Saturday, November 8, 2008

Stupefying Linux and Unix Humor

Hey there,

Hope your Saturday's going well and you've managed to make it through another work week without hurting yourself or someone else ;) I'm still working (during my off time) on the many many suggestions for our bash cable TV listings script so that we have a decent update by Monday. Of course, while I do all that sort of puttering around (trying to figure out where they're hiding what information, and so forth) I like to take a break, now and again, to see if I can't find something to lighten the mood. Generally, the newspapers (online or off) don't go out of their way to make sure I get a good chuckle in ( Bad news is in such huge supply, you'd think they'd let it go every once in a while. There's gonna be plenty left at the table whenever they get back to it ;)

This week I found a few good links. This ones a "stupid humor" type of page (just what the doctor ordered when you've thought yourself into a migraine headache ;) from a few years back. It's from site called Computer Stupidities in their Stupid Tech Support section. It's a collection of a ton of experiences folks have either written in about, or the editors have made up (hard to tell, but, then again... does it matter?) This is good for at least a few laughs, and there's plenty of material on this one page alone.

Here's hoping a few of these recollected encounters with the stupid cause you to break out in a fit of levity ;)

Happy Saturday :)

Stupid Tech Support

By no means is tech support immune to exhibiting computer stupidity of
their own. This page consists of stories of customers that just can't get
the help they need.

  • Customer: "Hi, I can't seem to connect you guys are you having a problem?"

  • Tech Support: "Well sir, what dialup software are you using?"

  • Customer: "The one you provided."

  • Tech Support: "And what version is it?"

  • Customer: (says the version number)

  • Tech Support: "Oh, that's the problem you need the latest version."

  • Customer: "Ok, how do I get it?"

  • Tech Support: "Well, just transfer the file via FTP."

  • Customer: "Well that would be nice, but I can't connect to the Internet."

  • Tech Support: (sounding exasperated) "I told you just to FTP the file sir."

I hung up.

I had trouble downloading an operating system upgrade for a PDA, so I called
tech support.

  • Me: "I can't seem to get this download to complete. What might be causing it?"

  • Tech Support: "What operating system are you running?"

  • Me: "Windows NT."

  • Tech Support: "Well, you have to be running Windows 98 or better in order to download it."

  • Me: "Ummm, I am. I'm running Windows NT4, SP5."

  • Tech Support: "Are you on a PC or a MAC?"

A friend of mine told me that when he was in junior high school
(mid-to-late nineties), they got a computer in the classroom free for the
students to use during breaks. The first thing many of them would do to
was to change the dull Windows 95 desktop. The school's IT Manager for
some reason thought of this as vandalism, so he frequently fixed it in the
only way he knew how -- by reinstalling Windows.

I was almost on the floor laughing when my friend told me about how the
IT Manager had come into their classroom one day and told the students,
"Will you STOP changing the desktop background? I've had to reinstall Windows
every day for the last two weeks now!"

Back when high-speed internet was first getting started, my parents wanted
to hop on the bandwagon right away and called a technician to come set them
up. At the time I was in junior high school and couldn't be there when the
tech showed up.

It is important to note that although we were quick in getting high-speed
Internet, we didn't have a particularly state-of-the-art machine. It
didn't have a cdrom drive, for example, but I assumed the tech would
be installing the software from a floppy.

Imagine my horror when I came home and found my mother trying to dig the CD
out of our ancient 5 1/4" drive with a key, while the "tech" stood behind
her, scratching his head and saying, "I've seriously never seen one of those
before. Are you SURE it's not a cdrom drive?"

I was cleaning up my wife's little bit of webspace and found I couldn't
delete the files in one folder. Since I could upload/rename/delete other
files with any FTP client I chose, it was clearly a server problem.

Inexplicably, ownership of the files had been changed by the ISP. It
took a transfer to the second tier support to fix the problem, but even at
that level, I got asked this question:

  • Tech Support: "Do you have a firewall?"

  • Me: "!!! What's that have to do with the problem?"

  • Tech Support: "Um, I dunno."

This is straight from a call log of a major computer company that happens
to have technical support technicians in India and other points outside of
the United States.

Problem Description: Client wants to know the MAC address for
the computer. Advise client that I have no way of knowing or obtaining that
information. Advise client that she would more than likely need to call
Apple to see if they could point her in the direction of obtaining that.
Client says that the MAC address is not a macintosh address. Client says
that the MAC address can be obtained by doing an ipconfig /all. Client
ended up disconnecting the call. During the call I believe I could hear
someone else listening. Just before the call was ended by the client there
was a something faintly said but I could not make it out.

Resolution: Advise client to contact Apple.

I'm not the most technical of people, but a few years ago, I got the
infamous "blue screen of death." I called in the IT department, and the
new guy told me that my monitor just had to be "de-gassed" (degaussed).
Needless to say, I rolled around the floor laughing, and someone else
was called in to replace my hard drive.

My boyfriend and I were sitting in my dorm room, when there was a power surge,
causing my computer to reboot. Unfortunately, it never got very far and popped
up an error message about a missing file. Panicking, I reboot again, and
the same thing happened. Foolishly, I decided to call my computer's tech
support line, and after struggling with their automated system, I finally
got through to someone.

  • Tech Support: "Thank you for calling tech support. How may I help you?"

  • Me: "Yeah, um, I just had a power surge in my dorm room, and my computer won't reboot. It's giving me the error message: [error message]"

  • Tech Support: "Have you tried rebooting?"

  • Me: "Yeah. Want me to try again?"

  • Tech Support: "Yes, go ahead. Tell me when Windows comes up."

  • Me: "'s giving me the same error message. It's not even getting into Windows."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's try rebooting again, but this time, hold the button down for longer."

  • Me: " much longer?"

  • Tech Support: "About five seconds."

  • Me: "All right. Holding it down now...ok, it's rebooting."

  • Tech Support: "Good. Tell me when Windows comes up."

  • Me: "Same error."

  • Tech Support: "Ok. Let's try a hard reboot. Turn your computer all the way off, then unplug the power cable."

  • Me: (??) "All right, it's out."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, now hold down your power button and plug it back in. But don't let go of the power button yet."

  • Me: "Er. Ok. Tell me when to let go."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let go. Tell me when Windows comes up."

  • Me: "Same error message. Windows isn't coming up."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's try looking at your BIOS."

  • Me: "All right."

  • Tech Support: "Reboot your computer, and when it's coming up, hit F1 as many times as you can."

  • Me: "Can't I just hit it once?"

  • Tech Support: "No, your computer should start beeping. I want to make sure it beeps."

  • Me: "All right, it beeped. BIOS came up a while ago."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's walk through some things...."

He proceeded to do nothing more than confirm there was nothing wrong with
my BIOS. He had me reboot again, and, of course, I got the same error

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's try bios one more time."

  • Me: "All right."

  • Tech Support: "Now, when it's rebooting, I want you to hit the F1 key as many times as you can. It has to beep for this to work."

  • Me: "I really don't think my computer 'beeping' has anything to do with the problem."

  • Tech Support: "I think I know a little more about computers than you do, ma'am."

  • Me: "All right, fine, I'm hitting it. My computer is beeping."

  • Tech Support: "I don't believe you."

  • Me: "...Excuse me?"

  • Tech Support: "I think you're lying. I need you to hit it as many times as you can. This is very important."

Finally, I gave up on the guy and made my boyfriend finish the call.
About half a minute into the call, my boyfriend gets a really funny look
on his face and ejects the floppy disk that was in the drive.
He rebooted it, and it worked fine.

I suppose this doubles as a stupid user story too, but you'd think a tech
support person would have checked for that early on, instead all the other
dumb things he had me do.

I called up tech support because Internet Explorer insisted on opening
everything I was trying to download with Quicktime.

  • Customer: "Internet Explorer insists on opening everything I try to download with Quicktime."

  • Tech Support: "Ok."

  • Customer: "So whenever I click on anything that I want to download it tries to open it with Quicktime."

  • Tech Support: "Are you sure that its not a Quicktime file?"

  • Customer: "No it's an exe file."

  • Tech Support: "So it's not a Quicktime file?"

  • Customer: "No, and I can't right click either, to do a Save Target As."

  • Tech Support: "Oh, but you're sure it's not a Quicktime file, right?"

  • Customer: "Yes, it is an executable file, DOT E X E, not DOT M O V."

  • Tech Support: "Is it a .exe that can be opened in Quicktime?"

I use a cable modem ISP, one of North America's largest ISPs. During one of
their interminable outages, I called to demand what the problem was.

  • Tech Support: "Is your computer on? Is the modem plugged in?"

  • Me: "Yes, it's on and working fine. The modem's plugged in, but it isn't getting anything from your end."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, can you click on the 'Start' button and type 'WINIPCFG'--"

  • Me: "Yes, I know. My IP is listed as 169.XXX.XXX.XXX."

This IP was the one Windows 98 usually gives when it's supposed to have one
assigned to it but doesn't get one.

  • Tech Support: "Well, sir, that's the problem."

  • Me: "Yes, I know. I'm getting no IP. I'm not in the network."

  • Tech Support: "No, sir, the problem is that you're using a Mac."


  • Me: "I'm sorry?"

  • Tech Support: "Sir, your IP is a Mac IP. You're not using a PC."

  • Me: "Uhhh, I am using a PC. It's a Dell with an Intel PII-450 CPU. I'm running Windows 98."

