in. It turned out that instead of taking the cover off the machine and inserting it in the PCI slot, he'd been trying to post the card through the small hole in the back where there was a missing blanking plate.

    Another guy's machine simply would not save the preferences for his ISP set up. After an hour, I talked him through the procedure in excruciatingly precise detail and found out that instead of closing the control panel using the window button, he was force quitting the application .. he'd become so used to how flaky OS7 was, that was how he quit all applications.

  23. Sane

    I remember hearing one half of an IT support call. I was visiting a friend who happened to be the technical editor of a computer magazine. His father, a doctor who had very little computer experience - this was circa 1990 - called his son, because he'd encountered a problem. This is roughly what I head.

    "Hi Dad, what's up? Say again? The mouse pointer doesn't go all the way up the screen? Okay, lift up your mouse. Move it towards you. Right, now put it back on the mouse mat. Try moving the pointer now. All good? No problem. See ya."

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clearly an early-day AI prank

    I mean, that guy seems to have had a vocabulary list consisting of "it's not there" and "no"...

    ...no, wait. Bank manager. Never mind.

    (sorry, couldn't help myself)

  25. jake Silver badge

    I had a very similar call back in the day (1994?).

    I had stupidly accepted a major contractor's role in setting up AOL's new AZ call center. I was mostly doing infrastructure (running pipes & wire ... AC, DC, voice, data, HVAC, H2O, halon, yadda). Part of my contract included spending a couple hours/week answering phones for the still-in-alpha (internal only) helldesk, and reporting back on the usefulness of the scripts the helldesk operators were going to be using. Most calls were fairly benign, as AOL was going through a lot of changes internally (including moving to a Stratus computer back-end in VA, if I recall properly).

    Then I got this one brain-dead caller. She kept me on the phone for nearly 30 minutes. I knew we were in test mode, and she had to be internal, so I just played it straight, making notes. Finally, I just had to ask "Do you have a computer?" She busted a gut laughing, and said no ... Turns out she was a very heavily coached assistant to Ted Leonsis, testing the not-ready-for-prime-time system.

    Ted apologized to me, and sent us both out to dinner on the company card ... I got him back, I hired the techie who coached the gal ;-)

    I didn't get the girl, though. She was engaged. She and her now hubby are still happily married, and we are still in touch. Nice couple. Good friends happen in the strangest of ways.

  26. Benebby

    I spent a Summer between college and university answering the phone to people and then forwarding them on to either Software of Hardware support.

    I think my favourite was the very angry gentleman who exclaimed "I can't see my monitor when the sun shines on it." (Hardware)

    1. Toltec

      Re: Clearly an early-day AI prank

      Oddly enough one of the first things that occurred to me when reading the article was the number of people that call support who would fail a Turing test.

      1. Myvekk

        Re: Clearly an early-day AI prank

        But clearly they passed it as the tech did not realise it was an AI... (Dodgy or not.)

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Clearly an early-day AI prank

        "the number of people that call support who would fail a Turing test"

        What gets me is the number of email-based support desk agents who would fail a Turing test.

  27. Lars Silver badge
    Happy

    Of mice and men

    Of mice, or is it of mouses, newer mind. The number of mouse "incidents" is staggering and some appear in different countries and languages but then again people make the same mistakes. A story I have heard only once was about a woman who took her mouse back to the shop claiming it was quite rubbish, just try it yourself!. The guy took the mouse connected it to his PC and the the woman went "Oh, on the table with your hand". There is actually some logic here as woman tend to be better with sewing machines. Is that a true story or not, who cares. Has anybody ever read a true book. (except the "Nautical Almanac").

    One customer I remember I had to visit tweaking G-Link I think. In front of the first PC I politely asked the lady if I could temporally move the mouse to the right side. Turned out all, about 8, were on the left side. The reason they told me was that the teacher they had in the very beginig was left handed and the mouse was simply left on the left and they got used to it. Asking them why they don't move them to the right they told me it was actually quit good as they now had their right hand free for the numeric keyboard. Never tell me (all) women lack logic.

