Tech Support: "What is your computer doing now?"
Customer: "Checking for unnecessary disk space."
Customer: "Do you have WordPerfect for Gameboy?"
Tech Support: "No, but I'll call you when it comes in."
Grinding noises from SIMMs?
Tech Support: "Sir, did you install those chips yourself or did someone do it for you?"
Customer: "I'm not an idiot! I did it myself. I put them right in that slot in the front of the
computer, smart aleck."
A lady struck up a conversation with a man sitting next to her on an plane.
• Her: "And where are you going?"
• Man: "I'm going to San Francisco to a UNIX convention."
• Her: "Eunuchs convention? I didn't know there were that many of you."
• Customer: "How do I print my voicemail?"
• Customer: "You've sent me a disk but it doesn't seem to fit into the drive. It
seems to be an inch too long."
• Tech Support: "In order to make the disk fit into the drive, you have to make
sure that the metal shield is toward the computer, and that the round wheel is
• Customer: "Ahh, that's better, but it still doesn't work."
• Tech Support: "You have to push the disk in until the blue button pops out."
• Customer: "Oh, now it works! How come it doesn't say that anywhere?"
A woman in a non-computer-related company attempted to install a large software
package, requiring multiple 5 1/2" disks to install from. She placed disk 1 in drive A:, as
instructed. Slightly bewildered when the computer prompted her for disk 2, she
nevertheless obliged. But when it asked her to insert disk 3, she went to an office-mate
and insisted that another disk would not fit in the drive.
A friend of mine was providing UNIX support for a Large Company (which shall remain
nameless). One of his users called up one day to report a problem on a DOS machine.
Apparently, her floppy drive was giving general failure error messages when writing new
My friend dutifully trotted down there to look at the problem. He foolishly neglected to
bring a replacement for the drive. When he arrived, he found that this woman had put a
floppy in with the little plastic disk sleeve still in it. The head was trashed and the drive
had to be replaced.
About three months later, this same woman calls back with the same problem. This time
my friend, now savvy to the wiles of this particular user, grabbed a replacement drive,
then trotted on down to visit. When he got there, he found the drive with two 3.5"
floppies shoved into it all the way. When he asked why (big mistake), she replied, "I was
out of high density disks, so I figured I could just use two low density ones instead."
I once received a call from a customer who was determined he had a failing hard drive.
The problem was that his computer wouldn't boot to Windows unless it tried three or four
times in succession. His explanation was that this was because the hard drive wasn't
"spinning far enough" to find the file it needed to boot. After each attempt, though, the
hard drive would spin far enough over until finally it could find the file it needed to boot.
Needless to say, that wasn't it.
I had a call from our Science Librarian that her floppy drive wouldn't accept any disks.
Our librarians misassume that they are all power users, and she had taken it upon herself
to disassemble the drive (it was an external drive to a laptop) and couldn't visually find a
problem, so she asked that I order a new one. Well, policy is to inspect a part ourselves
before ordering a new one, so I went to her office to check the drive. When I got there
she demonstrated that one could not insert a floppy into the drive. But I noticed that
instead of the eject button being below and to the right of the slot, it was above it and to
the left. I turned the drive over, inserted a disk, and, amazingly, considering that she had
taken the thing apart, it worked fine.
I work for a company that does technical support for a floppy drive manufacturer. I got a
call from a customer who was absolutely hysterical saying that she was going to report us
to the Attorney General because we were selling a product that was worthless. After
finally getting her calmed down enough to talk fairly rationally, the conversation went
something like this:
• Tech Support: "What seems to be the problem with our drives?"
• Customer: "They don't work! I've had three of the &*@$# things and none of
them work. It's against the law to sell a product that you know is worthless, and
you're not going to get away with it any longer!"
• Tech Support: "What's the problem with them?"
• Customer: "They won't let me write to the disk! You people ought to be ashamed
• Tech Support: "Does it give you any kind of error message?"
• Customer: "You're %#^$%@ right it does! The same one every &*^#@ time!
They all say, 'Write protect error reading drive A:'! What's the use of a floppy
drive if you can't write to the &*#&$* thing!?"
At that point I put the customer on mute for a few moments while I composed myself,
summoned some patience and self-control, and explained to her how to solve that
problem. Did she apologize? Of course not! She flew into another tirade that we didn't
include sufficient documentation with our product and wanted to know what we were
going to do to reimburse her for her time and inconvenience.
• Customer: "I need a new floppy drive."
• Tech Support: "If yours is broken, we'll replace it. Your system is still under
• Customer: "Oh, no! The system works fine! I'm thrilled with it."
• Tech Support: "So you're looking for a second drive to copy disks?"
• Customer: "No, I just need a new one."
• Tech Support: (pause) "Ok, is there any particular reason?"
• Customer: "Mine's used up."
• Tech Support: "Used up? Like I said, if it's broken, we will replace it for free."
• Customer: "No, it still works. I just installed some software with it, and now it's
After some time we arrived at the crux of the misunderstanding, and I calmly showed him
that if he pushed the little button on the drive, his disk would come back out. He left a
happy man, checkbook safely back in his pocket.
A young lady came and asked why she could not open a file that she had saved to the
network. I went with her to the PC she was using and opened the file in question without
• Me: "That seems ok."
• Her: "Yes, it's ok here, but when I get home and look in my college folder on the
C: drive, it's not there. I want this fixed. I'm already late handing in my
The customer called to order a new hard disk drive for his computer. He wanted a 20 meg
hard drive (this was some time ago) for his IBM PS/2. He received the drive but called
back, complaining that it was the wrong thing. He said he didn't need a hard drive but
rather a 3 1/2" floppy drive. And if we couldn't get him a 3 1/2" floppy drive that would
store 20 megs, he didn't want it and would go elsewhere.
A "cannot access drive A:" error turned out to be due to a user putting the 5 1/4" diskette
in the tiny gap between drives A: and B: and then closing the drive A: door.
A tech advised a customer to put his troubled floppy back in the drive and close the door.
The customer put his phone down and was heard walking across the room and shutting
the door to the room.
• Customer: "Can I get a hard drive with a cdrom drive built into it?"
In the process of doing a backup on a Mac, I was once given this peculiar instruction:
• "Please insert disk drive."
• Customer: "What do I do now?"
• Tech Support: "One way to resolve this would be to delete files to free up
• Customer: "Which files should I delete?"
• Tech Support: "Delete files that you have created that you no longer need."
• Customer: "I can't do that. ALL of my files are important. Isn't there another
• Tech Support: "Well, you could get a bigger hard drive."
• Customer: "A BIGGER HARD DRIVE! The thing already takes up most of my
desk space. How much bigger does it have to be?"
• A Friend: "Does my hard drive get heavier when I put more data on it?"
I had a call from a customer who said that his floppy drive recently stopped reading
disks. I suggested that he clean out the dust from the drive.
• Customer: "I can't."
• Tech Support: "Huh?"
• Customer: "The dust won't move."
Finally, I found out that he had been using spray glue near the machine.
A customer came into our store one day wanting to buy a tape-backup drive. Normally
this wouldn't have been a problem, but that day the only drives we had in stock required a
1 meg per second floppy controller.
• Customer: "I'll take that 3.2 gig tape backup drive."
• Me: "Do you know what kind of floppy controller you have?"
• Customer: "Of course I do. It's on my motherboard."
• Me: "Do you know how fast it is?"
• Customer: "That's none of your business."
• Me: "Is it 1 meg per second?"
• Customer: "You don't need to know that."
• Me: "The only motherboards we carry that support this drive are the P-II
• Customer: "I didn't buy my board here."
• Me: "Well, this drive will only work if you have a 1 meg per--"
• Customer: "Look here, son, I know more about computers from working in the
field than you get out of your college classes. I know what I'm talking about. Sell
me the drive."
I sold him the drive. He returned it the next day. His floppy controller wasn't fast enough.
We used to supply Xenix systems. For some obscure reason Xenix's fsck command
required the name of a scratch file during startup on every boot. One customer typed in
/dev/hdroot0 -- the root disk block device -- as the scratch file and consequently wiped
the whole hard disk. He typed this, he explained, because it was displayed on the screen
just before the scratch file question.
• Tech Support: "What exactly happened?"
• Customer: "Well, I tried to download netscape, but the connection kept
• Tech Support: "Ok, then what?"
• Customer: "Well, I couldn't find the file to delete it, so I formatted my hard
• Tech Support: "What?"
• Customer: "Yes. Do you know somewhere I can download DOS?"
I talked to a guy whose wife taught computer classes. At the start of her class, she had her
students bring in a floppy disk and format it. This was roughly 1986 or 1987, so it was a
good place to start. But at the beginning of the first class period, she was greeted by a
technician who informed her that all the computers had been upgraded with hard drives.
She thought that was great.
So when class started, she told her students that they would use hard drives rather than
their floppies. First step: format C:.
After telling me this story, the teacher's husband laid all the blame on the tech who
installed the hard drives.
• Customer: "My hard drive is messed up."
• Me: "Could you give me the error message or the problem?"
• Customer: "I added up all the space taken up in the folders, and there should be
more space free on the hard drive."
My jaw dropped at this point. This guy had actually taken the time to physically add up
all the space taken up by his files and directories in File Mangler. Turns out, he didn't add
the sub-directories into the equation. Oops.