  • Tech Support: "No, sir. Your IP indicates that your computer is a Mac. IPs that start with those numbers are used by Macs."

  • Me: "You know, I don't think it works that way. I'm pretty certain IPs are assigned based on where the computer is in a domain and a subdomain and such. I know all your IPs assigned in this area start with XXX. And I'm quite certain my computer is a PC."

  • Tech Support: "I don't think we use 'domain' here."

  • Me: "Can I speak to a supervisor, please?"


I was having a problem with my Internet connection a week ago.
It would go off, but both the modem and router said it was on. I first
called the manufacturer of the router, who guided me through some steps, and
we came to the conclusion it was the modem. I noticed it happened more
often when I started my new game Battlefield 2, so I called EA Games, and
they told me to open ports.

Then I called my ISP.

  • Tech Support: "How may I help you today?"

  • Me: "Hi, I was wondering if you could open
    some ports on my connection. I need them open for this game I have, and
    I've opened them on my end, but the game says that you should also open
    your end as well."

  • Tech Support: "So you want to stick your game
    into the modem?"

  • Me: "No, I want you to open some ports so I
    can play the game."

  • Tech Support: "Sir, you cannot stick a
    game into your modem, you need a computer to stick the game into--"

  • Me: "Ummm, I don't want to stick the game
    into my modem, I want you to O-P-E-N P-O-R-T-S!!!"

  • Tech Support: "There's a cdrom drive on your
    computer. If you press the button that is next to or says 'cdrom drive,'
    a thing that looks like a cup holder will come out. Stick your game--"

  • Me: "!@#$*!@%"

Some shuffling sounds on their end.

  • Supervisor: "Hello sir."

  • Me: "Would it be possible for you to open
    some ports on my internet connection so I can play a game. I've already
    done it on the router I have."

  • Supervisor: "Sir, you cannot put a game into
    your modem. It doesn't work."

  • Me: "!@#$*!@%"

So then I called the company's business center, and I was told that
opening ports would cost a LOT of money.

I called tech support again, and finally got routed to their site in Texas.
I told him my problem with the modem and ports and relayed to him the
story. After laughing and apologizing, he told me (after I gave him the
modem model number) that my modem was out of date.

The new modem took five minutes to configure, and it worked fine.

This incident happened to me in India. This was in 1992-3 when Windows 3.1
was becoming popular. My machine had a CGA card and monitor, which I exchanged
for a VGA card and monitor. The machine booted up -- there were no warning
beeps -- but nothing was appearing on the screen. So I called up tech

  • Customer: "The computer boots up without any warning beeps, but nothing shows up on the screen."

  • Tech Support: "Is the monitor connected."

  • Customer: "Yes, but there is no display."

  • Tech Support: "Did you install the drivers for the VGA card?"

  • Customer: "How can I install them before I'm in DOS?"

  • Tech Support: "You have to install the drivers first before you can get a display."

  • Customer: "You don't need VGA drivers to boot to DOS like you do for Windows. I should be able to boot to DOS."

  • Tech Support: "Well, insert the floppy you received with your card. Go to the A:\Utilities directory. Type ''."

  • Customer: "I cannot see anything. How do you expect me to read a file on the screen?"

  • Tech Support: "Read the file, and it will explain everything."

I hung up. The problem was that the monitor was broken. I took it to the
shop and proved it, and they gave me a replacement.

After owning my computer for a little over two months I noticed the
system was sluggish.

  • Me: "My system's really slow on bootup."

  • Tech Support: "Have you been on the net for a long time?"

  • Me: "Well, yeah, about a month or two."

  • Tech Support: "Try deleting the cache. Oh, and do you have a virus scanner?"

  • Me: "Yes, it was the first thing I put on the hard drive."

  • Tech Support: "Oh, get rid of it. That's the problem. Those virus scanners screw things up on your disk. Get rid of it."

  • Me: "Isn't that risky?"

  • Tech Support: "And you'll have to format your hard drive with Quick Reinstall. That's really all I know."

  • Me: "Um...sure. Sure I will."

A friend cleaned up my system path, and the boot lag cleared right up.
And guess what? I didn't have to format my hard drive after all.

My school district decided to require us school psychologists to do all our
reports on laptops and print from a single printer. After a few months the
laptop they provided me ceased to work with the printer. I spoke with the IT

  • IT Manager: "I don't know if the problem is a hardware problem or a software problem."

  • Me: "Ok."

  • IT Manager: "So I can't solve the problem now."

  • Me: "When can you solve it?"

  • IT Manager: "I told you: I don't know if it is a hardware problem or a software problem. I can't fix it until I know."

  • Me: "Ok. I need to print my reports. When will I be able to?"

  • IT Manager: (angrily) "Look, if it's a hardware problem I can't fix it! I don't know if it is a hardware or a software problem."

I made several more attempts to communicate with the IT manager about this
problem over the next few weeks, only to find myself in the same
conversation. Finally, I sent a memo to my boss, explaining that I was
having difficulty getting tech support and could not print out my reports.
My boss wrote back:

  • Boss: "Please do not harass the IT Manager anymore. He has already explained to you that he doesn't know whether it is a software problem or a hardware problem."

  • Technician: "What a bad day! The PC is not working well, the phone is out of order, and I wounded my fingers when trimming the network plug with a knife to fit the PC hole."

A few weeks ago I was calling around to some local phone companies,
looking for DSL. I have cable right now, but I'm extremely unhappy with
the pathetic support they give. Anyway, the phone company is one of the
main providers of DSL, so I called their number to ask some questions.

  • Me: "I want to get more information about the DSL."

  • Her: "What would you like to know?"

  • Me: "Is the 768K download in bits or bytes? I'm assuming bits."

  • Her: "I believe it's in bytes."

  • Me: "So you are giving me faster than my cable connection for cheaper? Are you sure its not 768 kilobits, which is about 96 kilobytes?"

  • Her: "I'm pretty sure it's 768 kilobytes."

  • Me: "Ok, that works. As for the IP address, is it static or dynamic?"

  • Her: "It's dymanic."

  • Me: "Oh, ok. So how often does it change?"

  • Her: "The only time it ever changes is when you go in there and change it."

  • Me: "Ummmm, then how would that be dynamic if it never changes?"

  • Her: (click)

Ok, so, strike one. The girl in tech support didn't know what she was
talking about, so she hung up on me.

I called back, and this time a man answered the phone. I told him the
girl was not only clueless but hung up on me, and I am already
considering not using them. He said he would try to help.

I asked him the same questions. The download speed is 768 kilobits.
The IP address is dynamic and changes every few hours. But he couldn't
answer anything else: he didn't know where I would get the DSL modem from,
if they are using internal DHCP, how the changing IP address will affect
my connectivity and downloads, etc. He finally admitted that at that
particular call center, they really don't know much about it. He gave me
a number for tech support.

I called that number and a lady answered. She gave me a set of responses
that were different still.

I finally wrote in to their customer service and told them that after
one person clearly had no clue what she was talking about and hung up on me,
a second was guessing and admitted he didn't know, and tech support gave
me completely different answers, I will not be using their services. The
next day I received a reply. The man who replied basically said he was
sorry for such bad service, and please call the following number for support.
It was the number I dialed the first time.

I use a cable modem company for my Internet service. One day, it was not
working. So I called our neighbors down the street and found that theirs was
not working either. I decided to call tech support to see if it was down in
our area. The message did not list it, so I went ahead to ask tech support.

  • Tech Support: "Oh, we've been getting a lot of calls from that area today."

  • Customer: "So service down in this area, then?"

  • Tech Support: "Hmmm, well, my records don't show that. Okay, let's check your settings."

  • Customer: "I've already checked my settings; they are fine. But I can see that the light on the cable modem isn't on. I just want to know if service is down and if someone is working on the problem."

  • Tech Support: "Hmmm, the problem isn't on our end, it's on your end. Maybe you should try to re-install your drivers. Sometimes the drivers just fail."

  • Customer: "Ma'am, we have five computers connected to the cable modem? None of them can get online. Are you saying all their drivers failed simultaneously?"

  • Tech Support: "Oh, your computers are networked? Well, we don't support networks."

  • Customer: "That's fine, I have my PC connected directly to the cable modem right now."

  • Tech Support: "Well, just re-install your modem drivers. Go to Control Panel...."

  • Customer: "Wait, you are telling me that five PCs of five different brands with five different drivers failed simultaneously? And how about the rest of the area? I think your service is down."

  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, I think it's your drivers."

  • Customer: "Uh, thanks, I'll check it out and call you back."

I called back 30 minutes later. It turns out service was down in our area.

About a year ago, my mother was having problems with her brand new computer.
She hadn't had it for a month before the video card died. She called the
customer service line and spoke with a technical support representative, who
diagnosed the problem and promised that they would send a new card to her.

She received the new card and called the 800 number again, this time asking
what to do with the card. The guy that was helping her said, "Do you see the
screws on the back of the computer? Well, take them all out and take off the
case. You will see a card that looks like the one you just received. Replace
it with the card you have and put the case back on." And then he hung up.

So here is my mother, staring at the back of her computer, seeing an array of
screws, and wondering which ones she should take out. She followed his
directions to the letter and unscrewed all of the screws on the back
of her computer, not just the ones around the casing edge. All of her
computer components hit the bottom of the case with a bang.