    Then about us men. What I have learned dealing with customer service, although it never was my main task, is that when a customer phones you, they are in advance a bit pissed off, stressed unhappy and so forth. So, for instance, when "Lisa" phones you the fifth time that week you have two choices. Either you say "Oh it's you again, what is it now then". Or you can shorten your life with some minutes but save working hours by answering "Oh Hello Lisa, I was just going to phone you, any problems". I have come to the conclusion that you have about 20 seconds from the time you pick up the phone, 20 seconds to use wisely.

    It's quite obvious that some of us men should not do customer service no matter how "stupid" some customers are.

    While I like and read all these articles, all the memories, perhaps we could have articles about all the funny errors and missed opportunities we have made ourselves. I could write a book about mine, although, probably not totally true that book either.

    1. Peter Simpson 1
      Happy

      Re: Of mice and men

      "meeses", as in:

      "I hate meeses to pieces!"

      - Sylvester Puddy-Cat

      1. Martin
        Headmaster

        Re: Of mice and men

        "I hate meeses to pieces!" was actually Mr Jinks, referring to Pixie and Dixie. Sylvester's arch-nemesis was Tweety-bird.

        1. Pookietoo
          Headmaster

          Re: Of mice and men

          And it was "I hate those meeces to pieces".

      2. KLane

        Re: Of mice and men

        Sorry, Peter. It is actually Mr. Jinks, from Pixie and Dixie. Nice pun, though.

    2. Holleritho Silver badge

      Re: Of mice and men

      I taught myself to use my mouse with my left hand so I could scroll and move around on the screen while taking notes. Made me more productive. People see me mousing and then, later, writing something down and consider e a genius for being ambidextrous. I try to say it's like playing guitar or anything that needs two hands, but no, for some reason a mouse in your 'off' hand is the ne-plus-ultra or brainiac. So now I merely smile humbly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Of mice and men

        Being a left hander, I used to use a mouse on the left hand side. Somewhere along the way between using my Amiga and ending up with a PC (and all the shared PCs at work) I ended up with it on the right. I would still use a joystick with my left - if it was an ambidextrous one and not one of those ergonomic sculpted button-under-the-thumb designs.

    3. Darryl

      Re: Of mice and men

      I've seen the mouse on the left side to free up the numberpad too. A lady at my last job did that, even though she was right handed. She was in Finance, and it was pretty amazing watching her enter and shuffle data in a large spreadsheet. Most people speed this up by using enter and tab to jump around from cell to cell, but she keyed in data using her right hand while navigating with her left on the mouse, seemingly with no pauses. I've never seen anyone interface with a machine that fast.

      1. Jimbo 6

        Re: Of mice and men

        Although I'm right-handed, I started using my mouse on the left many years ago. I can then use my right hand for... er... things that I use my right hand for. Whilst sitting at a computer. Like drinking coffee. Yes, that's it, drinking coffee.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Of mice and men

          Hmm.

          I'm right handed, but I still use a mouse with my right hand. I just got better using the keyboard with my left hand.

          Is this why I'm a little odd?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lack of knowledge may be reasonable

    I deal with people very skilled in their jobs but they are not IT workers. They are generally pleasant and decent people, just like anywhere else. Most people in fact are.

    If nobody has explained that the thing they are looking at is a screen and not a computer, it is my responsibility to pick up on that when they say "it's still the same" after I ask them to switch it off and on again. I can tell them what they were calling the "hard disc" may indeed have a hard disc inside it and make them feel silly or annoyed at me or I can delicately inform them that the thing they look at is a screen and the computer is the thing that takes CDs.. They are not stupid, just uninformed about my world.