A customer called complaining that his new computer had a hard drive problem. When
asked to describe this, he told me he ran out of space on his C: drive.
I spent fifteen minutes trying to explain that the drive was segmented into three partitions
-- C:, D:, and E:, and all he had to do was use the available installer on his desktop to
change the installation path.
He responded that that couldn't be right, because he had friends with computers, and none
of them ever had to do that. He refused the read the manual, do what I suggested, or call
anyone else for support.
• Customer: "All my files I saved last week to my C: drive are missing!"
• Tech Support: "Do you remember what directory you first saved them in?"
• Customer: "No, I don't. I just know it was on my C: drive."
• Tech Support: "Ok, I'll walk you through how to find the files."
• Customer: "I wouldn't think I would be losing files on this computer. Gee, I just
had the hard drive replaced in it yesterday."
• Tech Support: "Thank you for calling. How can I help you?"
• Customer: "Help!"
• Tech Support: "What's the problem, sir?"
• Customer: "My drive started making funny noises, so I put my finger in it to see
what was wrong, and now I CAN'T GET IT OUT!!"
After muting the customer for a few seconds to regain his composure, I calmly suggested
that the man hang up and call 911. The funniest part is that this guy actually waited on
hold for over ten minutes before he was able to reach a tech.
A customer brought in a Macintosh SE with a diskette stuck in the disk drive. Even using
a paper clip in the manual eject hole would not eject the disk. Upon disassembling the
disk drive, I discovered why. The customer had a fondness for carrying 3.5" disks in his
front shirt pocket. He had also put his Visa Gold Card in his front pocket that day. It
managed to lodge itself on the back of the disk by slipping under the metal shutter.
Without knowing, he had inserted the disk, Visa and all, into the drive. The customer
charged the repair fee.
I have a user who travels with his zip drive. He is constantly forgetting to plug one end of
the cable into the computer, and the other end into the zip drive. He instead, plugs both
ends into the zip drive, forming a loop, which is in no way hooked to the computer.
I had a user who had pulled a 3 1/2" floppy out of a disk drive with pliers because she
"didn't know what that little button was for." She had left all the metal parts inside the
drive and then had the gall to ask if the data was ok and get irate when we told her no.
A friend had a brilliant idea for saving disk space. He thought if he put all his Microsoft
Word documents into a tiny font they'd take up less room. When he told me, I was with
another friend. He thought it was a good idea too.
• Customer: "My disk ran out of space when trying to save my Word document, so
I changed it from double spaced to single spaced and it still wouldn't fit!"
A customer called complaining that his "hard drive won't boot." After determining there
was a floppy disk in the A: drive, I suggested that the customer remove it. Later, when I
arrived, I found he had successfully removed the entire floppy drive from the machine.
A woman dialed tech support for a large computer manufacturer. She complained that her
computer was "eating" her disks.
• Tech Support: "Eating your disks?"
• Customer: "Well I've inserted over twenty of them and still can't save to the
After a long frustrating call, the customer service representative sent a tech over to the
woman's home. He was dumbfounded by what he saw.
One of the front face plates on the case was missing. Inside the computer, at the bottom
of the case, were exactly twenty floppy disks in a pile.
Back when the PS/2 first came out I was setting up a bunch of machines for a Big Eight
accounting firm here in Chicago. Management at the company did not want their users
having floppy drives because that was just another hole for a virus to enter their network.
The funny thing about those old PS/2's is that the front of the CPU had the disk slot and
eject mechanism even if there was no drive in the bay (later fixed, of course). Thus, we
send email out to everyone describing this anomaly and put tape over the disk slot.
Needless to say, after a mere month, nearly every CPU had diskettes lying on the
A customer said the floppy drive on her Mac wasn't working. The case had a nice
rectangular 3 1/2" in the front, but there was no sign of the diskette. I popped open the
cover, and there was the diskette sitting on the motherboard. Only then did I notice two or
three pieces of plastic sitting next to the monitor. A question or two solved the mystery.
The computer had been purchased without a floppy drive, so a cosmetic plastic snap-in
strip had been placed over the empty floppy hole. She had pried the strip out with a nail
file and shoved the floppy in. I put the case down as a "customer attempted upgrade."
A girl from my class (a blonde) once called me and complained that her computer would
not boot up anymore. I asked her what she had done. She calmly replied, "Oh, I simply
opened the hard disk properties tab and pressed the 'compress' button to increase the
capacity. But it was taking too much time, and I got bored, so I shut it off."
I worked with an individual who plugged his power strip back into itself and for the life
of him could not understand why his system would not turn on.
At my high school, a computer science class student was having trouble getting his
computer to work. The computer was one of those were the monitor could plug into it for
power instead of having the monitor plug directly into the wall. Well, this student's
computer had the monitor plugged into the wall, and the computer plugged into itself.
• Customer: "My computer won't work. You guys must have broken it when you
installed the modem."
• Tech Support: "What happens when you turn it on?"
• Customer: "It won't turn on anymore!!!!!"
• Tech Support: "So you don't see any lights or hear any noise?"
• Customer: "I'm telling you it WON'T TURN ON."
• Tech Support: "Is it plugged in?
• Customer: "OF COURSE it's plugged in, you MORON!"
• Tech Support: "When you push the power button it--"
• Customer: "Power button? This computer doesn't have a power button."
• Tech Support: "Sir, all computers have power buttons. Look at the front of the
case, find the word 'power,' and push the button."
• Customer: "YOU FIXED IT!! Thanks!!!!"
• Customer: "Ok, I've turned the computer off, then on again. It still says, 'Safe to
power off, or press any key to reboot'?"
• Tech Support: "No, not the monitor switch, the CPU switch."
• Customer: "I bought this computer from you two hours ago, and it doesn't work!
I want my money back!"
• Store Clerk: "Let me see..."
So I plugged the computer in and turned it on. I showed him that it was working, then I
turned it off.
• Store Clerk: "Sir, this computer does work. I'm afraid we can't take it back."
• Customer: "How in the world did you turn it on?"
• Store Clerk: "I pressed the power switch."
• Customer: "You must have pressed something else, because I know for a fact
that the power switch doesn't work!"
He reached over and pressed the reset button repeatedly.
• Customer: "You see?"
• Store Clerk: "Sir, that's the reset button. This is the power switch."
• Customer: "That's a switch? I thought it was a decoration!"
There was a fresh influx of new employees at my place of work, which used Sun
workstations. These particular workstations had extremely well hidden power switches,
so I was fielding questions about turning on the computers for a few weeks. Most were
simply "Where's the stupid power switch?" but one was unique. A new employee came
around and said she had a problem turning on her computer. I started to tell her where to
find the power switch, but she interrupted me.
"Oh no," she said. "I found the switch, but I don't know which way to flip it."
A lady in our department bought a new computer but coudn't get it to work. I told her to
bring it in, and I'd take a look at it. Next day she dropped it off, and I checked it out. All
was fine. She took it home. Next day, she came in and said it still didn't work. I told her
to bring the monitor in, thinking maybe it was dead. Next day, same story, no problem
with the monitor. When I saw her later, I told her this and that she should take the
monitor home and, if it still didn't work, bring everything in. Next day, she dropped by
my office with all she had. I set it on the table, plugged everything in, flipped the CPU
power switch, and she leaned in real close, wide-eyed. "Wait!!" she exclaimed. "What
was that you just did?!?!?"
• Tech Support: "Ok, so your monitor is not working, the screen is blank, and no
matter what you do it stays blank? Do you see that button on the bottom right
hand side of the screen? Press it. . . . Great, talk to you next time!"
I do tech support at a computer parts vendor and system builder. I take calls from dealers
and other technical professionals. Last week I had a call from a woman who began her
call by giving me a long listing of her credentials, beginning with her four years at MIT,
covering her ten plus years of service in the tech support departments of various
technology corporations, and ending with her forming a successful computer consulting
and repair service. Then she asked her question:
• Customer: "Do I have to plug in this new power supply to make it work?"
I visited a customer site. The problem was that the computer wasn't powering up.
• Customer: "Well, I connected everything, but when I push the power button
• Me: "Ok, are you sure you plugged in the power cord?"
• Customer: "Yes."
I crawled under her desk. No power cord. I sat and turned around, and there she was
holding the cord.
• Customer: "Oh, I have this, is it important?"
Duh! I plugged it in, powered it up, and spent a few minutes setting her computer up for
our network and explaining how it works (not surprisingly, this took more time then the
actual install). Then she informed me about another problem she was having.
• Customer: "I think my printer is broken. It won't turn on. Do you think this will
And there she was, holding the power cord for the printer.
I worked in technical support at Silicon Graphics about a year ago, and I was part of the
group that was first in line to handle problem calls. Oh, joy. Being only eighteen at the
time, my experience in the field of technical support was somewhat limited, but I could
still handle my own.
Now, as you may or may not know, SGI sells top of the line computers used in many
different industries. On average, they're about three times as expensive as personal PCs
and are meant to be used by professionals in the industries they're used in.
Anyway, the following call came in:
• Customer: "I just received an Onyx yesterday, and I tried to set it up today and it
• Tech Support: "It just doesn't boot up?"
• Customer: "It doesn't even turn on. I see nothing on the screen, and the fan
doesn't even turn on in the back of the system."
• Tech Support: "Is the monitor functioning? Is there a little green light in the
lower right corner of the monitor?"
