"PC decided to help"
Why!? Why did he do that? Was it based on some altruistic notion? Or did the powers that be (boss) tell him to? To quote a famous meme:
"It's a trap!"
Welcome again to On-Call, the weekly feature in which we share readers' experiences on help desks or out in the field fixing things. This week, meet “PC”, a reader who once wasn't. In the magical days of dialup internet, PC worked in tech support for an internet service provider. And one Saturday morning a subscriber called …
Once upon a time I was lead support tech trainer at a good sized call; center, 2000 seats to fill 24 x 7 x 365..the very worst calls got bucked to me.
Customer was a partner in a law firm in downtown san francisco, one that mostly represented Sand Hill Road type silicon valley firms. Her HP printer would not print. I'm asking 'what do you see on your monitor'. 'nothing'
'turn pc off then on.' 'done'. 'what do you see' 'nothing'. i' is pc plugged in' 'yes'
close to stumped, I ask, 'well what IS working in your office today?'
'Only the phone. All power has been out in the building for hours'.
and that's why I like to drink after work lol. .
Right-click - New - Shortcut - IEXPLORE.EXE - Next - Finish
"You're welcome. Have a nice day."
You really do work in technical support, don't you? Because clearly it wouldn't have fixed the problem: we already know the executable is missing. But you don't give a shit about that, fob the customer off with any old shit to get them off the line as fast as possible.
Well if the EXE really is missing, you take the next step in the troubleshooting process and you continue to do so until you sort the damn problem out. You don't make a stupid sarcastic comment to the user in order you can quote it years later in the hope it'll make you look smug, clever and/or superior.
"However if they have no Internet Explorer they have no need for you as an ISP. So unless the missing E issue is solved the customer will cancel which is bad for business."
I'm on the mobile interface so can't see if theres a joke icon along side this, in going to assume not and point out that this is the same as me asking my cars manufacturer to fix the potholes in the road, after all they make my driving experience worse and that reflects badly on them.
Back in the day, ISPs in my neck of the woods used to issue dial-up customers with a Welcome pack with everything needed to set up your modem, account and browser. I recall that it was fairly common practice for ISPs to refuse to provide tech support if you didn't have IE installed as your primary browser - and that the support included fixing IE related issues.
"...this is the same as me asking my cars manufacturer to fix the potholes in the road, after all they make my driving experience worse and that reflects badly on them."
It's more like asking the road manufacturer¹ to fix a flat tyre.
¹ I'm assume there are factories that churn out roads somwhere.
".....we already know the executable is missing...." A true BOFH would not have wasted any time but would have asked for remote access, recreated the shortcut (with the right icon), and then - under the cover of "looking for the underlying cause" - ran an FTP command from the luser's MSDOS prompt to import a few nasty GIFs into the luser's Pictures folder. Then a suggestion to the luser that he should schedule some time to get his own IT department to scan the hard drive for errors and - bingo! - one less waste of bandwidth clogging up the interwebs.
A story I heard
Hello support, my pc won't turn on
-Have you pressed the start button?
-Is the mains plug on?
-okay, around the back is the PSU rocker switch on?
hang on, I can't see, it's dark around the back
-What about turning the light on?
Can't do that, there's a power cut
-What I'm going to need you to do is go find the box th PC came in and send it back to us. You're obviously too stupid to own a PC
A story everyones heard a million times - I've heard it from my old man on many occasions.
My supposition? It's the same as most of his other matelot dits - the first part is probably true, the last bit maybe has a tiniest grain of truth, but it almost certainly wasn't him. Or the person who told it to you.
It was probably a proud member of the finest and noblest of Her Majesties Armed Forces, which in this commentators humble opinion is most definitely the Army and I'm not biased at all.
AC because said ageing matelot reads the reg too and in a rush of weakness I don't want to hurt his feelings!
In the days when I did IT support for a school, I got a call from the English department that their PC and printer wasn't working. After doing the usual, have you tried X Y and Z, I got off my bottom and walked over to the department (well it was a big site and a long walk). So yes, the PC was dead and so was the printer. Then the teacher who called me said "Oh, the photocopier isn't working either and our kettle isn't boiling"... so I went to the cupboard in the corridor and yes the trip switch was off. One flick of the switch and not only did I fix the PC, but the English department was able to enjoy a nice cup of tea.
Think that is bad when I worked helpdesk at a technical college that teaches programming, and repair I was called up by staff that their computer wasn't working.
ME: Did you turn it off, and back on?
Them: Yes its not starting
ME: ARE YOU SURE you hit the power switch?
Them: I'm not an idiot I know how this works!
Go over there the "power button" they were hitting was the picture adjustment knob gateway had on their monitors back then(this was around 2001)... I told them the computer is under the desk, and showed them the real button.
They got mad at me, and filed a complaint with my supervisor that I was treating them like an idiot... Note I didn't say, or do anything inappropriate... well that was till my boss called me in, and I told my boss I treated them with respect, and they were only mad cause they were embarrassed by their stupidity as they were a worthless piece of shit in a flesh suit.
I wish I could say that was the only call that would make me lose all faith with humanity, but it was a more mild one, and one of the early ones which is why I remember it so well... Ever have a networking teacher unable to log in as he forgot his password? Even when he never changed his password from his username, and have to show him how to turn off the caps lock key? I got a lot of complaints on me, but luckily the bosses figured out after awhile it was due to staff trying to cover their embarrassment after awhile.
".....They got mad at me, and filed a complaint with my supervisor that I was treating them like an idiot... " Yes, a newbie mistake that, trying to actually help them. Far better to nod in agreement, pad their ego by suggesting they have hit a "real bad issue" that stumps even a seasoned techie like you, then say you will have to remove their PC for further testing. Once back in your lair, remove any good bits from their unit and substitute any old PC bits still in the cupboard. Put said good bits to a better use (such as in the IT department's hidden gaming server), then return the crippled base unit to them with the admission that you have, after a long technical struggle, managed to fix the issue. Point out that the hardware fix now requires them to use the power button on the front. You'll be surprised how many of them declare their system has never performed better.