    If I have to tell the same person the same thing 5 times in 5 minutes, am I doing it right? I have never worked with special needs people. Perhaps some of them find it hard to take in information. I don't know. I'll leave that to experts. The people I deal with this will take information in if they are given it in a usable form

    But telling funny stories to each other? I see no problem with that. I bet just about every profession comes up with them about they lack of knowledge of outsiders.There will be funnies everywhere from the Police, to teachers (about parents I expect), butchers, farmers, dentists and other health workers, to lawyers. We just need to keep the tales anonymous and not show ourselves up as the one at fault!

    1. Alien8n Silver badge

      Re: Lack of knowledge may be reasonable

      Lack of knowledge may also be taught judging by my daughter's GCSE computing course. No, that's not "memory" that's a hard drive. I'm pretty sure we learnt more on the old Cambridge Computer Literacy course than today's kids learn as a full GCSE. Mind, I was one of the kids programming the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum using the free code printed in magazines (one issue had a broken version of frogger in it, resulting in my first ever attempt at debugging code. As a kid I was quite proud when I finally got it working).

      1. Naselus

        Re: Lack of knowledge may be reasonable

        "I'm pretty sure we learnt more on the old Cambridge Computer Literacy course than today's kids learn as a full GCSE."

        Back in the late '90s, the full IT GCSE was basically a course in how to use spreadsheets and word processors. I'd been building computers from components for several years by the time I went in for my IT GCSE, and after I saw the content I only showed up half a dozen times. It didn't help much that the IT lab was still equipped with 1991 Acorns right up until 2000.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lack of knowledge may be reasonable

      I totally agree with you - sharing anonymised stories between ourselves harms no-one and brightens many a day (even if only by causing someone to say "Thank God! It's not just my users!")

      If you have friends who are policeman and come to be trusted enough by their colleagues that they will share work stories in front of you, you need two things:

      A strong stomach, and a robust sense of humour.

      That said I have spent evenings with two friends who are detectives in a large city police force that have been funnier than any stand-up routine I have ever seen. They have not only seen some very bizarre things, but manage to tell them in a way that makes them tear-inducingly funny....

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Lack of knowledge may be reasonable

      "There will be funnies everywhere from the Police, to teachers (about parents I expect),"

      a long time ago I was a member of the Institute of Biology which was supposed to be the biologists professional body but turned out to be largely populated by teachers, or at least it was largely biology teachers who contributed to the journal. Their funnies were mostly about exam answers.

  29. Kirstian K
    Boffin

    Once

    I got asked by a client if their site could have a lighter shade of black please....

    lol

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Once

      "I got asked by a client if their site could have a lighter shade of black please...."

      I'm pretty sure they were asking for dark white.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Once

      I once got asked by a remote customer to make his web site masthead the exact same colour as his letterhead. Despite using a carefully calibrated screen and matching the colour as closely as possible, he still wasn't happy. No amount of explaining the vagaries of CRT screens would convince him that if we set the colour by trial and error to match on "his" screen, that no one else would see the same colour on their screens.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Once

      "I got asked by a client if their site could have a lighter shade of black please...."

      Maybe you've never worked in textiles and encountered the numerous shades of black yarn.

  30. W T Riker

    Clearing faults

    I once wrote a Fault Reporting system. The system allowed a user to record a fault and then subsequently record information about how the fault was cleared.

    I turned up on-site and asked if I could see how many faults had been recorded in the last month. To my surprise - none! So, I asked if there had been any faults. Yes the user replied. So asked asked where they were. The user said that they had all been resolved and cleared. Ok, I said, but surely there would be lots of cleared faults. No, said the user they are all cleared. I stood in confused silence for a little while. Show me, I said. The user then entered a fault with all the details. Ok, now clear the fault (I already knew what was coming...). He then cleared every field on the screen and then deleted the fault.

    Suffice to say he was re-assigned a couple of days later. And, I re-wrote the interface to take account of unexpected user behavior.

  31. Malleus

    It's the 90s *puts on floppy hat, smiley t-shirt and wallabies*

    Ok, its 9am, the phone rings, its Angry Lawyer, and they are angry at me, IT guy in the legal department.

