The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

Search the Blog of helios and all comments


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

They Arrive in Waves...

Look...I know I chose my profession.  Any wounds suffered in doing my job are largely self-inflicted...

I know that.

But still, there are times that I either have to vent or vaporize.

So just a short sharing of a tale to slow the boiling pot to a simmer.

While I fill my unpaid role as founding director of The HeliOS Project, I also need to tend to the business of making a living.  I do so by accepting short-term contracts with the likes of AMD, Motorola and a to-be-un-named vendor at Fort Hood Texas.

It pays the bills but there aren't always contracts available so I fix people's computers for them.

Windows computers mostly.

So when a customer called and asked me if I could fix her laptop computer, of course I said yes.

Let's call her Beth.

Beth was getting a Blue Screen of Death upon boot.  It used to be only every once and a while but now it was every time she tried to boot her computer.  She dropped it off and I told her I would call her when the problem was diagnosed.

It was pretty easy.  An attempt to boot a live CD proved out the Nvidia chip on her motherboard had tanked.  This is a common problem with the HP 6000 series laptops. 

I called her up and told her that the machine would be more expensive to fix than to replace.  She groaned and then asked me if I could provide her a decent desktop unit.

I have a couple lying around...I said yes.

I put her together a decent Dell Dimension 4700 with a 3 gig hyperthread CPU, 3 gigs of RAM and a 160 gig hard drive.  I installed Linux on it with a VirtualBox set up with her Windows XP SP3 install disk.  When she came by to pick it up, I spent 30 minutes showing her around her new system, how to access Windows and how to install new software in Synaptic.

I pulled her hard drive, recovered her files and made sure there was nothing corrupted on the HD.

She was happy and I made a few bucks.

Let's revisit the "she was happy" part.

She hadn't been gone 2 hours when I got the call.

"This computer won't connect to the Internet."

"OK." I said.  "Is it plugged into the router."

Long silence.

"No, it doesn't need to be."

Long silence on my end.

"Uh, yes it does.  The computer gets its connection by being plugged into the cable modem or router.  There's no way it is going to work otherwise."

Here comes the tirade....

She launched into me with all 4 feet, claws extended.

"Of course it's supposed to connect.  Every computer I've ever turned on in this house has connected and I didn't need to plug anything into it.  Are you sure you know what you are doing?"

Facepalm.  No...double facepalm.

"How many computers have you ever used in your home" I asked.

"Three" she replied.  "My Ex never had to do anything to get them connected, they just worked immediately with the internet."

I groaned inwardly.

"Were they all laptops."

"Well yes, they were".

As it turned out, her "Ex" did everything for her, to include setting up wireless on her previous laptops, installing all her apps and taking care of any virus or malware problems she conjured.

 "Beth" had no concept of wireless devices, dongles or routers.  As far as she was concerned, an Internet connection consisted of Fairy Dust that floated in the air until it found an unconnected computer. 

When I told her that she needed to run a cat5 cable from her router to her computer, she acted like I had just handed her a scalpel and a brain surgery schedule.

She insisted that when she turned on her desktop, it should automagically find an Internet connection and connect to it.

I then tried to explain how she could get a wireless card or dongle and connect...but oh no...I was an incompetent idiot who didn't have a clue as to how a computer works or how an internet connection is acquired.

I offered to give her money back and take back the computer but she got snitty and said she would take it to a REAL computer tech at Best Buy.  There were several colorful adjectives for the word idiot bestowed upon me before she hung up.

OK...fine by me.  Let them deal with her.

So the phone rang yesterday afternoon and it was a young lady who wanted to know why her new Acer laptop wouldn't connect to the Internet and would I mind taking a look at it.  We had fixed her mom's computer and our number had been offered her.

As we are still getting caught up with HeliOS Project installs I politely declined...and mumbled something about contacting their website.  She asked me if I had any ideas as to why it wasn't working and I said yes, I might.

I told her that Acer probably forgot to put the Internet inside of it.