• Customer: "Yes, there is."
• Tech Support: "Ok, is the computer plugged in?"
• Customer: (irritated) "Look, I think I know how to set up a system. I'm a college
graduate, you know."
• Tech Support: "Ok, let me finish typing up this report, and I'll send it off. You
will get a reply within one business day."
• Customer: (exasperated) "Thank you. Geez, I mean I paid a huge amount of
money for this computer. The least you people can do it make sure it works before
sending it to me!
I roll my eyes as I continue to type.
• Customer: "I mean, to add to the poor quality control, you even sent me one extra
• Tech Support: "One extra cord?"
• Customer: "Yes, it looks just the one I used to plug in the monitor and computer,
but that's all you sent to me. I have no use for this other one."
At this point, I thought I should inquire a little more...but use a bit of tact to do so.
• Tech Support: "Sir, can you double check the serial number on the back of your
• Customer: "On the back of the computer?"
• Tech Support: "Yes, sir."
• Customer: (sigh) "All right, all right, hold on..."
I heard a few muffled grunts as he crawled over his desk to see the back of the computer.
He repeated the serial number from the sticker. I didn't bother to verify it.
• Tech Support: "Thank you, sir. Oh, by the way, can you check to see if the
computer is plugged in?"
Dead silence. I could just picture the man's face when he realized that the computer was
never plugged in in the first place and that the "extra" power cord he was holding in his
hand was for the computer. I didn't wait for a response from him. I thanked him for
calling, hung up, and closed the case.
• Customer: "Hello? My computer's power just died."
• Tech Support: "Ok. Is everyone else's computer in that room working?"
• Customer: "Yes."
• Tech Support: "What were you doing right before it went out?"
• Customer: "I plugged my curling iron into the power strip."
• Tech Support: "Really? What else is plugged into there?"
• Customer: "Well, my radio, my space heater, my cup warmer, my printer, my
monitor, and my computer."
• Tech Support: "Did you unplug anything to plug your curling iron in?"
• Customer: "Yes, my space heater."
• Tech Support: "Well, unplug the curling iron and plug the space heater back in."
• Customer: "Hey! My computer is working now! Is there something wrong with
the power strip?"
A long time ago, I worked as a helper in a college computer facility. On the first day of a
class, the instructor told the students to turn on their machines. He dutifully explained
that not only do you have to flip the big switch located at the rear right (these were old
XT and AT machines) but also to turn the switch on the monitor. One intelligent-looking
fellow followed the instructions to the letter. He flipped both switches but did not see the
screen light up. He tried both switches again but still no luck. He tried this for 20 minutes
to no avail. You're probably guessing the plug was out, or the contrast knob was turned
all the way down. Nope. The computer was already on when he got there, but the monitor
was off. He never managed to get both turned on at the same time.
We had just purchased a new Power Mac after having used a Performa series Mac for
some time. We had been taking turns using the new computer all evening; around 10pm
everyone started turning in -- everyone except for mom. She used the computer for a
couple more hours and just before going to bed, a problem arose. She kept trying to solve
it but to no avail -- so she called tech support for help.
• Tech Support: "How can I help you?"
• Mom: "Could somebody there please tell me how in the world to shut down my
computer...I've been trying to shut down for the past three hours!"
• Tech Support: "You just press the button."
• Mom: "I've been doing that and the computer keeps restarting!"
• Tech Support: "Tell me what you are doing."
• Mom: "I go to the 'Special' menu, and then to 'shut down,' and release the mouse
button. It doesn't shut down -- it gives me a dialog box that says, 'It is now safe to
shut down your computer,' with only one button that says 'restart.' And when I
press it, my computer restarts. How do I get it to shut down? It has been restarting
for the past three hours!"
• Tech Support: "No, not that button. The little white button in front of the
computer. You know, the one you use to turn it on."
• Mom: "Ohhhhh, that one."
Mom feels very embarrassed. In fact, if she needs any assistance from Apple any more,
she has ME call them because she thinks that when she gives them her name they will see
the word "idiot" next to her name on the screen. I try to tell her it's not as bad as she
thinks, but she thinks it is the stupidest thing anyone has ever done.
One day, our Society Editor was typing away at her terminal. As I passed her desk, she
asked me to turn up the brightness on the monitor, because it was too dark. As I leaned
over to twist the brightness knob, I noticed that the power switch was in the off position.
She had been typing her story on a deactivated computer and didn't even notice.
• Customer: "Memory? Is that the RAM stuff?"
• Customer: "...I just had 60 more of them RAMs installed..."
• "My computer has 6 gigs of memory."
I had called the electronics department of a chain department store to ask how much their
RAM was. The clerk who answered the phone asked me, "Is that that CD-RAM stuff?" I
decided it was better to drive over there and see for myself.
• Customer: "I just put on DOS/Windows 6.0, and my memory crashed the
• Tech Support: "How much RAM do you have in the computer?"
• Customer: "32 megs."
• Tech Support: "Are you using any RAM doubling software?"
• Customer: "Yes."
• Tech Support: "So you have 16 megs of actual, physical RAM?"
• Customer: "No. I have 8 megs. I installed [a RAM expanding product], and that
gave me 16. I liked it so much I went out and got [another RAM expanding
product]. So now I have 32."
• Customer: "How much will 16K of conventional memory cost?"
• Customer: "Can you send me a disk to increase my RAM to the 64 meg
A woman brought her Macintosh LC520 into my shop to have more memory added. This
was all fine, but she said she the computer kept running out of memory at startup. I found
this to be rather interesting and decided to fire it up at the counter while she watched.
After plugging in the computer to the wall and a keyboard and mouse I hit the power
button. The computer sounded to life and the screen lit with the "Welcome to Macintosh"
box on screen. This was immediately replaced by the Mac/OS picture and a status bar
that was progressing as the extensions loaded. As the bar approached the end she said,
"See the memory is all full." I looked at her rather confused and asked where she would
have gotten that idea. Apparently one of the know-nothings at the local computer
superstore had said that that was what the progress bar meant.
Needless to say she was rather angry at them for the erroneous information. She ending
up not buying the RAM but was thankful for our good service.
Our company had begun to demo its new product, a client-server office suite. It was
pretty new to everyone, and there was a lot of groundwork to be done to ensure that the
demos would go smoothly and the stories would be compelling. The marketing guys
decided to host a three-way question and answer session between the pre-sales people,
some of the key developers, and the senior marketing suits.
About ten minutes into the session one of the pre-sales guys asked about per user
memory consumption at the server end, stating that his tests showed a 32 meg per user
minimum (back when 64 meg servers were considered big). Before anyone technical had
a chance to answer, one of the senior marketing suits piped up and said, in a totally
exasperated voice, "It's client-server! You don't need memory because it's in the
A customer called in at MicroSystems Warehouse and said he needed to speak to a tech
immediately. I asked him what the problem was and that I might be able to help. He said,
"Are the SIMM slots located in the back of the computer?" I asked him if he needed help
installing the chips. He said, "No. I installed them and the computer just isn't recognizing
them." I said to him, "Where did you install the chips?" He said, "I removed my sound
card and put them in there."
I got a guy who was trying to remove a 4 meg SIMM from his LC III so he could install
an 8 meg SIMM. He complained that he was having trouble with it -- it appeared to be
soldered in. I asked him if he had released the SIMM from the clips; he said he had to rip
one of them off. He said the ends could wiggle free, but the middle looked like it was
soldered in. I tried to understand what the heck was going on in his Mac...the weirdness
went on for at least five minutes. Finally, grasping for some semblance of reality, I asked
how much memory his LC III had. Four megs. He looked at the directions again --
"Ohhhhh, you gotta take it out if you have more than four megs." He was removing the
He asked if he should solder it back down.
• Customer: "You people owe me a new computer."
• Tech Support: "You're having trouble with your computer? What seems to be the
• Customer: "Well, I bought some memory from you people, and ever since I
installed it into my computer, it's been doing nothing but making grinding noises,
and nothing works anymore!"
• Tech Support: "Grinding noises?? It shouldn't be doing that!"
• Customer: "I know that! That's why you people owe me a new computer, and I'm
going to charge you for lost downtime and my inconvenience."
Grinding noises from SIMMs? This was a new one.
• Tech Support: "Sir, did you install those chips yourself or did someone do it for
• Customer: "I'm not an idiot! I did it myself. I put them right in that slot in the
front of the computer, smart aleck."
• Tech Support: "Please click on the 'start' button."
• Customer: "What 'start' button?"
• Tech Support: "In the lower left hand corner there is a button that says 'start'."
• Customer: "There is no button."
• Tech Support: "You are using Windows NT?"
• Customer: "Yes. The button is on the right hand side, and there is a little green
light next to it. You want me to push that?"
• Tech Support: "No sir, that's the power button. Is there a gray bar across the
bottom of the screen with buttons on it?"
• Customer: "There is no gray bar. It is white, and it opens, and there are buttons
• Tech Support: "No. Sir, on the TV part of the monitor is there a gray bar that you
can point at with the mouse, using the cursor that is on the screen."
• Customer: "There are some dials. There is one that has a picture of a sun on it,
but I don't have any idea what those are for."
A new technician was sent into the field to install a new video card. About the time they
began to wonder if something was wrong, the technician called in. "I have the monitor
apart, I just can't figure out where to install the video card."