    Cue a 5 minute rant about PC is not working, they are late, they are busy, the PC never works and they hate all this new technology.

    Walk to office, greet glowering lawyer. Screen is indeed blank. Monitor shows green light and is working.

    Check the PC, and the PC is ... PC isn't switched on. Switch it on, smile at red faced lawyer, walk out.

    Walk back to office, open my little A-Z of IT jargon, flick to P

    PEBCAK.

    Problem

    Exists

    Between

    Chair

    And

    Keyboard

    As relevant now as it was then.

    1. Vinyl-Junkie

      PEBCAK

      In a certain organisation for whose helpdesk I contracted many moons ago the accepted term was RUTOK:

      Replaced

      User,

      Tested:

      OK

      1. Darryl

        Re: PEBCAK

        I prefer PICNIC. Sounds more friendly - Problem In Chair, Not In Computer

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Re: PEBCAK

          I've always used "Chair to keyboard interface error"

          It doesn't have as nice acronym though :)

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      I learned the military version when pilots had issues they couldn't grasp.. "short in the headset between the earpieces". It still works as all our call-center people use a dual ear headset.

    3. Vic

      PEBCAK

      I used to work in a service department. Once, I wrote "Punter CPU error" on the job sheet for a NFF.

      A few hours later, a somewhat irate secretary came in and threw the letter she'd just typed at me...

      Vic.

  32. Yugguy

    At least y'all get paid

    All of this pales into insignificance compared to the joy of being an unpaid 24x7 365 technical resource for EVERY SINGLE technology related issue for aged relatives. Because of course if you "work in computers" you know every single thing about them.

    My most recent task was also to figure out why the Windows Start button wasn't working.

    Turned out that when installing facebook (sorry for swearing) my m-i-l had also installed an alternative launcher called Pokki. Because it doesn't matter jow many times I tell them not to install free stuff, not to click on Yes, they always do.

    1. Martin

      Re: At least y'all get paid

      Just one more reason to persuade your aged rellies that Chromebooks are the answer. Then they can't install alternative launchers.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    phone tech support is generally crap.

    You need two skills "adaptable inqustive problem solving" to solve the problem

    and "consistent grinding social skills" to FIND the problem

    Very rare to find both unless they are just passing through on their way up

    Which means you cant keep enough off them around.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "phone tech support is generally crap"

      A better way to put that is "some peoples reaction to phone support is generally crap"

      I have had people require my presence to fix a problem. because they "know" that this works better. I then have to go back to my desk and fix the problem because it cannot be fixed from their PC

    2. Naselus

      Modern phone tech support has nothing to do with either finding or solving problems. They're a customer service firewall to keep users form bothering real techies with useless calls about how to adjust the margins in Word. Most places, the 1st line team not only don't know enough to identify a problem, they don't even have the necessary permissions to perform a rudimentary root cause analysis, so even the ones who know what they're doing can't pass salient information onto the 2nd and 3rd line techs.

      This is particularly grating when you are one of those real techies trying to raise a support call from a 3rd-party provider.

      We've been having problems signing people onto Adobe CC on BYOD devices. Last week, in order to try and clear it up, we logged the call with Adobe. The first call, an Adobe 1st line support guy tested single sign-on from a non-domain attached device to see if it worked... when it didn't, he reported this back to me like it was some kind of significant finding (no, really? Single sign on doesn't function on devices which aren't signed in to the domain? Amazing! Give the man a banana!)... and then closed the call ten minutes later, having completely failed to even understand the problem. Two more calls raised via their support desk were likewise closed with no resolution as the outsourced 1st line team couldn't understand the technicalities of the issue being raised. In the end, we went via back channels directly to the third line guys who had identified the actual issue and fixed it within about twenty minutes.