When the dust settled and she realized what she had done, she called
back, in hysterics. Thankfully, she got a nice woman who understood and
agreed that it was the tech support guy's fault for not staying with her
on the phone. She agreed to ship her a new computer at no charge.

When I was in college, I needed to connect to the school's network from my
own computer in my dorm room. I knew there was a dial-up number that
would allow me to log in and run limited commands. All I needed to know was
the number. So I called the help desk.

  • Me: "I'm trying to access the University's network from my computer in my dorm room. Can you help me?"

  • Help Desk: "Which lab are you in?"

  • Me: "I'm not in a lab. I'm in my room."

  • Help Desk: "Then you're not on the network."

  • Me: "But I want to connect over the phone line. What number do I need to dial?"

  • Help Desk: "You need to call [phone number of help desk]."

  • Me: "No, that's your phone number. I need a dial-up number for the computer."

  • Help Desk: "I don't understand. What are you trying to do?"

  • Me: "I want to connect my computer to the school's network through the dial-up."

  • Help Desk: "Why don't you use a computer in the lab?"

  • Me: "That would defeat the purpose of having a computer in my room."

  • Help Desk: "Well, your computer is not connected to the school network."

  • Me: "I know! I want to use my modem to connect."

  • Help Desk: "What's a modem?"

  • Me: "Never mind."

  • Me: "I was thinking of installing Linux, but I was wondering if you knew if the modem works under Linux."

  • Tech Support: "Oh, I'm sorry, we only support Windows."

  • Me: "I know. I was just wondering if you knew if it was possible."

  • Tech Support: "But we only support Windows."

  • Me: "I know, but just to save me some time, have you heard of anyone that got Linux to work with the modem?"

  • Tech Support: (getting annoyed) "Why can't you just use Netscape?"

  • Me: "Uh, wha? It's not a browser, it's a--never mind. Thanks for your help."

  • Customer: "When my computer boots up, all I get is a black screen that says, 'boot2/'."

  • Tech Support: "What operating system are you using?"

  • Customer: "I'm using Windows 98 and NT 4.0."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, I'm the Mac tech. The Windows tech is gone, but I can try to help you."

  • Customer: "Ok, what should I do? I've reformatted the hard drive and have fresh installs of both operating systems."

  • Tech Support: "Sir, have you put any cheese or mustard in your a drive?"

  • Customer: "What? Did you just ask me if I put cheese or mustard in my floppy drive?"

  • Tech Support: "Yeah, we've had that happen a lot lately."

  • Customer: (staring blankly at roommate, who was laughing uncontrollably on the floor) "I think I'll wait for the PC tech to get back. Thanks for the help." (click)

Last term in college I was working in the lab when my network connection
suddenly died. Mine was the only computer doing that, and we're not
supposed to mess with the computers ourselves, so I called the lab attendant

This guy was a fourth term programming major. I don't know how he was this
stupid. But I told him what was wrong and what error message I was getting
("no route to host") and figured he'd go behind the computer and check the

No. He brought up the menu on the monitor (that allows you to adjust the
size, shape, tint, brightness, etc, of the display) and starts fiddling with
that. He told me to try again. Obviously it didn't work.

  • Me: "Why don't you just check the network wires?"

  • Him: "I'm the computer expert here. Just let me work."

He fiddled with the monitor settings some more. Finally he slapped the
monitor and said:

  • Him: "Well, I don't know what's wrong. That's what they get for having NT servers."

When he left, I checked the back of the computer. As I thought, the
wire had gotten pulled out.

  • Me: "Yes, I'm having trouble with the connect suite for dial-up."

  • Tech Support: "What seems to be the problem?"

  • Me: "I get random disconnects, I can't always get the dialer to work, and web pages often give strange time-out errors. I set everything up according to the documentation."

I thought, at this juncture, I'd get the usual "let's go through the
setup just to be sure" routine. I was wrong.

  • Tech Support: "Yes, well, that program doesn't work on everyone's computer."

  • Me: "I know that. It doesn't work on mine, for instance."

  • Tech Support: "Well, we don't know why it doesn't always work. You should consider getting a new computer."

My company recently hired a new technician, and at first he seemed to
know what he was doing, but soon he got in over his head.
A customer brought in a system and said she couldn't get on the
Internet. When the tech couldn't get the plug-n-play modem to work
under Win3.11, he assumed it was a new modem, and it couldn't be done. He
called her.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, this modem, since it is plug-n-play, will not work in Windows 3.11. You'll have to get a new modem or install the Windows 95 upgrade."

  • Customer: "But I've been using that modem for over a year in Windows 3.11, and it never gave me any problems."

  • Tech Support: "Well it doesn't work now."

  • Customer: "If it worked before, why would it not work now?"

  • Tech Support: "Lightning must have hit it, and now it won't work in anything but Windows 95."

She called back later and asked for someone else.

A year ago, I was programming a database for one of the larger
insurance companies in my state. The computers they had were awful
things that still ran Windows 3.1 and took about three minutes to boot up.

One morning I turned on my computer and waited for it to boot. Just as
it loaded Windows, it started rebooting all over again. I waited again,
and it did it again. After about ten times, I began to wonder. I would have
just loaded DOS and found the problem, but one of the security systems on
the computers there automatically rebooted the computer if you went to a
DOS prompt.

So I called tech support and explained the problem.

  • Tech Support: "Ok sir, have you tried rebooting the computer?"

I have a Pentium 100 that I bought in March 1996. I moved since then and
lost the documentation about the motherboard. I called tech support.

  • Me: "Hi, I have a Pentium 100, and I want to put in a faster processor, a 133 MHz. I lost my motherboard documentation and the jumpers aren't marked. Can you tell me what the maximum is for the board I have?"

I give him all the information he needs, restating the question three
times in the process.

  • Tech Support: "I don't have that information."

  • Me: "You guys built the machine. Don't you have an engineer somewhere with this information?"

  • Tech Support: "Um, I don't know let me ask."

Ten minutes later:

  • Tech Support: "Ok, I am going to transfer you to a technician."

  • Technician: "Ok, you want to put a 133 processor on this board?"

  • Me: "Yes."

  • Technician: "This board only goes up to 100 MHz. You can use it with Pentium 75, 90, or 100."

  • Me: "That's a disappointment -- I wish you hadn't sent me a machine with no upgrade flexibility like that."

  • Technician: "Well, you can put the P133 in -- it will run at 133, even though when it boots it will only say 100."

  • Me: "REALLY? In the five years I have been working with PC hardware and software, and of all the machines I have upgraded, I have never heard of this. Are you sure you are correct?"

  • Technician: (long pause) "Um, no."

  • Me: "You just wanted to get me off the phone, right? Well, I just wanted the answer about my board -- if the answer is no, fine, but don't lie to me."

  • Technician: "Um, sorry. No, you can't upgrade that board to a processor faster than 100."

  • Me: "Hi, I have a problem with my left speaker, no sound is coming out of it."

  • Tech Support: "Have you adjusted the balance in the volume properties?"

  • Me: "Yes, it's definitely not that, and it's not a sound card or connection problem either. Could you just send me some new speakers? It's still under warranty."

  • Tech Support: "Errrm, ok, I want you to go to DOS and type 'format c:' and then restore your hard disk from the master CD."

  • Me: (click)

I called my cable modem service about a problem involving a series of constant
disconnections and lock ups.

  • Tech Support: "Oh, you need to empty your browser's cache."

  • Me: "Well, that's a different program."

  • Tech Support: "Do you use Internet Explorer or Netscape?"

  • Me: "Internet Explorer."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, click on View/Properties/Internet Options."

  • Me: "I'm sorry but cache files from an entirely different program couldn't possibly be causing this."

  • Tech Support: "Hmm, let me refer you to advanced technical support."

The advanced technician knew exactly what the problem was and solved it.
A month later it happened again.

  • Tech Support: "When was the last time you cleaned your browser's cache?"

Yet again I was forwarded to advanced tech support, and my problem was solved.
A while later, it happened a third time.

  • Tech Support: "Oh, it's the cable line in your area. We'll get a truck rolling on it right away."

  • Me: "If it's the cable line, how am I able to connect at all?"

  • Tech Support: "There could be a short in one of the lines, and that could be causing it."

The next day the cable repairman arrived and checked the lines in my area,
but my service was again working flawlessly even before he arrived. When he
left, I turned on the TV and noticed the cable was out.

I'm a system administrator for a fairly large company. We were shipping
out new desktop PC's to all our branches, but the PC's did not come with
installed modems. I installed modems in these machines and configured
all the necessary software before I shipped them out. I received a call
from one branch manager stating that his modem would not work. I had
his try all the standard tests, and it appeared that the modem had
become unseated.

He called the IS director and asked why I hadn't tested the machine before
I sent it. I tried to explain that I did, and the card had become unseated
in shipping. The IS director, knowing that I install PCanywhere on all
machines so I can troubleshoot from my office, asked, "Can't we use PCanywhere
to dial in and fix that?"

I had just come across a Compaq 386 Deskpro motherboard. Since I was
just getting into PCs, I thought it would be cool to wire it up for my
brother. But I had no idea what the pinout for the power supply plug
was, as it was non-standard. So I called up Compaq tech support.

  • Me: "I just got an old 386 Deskpro motherboard, and I wondered if I could get a pinout for the power supply plug, so I can power it up and see if it works."