I had a very irate user call me:
• Customer: "I need someone to fix this $&%^* computer. It keeps going off, and
when I push the silver power button in the back to turn it on, it shocks the ^#@&
%* out of me. It does this to me four or five times a day!"
I told him I would come down and look at it. When I examined the terminal, I found that
the fuse holder in the back had worked loose, and the cap had fallen off and gotten lost.
The fuse would slowly slide out from the vibrations on the desk, and the terminal would
shut down. The user would reach around the terminal and push on the bare fuse with his
You'd think one or two of those shocks would have been enough.
I received a call from a medical facility. They were trying to get a 286 with an amber
screen working. They brought it in saying that the screen wasn't showing the prompt and
several of the menu options. We turned on the machine and sure enough, some stuff was
missing. Me and my tech partner contemplated trying a different monitor, to see if the
card was still good. Suddenly, on impulse, I reached back and turned the contrast knob
up. Suddenly, there were the missing menu options and the prompt. We put "contrastual
adjustment" on the bill.
Last week, I installed a computer for a co-worker. It was the very first computer she had
ever used. She called me early the next morning and said her monitor was fuzzy looking
and wanted to know if she needed to buy an antenna for it. I told her no, it was cable
I work with second and third line support in a bank in Norway. We have about 600 users,
but we have one that I actively try to avoid.
The first time she called and said her monitor didn't work. I got up there, and it looked
fine. I tried to explain that there was probably something wrong with the software, but
she insisted it was the monitor, so I changed it just to make her shut up. The next day she
called and said it happened again. The new monitor, she said, didn't work either. I went
up to see. The monitor was fine; she had just exited Windows somehow and was at the
MS-DOS prompt. Before I could explain this to her, she said:
• Her: "Maybe it's the keyboard that's broken? Or the mouse? Or the printer? It
could be the printer, right?"
• Me: "No."
A few weeks later I had to check how much memory the computers on that floor had.
• Her: "What are you doing?"
• Me: "I'm checking how much memory these computers have."
• Her: "Oh. That's like the strength of the monitor, right?"
• Me: "No."
For a while, my monitor at home had been acting up, and unbeknownst to me, my father
had went and bought a reformatting disk which he believed would fix the monitor. One
day, I got home and found that the monitor had given out, and he had put in his 'repair
disk' to 'save' our hard drive. He fumbled through the program without any display, and
the end result was the deletion of everything on the hard drive.
I'm the IT guy for a small company and recently bought new monitors for our secretaries.
When I tried to take away the old monitors, one protested saying she had all their
important files stored there. I tried to explain you can't save to the monitor, but she
insisted. So I asked for her to show me. She turned on the computer and exclaimed, "See,
there they all are," pointing to all the shortcuts on the desktop.
When my son turned on his new computer for the first time, the following message box
• "Press and release the monitor power button if it is not on or blinking already."
• Tech Support: "What's on the screen?"
• Customer: "The what?"
• Tech Support: "The monitor -- what's on the monitor?"
• Customer: "Hold on......what?"
• Tech Support: "What's on the screen right in front of you?"
• Customer: "Hold on...I'll call you back." (click)
• Customer: "My monitor is wavy."
• Tech Support: "Your monitor is wavy. Hmmm. Is it on?"
• Customer: "Huh...urm...uhh. Nope."
• Tech Support: "What are you on?"
• Customer: "Hehehe...ohh yeah...thanks." (click)
Received at our help desk:
The computer won't boot. User replaced the monitor, plugged
it in, and the computer still won't boot. Need assistance
• Customer: "I have a 464 with 8K."
• Customer: "I have a 386 Pentium."
• Customer: "My brother has a 486 with a Pentium chip in it."
• Tech Support: "What type of systems do you have?"
• Customer: "I have four. A Pentium 200, a Pentium 66, a Pentium 33, and a
• Tech Support: "I don't think Intel ever made a Pentium 33."
• Customer: "It's a 486 Pentium."
• Tech Support: "Um, did you mean to say 486SX or 486DX?"
• Customer: "It's a 486DX Pentium."
• Tech Support: "How fast is your modem?"
• Customer: "I don't know, it's got a Pentium chip in it."
• Tech Support: "What operating system are you running?"
• Customer: "Pentium."
• Tech Support: "Ok, when the machine reboots, hit the 'del' key a few times. You
should see a blue screen."
• Customer: "Ok, it tells me that I am in the Cosmos setup."
• Customer: "I have a US Robotics Sportscaster modem."
• Customer: "I have a teer to teer network."
• Customer: "I'm in 386 enchanted mode."
A user called and demanded that his Windows 3.11 environment be changed from "386
Enhanced" to "Pentium Enhanced" since he felt he was "not getting the full potential" of
• Customer: "My computer's telling me I performed an illegal abortion."
Received by email:
Dear Creater of this good game,
I like your game and I wish I could play it more but I
I could play it just fine the very first times I tried. But
now I cant
cause I put in a name and password it loads like for 5
minutes then a
BRRIINNNK noise pops my speakers and a word thing popped up
something wierd like Operation Collapsed or something like
write me back!!!
• Badly Written Software: "You can click the OK plate if you wish to continue,
but you can click the CANCEL plate if you wish to cancel."
• Tech Support: "What version of Eudora are you using?"
• Customer: "Navigator 3.0."
• Tech Support: "What type of computer do you own?"
• Customer: "I don't know. I just bought it."
• Tech Support: "What kind of Mac do you have?"
• Customer: "It's the kind that sits on my desk...not one of the newer ones."
• Tech Support: "What kind of modem do you have?"
• Customer: "Oh, it's a 486."
• Tech Support: "No, that's the kind of computer you have. Ok, how much
memory do you have?"
• Customer: "It's supposed to have one gigabyte."
• Customer: "It says I have 2 zillion bytes available, and I need 8 zillion."
• Tech Support: "Ok, in the lower left-hand corner of File Manager, what does it
have for 'Free'?"
• Customer: "10,578 kegabytes."
• Customer: "Please put 60 nanseconds of RAM in this computer."
• Friend: "Hey! This one has 300 MHz of RAM!!"
I spotted a garage sale with some computer equipment on a table, so I went over to
investigate. There was an old dot matrix printer, an amber screen monitor, and what
appeared to be an IBM XT. The lady who was running the garage sale noticed me
looking at her equipment and came over.
• Her: "Hey, are you interested in buying that? It's a full computer, still works. It's
got a color modem and everything."
I'm new to computers, and a little while back I was talking to someone who claimed to be
a PC tech. Having recently found out what a processor actually was, I asked her what its
number meant. She said, "That's your memory," and began an explanation of RAM.
Thinking she misunderstood the question, I clarified with, "When someone says 'Pentium
266,' what does '266' mean?" She replied happily, "Oh, you mean your operating
system!" I laughed, because I thought she had to be messing with a newbie's mind, and
said, "No, not Linux or Windows or anything like that. I just want to know what that one
number means." She looked very hurt and confused and walked away insisting that it was
I was just talking to a user who had been having problems with her machine -- it was
losing its settings every time she turned it on.
• Her: "I asked my boyfriend about it. He knows about computers, and he said it
sounds like it might need a new sea monster battery."
It took me a while to figure out what she meant.
• Tech Support: "What version of the Mac OS are you using?"
• Customer: "Word 6.0."
• Tech Support: "Go to File and select Exit Windows. Click on 'OK'. What do you
have on your screen now?"
• Customer: "Windows. I clicked on 'Cancel' because it said it would injure my
• Customer: "Eudora keeps giving me the error 'connection confused'."
• Customer: "My DOS system got corroded."
My grandfather has recently started a course called "Computers for the Terrified." He's
nearly eighty and, although used to be an engineer within the British Royal Airforce, is
completely stuck when it comes to computers.
He came back from his first evening at this course. When asked how it had gone, he
replied, "Yes, it was really good. I really enjoyed it, but I really couldn't get to grips with
I stopped for a second, completely puzzled, until I realised he was talking about the
One day I asked if my Mom could shut down my computer. I told her to press "the big
gray switch on the computer." After some time, I phoned her and asked if she shut the
machine down, but she replied, saying there wasn't any big gray switch on the keyboard.
• Me: "No, Mom, not on the keyboard; it's on the computer."
• My Mother: "Computer?"
• Me: "Yes, that gray box on the floor."
• My Mother: "Ah, the engine!"
• Me: "Engine?"
• My Mother: "Yes, it's making lots of noise."
Once I went on site to set up a computer for a school. I spend several hours setting up the
equipment and configuring all the software and checking the Internet connection. When I
left, everything was working perfectly.
The next morning, I got a call from the teacher, saying that the computer wouldn't turn
on. Perplexed, I paid another visit. I sat down at the desk and looked at each component:
the scanner was on, the monitor was on, the speakers were powered up, but the screen
was blank. I looked under the desk, and, sure enough, none of the lights on the face of the
computer were lit. I reached down, pushed the main power button, and the computer
immediately came to life and booted up normally.
• Me: "Why didn't you try that?"
• Customer: "The light on the brain was on...."
She was pointing to the speakers.
As the local computer enthusiast, I sometimes get called on to troubleshoot computer
problems. A while back, my boss asked me to help her figure out what was going on with
her computer, complaining that her "rat" (mouse) was not responding. She surmised that
it was a problem with the "ropes" (cables) behind the computer.