      I had an equally bad time with Mimecast, an email services company whose 1st line support guys don't understand the difference between an email address and a mailbox, and responded to actual email diagnostic information with stunned silence. Again, the only way we were able to get serious support was to circumvent the ITIL system completely; our Ops director rang their European head of distribution (who was extremely embarrassed by the sheer incompetence of her staff) and they had a real techy ring me back ten minutes later. Twenty minutes after that, we'd identified the problem in their infrastructure and shortly after that it was resolved.

      ITIL works fairly well for end-users, given that about 70% of their calls will be either user error/training calls, password resets, or people who want tech support on the phone 'just in case' while they figure something out for themselves. But it fails really badly badly when the customers are commercial IT guys who are only calling because the call has gone through internal troubleshooting already. Having some muppet ask me if I've tried turning my PC off and on again when I'm ringing because a whole site of 5,000 users fell offline is just getting in my way and pissing me off at an already stressful moment.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "who was extremely embarrassed by the sheer incompetence of her staff"

        She should have been embarrassed by the lack of an effective escalation procedure in her operation. At the very minimum, even if the front line staff aren't capable of realising they're out of their depth, a problem that keeps coming back should be automatically escalated so that (a) the immediate problem gets fixed, (b) the front line staff are trained to handle it in future and (c) if there's a systemic problem that gets fixed. You were luck, there was someone higher to deal with it. I suspect that in most cases there isn't anyone behind the front line and that's why they can't escalate.

        1. Naselus

          "I suspect that in most cases there isn't anyone behind the front line and that's why they can't escalate."

          Or there's 4 guys trying to do 3rd line support for 80,000 people, as was the situation at one well-known British conglomerate I worked for. They'd built up a giant helpdesk team of people who knew nothing about tech (and then proceeded to get them to train each other... uselessly), and used that to try and fire off 50% of 2nd line and 90% of third line. The result, predictably enough, was an 18 month backlog on 3rd line calls and constant politics as any call that wasn't absolutely perfect and 100% done to the letter would be bounced back to the previous line, simply to reset the 'not my problem' timer.

          When I arrived, the first 3 calls I tried to deal with involved 1 user who'd left the company a year earlier, a piece of equipment which the manage had simply replaced from his own budget after waiting 6 months to hear anything (i.e., still 12 months before I was ringing), and a branch who'd given up using the computer altogether and had left it switched off in a cupboard. It was only really used for email, and the branch manager had taken to just leaving her company mobile lying around and teaching all the staff how to unlock the phone and access the mail app.

      2. Trixr Bronze badge

        What's even worse is when you work for an organisation that hasn't implemented ITIL, and yet has a "Service Desk" with very few of the supposed ITIL processes and functions to even get the job routed the right way. Sometimes we don't see jobs till 6 months after they were originally logged.

        To be fair, ITIL does specify the escalation path if the first level support can't solve the problem. I doubt there is an escalation path for "fails to correctly understand and log the issue". Then again, just because people aren't doing so these days, there's no reason in ITIL you can't hire reasonably skilled triage staff to log or properly categorise inbound calls.

      3. Nehmo

        Escalate

        In general, if you are knowledgeable in tech, the 1st line tech support will have less knowledge than you, so to get anything done, you need to speak to someone above them. I've learned to ask to escalate the problem as soon as I realize the person I speaking with is incapable. Usually, they have a procedure and eventually you can talk to someone who knows something.

  34. tim 13
    FAIL

    We had a user who, despite working for us for years (actually still works for us and uses the computer every day), claimed during one support call that he never used the keyboard.

    Also had a site IT administrator who was always ringing because he couldn't log on and had to be told how to spell administrator every time.

    Mind you, I tested a CRT monitor, moved it and it stopped working. Took me ages to realise that I had turned the screen brightness down by resting the front edge of it on the desk while I was moving it, and had slid it sideways a bit, rolling the brightness wheel down to nothing...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Took me ages to realise that I had turned the screen brightness down by resting the front edge of it on the desk while I was moving it, and had slid it sideways a bit, rolling the brightness wheel down to nothing...