  • Tech Support: "What happens when you turn it on?"

  • Me: "Ummm...nothing, I don't have a power supply for it. I need a pinout to wire up a standard power supply."

  • Tech Support: "I see. Can you get into Windows?"

About two years ago I signed up with a local ISP. They gave me some
software to install and said it would take up to five days for my account
to be activated. I installed the software, but five days later I still
couldn't get on. I waited two more days, then called to find out what the
problem was. The tech support person said he would check on it and call me
back. Four hours later, I still hadn't received a call, so I called again.
The same guy answered the phone. I asked if he had figured anything out.
He replied that he had not. I told him if he couldn't fix the problem, I
wanted to cancel my service. He stammered and told me he really didn't
know that much about computers, but he didn't want to lose my business.

At this point I completely lost my patience and told him to cancel the
account immediately. He told me that to cancel my account I had to send
them email from it.

I called the TurboTax support number for help with the online filing of my
taxes. Here is my dialog with the "tech support" person:

  • Tech Support: "How can I help?"

  • Me: "I'm having a timeout problem when filing online. The modem dials up ok, but after connecting I get a timeout error."

  • Tech Support: "What kind of modem do you have?"

  • Me: "A MultiTech 28.8."

  • Tech Support: (pause) "We only support 9600 baud. What's 28.8?"

  • Me: "Twenty-eight point eight K-baud."

  • Tech Support: "What's K-baud?"

While looking into DSL, I came across a number for a large service provider
and called to get details. When the tech support person got up to the
speed of the connection, she said:

  • Tech Support: "1.54mbit up/down."

  • Me: (after some calculations) "Hmmm. That's about 173KB/sec, right?"

  • Tech Support: (pause; sound of typing) "No, that's 1.54MB/sec."

  • Me: "No, that's the speed in bits per second. I wondered what it was in bytes per second."

  • Tech Support: (pause) "No, it's 1.54MB/sec."

  • Me: "No, 8 bits equals 1 byte--"

  • Tech Support: "No, bits and bytes are the same thing!"

  • Me: "Um, that's not true. That's why a 56K modem is a 56kbit modem that usually gets 5 KB/sec transfer rates."

  • Tech Support: "Well that's because people take out the dot when they say it. It's actually 5.6kbit or 5.6kbyte. The .6kbyte is just lost in the connection."

As a networking consultant called in to a new client, one of the things
I like to do is go over their bills to make sure they are getting what
they are paying for from ISPs, telcos, etc. On one occasion, I
discovered that a client was paying an ISP for 20 email mailboxes
that they hadn't used in years. I called the ISP's customer support to
cancel the mailboxes.

  • Me: "Yes, I notice I'm paying $100/month for 20 email boxes I'm not using. I'd like to cancel them all."

  • Tech Support: (after verifying our account information and getting the details of the account displayed) "No problem, sir. What I'd like you to do is fax me a list of all the boxes you'd like to cancel, and I'll do it this afternoon."

  • Me: "Well, I can't really do that, because I don't have a list of these email names. I just have a bill. We haven't used these names in probably two years. Just cancel them all."

  • Tech Support: "It's all right, sir. I have them here. I'll read them to you."

She proceeded to read me names, and like an idiot I jotted them down
until it dawned on me what we were doing.

  • Me: "Hold on. You're going to read me all 20 names?"

  • Tech Support: "Yes."

  • Me: "So I can write them down and fax them back to you??"

  • Tech Support: "That is our policy, sir."

  • Me: "Am I the only one who thinks this is absurd?"

My husband and I helped our church get online. We installed a new
modem, checked everything out and then after doing some research
on local ISPs we chose a reputable one that would give the
church a good deal.

Netscape came with the modem's communications software, but it was an old
version. After getting everything going we started to download Netscape's
upgrade. The ISP kept hanging up ten minutes after starting the download.
We checked all the settings. Everything checked out fine, but we
were still experiencing the problem. It would even disconnect while
downloading email.

I asked the church's secretary to call the ISP's tech support number the
following morning. The next morning she called me back and reported that the
ISP tech support person had told her she needed to reformat her computer and
reinstall Windows.

I called the tech support person myself.

  • Me: "I can't believe you told her that! You told her that? That's preposperous! This is not a software problem, this is a problem with the ISP. What does this have to do with email downloads and getting disconnected?"

  • Tech Support: "Look, this is a common problem. I can't even download email without it disconnecting. It is like that with all ISPs. This is what we tell all our customers who have this problem. You see, SMTP stands for--"

  • Me: "I don't think you have any idea what you are talking about. I am with Netcom, and this has never happened to me."

I was getting several "illegal operation" errors on a new Windows 95 machine
I was trying out. So I called tech support.

  • Customer: "I want to buy this computer, but I'm a little concerned that I'm getting so many error messages. Is that common with this machine?"

  • Tech Support: "Well, we have to reformat the hard disk and reinstall the software every day. That's normal."

  • Customer: "Wait, wait, wait. You're saying that I will have to reinstall Windows every single time I use the computer?!?"

  • Tech Support: "When it has errors, ma'am, that's the only way to get rid of them."

Needless to say, I purchased my computer elsewhere, from a store and salesmen
that had a clue.

I had a problem with my computer. Out of the clear blue, the sound card
disappeared from my hardware settings. After trying to get Windows 95 to
re-install it, I gave up -- Win95 consistently told me that the card was a
Soundblaster, and I knew it wasn't. But I didn't know what kind it was, and
the manuals that came with the computer didn't say. I called tech support,
and they asked me what had been installed on the system since I bought it.
"Microsoft Office, and Plus" I said.

They told me that was the problem. They told me I wasn't
ever supposed to install anything on the machine except for what
came with it originally. Then they told me to reformat my hard drive and
re-install everything from the setup CD.

I asked to speak with this guy's supervisor, and he told me the same thing.

In the 1980s, I did not know what fdisk was or how to use it, so I
called tech support and left a message on their answering machine. I spoke
very clearly and left the message: "My hard drive crashed, and I've been
told that I need to do a low-level format before I can restore from my
tape backup. How do I low-level format my hard drive?"

The next day, our receptionist handed me this message from the tech support
team: "Put the floppy diskette in the drive and type format a: and
hit enter."

This weekend, my father brought over his new laptop, purchased at a
major retailer. It was taking 4-5 minutes to boot into the OS.
It was discovered that there were several utilities loading during startup,
some of them multiple times. Not wanting to void the support warranty,
we called tech support. After my father related the problem, they talked
him through removal and unchecking of many of the options. A reboot
then took about 2.5 minutes, still quite a long time. When he asked
what else could be done, he was told, "Just reboot a few more times. It
should get faster as it works in." We just sat there with our mouths open.

I was working as a student placement at a rather large company last year.
One of our backup tape drives was acting up, and nothing I could do fixed
it. So I phoned support. The first thing the guy asked, after half an hour
of detail-taking, was:

  • Tech Support: "Do you use clean tapes in the drive every time?"

  • Customer: "No."

  • Tech Support: "Well, that'll be your problem. Use a new tape every time, and that'll fix it."

I was rather skeptical about this but decided to try it anyway.
Of course, it didn't work. So I rang support again and got a different guy.

  • Tech Support: "Do you use clean tapes in the drive every time?"

  • Customer: "Yes!" (enthusiastically)

  • Tech Support: "Oh, well, that'll be your problem then. Every new tape that's used clogs up the drive."

I bought a laptop with a DVD drive and S-video output, thinking to use
it, among other things, to play DVDs on my TV. The S-video output
worked fine until I tried to play DVDs, when it switched back to the
laptop's monitor. So I called tech support.

  • Tech Support: "It's not supposed to work, because the resolution would degrade too much."

  • Customer: "But this is DVD; they're designed for TV sets."

  • Tech Support: "No. You see, it looks really great on your computer monitor, but the TV doesn't have as good resolution."

  • Customer: "But DVDs aren't SUPPOSED to use all that resolution. They're supposed to be shown on TV sets. Anyway, do you have a solution for me?"

  • Tech Support: "Well, if you'd get an HDTV, it would work fine!"

As it turns out, he was right about one thing -- it wasn't supposed to
work. Buried in the documentation of the MPEG decoder is a line that
the card didn't support interlaced displays.

The company is now dead, so I can mention this one by name:

  • Tech Support: (an elderly sounding woman) "Hello, Commodore customer service. May I help you?"

  • Customer: "Yes, I'm trying to find the file format for Deluxe Music Construction Set."

  • Tech Support: "You want to format a disk? Lemme see..." (paper rustles)

  • Customer: "No. I'm looking for documentation on the file format for DMCS."

  • Tech Support: "Oh, yes. I've got documentation here." (paper rustles) "Ok, to format a disk, first you--"

  • Customer: "No, no...I'm looking for the file format for--"

  • Tech Support: "You want to format a file? I umm..." (paper rustles again)

  • Customer: "NO... I DO NOT WANT TO FORMAT A FILE!"

  • Tech Support: "Ok, well, to format a disk, you--"

  • Customer: "NO! I don't want to format a disk. I'm a programmer. I'm trying to find some documentation on--"

  • Tech Support: "We have documentation."

  • Customer: "Yes, I understand. But I'm looking for specific documentation on software that I bought through Commodore. I'm looking for documentation on the file format for Deluxe Music Construction Set--"

  • Tech Support: (paper rustles) "You want to format a file?"