I had a friend who was ready for a memory upgrade on his Mac notebook, and he wanted
to know how much "megaram" he needed.
• Customer: "How do I use my High Megabit memory?"
• Customer: "This DOS program says I have insignificant memory."
• Customer: "The computer told me it had contagious memory. Does it have a
• Tech Support: "No, that is 'contiguous' memory, as in 'sequential'."
• Customer: "That is impossible, it said 'contagious'."
• Tech Support: "Type 'mem' and hit the 'enter' key."
• Customer: "Oh."
• Customer: "I have 384,000 free contentious memory."
• Customer: "I have a terminant swap file."
• Customer: "I have a terminal swap file."
• Customer: "I have a scummy card in my system."
• Customer: "I lost my blue cyanide color."
• Customer: "I have a cursing flasher."
• Customer: "It says one copy filed."
• Customer: "I'm in the CONSYS.FIG file."
• Customer: "I have SETUP.EXERSIZE on my B floppy."
• Customer: "I am getting an error on my computer"
• Tech Support: "What kind of error?"
• Customer: "It says I have a corrupted file on my hard drive, and I should run
• Tech Support: "Ok, we need to call in a ticket, and someone will be down
• Customer: "Can you make sure you bring some extra Check Disks, because mine
does not work."
• Tech Support: "Uh. We're out of stock right now, but I'll order some."
One day I was shopping for RAM with a friend of mine. We checked out a few places.
During the trip, my friend blurted out:
• "That was some cool RAM in there. Pentium makes the best RAM, not like that
cheap RAM other places got!"
The place where a friend of mine works was going through the process of upgrading all
of their computers. On one computer in particular, they had determined they needed more
memory. One of the senior partners got it into her head that they needed more "Meg." My
friend tried to tell her that what they needed was RAM, but she insisted that the machine
had plenty of RAM and that they needed more Meg -- specifically, about 16 megabytes
of Meg. He got tired of arguing with her and said to go down to the computer store and
buy some Meg.
She came back with an envelope with RAM in it -- on the envelope was written "16
megabytes of Meg."
"The salesman tried to tell me the same thing you did," she told my friend, "but then he
went and talked to his manager, and he set him straight. Now go install this Meg."
• Customer: "Well...we have the CD, but we can't find the ROM!"
After some inquiry, I finally understood what she perceived the "ROM" part of "CD-
ROM" to be: the picture. She said a specific multimedia CD was not displaying the
ROM. I corrected her mistaken impression, to which she said, quote, "Huh." I walked her
through the problem, and when it was fixed, she exclaimed loudly, "We found the ROM!
WE FOUND THE ROM!!!!"
I needed to wipe someone's hard drive and re-install Windows, so I asked her what she
had on her system that wasn't backed up.
• Customer: "I have some data files for Mississippi Works saved."
• Customer: "I have Microword Soft."
• Customer: "Microwave Windows?"
• Customer: "Will this upgrade include Microwave 97?"
Seen on a web page:
• "This site best viewed in Netscape Explorer."
• Customer: "I have Microsoft Exploder."
• Customer: "I have Microscope Exploiter."
• Customer: "I have Netscape Complicator."
• Customer: "Uhh...I have Newscape and Outlook Exposure."
• Friend: "I was using AOL, but now my ISP is Netscape."
This was back before Netscape actually became an ISP.
Overheard at a library:
• "Yeah, surfing the Internet is really cool. You do it with this thing called Netscape
-- what's the technical term for that, a program? Oh, no, an icon, that's right.
Netscape's an icon!"
• Tech Support: "What browser are you using, Netscape or Microsoft?"
• Customer: "Netscape."
• Tech Support: "Could you read to me what it says at the top of the window?"
• Customer: "'Global Travel Conference - Microsoft Internet Explorer'."
Here's a silly one. My high school computing teacher routinely called Word for Windows
"Windows for Word" through the whole time I went there.
This happened when I was working for Kinko's:
• Customer: "I need to print out my letter here."
• Me: "Ok, what program did you use to create it?"
• Customer: "Macintosh!"
• Me: "No, what actual program did you use. Was it MacWrite? Claris?"
• Customer: "Microsoft."
• Me: "OK, you used Microsoft Word. We have that here, so go ahead and sit down
at one of these Macs."
• Customer: "It wasn't Microsoft Word. It was Windows!"
• Me: "I need to know what kind of computer you used. Was it a Macintosh or an
• Customer: "I don't think it was an IBM."
• Me: "It could be an IBM compatible. Do you remember anything about what kind
of computer it was?"
• Customer: "Microsoft!"
• Me: "Did the computer have a little apple on the front of it?"
• Customer: "I think so."
• Me: (What I should have done five minutes ago...) "Give me the disk, and I'll put
it in my computer and check it out."
• Customer: "Does this come with Microsoft?"
• Tech Support: "Um, well, we install Microsoft Windows on all our systems,
unless you say otherwise."
• Customer: "Oh, no, no, I need Microsoft to do my letters and stuff."
• Tech Support: "Well what do you use to write your letters?"
• Customer: "Microsoft!"
• Tech Support: "Ok, but do you use Word?"
• Customer: "Yes, I use Word at work."
• Tech Support: "Ok, so you'll need the Office Suite then, too."
• Customer: "But doesn't this computer come with Microsoft?"
• Tech Support: "Well, yes, it comes with Windows 95 installed."
• Customer: "Oh. Can I type my letters with that?"
• Tech Support: "Yesss...but you need a word processor installed, like Word or
WordPerfect. Our systems come with the Corel suite, but we can use Microsoft
Office instead if you like. It just costs more."
• Customer: (thoughtfully) "WordPerfect sounds familiar."
• Customer: "Is Corel WordPerfect IBM?"
A lot of people seem to think that all computers are made by Microsoft, and that all
software is called Windows. This story comes from our school's computer cluster.
• Student: "I typed this document I wrote at home, but it won't load in here."
• Tech Support: "Ok, what word processing software did you use at home?"
• Student: "I have Windows, version 6."
• Tech Support: "Um, no, I mean, what is the name of the actual program you go
into to write documents?"
• Student: "Windows."
• Tech Support: "Well, not quite, that's the operating system. Maybe it's
WordPerfect, or it could be Microsoft Word, does that sound familiar?"
• Student: "Ah yeah! That's it! It's Microsoft Windows."
I turn the monitor towards him and fire up WordPerfect.
• Tech Support: "When you start it, do you see a picture like this, of a fountain
• Student: "That's the one. Except you have Windows version 7 there, eh? I only
have Windows version 6."
A girl walked into the computer center where I work. She said she was having problems
with her Mac. I asked what kind of Mac she had. In an indignant voice, she replied,
• Tech Support: "What operating system are you running? Windows 95?"
• Customer: (a little too excited) "95, 97, 98, I've got them all!"
After conferring with her husband, it turned out she owned a Macintosh with System 8.1.
• Customer: "I don't use DOS. What would happen if I deleted that directory?"
Overheard in a classroom:
• Student: "How much do Windows cost, and do you have to buy each one
• Customer: "How much do Windows cost?"
• Tech Support: "Windows costs about $100."
• Customer: "Oh, that's kind of expensive. Can I buy just one window?"
• Friend: "Hey, cool Mac! Does it have Windows!?"
• Me: (incredulous stare)
• Friend: "Oh, wait, that was stupid. All Macs have Windows."
Two night forepersons at our company were discussing our new computer network after
just having been to a brief orientation session. One of them wanted to know what
"windows" were, so I explained. Just as she seemed to be catching on to the concept, the
other foreperson piped up. "Well that's great, because we have ninety-five windows on
• Tech Support: "Do you have any windows open right now?"
• Customer: "Are you crazy woman, it's twenty below outside..."
• Co-Worker: "What version of DOS does UNIX run?"
• Co-Worker: "Does a firewall need an operating system?"
• Tech Support: "How can I help you?"
• Customer: "Well, everything is working fine, but there is one program that is
• Tech Support: "What program is it?"
• Customer: "It's called 'MSDOS Prompt'."
• Tech Support: "What's wrong with it?"
• Customer: "Well, I click on it, a black screen shows up with NOTHING but a
sign that reads: 'C:WINDOWS>', and it just sits there and doesn't do anything. I
have to turn off the system to go back to Windows."
For my work-study job, I work tech support at a small college. One night I was working
Help Desk and the phone rings. I pick it up to have a student telling me she can't get the
computer to work.
• Me: "What operating system are you running?"
• Student: "Hunh?"
• Me: "Do you have a Mac or a PC?"
• Student: "Um, I don't know."
• Me: "Ok. What does the screen look like?"
• Student: "It's yellow."
• Me: "Ok. What does it say on the computer CPU?"
• Student: "What's that?"
• Me: "The big grey box."
• Student: "It doesn't say anything."
• Me: "Never mind that...do you have a little 'Start' button at the bottom of the
• Student: "Monitor?"
• Me: "The thing that looks like a TV sceen sitting on the grey box."
• Student: "Oh! That! No. No start button."
• Me: "Ok. Is there a little apple symbol anywhere on the screen?"
• Student: (very puzzled) "Why would I have fruit on my computer?"
Back in the early days of Windows 95:
• Customer: "I have Windows Thirty One."
• Tech Support: "Ok, this program requires either Windows 95 or Win32s. Do you
have Win32s on your system?"
• Customer: "No, I have Windows Thirty One, not Thirty Two."