      … and when you returned that knob to its former position, you were enlightened?

  35. Custard Fridge

    Foot squek

    I used to support a user who operated the mouse with their right foot.

    Remote support worked well enough as he'd not changed the settings.

    However a hot summer forced him to change to the more traditional mouse method, but he span the mouse round and used him palm to click. That was an interesting remote support session for the first 30 seconds or so whilst he explained this, and helpfully put the settings for me back to 'foot' mode.

    And he wasn't doing any of this to deliberately wind me up either. Nice bloke. Smelly feet though.

  36. Steve Kerr

    The joys of answering the phone

    I remember a call to our team from a user:

    User: I can't login

    Me: To what

    User: To the application

    Me: What application

    User: I don't know

    Me: do you know what it's called

    User: No, don't you know?

    Me: We have several hundred applications, what's your username? (might work out the app from the username)

    User: I don't know

    Me: Speak to one of your colleagues to find out what you're trying to do, if you're still having problems, call back.]

    I've also had "The toilets blocked" to which my response was "speak to facilities management"

    The all to common "The printer is out of paper" to which the reponse is "Look, in the cupboard under the printer, take out a ream of paper and put it in the tray", get the answer "Aren't you going to come and do it" to which "No" is the response :)

    I

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The joys of answering the phone

      "I've also had "The toilets blocked" to which my response was "speak to facilities management""

      They then call back and reply, 'No one's answering there. And BTW, the toilet's now flooding out of the washroom!"

      The all to common "The printer is out of paper" to which the reponse is "Look, in the cupboard under the printer, take out a ream of paper and put it in the tray", get the answer "Aren't you going to come and do it" to which "No" is the response :)"

      No, the answer becomes, "There's nothing in there!"

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: The joys of answering the phone

        'They then call back and reply, 'No one's answering there. And BTW, the toilet's now flooding out of the washroom!"'

        Is the server room underneath the washroom?

        No.

        SEP.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: The joys of answering the phone

          What about if it's NEXT TO the washroom?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The joys of answering the phone

      "The all to common "The printer is out of paper" to which the reponse is "Look, in the cupboard under the printer, take out a ream of paper and put it in the tray", get the answer "Aren't you going to come and do it" to which "No" is the response"

      That's another cost savings lack of training problem. New printer arrives, office staff get shown how to add paper and deal with simple paper jams, maybe even learn how to swap out toner carts. But as staff leave, no one shows the newbies, the staff who "know" do it. Eventually there are no "staff who know" left. If there ever was a printer manual, it was taken away by IT because the users will lose it anyway.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All from a previous job:

    The person who asked me, completely serious, when the lifts would be working because "lifts have computers in them, don't they?"

    The person who came storming up to IT to ask why no-one's computers were working and demand we fix them all now. In a power cut. And this was someone who was in a position to know we had no emergency generator etc

    And the person whose computer wouldn't turn on and "yes of course I've checked the power strip under my desk". said power strip was, of course, unplugged.

  38. Howard Hanek Bronze badge
    Childcatcher

    Living Vicariously

    Someone brought this article to my attention by printing out the story and then typing in my reply on his computer.

    "You shouldn't trust computers you know but you also shouldn't call for help about one when you don't HAVE one."

    "And the mental health facility you're housed in shouldn't let you make these kind of telephone calls."

  39. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Power, what Power?

    We made a blast monitor system for mining.

    Had a customer in Australia who were desperate to buy one, email them the manual so they can learn to use it in advance, fedex them a unit express etc.

    Get a call in the middle of the night. It's not working, won't turn on.

    Did you charge it for 24hours like it says in the manual (we can't airfreight charged Li batteries)?

    No we just got the delivery and brought it underground.

    Do you have the charger - it might work while charging.

    No, no power down here - what you are going to do to fix it?

    You are 12,000 miles away, a mile underground and no power - exactly what do you expect me to do to "fix it".