  • Customer: "No, I-- Is there someone else there I can talk to?"

  • Tech Support: "No. No one here but me."

I tried in vain for other contact numbers or the vendor of the software
(contact information for that software was conspicuously missing in my software
and documentation). Some hours later I called the same number above and got
someone who gave me decent information. He had no clue what woman I talked
to earlier. Could have been janitorial staff for all I knew.

I was troubleshooting a powerbook for a user, which had been flaky
all of it's short life, when it refused to boot and I could smell
something smoldering. Clearly there was a short-circuit somewhere,
probably in the power supply. I called Apple to get it repaired under
the warranty.

  • Me: "Hi, I have a problem with a powerbook. It has developed a short circuit, probably in the power supply. I need an RMA number so I can send it back; it's still under warranty.

  • Tech Support: "Please describe the symptoms."

  • Me: "Um, there is a short circuit somewhere. I'd guess it's a bad power supply. I can smell smoldering when I try to power it on, and it won't boot, and the screen is just a pattern of lines.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's try troubleshooting this."

  • Me: "There's nothing to troubleshoot. I need an RMA number so I can send it back under warranty.

  • Tech Support: "Well, you just described three problems to me. We'll tackle each one and see how many we can fix."

  • Me: (frustrated) "There's only one problem, a short circuit in the power supply. Something's burning inside the case; I can smell it when I power it on."

  • Tech Support: (as to a child) "You said that you smell smoke, that it won't boot, and that there are funny lines on the screen. We'll tackle each of these one at a time. Now, let's start the troubleshooting and see if we can get it to boot."

At this point, I mumbled something about the phone not being near the
computer and hung up.

The punch line is that, after the thing was shipped to Apple (twice),
it got stolen from the shipping agent's truck, and we got a brand new

I had just bought a new laser printer in the US when I received a very good
job offer for the summer in Europe. So I called the printer manufacturer's
help desk to find out if I could use the printer in Europe with 220 volts,
or if they had a low cost transformer.

  • Me: "Hello, I have just bought your new (printer model), and I was wondering if I can use it in Europe with 220 volts?"

  • Tech Support: "Hmmm...let me see.... Here, ok, it says that the printer works with 120 volts, so 220 volts should be enough."

  • Me: "What?! If it is made only for 120 volts, and I hook it up to 220 volts, it's going to fry."

  • Tech Support: "Hmmm. You may need a surge protector."

I'm an American living in Switzerland. I prefer English software, and the
easiest way to get it is to buy directly from the United States.

So, we've recently purchased software from [a company] in the
States. It had a few problems, so I called the international support line,
and please note the word 'international'.

After 45 minutes of listening to bad music at peak international phone rates,
someone came on the line. It's a known problem, he said, and he'd send an
update right out -- he'd just need my address.

He asked for my street. He asked for my city. He asked for my state. Oops,
I'm in Switzerland, and the 'state' field doesn't apply. The tech is very
apologetic, but his software won't let him leave the field blank. Ok, I said,
I'm from Texas, so just put Texas in there. Amazingly, the software accepts my
four digit zip code. But he never asked me for my country, so I double
checked. No, there was no place for him to enter a country. So he wrote my
address down and said he'd sort it out later.

Weeks later, the update still hadn't arrived. I called back, waiting "only"
twenty minutes this time. They checked, found my order, and told me it had
been sent to Canada and been returned as undeliverable. I corrected the
mistake, and the update arrived a few days later in spite of the fact that
it was addressed to "Swaziland."

I have no idea if this company ever updated their software so the international
help line could support international addresses.

  • Me: "Does your Internet provider support multicasting?"

  • Tech Support: "Yes. Just download it onto your PC and it'll work fine."

  • Customer: "I seem to have lost my IP address can you tell me what it is?"

  • Tech Support: "Just a minute, I'll check." (pause) "You're using Win95 aren't you? It's a bit complicated. Click on Start."

  • Customer: "Ok, I don't need to do that--"

  • Tech Support: "Please do it my way, click on Start."

  • Customer: "Ok."

  • Tech Support: "Now click on Settings...Control Panel...Networks...TCP/IP...and now on Protocols, and there you are."

  • Customer: "Yes, that's where I was when I called you."

  • Tech Support: "Well why call me? That's where your IP address is, right in front of you."

  • Customer: "Well, that's where it should be, but mine's all blank."

  • Tech Support: "Well, what do you want me to do?"

  • Customer: "Can you tell me what it is?"

  • Tech Support: "Of course, just a second...why didn't you ask me that in the first place?"

  • Customer: "I can't seem to connect. Is there a problem on your end?"

  • Tech Support: "No. Let's check a few things."

"We" check.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, looks like you'll have to re-install your net software. Do you still have the disks we sent you?"

  • Customer: "I've been using you guys as an ISP fully a year before you had handy install disks for common software."

  • Tech Support: (pause -- he clearly doesn't comprehend how that's even possible) "Well, then you'll have to re-install Windows."

  • Customer: "I don't think so. Can I talk to someone else?"

  • Tech Support: "Um...just a sec." (several minute pause) "You there?"

  • Customer: "Yes."

  • Tech Support: "We're down in your area."

  • Customer: (dryly) "Thank you very much."

One of our clients, an ISP, gave us a free account to use to test
their service and help us write the documentation and marketing copy for
them. I set the system up, logged on, and handed it over to my

After about thirty minutes I passed by and noticed they were on the phone to
the technical support line, reporting a problem with the connection. I
checked what the problem was with my assistant who told me that the
web site they were supposed to connect to wasn't answering.
I checked -- sure enough the connection just timed out with the usual
'Unable to connect to server' error. I tried a ping to the server and
got no response, then decided to speak to the tech support person myself.

He was convinced the problem was with our dial-up connection, but as
soon as I got on the phone I suggested the server was down and asked if
he could check it with someone. He refused and we spent the next forty
minutes trying various things on our machine to get the connection working.
Finally I stopped him:

  • Me: "Look, I'm a technical consultant who tells other ISP's how to set up their services. I was a founder member of the largest ISP in the UK, I think I know the difference between your server being down and a probem with my machine."

  • Tech Support: "I've set up two ISPs myself, I know what I'm doing, sir."

  • Me: "You may well have set two ISPs up, but your server is currently down. Can I speak to your supervisor? I don't have time to waste checking things I know aren't wrong."

  • Tech Support: "Hang on a second -- I'll just check something." (pause) "It looks like our server is down."

  • Me: "I told you that 45 minutes ago. Why didn't you check that when I first asked -- we could have both saved ourselves a heck of a lot of time."

  • Tech Support: "Well, we have to go through this procedure of checking the caller's machine."

  • Me: "I'm having problems connecting to sites outside the University."

  • Tech Support: "What operating system are you using?"

  • Me: "The latest version of Linux."

  • Tech Support: "What programs are you currently running?"

  • Me: "Nothing much -- ftp, telnet, X, Netscape, sendmail..."

  • Tech Support: "It's not our fault you can't connect anywhere if you're running sendmail. You have to get mail centrally."

  • Me: "But sendmail has nothing to do with ftp access, web access, or anything else."

  • Tech Support: "It's not our problem."

Three months later, it was announced on the University web site
that there was an "untraced fault" on the network, and everyone had to reduce
the MTU on their computers to 1498. A few
talks with various technicians revealed that this had been
known and repeatedly reported by a great many people, who had
received just as unfriendly a response as I had, over those
3 months. The official story was that the technicians
were waiting to see if the problem would clear up on its own. It
took another six months of complaints before they finally got
someone in to fix the router.

I recently signed up for a 640kbps ADSL line with a borrowed router.
We have four computers in our household, with a perfectly working LAN.
But after trying to set up the ADSL settings, there was still no connection to
the Internet. I thought it was an ISP problem, so I phoned to the tech
support. I explained the problem, and...

  • Me: "...If I ping any computer everything works fin--"

  • Tech Support: "You what?"

  • Me: "If I ping any comp--"

  • Tech Support: "No, I didn't get what you did. Ping, right?"

  • Me: "Yes, ping. You know, when you write 'ping' and an IP address to see if the network is working."

  • Tech Support: "Write where?"

  • Me: "At a command prompt."

  • Tech Support: "It is better for you to upgrade to Windows XP.
    DOS is outdated."

  • Me: "I run Windows 2000. Go to Start, Programs, Accessories, and you'll see a Command Prompt icon. That's where I type 'ping'."

  • Tech Support: "Oooooooooooh, I see, I see. Now I remember. Maybe the LAN isn't working."

  • Me: "No, I told you, the LAN was set up well before the ADSL contract and is perfectly fine."

  • Tech Support: "Mhm. Go to Start, Programs, Accessories, and you'll see a Command Prompt icon. You'll get a black window. Write p-i-n-g-space-[an IP address]."

  • Me: "..."

  • Tech Support: "Sir?"

  • Me: "Done. All packets lost."

  • Tech Support: "You have a LAN, don't you? Try to ping your PCs and the router. To do so, go to Start, Progr--"

  • Me: "I know."

And so on, for almost an hour. The problem never got solved. Later I swapped
out the router, and it worked. So I called back to see if I could have a
replacement router.

  • Tech Support: "So, you tried to exchange the router with a new one and it worked?"

  • Me: "Yes, it could be defective."