I can't count the number of times I've been called into a classroom by a panicked faculty member because "The projector won't come on". Go in, hit power button on projector or remote control and, voila, projector lights up. "Oh, I'm supposed to turn it on?"
Poor PhD's. Sometimes they just need a little extra help.
"Them: I'm not an idiot I know how this works!"
yes of course, thats why you just phoned me for help.
im lucky enough to be able to suggest they find someone else to look after their IT at this stage because these kind of people lead to situations that go downhill rapidly.
the other one that pisses me off is "really? £45 per hour? its a really simple problem im sure". yes, of course it is, thats why you phoned me cos its so simple even you couldnt figure it out.
Utterly and completely off topic, the Army originally consisted of levies raised by aristocrats (a derivative of the feudal system). On the other hand, the Royal Navy was just that - it answered to the Crown. Alfred of Wessex famously raised a Navy, Charles II was himself a skilled ship designer and when he returned to the throne he brought with him the knowledge of how to design shallow draught warships ("Yachts") that could enter the shallow waters around the Netherlands and take on the Dutch. The Royal Air Force, despite its title, was actually cfreated by government edict.
So the RN is really the only part of the Armed Forces that are 100% her Majesty's.
"No, just an old sailor expressing his admiration."
A bunch of Limey, golden rivet hunting, faggots!
As a cheese eating surrender monkey type infantry man, I would say the army is better (I was Royal Sigs. an' all).
Nahh, all services equally valid, the Royal Navy is however the senior service and due to their eradication of scurvy got us the nomenclature Limeys.
"It was probably a proud member of the finest and noblest of Her Majesties Armed Forces, which in this commentators humble opinion is most definitely the Army and I'm not biased at all."
Hmmm Product support on horseback - That's a new take on "Helldesk".
Alternative thought - The RSM on the parade ground attempting to discipline the studied insubordination that is W10. AKA Clippy on parade.
Nurse! this new jacket's a bit tight. And can I have some more of the pretty blue and green pills please?
This is close to the legendary WordPerfect support story.
Sure the guy was sacked, but he sued for wrongful dismissal, and the entire support team volunteered as expert witnesses to say this was the correct procedure in the circumstances. He was reinstated.
It may not be true, but I was working in Provo, Utah when I heard it.
I used to work in the support centre for a computer manufacture. We were supposed to log all the calls and all the work we did into a call tracking system. When we closed a call the customer got mailed (back before email being something you could use to talk to them) the closing screen. We were supposed to write up a summary and any helpful info on this closing screen. The support centre was often short of staff so techies from other parts of the company were often seconded to work there. Often they forgot the closing screen was mailed to the customer.
One famous case involved an engineer writing
The customer is trying (very!) ...
I don't remember him being seconded to the team again.
strange on any windows box the help works (apart from the occasional ancient - 25 year old help file)
Help comes with pictures and is written by professional authors.
If you don't know how to use a command line program you just add a -? to the command line.
On the UNIX box no one will have installed the man pages.
Its text only written by Geeks. The Desktop manager help is a little better.
Sorry UNIX has some great features but man pages aren't one of them.
"Help comes with pictures and is written by professional authors"
Bullshit. Most Windows 'help' files are an afterthought, chucked in there to satisfy the VisualBasic/VisualC (or its successors) application template.
I have come across a few genuinely helpful Windows help files in the decades I've been using Windows, but all too many have been a box ticking exercise.
Unix MAN files by contrast are written deliberately to document the usage of an application. Some I have found to be less than helpful in their descriptions of command line switches, and some unfortunately assume background knowledge that only the authors of the software have ... but generally I find MAN files very useful.
Unlike IBM OS/2 help -
> Help printer
"A printer is a device for producing hard copy"
Yeah, that is going to help you configure the ISA address and irq needed, or explain how to enable to enable the parallel port, or indeed, help you fix any printer related problem at all. WTF were they thinking of? Dancing nuns?
OS/2's help is pretty good, but it's not designed to be used from the command line using 'help'.
I suppose I have some sympathy if you were using OS/2 1.0, which is garbage, but with the later IPF (.INF) format help the documentation is great, and fully searchable. 'print' will point you in the direction of print01.sys (print02.sys for MCA machines). Printers themselves follow the design of the WPS interface, been a while since I configured one in OS/2 1.x though.
Oh yeah, and what about the man page on "ln" which eschews the usual unix idiom and waffles so effectively that no-one can figure out which comes first: the file name or the link name. man pages are a cowpat in the field of technical documentation.
Then there are the Java-enabled tech things like the certificate management doodad on Solaris that don't have man pages, they use a different online manual. Then there's perldoc of course.
Years ago I took it in the neck for owning a Windows 95 computer instead of a G3. When my brother-in-law's G3 went nails-up I offered to fix it. Every single thing that had been put about by mactards about this piece of tat was false.
Superior design == power supply (had same number of fuses as my PC one did - nil - but cost eight times as much to replace when surge killed it) made from depleted uranium suspended by two (of four possible) screws over most delicate component - the motherboard. The monitor (also made from transuranics) was perched on a dead artistic but engineeringly dubious ribbon of lucite. Brother-in-law's stand shattered when I looked at it wrong. I'm not joking about that. I was five feet from it and thinking "at last I can get rid of this *&^%ing albatross" when it broke.
CMOS battery of bizarre design that cost three times more than PC lithium cell but lasted less time in the field.
And the HELP function was the best (which is what made me remember this in a discussion of man pages). Windows had a single unified help system. The G3 had three different ones. Oh yeah, *much* better.
The OS would crash for bizarre reasons too (OS 9, now admitted to be POS but in those days being sung up as perpetual motion on toast), including hoovering the mouse over an icon "too long".
Don't argue with man page evangelists: they are living in a bubble. Hey, you can see how great they are by simply comparing how many times person A uses them as opposed to going straight to google.
I for one love unix man pages and their tendency to make sure you've learned what you're doing before you start rm -r .* -ing. I far prefer this to windows where the checkbox mentality means every machine is a random one and there's no documented reason.
However, this made me laugh out loud, and that's rare for me. I'd replace "man pages are" with "This particular man page is" but it's classic.