She warmly thanked me and hung up the phone.

I poured myself a 2 PM 4 finger dram of MacAllan and counted my blessings.

All-Righty then...


Anonymous said...

Ain't life gran !! :)

Love your blog and your work , do it's on another continent . You are a kind of inspiration , god lick and keep up the good work .

Best regards from Portugal .

Luís Ribeiro

P.S. Sorry for any typos .

kozmcrae said...

I read something yesterday on a science site. It said since Cro Magnon Man our brains have been getting smaller. Yes, we are getting dumber. As the world we create demands more gray matter to negotiate, we have less of it. This may be of little solace to your personal situation Ken, but it may help in understanding some political conditions.

T. Lindsay said...

As someone who works in the business, I can see how disappointed you must be with the person in the first experience you posted, that's their bad.
But the answer you gave the second person could only hurt you, for two reasons:
1/ The next professional who she takes this notebook to and relates your diagnosis to (believe they will!) will form a poor view of your enterprise, and reflect that back to her.
2/ She was referred to you by a previous customer, so do you really think this is not going to get back to said customer? Again, bad reflection on your organization.
The first experience was something we all can identify, and venting is needed with that kind of frustration. The second was your problem, or at least transferring your frustrations with first customer to this customer, and so nobody wins.
Bad move, Helios.

Mike Regan said...

Come on, bad move my a$$.

I put my kid through college doing computer repair in my own shop and I'll be the first to admit doing the same things over the years without hesitation. It was obviously a tongue in cheek remark and from the sound of it, Ken didn't have time to hand-hold another idiot user anyway.

How freaking stupid do you have to be to think that "somebody adds" the internet into their laptop? Oh, that's right, they're not stupid, they are uninformed. We must educate the customer.

No we don't. I get paid to fix your computer, not teach you computer use 101. I get the same lame-brain users bringing in their computers for me so I can fix the same lame-brain problems I fixed six months ago. How many times do you have to tell someone NOT to use Limewire? that's ok. I'll take their money.

Again, and I've said this before in a few of the articles helios has written. A computer is not a freaking appliance. It is a device that needs some level of maintenance and knowledge. I have no sympathy for anyone that won't take the short amount of time needed to learn the fundamentals of a computer.

I also have a hard and fast rule in my business. I don't care how good or loyal the customer is. I never diagnose or fix a computer over the phone. The dimwit that Ken offers us is the same one that would badger him a dozen times a week over absolutely stupid issues.

Sorry for the rant Ken, but I do very fine pissing off a customer or two every now and then. You'll be fine.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I worked my way through grad school doing upper-tier tech support over the phone. Granted, I may have had a BS in Computer Science but it shouldn't take anything but an 8th grade education to operate a computer.

Us techs used to IM each other when we got calls like this and trust me, we got a bunch of them. I can relate to your frustration. If our calls weren't monitored, I would have given them advice like your "failed to add internet" line.

That is classic.

Unknown said...

Ken, your blog has always been an inspiration over here in the UK.
This morning the Alarm going of at 05:50 and getting up in the dark after a Xmas break was no easier that on Tuesday. However, your post has definately raised the bar, I will have to remember to "put the internet inside".
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Which is why I gave it all up and am now a storeman and drive a forklift.

pallets don't scream when you hit them...

Ken, you have more patience than I do, all the best.

Unknown said...

pallets don't scream when you hit them...

No but Dock supervisors do when you screw up.

I drove a truck for a number of years and on most non-union docks, I had to load and unload my trucks via forklift.

I was in a hurry to get on the road and in my haste, didn't lower my forks in time and ran them through a pallet of shrink-wrapped Dell servers.

I wasn't asked to unload my own truck in Tucson again.


Anonymous said...

She asked me if I had any ideas as to why it wasn't working

I don't know that I am cheeky enough to think of an answer like you gave but I do know that this "support session" might have lasted an hour.

Trying to diagnose a connection problem is bad enough if you are a paid support specialist, but asking someone to do it pro bono is just bad form.