  • Tech Support: "Yes, it could. Which brand of router did you have?"

  • Me: "A Cisco one."

  • Tech Support: "Ah. Does Cisco make routers?"

I hung up, and later I cancelled.

I had a problem with using my PPP connection through Linux.
The data transfers were really slow sometimes but fine at others. I
played with it for a while, then finally called the help desk. I was on hold
for twenty minutes, then:

  • Tech Support: "Hi. How can I help you?"

  • Me: "Hi. I'm trying to hook up my Linux box via PPP, and I'm running into some problems. It works fine under 95, but I can't seem to get it to connect right under Linux. I can resolve hostnames and even --"

  • Tech Support: "Um, sir -- what kind of computer is it?"

  • Me: "IBM compatible. Specifically, an Ambra."

  • Tech Support: "Ok -- what happens when you try running Trumpet Winsock?"

I slap my forehead.

  • Me: "This is Linux. It doesn't run Trumpet Winsock."

  • Tech Support: "Oh - it's a DOS program?"

  • Me: "No. It's an operating system. Trumpet runs fine under 95."

  • Tech Support: "Well, have you tried running this program under Windows 95 then?"

  • Me: "No, it is an operating system. It doesn't run under another operating system."

  • Tech Support: "Oh. Ok, so what happens when you try to run Winsock under it?"

Murderous thoughts are going through my head. After a couple more exchanges
back and forth, she finally understands that Winsock won't run on Linux for
some weird reason.

  • Me: "So can I get an incident number so I can talk to a tech?"

  • Tech Support: "Sure. I just need to get some info from you."

She gets down my name, room number, phone number, computer type and
brand, then we get interesting again.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, so is this under Windows 3.1 or Windows 95?"

  • Me: "Neither. It's Linux."

  • Tech Support: "Which type of Windows does it run under though?"

  • Me: "Neither! It runs on its own!"

  • Tech Support: "Oh!!! Oh! I'm sorry, in that case we can't help you. We only support Windows 3.1 and Windows 95."

  • Me: "WHAT?!?"

  • Tech Support: "Sorry. That's all we're currently supporting. Have a nice day." [click]

  • Me: "The ethernet card you supplied doesn't work under Linux."

  • Tech Support: "Have you installed the DOS drivers?"

  • Me: "I'm using Linux, so the DOS drivers won't work."

  • Tech Support: "Why not?"

I was a manager in an IT department who had a network of around 100
point-of-sale (POS) computers spread all over Australia. One of our
shops, about 2000 miles away, called with a problem. The motherboard
appeared to be broken. I called one of our technicians who was in the
area and asked him to go over and swap out the hard drive from the
machine with the broken motherboard into a machine that was in the
store room which I figured was working fine -- that way the shop wouldn't
lose any of its data.

The technician called me later and said he couldn't figure out how to get the
hard drive out of the machine. To understand what he was looking at, I
dismantled a spare machine I had. Thankfully IBM made the machines easy to
service -- lots of diagrams and instructions on the inside of the
case. You just had to get into it first. The hard drive was mounted on a
tray which was designed to slide out smoothly once a retaining clip had been
pressed. Then it would be easy to unplug the drive and slide a new one in.

No matter how much I described, cajoled, and threatened the technician, he
could not figure out how to get the hard drive out. He finally got sick of it,
got in his car and drove away, leaving the shop with frustrated customers.
I called the technician's manager and explained the situation. But he wasn't
too interested either, saying we'd have to get IBM to come and fix it (at a
huge cost, as you can imagine).

I called the shop back to explain what was going on and that they'd be down
for a while. But the elderly lady in the shop said, "It's ok, dear. I watched
what the technician was doing, and it didn't look that complicated. He left
some of his tools behind, so I pulled the machines apart, swapped the disks,
and all I need to know now is how to get the cases back on."

I lead her through how to re-fit the case, and she was off and running.

This is an actual conversation I overheard in the cube next to me. I
only heard one side of it. He had called the helpdesk to resolve a
network problem.

"Hello, my name is [name]. My computer no
longer communicates on the network. . . . Yes, the
network connection is plugged in. . . . Yes, both ends. . . . Ok, I've
rebooted the computer. Still nothing. . . . I don't have a 'Start' button.
I'm running Windows NT 3.51. . . . Windows NT. . . . NT. . . . Ennnn Teeee.
. . . I don't think that will work. . . . Well, ok. I'm pulling down
file [long list of instructions]. . . . I don't have that menu
choice. . . . Ok, we'll try it again. I pull down file [long list of
. That menu choice doesn't exist. . . . Yes, thank you, I
do know how to spell. . . . No, there is no menu choice by that name. . . .
I'm sorry, it isn't there. . . . No, I do not have a 'Start' button. . . . No,
I am not running Windows 3.11. I am running Windows NT 3.51. . . . Uhhh, no,
I don't think they are the same thing. . . . Look, you can keep saying that
the choice has to be there, but in fact it is not. I'm running Windows
Ennn Teee. It's different from Windows 3.1. . . . No, the choice third from
the bottom is [name of option]. . . . I AM NOT LYING TO YOU. . . .
Hello? . . . Hello?"

My co-worker redials.

"Hello help desk? My name is [name]. I called a few minutes ago
with a network problem. I'd like the name of the tech assigned to my
case. . . . Thank you. Now, could you assign a different person to the case
please? . . . Because she's a moron. . . . Yes, I did say moron. . . .
Thank you."

  • Customer: "I'm calling to find out if the modem that was bundled with my system has Non-Volatile RAM. It doesn't appear to work, if so."

  • Tech Support: "Have you run 'MemMaker'?"

  • Tech Support: "Multitasking a Pentium is like stepping on the motherboard with running cleats."

I was waiting in a computer store for a price quote once, and while I
was waiting I noticed one of the technicians trying to fix a customer's
computer. I listen in on the conversation.

  • Tech Support: "You see when I put my mouse over 'Documents'? How it turns yellow?"

It was clear the customer had changed the Windows 95 colour
scheme from the standard green background and blue and white windows
that you see when Windows 95 starts for the first time. He had a new
color scheme altogether, a blue background, and when he ran his mouse to
highlight something, it turned yellow instead of the original blue.
Perfectly normal, I thought; almost every Windows 95 user changes the color

  • Customer: "Yes, I see that. What about it?"

  • Tech Support: "That means you have a virus."

Of course, that was it. I wasn't going to buy a system from a store
with this incredible tech support, so I left.


  • Lab Technician: "Is that an old disk?"

  • Friend: "Yeah, it's an old one.
    I reformatted it."

  • Lab Technician: (suspiciously)
    "What was on it before?"

  • Friend: "I had some games on it."

  • Lab Technician: "WHAT??? Don't you know
    that games are FULL of viruses!?"

  • Friend: "What--?"

  • Lab Technician: "Give me the disk right now!
    I'm going to scan it for viruses."

  • Friend: "Look, it's been formatted, so it's
    blank, and games are not--"

  • Lab Technician: "Hand it over right now or
    I'll throw you out."

He was absolutely baffled when he didn't find any viruses on it.

I had a friend who gave me a Mitsubishi monitor. The monitor
wasn't getting a picture for some reason, so it obviously needed some
servicing. I took it to a repairman to see what could be done.

  • Technician : "You mean you get no picture at all when you boot up your computer?"

  • Me: "That's right."

  • Technician : "Oh, that's because you have a small hard drive. You have to get a bigger hard drive and then the monitor will work fine."

My new ISP was exhibiting extremely slow service.
When my wife called to ask if they were having a problem, they told her
no, everything was fine and maybe she should defragement the hard drive.

I got disconnected from my ISP and was unable to log back onto it -- my
modem would connect and everything, but Dial-Up Networking couldn't get
past verifying username and password. Nothing had changed in my setup, so
I called my ISP's tech support.

  • Me: "I'm calling to report an outage with my dialup number."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's check your Dial-Up Networking settings."

He didn't bother to check whether I was using Windows or MacOS.

  • Tech Support: "Are there any dashes in the phone number?"

  • Me: "No, but that wouldn't affect how my modem dials."

  • Tech Support: "Try removing the dashes anyway."

  • Me: "Ok. I should mention that I have no problem calling the number and connecting to a modem -- I connect at a full 49,333 each time. I just can't get past the verifying the username and password step. Is it possible that network maintenance is being done right now?"

  • Tech Support: "What state are you calling in, sir?"

  • Me: "California."

  • Tech Support: "One second, let me check. . . . No, don't see anything at all in California. You double checked your username and password, right?"

  • Me: "Yep. Nothing has changed in my setup. This was working just ten minutes ago."

  • Tech Support: "Have you tried any other dialup numbers?"

  • Me: "Yes. I tried the one in [city], which is a toll call for me. That one doesn't work either."

  • Tech Support: "Ok. Try adding three commas after your dialup number."

Adding a comma in a modem dial string causes the modem to pause in
its dialing for three seconds. This guy wanted me to add nine seconds
of pause after the number had been dialed.

  • Me: "Um...what good would that do?"

  • Tech Support: "I dunno. I just notice that it always seems to help when I get busy signals."

  • Me: "But I'm not getting a busy signal! Like I said, I can connect just fine, physically. I just can't get logged on."

  • Tech Support: "Try the commas. I'm sure they'll help. Give it about fifteen minutes or so, and if you're still not able to connect, call us back."