"Oh yeah, and what about the man page on "ln" which eschews the usual unix idiom and waffles so effectively that no-one can figure out which comes first: the file name or the link name. man pages are a cowpat in the field of technical documentation."
As classic as the idea of Audi having a "Team door handle" (if you've ever worked on one, you'll understand).
And how many stories are there of people who are proud of their lack of need for a checkbutton who have majorly buggered everyone by confidently not paying attention before hitting xmit? I know of two myself, with a third at one remove without even firing up Mr Brain's long term storage search.
There's nothing wrong with a safety catch. Realizing that is why we have sudo (widely misunderstood to be a role base access tool) and now routinely disable root login on Linux machines.
People who sneer about the check button are apt to be in mid lecture when they screw up too. I just remembered the classic example in our office who fucked a vstab to a fare-thee-well while espousing sardonically that old checkbutton mantra, then got in the way so the fix took four times longer than it should have. So that's three I know myself.
"There's nothing wrong with a safety catch."
Absolutely right, and as Destroy All Monsters (and many other posters), has remarked, you shouldn't be running your box as Root/Administrator for normal use.
That said, a bit more fine grained control of sudo is, in my opinion, desirable.
My favourite is the man page for "sh" on HP-UX 10 and above (i.e. post POSIX).
It's a long rant about what a bunch of twats POSIX are for insisting that the manual page for the POSIX shell be invoked by "man sh", when everyone who knows their arse from their elbow will be expecting the Bourne shell page.
It closes with a note to the effect that "man sh-posix" will get you the posix one and "man sh-bourne" the real one, which obeys the letter of the law while also riding roughshod over the spirit of it.
 While perfectly civilised in its language, it really does manage to convey that the author was spitting bullets while writing it.
"Oh yeah, and what about the man page on "ln" which eschews the usual unix idiom and waffles so effectively that no-one can figure out which comes first: the file name or the link name. man pages are a cowpat in the field of technical documentation."
I don't know what Man page you were looking at but on Debian 8.3 man ln starts:
ln - make links between files
ln [OPTION]... [-T] TARGET LINK_NAME (1st form)
Then goes on to list the variations and what each option does. Pretty clear to me.
strange on any windows box the help works (apart from the occasional ancient - 25 year old help file)It displays content. Whether it works as "help" is more hit&miss in my experience.
If you don't know how to use a command line program you just add a -? to the command lineClearly you never need help then, as that is only for commands it has had to import from Unix. /? would be the MS Windows one.
My first experience with Microsoft's .hlp was in 1994. I had written a Visual Basic program and was authoring a help file for it. The VB manual gave detailed instructions about how to create one using "any editor" and a utility.
It turns out the only "suitable editor" was Microsoft Word. The utility refused to create it from anything else.
So I bought a copy of MS word 6. But it still didn't work. I called Microsoft support which they charged $35 to answer the phone, and it turned out the utility was only compatible with MS word 5. So I got a patch and was finally able to create a help file. It only cost me an extra $100 for Word, then an extra $35 to get a patch that made the shit work.
Now Microsoft has a wide variety of help file formats, all incompatible, and almost none which actually work anymore. I don't think I have been able to successfully open a Windows help file in the last 10 years. I just google everything, same as Linux.
Microsoft does have an excellent man page for its CMD shell, though. To access it from the command prompt type:
I was working on the booth of a games company a long, long time ago, surrounded by teenagers, when an elderly and slightly confused looking gentleman dug his way through the crowd.
"Do you have Magic Pockets?" he asked (a game produced by a rival firm).
"No Sir, it's just the way I walk".
That response kept me amused for... about two decades so far.
Just started a four month contract with an Environmental Services company on their Service Desk, as a Technical Support Analyst, supporting 4,500+ users across two continents.
The very first call was;
user: I can't seem to log into blahblah. Please help.
me: in the 'Company' field, you need to enter 'ABC DEF.'
user: that didn't work.
me: so it's A, B, C (space) D, E, F.
user: still not working. How are you spelling 'space?'
Mind you, I've heard of similar stories, but that just blows my mind!
I now have a much better role, where I'm not sitting at a desk all day long. Phew! :D
Person I worked with forever, who's still a friend of mine once called me asking if there was a problem with the email server because her email to a client wouldn't go through. When I went to check, I asked if the client had given her the address over the phone and she was amazed that I'd deduced this... She had addressed the email to email@example.com
Maybe it's me, but I try to never get riled, make snarky comments or patronise my callers.
I figure that if they get pissed off enough, they may learn to open a book, or press F1, or, horror of horrors, use Google.
And when they learn to do that, I'm out of a job.
Being polite, assuring them that it is the computer that is being stupid and obtuse keeps me in beer tokens.
What do non-technical people do?
I can't work out how people sort out their troubles when they have domestic computer woes
Is everyone blessed with an IT person in the family somewhere?
I'm generally the recipient of 'oh, while you're here would you look at the laptop, it's fritzed again'
What do people do when their computer breaks?
"Take them back to PC world or get the local bloke to have a look."
A phenomenon I came across in the early to mid-90s was the type of person who'd look at you as if you were a thief if you asked for money, yet would happily drop upwards of £50 to some stranger who ran a shop.
"A phenomenon I came across in the early to mid-90s was the type of person who'd look at you as if you were a thief if you asked for money, yet would happily drop upwards of £50 to some stranger who ran a shop."
We had a neighbour who managed to break the cartridge on her turntable. I don't know how. I took a look at it and told her I could easily get a new cartridge for about £10.
Instead she went to the loca hifi shop where they told her that cartridges could not be replaced and then proceeded to sell her an entire new system.
When I asked why she replied "they must be right, they have a shop".
Truly Napoleon was right about the nation of shopkeepers.
What do people do when their computer breaks?
What do they do when anything breaks? These days the default option for pretty much everything seems to be - if it's not obvious how to fix it yourself, chuck it.
My latest: 6 year old dishwasher, failing motor and a blown inlet valve. Not unfixable but at £80 for just the valve or £110 for valve plus captive hose, really, really not worth it with new washers available from £180 upwards. Didn't even look at the cost of a motor.