You did the right thing.

JRaz said...

Very amusing. She seems to imply there is not a device to connect to, leads me to think the ex was hopping on a neighbor's signal. Doesn't Acer supply the Internet on cd's?

Good story I needed the chuckle.

Anonymous said...

The woman reacted badly... but you DID replace a laptop with a box. What did you expect?

Unknown said...

What did you expect?

Someone with a little common sense.

Anonymous said...

After years of doing tech support on customers computers that generally required me to go physically on site to "repair" their problems I have started to catch up with the times and get "modern". :)

Several months ago I purchased a product (name withheld to not appear as an ad for them) that is compatible with Linux, Windows, and Mac systems. It allows me to remotely connect to their desktops and "see" the issues they need fixed without me driving all over b*ngf**k and pulling my time away for more important projects I may be involved with.

When a customer calls in with one of the usual minor problems, especially the Windows customers, I do a quick evaluation of their issue. If the issue is a minor one I let them know I can likely fix this without requiring an on site visit by remotely connecting to their system. If they agree I then ask them for their billing and addressing information first and explain that I will be sending them a bill either via email or snail mail at the end of the repair session. If they are the usual "looky lou" wanting free advise I let them know they can bring the system in for repair at the usual shop rates or I can visit them on site again at the usual shop rates plus travel time expenses. Their choice.

This generally weeds out the "looky lous" who want free over the phone tech support. If the customer then agrees I walk them through getting the little application they need on their end. That in itself can sometimes be a bit of a challenge because some folks simply do not, or ever will, understand how to use a computer. Even so I always make sure that the first thing I do when successfully connecting to their system is make sure they have an easy to find icon on their desktop with my business name on it for this application for future reference.

So far I have had 100% positive reactions to doing things this way. Just as this can become a huge tedious drag upon us as techs, it also is a huge imposition on our customers. They are very happy if we can "repair" their issue without ever setting foot in their homes and personal space. Since a large percentage of these problems are due to lack of knowledge on the users side, or user caused, most issues can be easily resolved via this method without wearing us, the tired old battle worn techs, out.

I love the fact that the product works with ALL of my customers. Linux, Windows, and Mac because I have customers in all three environments. :)

(I also love the fact that I can sit around in my PJ's and Bunny Slippers and still make a living!) ;)

(well, some days anyway)

Barn_Owl said...

"I was in a hurry to get on the road and in my haste, didn't lower my forks in time and ran them through a pallet of shrink-wrapped Dell servers."

In retrospect, I bet that is often a a very satisfying memory.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the old City Manager of Tuttle OK and CentOS affair

She probably figured that if she yelled at you enough you would fix the problem.

I'm sure any place she takes the PC they'll soon have her measure.


Anonymous said...

Funny story Ken. I'm not surprised what happened, though.

Maybe you need to get some stickers that read "Internet Inside!" made up ...

GrueMaster said...

I did the consulting gambit for 5 years before the market fell out in '95. Since then, I have worked for several companies doing mostly Linux work since '98. I still get the occasional call from my old clients asking for help, mainly because they don't trust the snot-nosed geeks at BestBuy or any of the local shops in my hometown (I moved 275 miles away).

One of the constant problems I see, both in Windows and Linux (I haven't worked with a Mac before), when it works, it works great. When it doesn't, it can be a real pain to fix sometimes.

The main issue is that not all people have the aptitude to learn how to fix their system on their own. They are the same types of people that don't know how to change a tire or even how to empty the drip tray under the fridge.

And our schools don't help much. Both of my sons were forced to take a computer basics class in high school (they have been using dual boot systems since they were old enough to read), but it only showed them how to start an already installed version of Word and write a simple letter. Nothing about how to install Word or configure the system to print. Of course, even an overhaul of the education system won't help with existing users.

I'd like to think that as technology improves, so do the users. Unfortunately, Murphy's laws of the universe seems to have taken effect, namely "Develop something to be idiot proof, and the universe will provide more idiots." So far the universe is winning.