  • Me: "Sir, I'm an experienced computer tech. I know that adding commas to my dialup number isn't going to change whether or not the authentication servers and routers are working. If anything, it's going to cause the modem on the other end to hang up before mine tries to connect to it."

  • Tech Support: "Ok, what's the dialup number you're calling, sir?"

  • Me: "[number]"

  • Tech Support: "Ok, lemme put you on hold for just a moment." (elevator music pause) "Sir, I just tried that dialup number, and it sounds all weird. Didn't sound like a modem."

  • Me: "Huh. Sounds just fine on my end when I connect to it."

  • Tech Support: "Well, I just called it, and it was giving off all sorts of weird tones and stuff. I can write this up as an incident report for you if you want."

  • Me: "How'd you try to connect to it?"

  • Tech Support: "I just called it."

  • Me: "What kind of modem?"

  • Tech Support: "No, I just called it."

  • Me: "Did it sound kinda like a fax?"

  • Tech Support: "Sort of."

  • Me: "Then there's nothing wrong with the dialup number itself. That's a V90 train sequence starting up there. Those little tones you're hearing are the modem trying to determine if you're a compatible V90 modem on the other end."

  • Tech Support: "Oh."

  • Me: "Look, I know exactly what's wrong, and what needs to be done to fix it. What's happening is that your routers in my area are down. Your technicians need to be made aware of it. If you could just let them know about it, I'm sure they'll be able to fix it real soon, if they haven't already."

  • Tech Support: "Well, why don't you give it about 15 to 20 minutes, and if it's not working by then, give us a call back and we'll see what we can do for you."

  • Me: "All right. Thanks for your time."

  • Tech Support: "Have a good evening, sir." (click)

About fifteen minutes later, I was about ready to call them back, but then I
actually managed to log on again. Unbelievable.

I originally bought a certain brand of computer that supposedly came
with a video card that had 2 megs of memory. After a while, noting that
the screen graphics were moving very slowly, I went into the
Windows 95 Control Panel to take a look.

Video memory: 1 meg.

So I checked with a diagnostic program.

Video memory: 1 meg.

I called the tech support people about this.

  • Tech Support: "Oh, the Control Panel just tells you how much video memory you are using right now, you really do have 2 megs in there."

Pardon me, but if my Windows 95 desktop takes up 1 meg of video memory just
sitting there, we have a problem.

  • Tech Support: "Well, you need to go out and buy [a brand name diagnostic problem] and check the video memory, because that is the only one I know how to use. Don't worry, it'll tell you you have 2 megs of video memory."

Um, I need to buy a $50 piece of software so that I can tell you something I
already know?

  • Tech Support: "Well, this particular motherboard/chip/etc is registered with the FCC, and I have the specs right here! It has 2 megs of video memory!"

  • Customer: "Maybe the specs say so, but my computer doesn't."

  • Tech Support: "Well, you can just ask the FCC if you need to! Your computer is [a certain type], and that type has 2 megs of video memory -- so your computer does too."

  • Customer: "It is still under warranty. Can I have someone take a look at it and check to see if something is wrong? It only has 1 meg of video memory."

  • Tech Support: "No, it has 2!"

He couldn't seem to grasp the difference between a written set of
specifications and a material object -- namely, my computer.

  • Tech Support: "Here, I'll have my supervisor come and read you the specifications for your computer!"

  • Customer: "Um, I have the specs right here. And yes, this computer should have 2 megs of video memory. But it doesn't, and that is why I'm on the phone with you!"

I finally managed to get the guy to give me the number of the local
computer tech so I could take it in. The computer tech looked at
it, said, "Hmm. It only has a 1 meg video card in it," traded it out,
and I got my computer back.

The scariest thing about that call was what I left out. There were about
four other things wrong with the computer at the same time -- and each
garnered about the same level of response.

I overheard a conversation between the assistant manager of a PC repair
place and a customer.

  • Manager: "Ok, you've got a new video card in there. The bad news is that your old card was an AGP, and the new one is PCI and eight megabytes. That means that it'll steal eight megabytes of your system memory."

  • Customer: "Oh, my..."

  • Me: "Ahh...pardon me? No it won't. That figure of eight megabytes refers to the amount of video memory on the video board itself. It has nothing to do with system memory, and it won't steal anything from it."

  • Customer: "Oh, thank you! That's what I was looking for, a little expertise."

  • Manager: "Are you sure? Even with PCI?"

The following is a
three-way conversation between customer support for a company that
sells computers, a customer of said company, and a technician that was
called in to repair the hard drive of a machine from said company.
There's one brain among the three of them, and it's not hard to figure out
which one has it.

  • Customer Support: "Customer support center this is Allen."

  • Technician: "Ya, this is the 'CE' from (company). I was called in to fix yer hard drive. I put one in but now it's asking for a reference disk."

  • Customer Support: "All our systems are shipped with reference disks. They should be in a box called 'reference disks' there next to the computer."

  • Technician: "Oh, here they are, do I put it in now?"

  • Customer Support: "Yes, and reboot the computer. It will come up to a configuration screen and all you have to do is follow the prompts. Are you sure you're a service guy?"

  • Technician: "Look, I've been working on PC's for over 10 years now; I know enough to reboot. Geeez! Oh, wait, it says, 'There were no configuration files found for devices in slots 1, 2, 4...please remove your reference disk and insert disk containing the correct configuration.' What do I do now?

  • Customer Support: "Look in the box. There should be the original disks that came with the network card, the scsi controller, and the modem. You'll have to put them in one at a time as it asks to update your reference disk. What kind of network card is in the machine?"

  • Technician: "It's a microchannel card."

  • Customer Support: "Not what brand. What type? Token ring? Ethernet?"

  • Technician: "How do I tell? Oh wait, the customer wants to talk to you."

  • Customer: [yell, yell, curse, curse] "What do we pay you for??"

  • Customer Support: "Calm down."

  • Customer: "We have a box here that says use these disks to reconfigure the computer. Maybe he should be using these instead."

Hours go by.

  • Customer Support: "There, now reboot the computer, and it should all be finally working fine."

  • Technician: "Hmmmm. It says invalid or missing command interpreter."

  • Customer Support: "Were there any error messages when you formatted the new drive?"

  • Technician: "Formatted the new drive? I just put it in outta the box."

  • Customer Support: [taking a big gulp of cold coffee] "That's ok, we can do that now. Put in a boot disk, and we'll format the drive and then restore the system from tape."

Dead silence.

  • Technician: "I don't think we have a backup tape."

I know just enough to get myself in big trouble. Long story, but I managed
to trash the BIOS and remembered that jumping two pins on the BIOS would
reset the BIOS to a preset level.

  • Tech Support: "What operating system do you have installed?"

  • Me: "Windows 98."

  • Tech Support: "You didn't buy that from us, you have to reinstall Windows 3.1 before I can help you."

  • Me: "I would be more than happy to, but the BIOS has to be reset first."

  • Tech Support: "Maybe I didn't make myself clear. You have to reinstall Windows 3.1 first."

  • Me: "May I talk to your supervisor, please?"

  • Tech Support: (very loudly) "You understand this telephone line is recorded, right!?"

  • Me: "Doesn't bother me. May I please speak to your supervisor?"

  • Tech Support: "I don't have to put up with your foul language." (click)

Once I called my local phone company to see if they were offering ADSL in my

  • Me: "I am calling to see if ADSL is available in my area."

  • Customer Service: "56k? Yeah, we offer 56k."

  • Me: "No, no. ADSL."

  • Customer Service: "Oh, no, we quit offering 28.8k a long time ago."

  • Me: "No, I'm talking about ADSL."

  • Customer Service: "What city do you live in?"

  • Me: "Dalton."

  • Customer Service: "No, we quit offering 28.8k a long time ago."

Many years ago I was having problems with my miniframe lab computer. I
called tech support, and after some time of discussing the problem, the guy
told me to format the disk into two 795 megabyte partitions. When I
told them that the disk was only a 300 megabyte disk, he replied, "I
can't help you if you refuse to cooperate."

I noticed that the CGI scripts on my web site had spontaneously ceased
working, so I contacted the tech support for the ISP that was hosting the
site. It's important to note that, since I had set up the site, I had moved
to a different city and, hence, only used telnet to connect to them. The
tech needed to ask a few preliminary questions.

  • Tech Support: "What number are you dialing in to?"

  • Me: "I'm not dialing in. I'm using telnet."

  • Tech Support: "Yes, but what number are you calling?"

  • Me: "You don't understand, I'm not dialing in to your modem pool. I'm telneting to you."

  • Tech Support: "Please tell me what number you are dialing."

  • Me: "Fine. (number)"

  • Tech Support: "That's not one of our numbers!"

  • Me: "Of course it's not. I'm using A TELNET UTILITY to reach you over the Internet."

  • Tech Support: "But how are you connecting to the Internet?"

  • Me: "Though a different ISP!"

  • Tech Support: "Then we can't help you!"

  • Me: "Listen, I am connecting to you via telnet. It's a utility that allows me to connect to your UNIX shell from a remote location WITHOUT USING A PHONE LINE."

  • Tech Support: (incredulous) "So, you're using a cable modem or something?"

  • Me: (figuring it was just easier to say yes) "Yes."

  • Tech Support: "Um, we don't support UNIX."

  • Me: "I'm not using UNIX. You are."