A related, even more interesting question, is - what do people do when it doesn't quite work as it should? In the case of computers most people just seem to carry on, putting up with the thing slowing down, crashing randomly, losing data and not connecting to the website they intended because of some stupid "search bar" they've installed without realising. Eventually it stops working or they get bored with it and said computer is scrapped.
Not surprising possibly. My current frustration is CEC and ARC over HDMI. I've been working with A/V kit for decades and yet I am close to throwing things at my new TV and amplifier because they think they know better than I do what I want and do stupid things like turning off ARC unless they are switched on in exactly the correct order, or refusing to output multichannel sound for no apparent reason or switching amplifier inputs simply because one device "comes up" quicker than another. What does a normal user do?
Typically, in my experience at least, people seem replace the pragmatism or will to investigate and resolve a problem themselves with a sense of entitlement and demands that someone else should do it immediately, it's an outrage etc, etc. That or, as you've observed, they replace it.
It makes me sad.
My experience too is that users just carry on blithely using the PC, however slow and awful it gets. Until their friend who can deal this thing is round, then ask for help.
In my Mum's case, she's a little more cunning. She invites me over for dinner. Then after we've eaten, she turns Eastenders on - and says, "I've got a bit of a problem with my computer..." At this point, I'm so eager to get as far away from the telly as possible, that I run to fix it.
Just found a weird bug on a laptop yesterday, where Windows Update decided that it was still October 27th, so has no done any updates since that day. I'm sure I'd notice not having had the computer update itself for that length of time, but nope. A whole bunch of new icons having been installed over the years by programs so the user couldn't find his preferred ones didn't seem to worry him either. Rather than just right clicking to get rid of them - he just found stuff some other way. Ten minutes of clickety-click and 2 hours of updates and reboots later - it's now back to how it was set up.
Just things like telling the system tray how many icons it can show seems to be beyond most people. Given that I've seen this sometimes taking up half a 22" widescreen monitor...
"My experience too is that users just carry on blithely using the PC, however slow and awful it gets. Until their friend who can deal this thing is round, then ask for help."
Quite true historically - but now all they need to do is learn to select the "Reset my PC" option under Settings / Update & Security / Recovery...
"but now all they need to do is learn to select the "Reset my PC" option"
With all due respect, I must disagree. On a "popular brand" PC, purchased from PC World/BestBuy or similar, a typical reset will leave the user with a machine full of bloatware, and none of the post-purchase customization which occurs in most, if not all, scenarios. This also assumes that no corruption or damage has affected the recovery partition/media.
A working PC > a non-working PC, no doubt. No argument here.
That said, as surely as the Sun rises in the East, will come the deluge of follow up questions; "Where's my Office?" "Where's my Norton?" "I don't like Norton, I want McAfee, how do I do that?" and so on.
I always offer an alternative, usually Linux Mint, and most who've tried it are very happy with it, but in some cases, and for some people, it MUST be Windows.
In our role as "the computer guy/gal" for family, friends, and even the odd paying customer, my experience has been that the "Factory Reset" option is only a temporary respite. The beginning of the tale, as it were, not the happy ending we are all seeking.
True. But to nip that issue in the bud, along with trying to give myself and the user an easier life, I normally wipe any machine my friends and family device upon purchase.
Modern Windows, without all the shite pilled on my OEMs really is quite reliable. More than stable enough for consumers.
Without the crapware, it means other than physical issues the OPs advice of reset my PC is actually a very, very useful tool.
Usually flatten the machine and restore from recovery partition in the case of my ex's family who have a son who is a 'computer genius' (works in a mobile phone shop selling overpriced contracts).
When that fails they buy a new machine.
Which, oh so amusingly, lead to my being contacted by a copper from their local police force for 'hacking their emails' because they couldn't remember their Hotmail password and it listed my email address in the recovery options.
My dad spent a long time in the television repair & rental business before his retirement.
One day he got called-out to mend a tv which "wouldn't turn on", upon arrival he went to switch on the living room light and discovered the property had no power.
Explaining this to the little old lady he received the reponse: "I know that! just get the telly working!"
I can't remember the outcome but it probably involved a torch & the meter cupboard..
I genuinely had this happen to me,
a Middle age lady came into the PC shop where I worked and dropped her computer off in front of me saying she couldn't find her cd's on the computer.
She said she had turned on the computer and inserted the cd's in to the computer to play, but couldn't find them in Windows, turns out she was right, no amount of searching could locate MP3's or WAV WMA or any other audio format.
I lifted the pc to help her back to the car with it and heard a strange rattle coming from inside.
Turns out she had pushed the cd's through the gap between the 5.25 drive trays and the CD's were nicely piled up inside the machine.......
I have had something similar when I was working telephone support: a customer was trying to install a printer, and the drivers came on a CD. They inserted the CD into the drive, flipped the lever, and heard a loud crack. The 5.25 dive was now jammed up with CD shards, the CD was well busted, and I had to make up a batch of 3.5s with the printer drivers on 'em.
Your recollection may be that 5.25" floppies were long dead but that's not mine, I recollect my 486 machine had a 5.25, a 3.5 and a SCSI CD-ROM along with a couple of Maxtor XT4380S drives along with 32MB RAM, a real power house of a machine which ended up being a Netware server for a household name manufacturer of sporting footware for a period of time.
i can believe it.
remeber the old trayless cd drives that you sort of shoved the cd into, it had a kinda letterbox opening with fur on it (a bit like macs do now)
i had a user shove an sd card (or whatever they were in those days) in to the cd aperture once. took me fucking ages to get it out.
Psychonaught - I have a pair of tweezers especially for fishing SD cards out of the side CD-slots of iMacs. The models in question (about 6yo) have a SD slot just below the CD slot on the side (which is still an order of magnitude than having the SD slot on the back like the new ones in the other lab! - Macs have great design my fat arse!)
Unless you have a complete understanding of all the software you use and how it interacts with everything else, ditto with all your hardware, and the ability to put right any problem, you too are a "user" to someone else... I've just had to contact support because I've found a bug in our own software and I'm pleased to say they were very good about it ;-) Having done the same job, I'm always very polite to any poor bastard support person - having been on the end of some foaming-mouthed moron's rants once or twice.