• Tech Support: "Windows 3.1 is the operating system. Win32s is a program that
makes your computer fast like Windows 95."
• Customer: "What's Windows Ninety Five got to do with it?"
• Tech Supprort: "You need either Windows 95 or Win32s to run this."
• Customer: "I HAVE THIRTY ONE! WHY WON'T IT WORK?"
• Tech Support: (giving up) "Ma'am, your computer is too old. Buy a new one
with Windows 95."
• Customer: "I've heard about Windows Three Hundred and Eleven. Wouldn't that
be better than Ninety Five?"
My father decided that it would be a nice surprise to install Windows 95 on my seven
year old computer. He had one of his employees give him step-by-step written
instructions but neglected to mention that my computer is so old. When I got home he
had Windows 95 installed and was struggling to install the first piece of software.
• My Dad: "It says there's insufficient disk space. How much stuff to you have on
the hard drive?"
• Me: "It was almost full. You shouldn't have been able to get Windows 95 on
• My Dad: "Well, I just followed these instructions."
I looked at the instructions and saw that he had backed up everything and wiped the hard
• Me: "If you followed these instruction properly, the only thing on the hard drive
should be Windows 95. How much space does that take up?"
• My Dad: "It doesn't take up any space. It's an operating system."
• Me: "No, it takes up a lot of space, and it shouldn't even be able to fit on this
• My Dad: "No, you don't know what you're talking about. The problem is that you
have too many files. You have to delete some of them."
• Me: "You already deleted all my files. They're on that stack of disks now."
• My Dad: "Yes, and those disks are taking up too much space."
A friend just got his new Aptiva/Win98 system and bought a bunch of software to go
along with it. He installed everything, then complained that when he started his computer
up, the screen was so cluttered he was having a hard time finding his desktop. I talked
him through the process of making his desktop a more simple place by turning off fancy
wallpaper, toolbars, and so on. He rebooted and said it was just as bad as it ever was.
Sighing, I took a quick trip over to look at it.
Somewhat to my amazement, I discovered that every time the computer booted up, a half
dozen or so program groups opened up on the desktop, and all sorts of programs were
spilling their menu contents onto the screen. After some poking around, I discovered that
he had installed everything -- everything -- into his StartUp folder.
I used to work for MacWarehouse as a tech support representative. One day a gentleman
called who had never had a computer before. He was trying to set up his new system. I
tried and I tried but I just couldn't make him understand where to plug the cables in.
Finally I looked up the details on his order. He had ordered top-of-the-line everything --
monitor, keyboard, printer, modem, scanner, speakers, CD-ROM drive, external hard
drive......except, he had not ordered the actual computer itself. No wonder the cables
would not plug in anywhere.
• Customer: "One of my friends gave me an ImageWriter printer and this
keyboard. He said he gave me all the cables, but I can't figure out how to connect
them. Am I missing something?"
• Tech Support: "Well, a computer would help."
• Customer: "You mean this keyboard isn't a word processor?"
• Tech Support: "No ma'am, its just an input device."
• Customer: "Then I need to buy a computer, right?"
• Tech Support: "Yes."
• Customer: "Do you think I'll need a monitor, too?"
• Customer: "Do I need a monitor? I have everything else."
• Tech Support: "Yes, ma'am."
• Customer: "Why? That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of."
On one occasion, a lady came into the store, apparently interested in buying a home
computer. After surveying the models on display, she walked over to one and pointed to
the monitor and keyboard saying, "I think I need one of these, and one of those...." She
then pointed to the CPU and continued, "...but I don't think I need one of those."
Well, I had one event happen to me, where one lady had just bought a Apple IIc and
complained that she was having problems with her monitor, so we told her to bring her
monitor in, and we'd check it out. So she brings her monitor in, and we plug it in, and it
works without a flaw. We tell her that the monitor isn't the problem, and to bring her
CPU in. She stares at us blankly, and asks, "What's the CPU?" Joe explains that it's the
piece of equipment that all your devices plug into. So about twenty minutes later, she
returns and walks in carrying the surge supressor. When we explained to her the item that
we needed her to bring in, she replied, "Oh you mean the keyboard!" (On Apple IIc's, the
CPU box and keyboard are part of the same unit.) And to make this all the more
interesting, she was a gradeschool computer class instructor.
Back in the mid-eighties, the high school I went to had just purchased a handful of 8086s
along with some basic hardware -- at that time these things still were horribly expensive.
A few weeks later, the computer lab was broken into and some of the hardware stolen.
But the computers themselves had been left untouched: only the monitors and keyboards
were gone. Apparently, the only computers the thieves had known were C64s or Apple
II's, where the computer and keyboard are part of the same unit. Imagine the frustration
when these guys tried to get the stolen machines to work!
I was one of a group of students who would help other students and teachers at my high
school with computer problems. One day I got a call from a teacher saying that her
computer was not working at all. I went to her room to find a perfectly good Mac
PowerPC on her desk. With one problem.
• Me: "Excuse me, ma'am. Where's the keyboard?"
• Teacher: "Oh, it's over there in my travel bag."
A man who owned a small business asked me to program a sales and inventory system
for him. He was replacing his old 286 PC and had been running a DOS-based program.
He wanted all the bells and whistles, wanted it browser-driven, with images of all the
products in his inventory. But the most important thing to him was that it all run off of
floppies -- his 286's hard drive had crashed in the past and he lost all his records, so now
he didn't trust hard drives. Not only did he want the whole thing on floppies, he wanted to
be able to do a backup onto one floppy every night.
The other thing was that he didn't want to use a mouse or any other sort of pointing
A while back, a friend of mine and I were discussing his new computer when he made a
comparison to another friend's computer and said, "I know mine's better because it's
bigger." I had a hard time not laughing.
I was advising a friend on a used PC she was considering buying from a friend. I asked
the friend if it was a Pentium PC, and he laughed, "All computers have Pentium
I was in our University Bookstore the other day looking at software when I overheard a
salesman talking to a lady about an iMac.
• Salesman: "It has a built in color monitor and comes with a mouse and
• Customer: "Does this thing come with a battery backup system?"
• Salesman: "No, but we have one over there for $99.00. Do you have problems
with power outages?"
• Customer: "No, but I don't want to lose all of my Microsoft documents everytime
I turn off the computer!"
• Salesman: "You don't need a battery backup for that. That's why it has a 4
gigabyte hard drive."
• Customer: "A hard what?"
• Salesman: "A hard drive. It's like a whole bunch of floppy disks inside your
computer that you can store documents on."
• Customer: "I want the battery backup."
• Salesman: "You don't need it."
• Customer: "Why?"
• Customer: "Can I run Netscape 2.0 on my Apple ][c? I have the color monitor!"
• Customer: "Is it possible to put Windows 95 on a Commodore 64?"
• Customer: "Do you have WordPerfect for Gameboy?"
• Tech Support: "No, but I'll call you when it comes in."
Sometimes it's better to go along with the customer and not ask questions.
• Customer: "I am not seeming to be connecting."
• Tech Support: "Ok, what kind of error message to you get?"
• Customer: "I do not know, just help me!"
This is common. We have people who will tell us they saw the error message 10+ times
but have absolutley no idea what it said. We are not psychics.
• Tech Support: "Oh, ok, well, what kind of computer do you have?"
• Customer: "It is being a Packard Bell."
• Tech Support: "Do you know how much memory you have?"
• Customer: "I have 4 megs of Random Memory."
There's the problem -- the customer doesn't have the minimum requirements to run the
software. You would think that once the person finds out he doesn't have the right
equipment to run a piece of software, it would end the conversation...but, alas, the
following dialogue is more representative of customer responses in such situations.
• Tech Support: "I'm sorry, but, you don't meet the minimum requirements, so
we're really not of much use to you until you upgrade."
• Customer: "But, this is not explaining why I am not connecting! Why am I not
connecting to your system!? What does memory have to do with me
• Tech Support: "Well, if you don't meet the requirements, there is no guarantee
that the software will work at all, hence the system requirements. Because you
don't meet them, there's really no reason to try and fix it, because it's not going to
• Customer: "BUT, I HAVE A 28.8!! What would you have done if I had said I
had 8 Megs!?"
• Tech Support: "Well, when I found that you had four, after you told me that you
surely had eight, I would be pretty mad."
• Customer: "This is not explaining why I am not connecting!! I HAVE A 28.8!!"
• Tech Support: "But you do NOT have the MEMORY requirements for the
software. It WILL NOT work for you unless you upgrade to eight megs of RAM."
• Customer: "I am thinking that I must be cancelling my account."
• Customer: "The printer has been acting up. Could that be the cause of our
• Customer: "What do you mean, other tape? When it said second volume, I just
hit enter again."
• Tech Support: "Have you made backups of your software and data?"
• Customer: "I didn't know it had a reverse."
• Customer: "Michaelangelo virus ate my hard disk, but I have a tape backup. Can
you help me restore the system?"
No problem. When I arrive, I find out that the last time she had run a backup was 18
months ago. Worse, she hadn't done it correctly:
• Customer: "I thought you just shoved in the tape, and it sucked up the data."
A customer called our technical support and explained that his system had crashed and
for some reason the restored backup did not work as expected. After we had spent a few
days of investigating his collection of backup tapes we were convinced that he had a
good one year record of backups from the wrong directory.