    But you have to - were blasting in an hour !

    I put the phone down - my boss thought it was hilarious

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Headmaster

    > How to help a user who can't find the Start button or the keyboard?

    The above is not a question. Therefore a question mark is not required.

  41. lorisarvendu

    The strangest call I ever had

    Between '94 and '96 I worked on a customer IT helpline for a well-known UK branch of stores. We had our fair share of wacky customer tales and I still have a 28 page Word doc with some of the choicest on - though some of the terminology is looking a bit dated now. However this is an accurate rendition of a call I had once:

    Me: Hello, PC Helpline etc etc

    Punter: Hello, do you do tubular models, one male and one female?

    Me: ...I'm sorry, are you referring to models of computer?

    Punter: I'm not sure.

    Me: ...Well, are you aware that this a help line for computers bought from Dixons or Currys?

    Punter: Yes

    Me: So what you're asking is...

    Punter: Do you do tubular models, one male and one female.

    Me: ...I'm sorry. I'm not sure what you mean.

    Punter: I'll call you back.

    He never rang me back and to this day I am mystified as to what he was calling about.

    And then there was the customer who rang back asking to speak to the technician who had helped him earlier: "No I can't remember his name...but he sounded like he had a beard."

    1. Richard Morris

      Re: The strangest call I ever had

      I'm fairly sure I worked on the same helpdesk as lorisarvendu, had a beard and was asked if the call was for me!

      I also took a call from a customer who was demanding an engineer with a new fax machine, as the one he bought last week had started putting a red line down the side of the page.

      We also had a phone call complaining that all the text on his new computer was upside down. He was asked to turn it off. He asked which button it was, we replied "Bottom Left". He said it can't be, all of the buttons are at the top right.

      1. lorisarvendu

        Re: The strangest call I ever had

        @Richard Morris

        If you worked in Nottingham then you may well have worked on the same helpline as me. Your name sounds familiar.

        This one is my absolute favourite:

        Punter: I have just gone into the mouse icon in the Control Panel and set the click speed to Max to see what it did.

        Helpline: And?

        Punter: I can't click my mouse that fast and I cannot get back into the Control Panel to set it back again!

        1. ralphh

          Re: The strangest call I ever had

          This reminded me of being in on-site in 1990 the first week a new dealing room with our software went live. One user asked for help, both screens of his OS/2 system were nearly entirely black. Turned out he'd gone to the control panel and changed every color to black. Scroll bars, foreground, background, title bar, the lot.

          Used another system as a reference to keystroke my way back to default colors.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The strangest call I ever had

      "He never rang me back and to this day I am mystified as to what he was calling about."

      Co-ax connectors?

      1. lorisarvendu

        Re: The strangest call I ever had

        "Co-ax connectors?"

        In which case, why did he say he wasn't sure if it was about computers or not? Why didn't he say "co-ax connectors?" It's a simple enough phrase.

        In the last two decades I've tried hundreds of guesses and none of them fit.

        1. jake Silver badge

          "lorisarvendu" Re: The strangest call I ever had

          "tubular models, one male and one female?"

          Probably some kid read about teledildonics on USENET, and was hopeful. It was a fairly hot topic in the mid-1990s. The only reason I know this is because I was asked to setup a server for a startup building prototypes of the contraptions. I declined ... not because I'm a prude (I'm not), but because I thought it was a daft idea, and had better uses for my time.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Punter Support.

    A very long time ago when people still used a "Modem" to access the internet.

    Caller: My internet isn't working

    Bob: ok what happens when you click on the connect icon?

    Caller: what connect icon

    Bob: OK, what kind of sounds does the modem make when dialling in?

    Caller: What's a modem?

    Bob: (has a bright light moment) Do you own a computer and modem?

    Caller: No

    Bob: According to our records you have had an account for over a year.

    Caller: Yes a friend said I should get on the Internet so I got an account

    Bob: OK, well you will need to go and buy a Computer and modem in order to

    join the Internet.