Friends called me because they'd picked up a (multiple, actually) virus on their PC.
I told them I could reinstall the OS, save all their stuff, but that it would probably happen again.
OR, I said, I can install Linux. Don't panic, I said, it's not that different, and I will keep your old HDD, so if it doesn't work out, you'll have lost nothing. And, I continued, Linux is much less susceptible to all those viruses out there.
They went with Linux for 5 years, then scraped up enough to buy a Mac.
A relative of mine who works in tech support for a fairly well-known ISP told me a couple of classics:
I can't get my machine to send emails. Are you blocking port 25?
Yes Sir. Blocking the SMTP port is a service we offer as standard to all our customers.
and my favourite:
My (ADSL) broadband has stopped working?
OK, is your modem plugged in? Is it switched on? (etc)
Are you sure you haven't changed anything?
Well, I did change my landline provider to Virgin Media
"Yes Sir. Blocking the SMTP port is a service we offer as standard to all our customers."
Er.. a lot of (if not most) ISPs do indeed block outgoing port 25 for any mail server other than their own. Sounds like the user may have been more clued up than the tech support on this occasion.
"Yes Sir. Blocking the SMTP port is a service we offer as standard to all our customers.
Er.. a lot of (if not most) ISPs do indeed block outgoing port 25 for any mail server other than their own. Sounds like the user may have been more clued up than the tech support on this occasion."
Its petty much SOP here in Oz since email viruses became common. The exchange is perfectly reasonable - it sounds like both user and tech support are more clued up than the OP :-)
"are you sure nothings changed"
this is key.
what have you done recently that is coincidental to this fault occuring?
the answer is always "i didnt do anything" . (nearly) every time.
click click click ...what doe sthat say? no idea, dont read it...click click click...ahh shit nothing works.
"im not trying to apportion blame here, but it would help me if you could think of anything that has changed".
the answer is usually "nothing". the thought of cause and effect doesnt occur to most people. i wonder how they function.
Complaint: the disk won't go all the way into the drive!
Investigation: Yep, the 5.25" floppy only going 80% of the way into the drive... hmm.
Open the case, something inside the drive!
Take the drive apart. Yep. The metal shutter from a 3.5" disk wedged around the head assembly of the 5.25" drive.
Drive was a total loss, heads bent beyond hope. Lesson learned? I wouldn't bet on it!
The most problematic users I've come across are those with just enough knowledge of computers to consider themselves experts and proceed to wreck stuff they don't understand... then contact me and its suddenly my fault:
1. Someone complained that they could no longer open their (custom format) data file using our software package so something must be wrong with our software. Got them to send me a copy of the offending file. It should consist of binary data readable only by our software but the file had been mangled and carriage return line feeds inserted every 80 characters. Turned out the user had tried to open the file using Word or some other word processing package. It would have been unreadable or display complete garbage in such an application; but the user had then decided to re-save the file and overwrite the original. The word processor had obligingly reformatted all the data, making it entirely unusable. He didn't have a backup of the file either and lost several months work.
2. One of our older applications was single user only. I got a phone call saying their computer wasn't working any more and they wanted their money back for the application and also suggesting that we should pay for the computer to be reformatted and set up again. Turned out they had manually tried to make the application multi-user by moving program and Windows system files around on their computer to the point that it was now unbootable. Sigh.
Another memorable complaint:
3. I got back to my desk and found 6 emails, sent over the course of an hour from the same irate user. The first one complained that our application had disappeared from their computer and they wanted it back. The next email complained that they had paid "good money" for the software and didn't like the fact it had disappeared. Subsequent emails got more stroppy and aggressive. The 6th email was threatening legal action and saying they would give my company bad publicity etc unless I gave her the application back again straight away. I sent a polite email back asking for more details about the problem so I could resolve it. She replied saying that one of her colleagues had since solved the problem, apparently Windows had tidied up her desktop icons and hidden the one for our application as she hadn't used it for a while.
"3. I got back to my desk and found 6 emails, sent over the course of an hour from the same irate user. "
Situation: colleague in a server room half a mile away restoring a full system from backups.
User calls wanting to know why my colleague isn’t at his desk to answer the phone, and unless he gets his system back within 5 minutes it's getting escalated to director level.
Explain that it takes time to do a full restore but get "I want my system back NOW!".
After several repeat performances I decided to leave work on the dot of 5 rather than my usual 6 or 7 o'clock. Nothing was going to speed up those whirring tapes, but I could save myself the grief of the hostile phone calls.
> The most problematic users I've come across are ...
school teachers tended to be hell for me. They are always right about everything, never listen, always know better, even if they fail to understand what they are talking about. Apologies to teachers not like this, I know you exist.
Single worst customer I ever had (with me in IT support role) was a student of law. He was "friendly" enough (insults, profanity, and threats) to make me kill his account before he even hung up.
"Single worst customer I ever had (with me in IT support role) was a student of law."
Yes, those can be nasty. Inflated egos, overconfidence, legal threats, references to laws that do not quite apply.
But a student of psychology can also be a nuisance. Especially when there is a conflict situation brewing. When an accusation gets thrown about, things get quite illogical, there is no good way to repeal the accusation. Word 'no' means 'yes', because denial. Long and detailed explanation is obviously an attempt to dodge. Silence is a sign of agreement. Snarkiness is just a sign of inability to admit the truth. So it doesn't matter what is said, she's always right. Isn't that wonderful.
school teachers tended to be hell for me. They are always right about everything, never listen, always know better, even if they fail to understand what they are talking about. Apologies to teachers not like this, I know you exist.
I feel your pain. As the one and only IT teacher in the school ...
Posting this one as AC because I was the idiot. Using the self-checkout at a supermarket and paying cash, I realized I'd been trying to push coins into the credit card slot. Poorer close vision from aging might have been part of it. And the lighting. Any other excuses I've missed?
I always particularly enjoy the ones with no data in the message body.
Subject: "Unable to open excel file"
IT: "That isn't an excel file."
User: "I didn't realize there were other kinds!"