In the late 1980s in Finland, my mother was a system administrator for a company. In
those times hard drives were small, and backups were made with PC Tools (version 4 or
5 at the time) which could be done using less than ten 3 1/2" disks for all the most
One day my mother asked the president of the company if he had done his monthly
backup of his computer data. He said he had, and he'd even been able to improve the
backup process. He had discovered he didn't have to change disks if he just answered
'yes' to all the "Is it ok to overwrite this floppy disk?" prompts. He was overwriting
backup disk #1 with the data for backup disk #2, then overwriting that with the data for
backup disk #3, and so on. My mother was still laughing when she called to tell me the
• Customer: "I have MS Office, but whenever I try to make a backup of the disks,
my machine says it's not able to. Can you give me Microsoft's telephone number
so I can call them and complain?"
• Tech Support: (grinning ecstatically) "OF COURSE I CAN!!!!!!"
• Customer: "I lost some of my files. I archived them, but when I went to retrieve
them, they were gone!"
• Tech Support: "What program did you use to archive your files?"
• Customer: "I used DOS -- but now I can't find them!"
• Tech Support: "Ok, what program are you using to do this?"
• Customer: "I used 'undelete', but they aren't there."
• Tech Support: "Uh...what command did you use to archive your files?"
• Customer: "I used 'del' and the filename."
It turned out that the guy had been deleting files, which would free up disk space (he
liked that), and when he wanted a file again, he would undelete it. Apparently he actually
got away with this for a while, until he discovered 'defrag', which overwrote his deleted
• Tech Support: "Do you have a valid backup?"
• Customer: "Yes, of course."
• Tech Support: "When you came this morning, was anything printed out on the
• Customer: "Yes."
• Tech Support: "And what did it say?"
• Customer: "Just like it says every day"
• Tech Support: "Would you mind reading that off to me?"
• Customer: "Error XX: Backup Operation Failed."
A friend at work had to visit a police station to work on a Clipper database recording
parking fines. Before he started work he made sure to check that the staff had a backup of
the database in case anything went wrong.
"Oh yes, every evening we back it up onto a floppy disk and take it over to the other
building and lock it in a fire-proof safe."
"Very good," said my colleague, impressed at their security-consciousness -- if only all
our customers could be so efficient! But then something they'd said made him pause.
"Wait a minute - did you say a floppy disk? You mean you back up the whole database
onto a single diskette?"
"Yes, that's right. Just one."
"But this diskette can only hold 1.44 Mb of data -- you've got over ten megabytes in this
system. What exactly do you do to make the backup?"
So they showed him. Every day they'd religiously inserted a fresh diskette into the drive,
typed "FORMAT A:", and, "backup complete," they deposited the newly formatted, but
quite empty, diskette in the safe.
Before starting his work, my friend showed them how to really make a backup, which
was fortunate for my friend, if not for the local parking offenders, as a week later the PC
in question suffered a complete hard-drive failure.
• User: "Hey, can you help me? My program doesn't work."
• Consultant: "What is the problem? Are you using Turbo Pascal?"
• User: "Yes, the program just blocks the machine."
• Consultant: "Well, does it compile?"
• User: "I don't know -- it just doesn't run. You see? There's the EXE file. If you
run it, it blocks the machine."
• Consultant: "And where is your source, the PAS file??"
• User: "I wrote it and renamed it to EXE so it could run."
• Programmer: "What do you mean, I can't initialize things in an assert()?"
During a code review, when I asked why (besides the source control file headers) there
was not a comment in 240,000 lines of code which was getting handed over to me for
maintenance, the programmer replied, "I'm terse."
In college, I worked as a teaching assistant for an introductory programming language.
For most of the people in the class, this was probably their first and only programming
One day, I was doing program code reviews with a handful of students. This one girl
gave me her code, and, after looking at it, I asked why she had repeated a certain line
let x = 7;
let x = 7;
She said, "Just in case it didn't get set right the first time."
When a computer professor asked his students to comment all their programs, he got
• "This program is very nice."
• "This program is very difficult."
• "This program is very interesting."
When I was studying programming, one of my classmates was having serious troubles
with his program. When he asked me for help, I leaned over his screen and saw all of his
code in comments. The reason: "Well, it compiles much faster that way."
In college I worked as a consultant. One day this grad student was having trouble with his
Fortran program and brought the printout to me. He said he kept changing things but
couldn't get it to run correctly. His analysis: "I get the feeling that the computer just skips
over all the comments."
I was taking a C programming class once, and the class was divided up into two
programming teams. On my team we had a woman who was totally out of her league.
What earned her legendary status was doing a global search and replace, swapping out
asterisks for ampersands, because she felt the asterisks weren't "working."
I was just teaching an optional class on C programming; in the first class meeting, I
asked, "Does anybody know anything about programming?"
To which one of my students gleefully replied, "I know how to use a chat program!"
Back in my first year of school in computer science, we were learning Turbo Pascal. I
remember one day looking over the shoulder of a guy who was writing some unreadable
code by removing all possible spaces and empty lines.
• Me: "Why are you writing like that -- it's unreadable."
• Him: "I want to keep the code compact, so I get maximum speed when I execute
I was asked to maintain a shell script that was taking too long to run and wasn't reliable.
Among other horrors, the one that gave me the best mix of laughter and fear was a
repeated construct like this:
display=`env | grep DISPLAY | sed 's/[^=]*=//g'`
This made me scratch my head for a moment, until I realized that this was a complete no-
op. It's equal to DISPLAY=$DISPLAY (except when the grep command pulls out the wrong
thing). This was repeated for something like a dozen environment variables. I still cannot
fathom the logic of it. I ended up doing a complete rewrite.
I was asked about taking on a contract to maintain a piece of software. Something about
the way it was presented made me wary. I asked to look over it first. What a sight! I use it
as an example of why not to use global variables. Among other things, there were files
with suites of functions on the following order:
alpha = gamma + offset * 3;
beta = gamma + offset * 3;
Dozens of functions that differed only by the global variable they modified. Just picture
it: a multi-thousand line program with a graphical interface and a database that never
used function parameters.
The original programmer painted himself into a corner with his variable names. Clearly if
you need variables "up," "down," "left," and "right," you name them as such. When he
found himself needing those direction names in different parts of his program but was
stuck because global variable names had to be unique, his solution was to use names like:
up, _up, up_, Up, uP, UP, _Up, _UP
down, _down, down_, Down, dOWN, DOWN, _Down, _DOWN
...and so on. Even the densest of my students comprehended immediately why that was
bad. Needless to say, I turned down the job.
At my previous job, we were porting a UNIX system to Windows NT using Microsoft
VC++. A colleague of mine, that was in the process of porting his portion of the code,
came to me, looking really upset.
• Colleague: "Hey! I hate these Microsoft guys! What a rotten compiler! It only
accepts 16,384 local variables in a function!"
I ran across this gem while debugging someone else's old code once:
if (value == 0)
Years ago, I put a simple, fortune cookie style program out on an FTP site. It was too
simplistic to look at environment variables or configuration files to look for the location
of the fortune cookie database file; the path was compiled into the executable. I provided
the source, so if you wanted to change the path it was installed in, you had to change it in
the source file and recompile.
Since I put it out, every so often I'll get an email message commenting on it. Recently, I
received a message asking for help trying to get the thing to work. He couldn't get the
executable to find the database file properly. I answered him, and he mailed back saying
nothing helped. I mailed him again, saying that the readme file which was included in the
archive should have very detailed instructions. He mailed me back saying the readme file
didn't help him. So he mailed me the source code file, asked me to change it to the way it
should be, then mail it back to him. I told him, but as I was typing in my final reply, a
horrific thought occurred to me. So I asked:
• Me: "I assume you have a C compiler, right?"
• User: "What's a C compiler??????/ I've been editing it using the DOS editor."
I was working for a consulting firm that was called in to help another firm that was doing
some fairly important UNIX work for a large Wall Street firm. They were all Mac
programmers that had taken a week long course in UNIX, C programming, and UI
programming for this particular workstation. I took a look at their C code and it was
littered with the following code statement:
I asked why they were doing this. The reply was, in a "don't you know?" tone of voice:
"All strings in C must end in a null zero!"
Trying to explain that strcat wouldn't work unless the null terminator was there already
just got me blank stares.
When I was still a student, I worked as an admin for the university CS dept. Part of this
job involved time in the student labs. Our network was a conglomeration of Suns and
SGIs and was generally confusing for novice users who don't understand the concept of
multiuser, multitasking, networked computers.
Around the room are large signs explaining how to log in, along with big warnings about
not removing power unless you like the idea of having a grad student running a several
million variable modeling project he's been working on for several years show up and
beat you death with research papers.
You would be amazed how many people try to type in a program at the "Login:" prompt,
and then turn the machine off when they are done. The worst of the bunch then complain
about not being able to find the program they just typed in at the login prompt.
Recently, I got a call from someone who turned off his computer whenever he found
himself somewhere in Windows he didn't want to be. "I just turn it off when I don't like
where I am," he said. Wonder of all wonders, scandisk found a score of lost allocation
units and bad sectors.
• Customer: "Hi, I was wondering if you could fix my laptop. It's under warranty."
• Tech Support: "What seems to be the trouble with it?"
• Customer: "My wife got mad and threw it in the pool."