  • Tech Support: "I'm using Windows."

  • Me: "No, your SERVERS are UNIX based."

  • Tech Support: "I don't think I can help you."

I had to agree.

There's this quite major company called Time Computers over here in England.
I bought a system from them, and then five months later I hear a "Pfoo!"
noise, and my display went all fuzzy and strange. After some troubleshooting,
I opened up the case and discovered that the video card had a little,
remarkably Wile E. Coyote-esque soot explosion mark centered around a
burnt chip in the middle of it.

Here's the conversation I had with tech support about it, with a lot cut

  • Tech Suppport: "What seems to be the problem, sir?"

  • Me: "Well, my screens all fuzzy, and my video card seems to have exploded."

  • Tech Support: "Well, right click on the desktop."

  • Me: "Before you say anything, I've tried the monitor on another computer, and on this computer on Windows 98, 2000, Linux, and BeOS, and it's definitely something wrong with the video card, because the monitor worked on the other computers, and it didn't work in any of the operating systems in this one, and when I tried another video card, it worked."

  • Tech Support: "Right click on the desktop."

  • Me: "..."

  • Tech Support: "Right click on the desktop."

  • Me: "Well, I'm in Linux right now."

  • Tech Support: "Right click on the desktop."

  • Me: "I'm not in Windows."

  • Tech Support: "Right click on the desktop."

  • Me: "Do you know what an operating system is?"

  • Tech Support: "Yes, sir."

  • Me: "Ok then, because, I'm not in Windows. I'm in Linux, which is another operating system. Right clicking on the desktop won't do anything you think it will, I promise. Do you want me to reboot into Windows?"

  • Tech Support: "Right click on the desktop please, sir."

I sighed, gave up, rebooted into Windows, and right clicked on the desktop.

  • Me: "Do you want me to click on 'Properties'?"

  • Tech Support: "No sir, please click on 'Properties'."

  • Me: "..."

After a while, "we" determined that, no, it isn't my resolution, and
installing new drivers won't help. After a very long discussion, I learned
that to replace my video card, they would "have to" (or so policy dictates)
take the entire computer away (monitor and all) for 5-7 business days
to replace the faulty video card. I protested this, because the computer
was being used in a business. They told me there was "nothing they could do."
This seemed bad enough, but then:

  • Tech Support: "Have you backed up recently?"

  • Me: "No, why?"

  • Tech Support: "You should..."

  • Me: "Sure, ok, I'll remember."

  • Tech Support: "...because as part of our policy, when servicing a computer, we delete everything on the hard disk."

  • Me: "What the $%* *%(@ $%? WHY???"

  • Tech Support: "Company policy."

  • Me: "But it's a broken video card! Even you admit that!!! It has nothing to do with the hard drive!"

  • Tech Support: "That's company policy, sir."

After about an hour of arguing, we didn't get anywhere. I am living with
the video card up to this day, months later, and was not refunded in

Turns out to be rather more tragic than funny, actually.

I'm a Linux user, and I prefer keeping Javascript turned off in my browsers.
Up until December 1999 or so, I did not need it for using Hotmail, but then
that changed. So I sent them an email to ask why:

Why is it mandatory to use Javascript now? It was not necessary until
recently (a couple months).


The response I got was this (I swear this is verbatim):

Thank you for writing to MSN Hotmail.

This feature is mandatory since some sites require Javascript in order for
the computer to read their codes. You cannot browse a site unless the
Javascript is disabled.

For further information, contact the Help Support of the browser you are

We hope that this email has provided you with the assistance you


MSN Hotmail Customer Support

...Which confused the heck out of me! It not only doesn't make any sense,
but it's not about the question I was asking. So I mailed them again:

Thank you very much for this information.

> This feature is mandatory since some sites require Javascript

> in order for the computer to read their codes. You cannot

> browse a site unless the Javascript is disabled.

But as you can see, it is insulting and makes no sense. First of all, "You
cannot browse a site unless the Javascript is disabled" is erroneous. Never
mind, I do not have time to flame you. Allow me to clarify my question;
I do not think you understood it and would like at least a level three
technician please:

Since I have used Hotmail, it has used cookies, but when I first used
Hotmail I did not have to turn my browser's Javascript on. Now I do. Please
tell me why. I do not like having Java and Javascript enabled (in fact I
would prefer to use Lynx, a text-based browser under Unix).

Thank you.


Ok, so it was a little harsh, but at least I thought they would answer the
right question and/or refer it to Level III. Here's what I got:

Thank you for writing to MSN Hotmail.

MSN Hotmail also requires your Javascript feature to be enabled so that you
can access your account more effectively. In order to enable your
Javascript settings, kindly go to your Tools menu, Internet Options,
Advanced Tab folder. From there, check and enable the Javascript settings
in your PC. Please be guided accordingly.


MSN Hotmail Customer Support

Internet Options? Tools menu? I'm using Netscape!

I gave up writing to them. I gave up my Hotmail account.

Some years ago I decided to buy a WDC 730MB hard drive. So I went to
a central store of our city, Athens, and bought it. Less than a year later
the drive slowed down and finally failed to complete booting (this coincided
with my attempts to change my controller to a VLB one, so at first I thought
I did something wrong). Those days backup machines were still expensive
and floppies were rather boring to use regularly, so my last backup was
over two months old.

So there I am in the central store's service, trying to explain that I
wanted my data saved. It seemed to me that the disk surfaces didn't have
problem, and, since the data hadn't been erased, it must have been the
electronics that prevented the communication, something quite possible,
especially if the strange initialization sound is taken into account.

  • Me: "Can you see if it works on your machine?"

  • Tech Support: "It doesn't boot. Format it?"

  • Me: "NOOOO! I want to keep the data!"

  • Tech Support: "We don't make backups here. I'll just write on it that the data should be saved, but who knows what they'll do."

  • Me: "Isn't there a safer way?"

  • Tech Support: "You could take it to the lab yourself." (He meant the import store.)

  • Me: "Where is that?"

  • Tech Support: (somewhere an hour away)

At the "lab" they told me they would send the drive to Thessaloniki, over
five hours away, to see what their co-workers could do. I agreed, and we
swapped phone numbers so I could hear some news. After this day, I stopped
shaving my face.

After a week I called them to hear what was going on. They had no news,
so they gave me the phone number of their co-workers.

  • Me: "What's your conclusion on my drive?"

  • Tech Support: "It's ok. I just changed the controller."

  • Me: (thinking he meant a chip on the drive) "Great! How's my data?"

  • Tech Support: "Data? It's empty!"

  • Me: "What!?"

He had confused me with another customer. A week later I called again.

  • Tech Support: "We can't fix your drive, nor read your data."

  • Me: "You mean you don't have the right equipment?"

  • Tech Support: "Right."

  • Me: "Isn't there anything we can do?"

  • Tech Support: "Well, there is a lab at Germany, it costs (an insane amount per megabyte), and it should take more than two months, with unsure results."

Thinking about complexity of the situation, my father and I decided to
say goodbye to some files and do the lost work again instead of waiting
and paying a lot of money.

We canceled the whole process and asked for a new hard drive. The central
store told us we had to wait until they received the new
drive. One of the things I worried about was the size of the new drive. WDC
didn't ship any more 730MB disks, so I might have to take an 850MB disk -- at
my expense, of course. It was annoying to know they wanted more money even
though the original price of the smaller drive was greater than the current
price of the bigger drive.

One week after the last phone call, I dropped by the central store and
asked about my new drive. By that time I already had a beard.

  • Tech Support: "Let me check. It's in the 'lab'."

  • Me: "Great! Am I receiving it today?"

  • Tech Support: "No, I guess not."

  • Me: "Can I go there and get it?"

  • Tech Support: "Sure!"

  • Me: "Oh! And how big is it?"

  • Tech Support: "Uh, it's a 730MB."

At least I wouldn't have to pay extra money. When I arrived at the "lab"
I learned, to my frustration that the drive was on the way to the place I just
left an hour before.

Back at the central store, I was finally able to hold in my hands my
long-awaited new drive. Then I noticed a scratch on it's surface. Upon closer
inspection, it reminded me of a scratch my OLD disk had. NO! IT COULDN'T BE!

I started yelling.

  • Tech Support: "What's wrong?"

  • Me: "That's MY drive!"

  • Tech Support: "Of course!"

  • Me: "No, I mean my OLD drive!"

  • Tech Support: "How can it be your old drive when it's sealed?"

  • Me: "You call this sealed?"

  • Tech Support: "You didn't open it just now? Does it have anything on you can recognize?"

  • Me: "It has this scratch."

  • Tech Support: "Any drive can have such a scratch."

  • Me: "Just connect it up. It won't work."

  • Tech Support: (after trying) "You're right, it doesn't work. Format?"

Although I had already felt like fainting, that last one sentence was too
much. I got so angry, I hit my hand to draw an assistant's attention. I
called my father. He came. We yelled together. We talked to the manager.
After a couple of days a new 850MB hard drive was delivered to us at home.

The story is now over, but I still wonder how the company managed
to calculate the difference in price between an accessory in production
and another that wasn't. If economy was based on such hypotheses,
I would have been rich by now, bought the store, fired the offending technicians
(although in the above written conversation they probably seem fine, they
were offensively neglecting me), bought WDC, redesigned the drives, etc, etc,

, Mike

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