Subject: "Can't send any email."
Body: to anyone. Not even the help address.
User: "Oh. It's working now."
Subject: "Is the server down?"
IT: "Can you please be a little more specific? We run a large number of services. What is it exactly that you're currently unable to do?"
User: "I don't know. It's down. I can't get at any of my files or anything."
IT: "Ok, I think the best thing is for me to come and see you. Can you please tell me which office you're in?"
User: "Oh, I'm at home today."
IT: "Ah, so the problem is with our remote access portal. Are you getting any error messages? It seems to be working from here."
User: "What's that? I just took the PC from my desk home with me last night and now nothing works."
IT bod got an angry call from one of the higher up managers. Rushed to his office. Was greeted by manager screaming bloody murder that all emails had disappeared. A click on that little plus symbol fix the "problem". Manager didn't get any friendlier, crystalline MBA material that he was. For those not familiar with the abbreviation, "MBA" stands for "fucking waste of fucking oxygen".
Boss of IT department demanded apology to IT bod, in writing. That did not come forward. Hence manager did not get any sort of support from anyone. For over two years, until he left.
During those two years manager had quite a few mysterious IT related problems. Sometimes of rather bizarre nature, like curiously messed up presentation slides. Nobody in the IT department had a clue how such things could even happen at all! Honestly.
Elderly fella calls the shop complaining his cup holder broke and wanted to get a new one. He also asked how easy they would be to install. I let him know most person computers lack that feature and I would be happy to help him get it sorted.
Later that day, he arrived with a desktop PC with a broken CD tray. After a short discussion about what the drive actually was for, he still decided he wanted to replace it and would continue to use it as he had described.
Why is it that every time an "On Call" article is published, people feel the need to quote some ancient story as if it actually happened to them?
Go post it on Facebook instead - the idiots there will almost certainly believe it was really you and not the guy that posted it on Usenet years ago.
theyll be telling the one about the power failure next week...oh wait.
or the press any key one...oh wait.....
or the cup holder....
or the "pack your computer into a box and take it back to where you got it from" one....
or the one where the cat is clawing the printouts...
Because it DID happen to me, you pompous twit. The old "power failure" story, for real, retail store in 1999. Helldesk call for the POS system being down, turned out the power was out all the way down the road. I did in fact realize this when asking if the server was plugged in and she said "It's too dark to see back there."
What you young hotshots need to realize is that there's nothing too silly for a human to have done in the history of the world. NOTHING.
At the same job, one of our number was describing a gas station cashier with a nametag reading "SHI*HEAD", pronounced "Shi-theed". Just as we were all saying "No way!' one of our other number turned around and said he'd seen a kid at the pediatrician with that name the previous week.
Whatever weird story, it's (sadly) probably true.
i just did something stupid. i thought that your "GO" <program name> command was something id never seen before...thought it might speed up the process of it listing things as in "GO minesweeper"
so i was trying GO win fire etc
took me a while to realise that its an abbreviation of google chrome!! (what a twat!)
Had a funny feeling about these guys when I was onsite. Been verified now.
Initially called in with “I've been trying to get my wifes laptop to connect to a wireless printer and now it wont connect to the internet”
Ok, so I think he’s got one of the those ad hoc wireless network printers, and hes connected her laptop to it, thus no connection to the net anymore.
I get round there and hes got another (his) pc ethernetted (its right next to the router) and wirelessly connected. It seems he is flitting between them. So I stop that, turn off wireless. Then I put homeplugs in to get a decent connection (the wifi signal was crap) to the laptop. I change the printers to usb, they’ve got 2 of them, and never need to connect to each others - lets keep it simple.
Then he asks about increasing the wifi signal somewhere else in the house, so i put in a wifi home plug.
Then he rings me this morning and says that he couldn’t sleep properly last night because all of a sudden last night the internet stopped working and he’d spent loads of money and now everything is broken ….the internet keeps dropping out and he’s sure it’s the wifi home plug (for no logical reason) and can he bring it back.
I say I've never seen that happen. But he can bring it back if he likes. I ask him about the internet connection, did all his devices go off at once or only some etc. all of them went off.
I said then its your internet connection or maybe, very unlikely, your router. he has a shitty adsl 3 mb connection and the lines round here are awful. and he's with talk talk.
No it’s the wifi home plug…after you came nothing worked blah blah blah....although it did because i tested it.
So after 2 phone calls of about 30 mins each today, I say to him, ok, lets test it then. Go and test the net now on your ethernet connected machine. See if it works. Then plug the wifi plug in. does it still work.
Oh, I've had in plugged in most of the day and the net keeps disconnecting.
I say, so your internet was fine before I turned up.
He says, oh no, it disconnects all the time and has done for ages.
He then says that his mouse wont connect. He says that it’s a wifi mouse, and because I have disabled wifi on his laptop, it wont connect.
It doesn’t work like that I say. its not a wifi mouse, it’s a wireless mouse.
You can hear him scratching his head and the cogs whirring.
I say, well, unless its Bluetooth…hes got one of those old vaios with the big wifi slider.
So its Bluetooth. So I say, ok, I’ll remote in and have a look, it probably just needs pairing again. I’ll send you a link.
I don’t hear anything for hours and then he phones back and says, well, we printed out and read through your t’s and c’s for remote support and we don’t like them
(they basically say – you may have all sorts of things wrong with your pc I cant guarantee to fix them all, I am not responsible for all of your machines problems, i can only fix the ones you tell me about in the time rough frame i say i can, unexpected issues can occur because your machine is already fucked otherwise you wouldnt have called me etc …blah blah)
So I say well, I cant do anything then except come back on site.
I then say – you changed the batteries in the mouse…yes.
You’ve tried the connect button yes..
Doesn’t work at all?
After a bit of prodding eh says its “erratic”
So it does connect.
Then he tells me about how he’s been fiddling with the mouse settings and it does work but not at the right speed etc…
So then he starts telling me about his email not working some of the time. I say ITS YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION and he just wont listen. Wants to tell me the error codes…I say, itll be a pop error…cant find server ….how did I know that he asks ? Because the fucking internet is disconnecting. Have to explain that email works over the internet….