An man purchased a laptop from me. He called about a week later and said that it would
no longer boot up. He brought it in, and I discovered that sixteen nicely drilled holes were
in the bottom of the case. I asked him about it, and he said the machine was too hot
sitting on his lap, so he had drilled these "air holes."
"Could that be the problem?" he asked.
A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) bought a brand new Toshiba laptop
computer last year since his "old" one was a model from the year before. He worked in
the computer services office on campus here at our university. He decided one night that
to impress his co-workers he would make his new laptop more decorative. He bought a
can of emerald green Krylon spray paint and sprayed his entire computer (screen, mouse,
keyboard, casing, and all) with it. He was shocked to find that his computer wouldn't
work afterwards and decided the paint must be at fault. So the next day he bought a can
of Goo Gone and a bottle of paint thinner and poured them both on his computer, then
rinsed it off in the sink.
Again, he was shocked when his computer wouldn't work. He was even more shocked
when Circuit City told him they wouldn't refund his money or exchange his computer for
a new one.
A customer came into the store one day to return an internal modem, which he had
purchased a few days earlier. He complained that it would not work. I took the modem
out of the package and could scarcely believe my eyes.
The card had been filed down to about half its original size.
• Tech Support: "Why has this card been filed?"
• Customer: "The modem didn't fit in the slot, so I had to file it till it would fit."
Ten years ago, I was working for a company selling computerized cash registers. A
customer called in to help me with a cash register that didn't connect to the back office
• Me: "So, can you tell me the settings of the DIP switches on the cash register?"
• Customer: "DIP switch?"
• Me: "Oh, sorry, the small switches located on the backside."
• Customer: "Eeeerrr...there are no switches there."
• Me: "Oh, yes, there are. Right next to the power cord."
• Customer: "No. There are no switches. Not any more!"
• Me: (puzzled) "Huh? Not any more? What do you mean?"
• Customer: "Well, you know, my collegue told me that these switches might
actually be what caused the problem, so I removed them."
• Me: "REMOVED THEM??"
• Customer: "Yeah, you know, removed them. With a chisel."
I used to be a technician on the U.S.S. Ranger, an aircraft carrier, just before the Gulf
War. A new commanding officer had just come on board, and, in preparation for our
excursion out to Iraq, he ordered that we go through all our spaces and ensure that
everything was secured in place, so that if we hit rough seas, or hit something explosive,
there wouldn't be debris flying everywhere. Fairly standard routine.
About two days later, the Ranger's marine detachment called my shop and said, "Our
computer is broken." So I head down to the detachment office to take a look. These PCs
were the old Zenith Z-248 desktop models, secured with four zillion screws and weighing
in at what seemed like half a ton. Our marines had taken the order to secure things pretty
seriously, because they had done it with two half inch lag bolts. They had drilled straight
through the case, the mother board, the bottom of the case, and the desk it was sitting on,
to drop the lag bolts in place.
They couldn't figure out what was wrong, but they knew that it wasn't going anywhere.
Fact: Boston Computer Museum sells chocolate bars shaped like floppy disks.
Fact: Three year old kids see daddy boot his computer using a floppy to play games.
Fact: Computers are warm inside...even some quite expensive computers.
I don't want to talk about it.
A user brought in a rather dirty Sony VAIO system to get a new power supply. The thing
was dirty and beat up. He set it on the counter, and the side panel popped right open, and
the thing was grubby inside. We saw one little tiny bug scurry out of it, and we killed it.
The system was brought in back to the garage, to clean it out. The thing was crawling
with bugs -- there were over twenty inside this thing, including cockroaches and others I
didn't even recognize. We doused everything with antiseptic and killed as many as we
could. Then we popped in the new power supply. Just as we brought it out front, one last
roach crawled from underneath the old supply and scurried into the new one, making it
When we told the user about the amount of bugs (and charging him a little extra for our
trouble), he said, "Well, I'm not surprised. We had this thing out by our kitchen." Egads.
About a year ago, I was called out to do field service. When I got to the lady's house and
was let in, the first thing I noticed was the smell of gunpowder. The second, the double
barreled 12-gauge shotgun lying on the couch. Third, the big gaping hole in the side of
her computer. (It was one of those Macs where the CPU and monitor are in the same
I looked at her. She was a little grey haired woman, around 60 or so. Had she? Not
possible. Still, I had to ask.
• Me: "Did you shoot...?"
• Customer: "Yes, I got a little mad at it. They told me I couldn't hurt it, but I think
they were wrong. Can you salvage anything?"
I mumbled something about not being a Mac tech and told her I would send one out as
soon as I could. Then I burned rubber out of there.
• Customer: "Your sound card is defective and I want a new one."
• Tech Support: "What seems to be the problem?"
• Customer: "The balance is backwards. The left channel is coming out of the right
speaker and the right channel is coming out the left. It's defective.
• Tech Support: "You can solve the problem by moving the left speaker the right
side of the machine and vice versa."
• Customer: (sputter) (click)
• Tech Support: (snicker)
• Customer: "I'd like to return this scanner."
• Store Clerk: "Excuse me?"
• Customer: "This scanner I bought. I paid eighty dollars for this scanner, and it
• Store Clerk: "Uh...sir, that's a trackball."
• Customer: "No, it isn't. It says 600 dpi tracking resolution right here!"
One night I was watching QVC, and the current item being displayed was a computer.
Someone who had just bought one called in and was put on the air.
• Customer: "Hi, I bought that Kodak scanner you had on, and whenever I scan a
photo into the computer I have now, it's 25 megs. How do I make it a sendable
file size for email?"
• Host: "Well, with that 56K modem, the size won't matter because of the speed."
I was at an ad agency a while back and there was a big project deadline looming. The
folks who were printing this particular ad were about 150 miles away and had to get all of
the files that the agency had put together in a hurry. We found out the hard way, after trial
and error, that the print house didn't have any Internet access at all, so we couldn't email
the data. So I suggested that we meet half way, and I'd give them the files on a zip disk. I
asked the woman on the phone if she had a zip. She replied with a five digit number.
A customer was trying to open a .zip file in PowerPoint. She was getting the error
message, "This is not a PowerPoint presentation.
• Tech Support: "You need to unzip the file first before PowerPoint can open it."
• Customer: "But I put it on a zip disk. Doesn't that do it?"
I got a call from a woman who spoke very little English. She was extremely irate that her
PCS phone would not turn on. I tried every troubleshooting step I could think of, only to
hear, "You no listen, you dummy. It not working!" no matter what I did. Finally I asked
her to turn the phone off and on.
• Tech Support: "Ma'am, can you turn the phone off and on again?"
• Customer: "How do I do this?"
• Tech Support: "Just push the power button."
• Customer: "I no have one of those. YOU DUMMY IT NO WORK."
• Tech Support: "Ma'am, please press the green button."
The silence was long.
• Customer: "Ok, it work now, bye bye."
• Customer: "I bought your fancy graphics card, and my Windows display is not
better than it was before."
• Tech Support: "We had better look at the installation then."
• Customer: "You mean I have to install it?"
The graphics card was still in the box.
I recently purchased a Sony Mavica still camera, which, for those unfamiliar, is a digital
camera that stores snapshots on a floppy disk. Twice so far I have had someone ask me if
it is safe to take the disk out in a lighted room.
A client called in with computer problems. Part of the conversation went like this:
• Customer: "...I'm an educated man, so don't you dare talk down to me!"
• Tech Support: "Ok, sir. Do you have a desktop or tower case?"
• Customer: "Don't use that technical !&#$@!* with me!"
• A Friend: "Do you have a Soundblaster in your computer?"
• Me: "No, I have a GUS MAX."
• A Friend: "A what?"
• Me: "You know a Gravis Ultrasound MAX card."
• A Friend: "Yeah, that's right, like I told you. You have a Soundblaster."
I was at a classmate's house once, explaining some things to her about Internet
communications and about ICQ and Netmeeting and so forth. She asked me if she could
download Netmeeting from the Internet, and I said she could but that she would need a
microphone for the talking part. She stared at me with the most naive look and asked if
she could download the microphone, too.
A customer called in. After pulling up his case, I realized that this was his fifth call to us
over the last two days, all regarding the same product. He was trying to add a 3D
accelerator card to his system and could not get it to work. He had spoken to us four
times and to his computer manufacturer twice. It was still not functional.
• Customer: "I hope you can help me out. I have made several calls now and
cannot fix this problem."
• Tech Support: "Well, I'll see what I can do. So, I am seeing here that the card is
not being detected by your computer. Is that right?"
• Customer: "Correct. When I boot up, Windows never detects the card. Previous
techs had me run the 'Add New Hardware' wizard, and we checked the device
manager, but there wasn't anything there."
• Tech Support: "Ok. Have you tried putting the card into another slot?"
• Customer: "What do you mean?"
• Tech Support: "Well, if for some reason the system does not see the card in this
slot, perhaps putting the card in another slot will help."
• Customer: "How do I do that? Do I have to take it apart?"
• Tech Support: "Yes, you will have to take the case off."
• Customer: "Ok, just a second.... Ok, the case is off now."
• Tech Support: "Do you have any more PCI slots free?"
• Customer: "I am not sure."
• Tech Support: "How many PCI slots do you have in your system?"
• Customer: "Umm...eight."
• Tech Support: "You have eight PCI slots in your system?"
• Customer: "Yes."
• Tech Support: "How many white PCI slots do you have?"