My favorite "dumb user" story was from when I was in high school, working part time in a computer repair shop. A customer brought in a system that was barely a few months old, saying that it screeched when he powered it on. I set it up on the repair bench as he talked with the manager, and as soon as I powered it on it was deafening. When I opened the case, the fist thing I noticed was the old 5" Seagate ST-225 hard drive had been "modified". The screws were different than the factory ones, and the thick rubber seal was broken in several spots. When I asked the customer why he opened it, he said he wanted to keep the system running fast, so had lubricated the drive platters with WD40. FAIL.

Someone once said, "You can't fix stupid."

the Goat said...

I don't understand why you were rude to the second woman.

Anonymous said...

Of course, when the lady who got 'snitty' takes her desktop to Best Buy, they likely won't want to work on it because it has Linux on it..... and she'll be back.

I'm not a techie by any means, but I work with other secretaries who amaze me with the questions they ask and the statement, "... but you know so much more about computers than I do.... so you can fix/explain this." (Totally amazing.) I don't repair computers either..... Good luck!

Sum Yung Gai said...

"Forgot to put the Internet inside of it"...ROTFLMAO!!! And she bought that??!! Helios, that's as as classic as the cup holder! I've gotta try that one out someday, but I just hope I can keep a straight face if/when that happens.

If ever there were a case for "your call may be recorded for quality assurance", this would probably be it.

Great story, and a much needed laugh this afternoon. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!


Sum Yung Gai said...

Hey...waitasec...I just thought of something. Next time someone doesn't have the Internet installed (for whatever reason), you can offer to install it for them...with GNU/Linux. See, it's "the new version of the Internet." :-D

While this is meant humourously, I'm also being deadly serious. I've done more than one upgrade in exactly this fashion ("oh, it's just the new version!"). Even did one Vista-to-Ubuntu upgrade like that. This worked partly because Microsoft, ahem, "borrowed" the window widget design from Kubuntu 6.06 "Dapper Drake" and also reused it for Windows 7. The user was tickled pink and hasn't had a malware recurrence since.

Unknown said...

@ Sum Yung Gai with attention to goat:

I honestly offered that as a segway into an actual query to help her but she thanked me and hung up the phone. There was to be at least a perfunctory attempt to see what the problem was.

The way it turned out, I didn't get that chance. I did later call her mom who is a customer of mine and found out the problem had been "solved". My intention wasn't really to leave her hanging like that, but that's the way it played out.

SYG...So when's the next time you're close to Austin. It would be great to see you again. Even lunch at the same place...but this time, ahem...I'm bringing 70 extra lbs of me to the table.


Anonymous said...

"Someone once said, "You can't fix stupid."

That would be Texas-born Ron White.

B Swiss said...

Concerning GrueMaster's "dumb user" story about the guy who opened up the hard-drive and applied some WD-40 to keep it running well:

It's not really fair to conclude that story with a dismissive "You can't fix stupid." This wasn't stupidity, but ignorance -- and ignorance can most definitely be cured.

Anyone who displays the initiative to make a mistake like this in the first place is someone who has demonstrated that they are willing to actually work on their computer, rather than treat it as techno-magical high technology beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals, and is likely someone who can learn at least the basics. The question is one of attitude, of whether they are willing to (and, yes, I've seen that sometimes they aren't).

I'm pretty sure that every trade from plumber or carpenter to doctor or lawyer has enough such stories that every Friday-afternoon Happy Hour could be spent in recounting new ones.

I can't help wondering, for example, how many similar stories about "dumb users" get told in garage lunch-rooms about clueless computer-dweebs who thought that some engine-destroying screw-up was an obvious or clever thing to do.

We're all "dumb users". Every *&^%$#@! one of us. The real question is how many of us are able -- and willing -- to learn better.

Gavin said...

Bravo, B Swiss! You said what I was about to say.