Ohh jesus this one is going to go on and on…
BOFH calls them Serial Whiners. Should be a part of standard training.
"First stop, the Serial Whiner, to break his spirit. I mention he should make a minor alteration to her machine, (ie. move the mouse), which'll mean the next 1000 problems she has will be his fault."
I have endless problems with undergrads here not having any comprehension of how to put batteries in equipment. I have one of those shaped-block-in-shaped-hole toys for infants on my desk now to drag out for them to do some practice on in front of their friends when I find batteries forced in the wrong way (including the contoured insert-one-way-only prismatic camera ones!).
My favorite from my helpdesk days was a middle aged lady who had problems remembering (among other things) which was a forward slash and which was a backslash, which was important for the e-mail application she needed to use.
Somehow, after about 8 calls over a couple of weeks to re-explain things and suggestions from me like "why don't we make a note of it" (which resulted in me getting a chat from the boss) we ended up with Plane taking off and Plane Landing, which magically fixed the problem. This became my new way to train people and it just worked for some reason - everyone just got it..
That was until one person joined the team and they looked puzzled at me and said "which way is the runway facing".
Suppose it just shows that whats logical to one person isn't to the next.
Back when I ran Helldesk , a mercifully brief contract covering for a mate who'd gone on to better things, I'd have written "PC" up for being a lazy .CNT and added him to my mental list of people to get rid of at the first opportunity.
Working the tech support phone you are the face of the company. You are also there to fucking help people (hint: the clue is in the name). The people calling need help and for many of them you are the only lifeline they have. They are probably already stressed enough from having to listen to our shitty hold music for ten minutes and they don't need you being a smartarse. It costs nothing to be helpful - even if that just means, in this case, working out that the file has gone missing and the caller needs to talk to someone else (bonus points for pointing him in the right direction) - and the whole company looks good and I get to add another successful resolution to our numbers. Enough of the latter (but not so many that the baseline gets pushed up, please) and we all get a bonus at the end of the year.
If you can't manage that then you should be looking for another line of work. Mocking people who are unfortunate enough to be in the position of relying on technology which is, to them, little short of black magic, says more about our insecurity than their ignorance.
OK, having said all that, the bloke I took over running that support desk from went on to run internal training. It was around the time that PCs were being dumped on C-level desks and I suspect someone in the company thought that if they could teach executives read and answer their own email then they could sack a few secretaries and PAs. My mate was the guy who did the teaching and his best story was the CFO who had got it into his head that you couldn't lift the mouse off the desk. Cue "click on blah", "it won't reach", etc.
I also don't get the calling people "sir" thing. I've never done it and never had it done to me. If someone on tech support did so, I'd probably assume they were taking the piss and tell them that the call will go a lot smoother is they drop the condescension. Every time I see it in story about a support call, it makes me think the story is made up by some 15 year old geek working as a junior salesman at whatever big box consumer electronics store blights your region.
The problem is it does cost to be helpful -- too many time-wasting calls (like the one in the article where the customer wanted support for something not covered by that particular helldesk) and you're not getting to the real calls quick enough and, in the worst case, bang goes your "productivity bonus" (or whatever it's called).
Yes, of course, it's best to be polite and, if possible, give help rather than get rid of customers but in the real world of the helldesk time is a precious commodity one can't afford to waste on a customer who's not paying for it.
There are enough genuine issues to keep helldesks busy without having to help people who either can't be bothered to think for themselves or call the wrong people entirely.
"I also don't get the calling people "sir" thing. I've never done it and never had it done to me."
Happens an awful lot in the flyover states, in my experience.
It is slightly better than people trying to get your first name so they can call you by it.
It was put to me once that you shouldn't do this, because the only people who really call you 'sir' are police officers and it means that you are in trouble. So bad associations.
Similarly, the only people one calls 'madam' are brothel keepers!
I remember when we first gave PCs to our County Councillors - at the end of a council meeting, we had a pile of PCs in boxes (Acer 486/DX2 66s), 15" CRT monitors in bigger boxes, and some little Canon BJ-200 printers in little boxes.
"Please take one of each box" we told them, and then we'll come and set them up in your houses for you. For the majority, this worked reasonably well, except for the ones who took three monitors, (presumably bigger box=more powerful?) or one who took three printers as "they didn't have a lot of room for a computer".
Some years later, we did a second roll out, and we took the new kit with us to avoid the cleanups we'd had to do first time round. Again, this worked reasonably well, except for one guy who was very difficult to get an appointment made with, until he asked if we couldn't do it while he was out. Guess which councillor had specified that we could only install kit if the councillor was on site while we did it...
"Working the tech support phone you are the face of the company. You are also there to fucking help people (hint: the clue is in the name). The people calling need help and for many of them you are the only lifeline they have"
There's definitely a problem and it starts near the top of the food chain.
Manglement treat helpdesk workers with contempt only slightly below that they hold for customers once they've lightened the contents of their wallets.
Is it any wonder companies get such poor customer service ratings?
One that really irked me was a high-paid legal consultant, making 6 figures for a 6-month stint. She couldn't get her monitor to work. I asked her if she'd pressed the power button and if it had a little blue light lit up behind it. "Of course I've tried that!" Naturally, I walked across the building to her office and pushed the power button, then wordlessly walked out.
I also drove through some terrible weather to find someone had plugged a UPS into itself. (a perpetual motion machine it was not) Have had dead laptops where people swore they just stopped working, yet when I turned it over at least a half cup of water poured out.
I think the key is to treat them with respect yet let them feel how foolish they are without pointing it out. Making them angry doesn't teach them anything, yet using the approach your parents did of making them feel like they've disappointed you does.
'In the magical days of dialup internet' the majority of the time Internet Explorer wasn't even installed or had Internet Explorer 2. - as an ISP we had to provide CD's for Trumpet Winsock and *the* Netscape browser just for a Windows machine to connect to any service.
If you remember, it wasn't until Win98 SE that you could connect (mostly) right out of the box.