    Although I think one of my all time favourites is the Mac user and clicking the right mouse button call.

    Bob: Right click on the mouse and bring up the properties menu

    Mac Caller: I don't have a right mouse button

    Bob:(now remembering he is talking to a Mac user) What side of the screen is the mouse on?

    Mac Caller: The left.

    Bob: Aaah, could you move it to the other side and double click please.

    Mac Caller: Yes that worked fine.... Do I need to do that everytime?

    Bob: Yes.....

  43. matthewdjb
    Happy

    Two fond memories from pre 1993.

    Working for a company based in Bath, one of the field engineers calls up, and in a delightful Zummerzet accent (which I won't try to emulate in text), begins this conversation:

    Him: I've got this new laptop, and I've switched it on, and I don't know what to do next.

    Me: So, can you tell me what you can see on the screen?

    Him:Er.. . "Welcome to <company name's> computer network. Press key 'A' to continue".

    Me: Can you press the A key on the keyboard please?

    Him; <click> Oh, yes, that's done it. Thank-you very much.

    And then near Newcastle, we had a chap with two different accounts (on a Amdahl mainframe, running VM), who kept forgetting the passwords. Password change was 3rd level support (2nd level was user support, 1st level the helpdesk). The call came through - Mr so-and-so has forgotten his passwords again, can you reset it? The rather grumpy team lead grins and adopts his most pleasant manner:

    'yep, no problem, doing it now. Ok, the first account, the password is "head". Second account... that'll be "dick". Be sure to tell him in the right order.'

  44. Fun Fun

    A lightbulb moment

    I once was helping a elderly gentleman set up his computer. Things were difficult for him but I was patient.

    Finally he sighed a relief and said that now he understood this.

    I smiled and was really happy for him and also happy about myself teaching something useful.

    But alas, what he said then: "Now I understand! Those squares at the screen are not actually there, they are only images of squares."

    Well, he was correct on that one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A lightbulb moment

      Nothing is really there. Not even this text. :-)

  45. Commswonk Silver badge
    Devil

    I'm surprised nobody has suggested this...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG7hYnMyxyY

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Remembered:

    Many many moons ago, we had a call from one of the business customer we had (im going back to when OCR was a fledgling tech) who simply couldn't get an image to scan. The new "secretary" was kicking off big time as the new shiny Canon system would NOT scan. Out I went, tested it with the MD present. All working correctly. When pushed to demonstrate how she was trying to scan, she was holding the document against the monitor screen and pressing the scan button on the software. The large machine on her desk making a noise with a bright light moving back and forth whenever she did so was, in her mind, was there merely to look good...

  47. thisever

    It's an easy to mistake the accumulation of methodology or information as intelligence, ie feeling clever because one knows how to do things that others don't. Programming oneself to perform tasks through learned behaviour is not necessarily intelligent, but can be a machine-like activity. The intelligence in the system is the recognition of similarity, if performing a task is deemed intelligent then it is intelligent to enable others to perform that task.

  48. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Re-read the article and now suspect that something was lost in the translation.

  49. Nehmo

    Stories like this don't happen much anymore, and I suspect it's old. Nowadays, almost everybody who has used a phone has also used a desktop computer to some extent.

    I happen to be old, 62. I ushered in this tech, and once people felt comfortable saying "I don't mess with that computer stuff", but not anymore.

    Nowaday, customer service can easily use remote access on Windows. The customer doesn't need to do much.

  50. Nehmo

    Any Key?

    As I said in a previous post, I suspect this story is old. But anyway, someone who can not find the start button isn't uncommon. (BTW, it disappeared for one version of Windows; now in 10, it's back.)

    Another common story is asking someone to press "Any key", and they respond that they can't find it. They were looking for a key with the label "Any".

    More amusing are stories of people who really thought they broke the law when the computer told them that an "illegal operation" had been attempted.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019