I would like to add, however, that there is a difference between uninformed and misinformed. There is a great deal of misinformation out there about computers that can easily lead novices astray. Let us not judge the victims for correctly utilising incorrect resources. For example, anyone remember the original marketing materials for Intel's Pentium III CPUs?:

Yes, SSE was originally named ISSE! And the 'I' stood for Internet. >.> Despite the fact that the small print said otherwise, many people took this at face value. "PIIIs magically speed up your internets!" I heard that a lot...

JRaz said...

Some folks just never 'get it' no matter what you do or say. To those folks we are their personal techs paid and free its all the same. I've done plenty of support, on the phone, in person, for free and being paid. I love my Mom but honestly the support calls drove me nuts with her. I have since installed Linux Mint 9 and after 30 minutes of face to face instruction I have yet to get a call for support. I'm in AZ and she is in TX so this means quite a bit. She even installed (well Mint installed) her printer.

Anonymous said...

I think we need a Beth blog or something! :)

I had a similar customer once. She called hin for me to fix her internet. I came by and made the mistake of trying to explain it to her.
Me:"Here's the router, and that's the cable modem. This part, the cable modem, is not working properly. That's why you can't use the internet right now..."

"Beth": "That's not the cable modem!" (pointing at the router) "That's the cable modem!"

Me: "No, it isn't. I know that this is the cable modem and this must be the router."

Beth: "These are my devices, of course I know what is what!"

Me: "Ok, so you ordered me to fix your internet. But you don't think I can see the difference between a cable modem and a router. Then how would I be able to fix your internet??"

That was the end of it. But it left pretty puzzled... said...

It is stories like these that makes consider revising my stand on "internet drivers license", and wonder if not the chromeos concept will be a good thing for many computer users.

Anonymous said...

You mean you installed a computer for this lady and omitted checking and installing internet? You might be excused for that fifteen, or even ten years ago, but not in 2010. If you do a job, do it well.


Unknown said...

I did not "install" it for her. She picked it up from my place and took it home. Of course it had internet capability via NIC,,,The idea of plugging it in via the router was beyond her capability.

I concur with a previous comment. People should be tested and licensed before they buy a computer.

T Wong said...

I just love it when some calls up for help, but then spend the whole time trying to tell you how to troubleshoot the problem....

Anonymous said...

Ken, I think you may have just accidentally uncovered why Beth's ex- is exactly just that.

Kevin Benko said...

I'm just a guy who uses Linux, and messes with computers. I don't have a degree in computer science and I am certainly not employed as anything resembling tech support or help desk.

However, I do get sucked into helping people with their computer problems. All because, it seems, I am neither afraid of computers nor hate computers.

I feel your pain. I am lucky in that I feel no obligation to actually help people, other than handing them a live Linux CD/DVD and asking them to give it a try. (I always carry around at least one live CD/DVD with me, just in case).

jhansonxi said...

In college I once crossed the campus to turn on a monitor. Scarecrow syndrome is still rampant today.

Dual Core's "Here to Help" is appropriate:

Then there is this:

Anonymous said...

In Germany those people are colloquially called "DAU", which is derived from "GAU" = "größter anzunehmender Unfall" = "maximum credible accident" regarding nuclear power plants.
DAU corresponds to "dümmster anzunehmender User" = "dumbest credible user"

Unknown said...

I did phone tech support for 7+ years for a major computer company from 1994 on. I was one of the 'GOOD' techs that would work with someone to fix a problem, damn the talk time, and I got into trouble with the company numerous times. But, my QA and Customer Service scores were always 95% or better and those that I helped would ask for me by name so they kept me because I did good work.

I ended up quitting because the level of stupid, both on the phone and off, was becoming to much to deal with. People call me to ask me to help them with their computer problem over the phone. /I/ /WILL/ /NOT/ /DO/ /IT/. I have no problems working on the computer in person and I will, for a fee. The nightmarish stories I can tell.

'I'm off to clean the gene pool. Now where's that bleach?'