I have been summoned at 11 p.m. after trying unsuccessfully to solve the problem over the phone, only to discover that on the CNC machine involved, somebody had accidentally pushed the large latching red button, probably with his backside. Release latch, press green button, exit silently.
I concur with the people who say that all the well known issues such as thinking the CD was a cupholder really do happen multiple times and many people think they are the first person it has ever happened to.
So, at risk of being told this is an old story, I will merely recount the tale of the ex-PC World manager in a new job who demanded very loudly to know where the emails had gone. Nothing after Wednesday was visible. You never got these problems at PC World, the staff there were competent.
Sort order newest first, grasp slider with mouse and slide up, missing emails reappear, exit.
I had a similar thing with disappearing emails - we'd had lots of problems with NHS identity service for one particular user, who'd had multiple PCs, keyboards, smart cards etc to try and solve it, I eventually got sent out as the local field engineer to do some digging and get it going, which eventually I did. As I was wrapping up and asking her to check that everything worked OK, she asked if I had any idea why her email had started disappearing since she'd been given the new PC. I did some quick digging, couldn't see anything in Deleted Items, so settling down for a look on the Exchange servers, I asked when it was happening: "oh, it's stuff that comes in last thing in the afternoon usually - if I don't get it done that night, it isn't there in the morning". At that point, I twigged that the email wasn't disappearing, it's just Outlook 2010 moving it from "Today" (which was expanded) to "Yesterday" (which wasn't). Explained it nicely, user happy and not embarrassed, good day all round.
I think I lost it when this creepy lady bursted in tears because he printer was paper-jammed. See, she was unable to read anything on screen, had to print every single darn email ! So the printer was on the critical path. I fixed it, only to see she had spent one hour re-printing again and again the emails plus a gigantic listing. I could have sorted it out on the servers' printing queue, but instead decided I couldn't be arsed.
She therefore spent half the day feeding the printer ... It probably took 500 pages to flush the queue.
Oh and this lady who would complain every 6 months about her password all of a sudden not working. We were implementing 6 months expiry policies, and apparently, her brain was not able to learn another password, so she would resort to this tale in order to restore here only acceptable password.
When my father's firm acquired a mainframe and a Wang word processing system, the senior partner insisted on having all his emails printed out by his PA and submitted to him exactly as if they were letters, to which he dictated a reply, signed it and the replies were then solemnly retyped into the internal email system.
But he had a point. He had access to all relevant information in a form to which he and his PA had become used over many years, and at his hourly billing rate this probably cost a lot less than trying to get him to use a keyboard and screen.
As for the Wang system, the daisy wheel printers were abominably noisy compared to the old IBM golfball typewriters. So they were exiled to a room at the far end of the corridor full of paper files. The long, lonely corridor on the 5th floor.
Of course stuff was constantly jamming and running out of paper and the secretaries did not like going to the print room on their own, so two of them had to go to fix any problems. The effect on productivity can be imagined.
At this point my father retired, with much relief.
Not a point at all. A few hours of his "hourly rate" to learn how to review the emails and dictate responses to his secretary would have saved a lot of time in the long run.
I lost all patience with that excuse when I worked at a major law firm in the late 90s that placed PCs on every desk, including those of the senior partners. Once such gentleman (he would have been in his late 60s/early 70s, very aristocratic) phoned the helpdesk to get assistance with sending his first email (his secretary was away). I walked him through using the space bar to insert spaces between the words, and the return key to put spaces between paragraphs. He was delighted.
I imagine he still dictated 99% of his email responses, but he could now do emailing himself in a pinch. He told me he no longer required his emails to be printed out - it was quicker for him (as it was, naturally), to read them himself. Of course, his secretary triaged them in advance, but it was an excellent hybrid solution.
Yeah this one has to be AC I'm afraid:
I have two phones (I assume most of us here do!), one for work and one personal, only a very small number of close colleagues and our HR department have my personal number. The work one is turned off if I'm not on call.
11pm on a relxing Saturday evening my personal number rings, I can see it's from our head office outgoing number, so I foolishly answer it.
"The GIS system has been down for 8 hours, what the **** are you doing about it?"
I politely explain that the aforementioned system is on a Monday to Friday 7am-7pm support contract, paid for by a different department to the one the senior manager in question works for, that he and his colleagues decided would be sufficient based on the value of the system.
I also explained that however much he swore down the phone to either the service desk or myself, that there will be no one available in our support providers office until Monday morning, but that there is a chance that it's a repeat of a previously occuring database fault , in which case it will possibly come back on Sunday morning at 3am when the backup cycle ends and the databases are restarted, I referred him to the correct out of hours contact and hung up on him.
Got in Monday morning to find that a formal complaint had been logged about my attitude, and that my manager wanted me to meet HR, interestingly after I countered with a complaint about recieiving a rude and sweary phone call at an unsocial hour, with my union rep enquiring whom in the HR department had shared my personal phone number the disciplinary action disappeared.
I resubmitted the quote we'd previously got for upgrading the DBMS and moving to 24/7 support, and oddly enough the decision was made once again to continue with current levels of support and live with the known error.
Sadly the same arrogant gentleman still works at making my former colleagues life hell, and due to his status he's never been picked up on his unprofessional behaviour.
"interestingly after I countered with a complaint about recieiving a rude and sweary phone call at an unsocial hour, with my union rep enquiring whom in the HR department had shared my personal phone number the disciplinary action disappeared."
Too bad you don't record your calls. That might have been enough to allow manglement to pick up on said unprofessional behaviour.
I took a course in college on "Data Processing" back in 1978. They had us learn to do a few things in BASIC and use the campus computer to print out our programs on paper. We used punch cards to input our data into the mainframe. Dinosaur days. I decided after that course I wanted nothing more to do with computers.
1993, new job, everyone used computers and email. I had to learn Windows 3.1 and how to use a mouse. I vividly remember the poor IT people teaching us how to left-click and drag.
1996 I bought my first computer. I took it home, knowing almost nothing whatsoever. Some of you lovely people undoubtedly had to suffer through at least one head-slappable support call from me, so I thank you for your time and your patience. :) In the intervening 20 years I've learned a ton, so now I call support very rarely. Google IS my friend and so is RTFM.
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