Tuesday, May 29, 2012

End User Entertainment

User support may be stressful at times, but it can also be highly entertaining. Here's a collection of stories from around the web. They're oldies but goodies.

1: Clippy
I’m sure that most of you probably remember Clippy — Microsoft’s annoying animated Office Assistant, which will no doubt be recalled with the same fondness as Microsoft Bob. (For those who don’t remember Clippy, it was an animated paper clip that debuted in Office 97.)

Back in 2000, I was working in the healthcare industry. One of the facilities I was in charge of was using an ancient version of WordPerfect, so I decided to upgrade them to Microsoft Word. Upon seeing Clippy for the first time, one of the users thought that Clippy was an animated stethoscope and that I put this animated stethoscope on everyone’s computer as a way of celebrating the fact that she was about to become an RN.

2: Molten keyboard
About a week into my first job as a network administrator, I got a call from a user who said that she spilled coffee on her keyboard. I told her to turn off her computer and that I would bring her a spare.

I expected to find the user’s keyboard saturated in coffee, but instead the keyboard was completely dry. However, the keys were completely immobile and were coated in some sort of crystalized sugar. If she had spilled coffee on the keyboard then the coffee must have been almost pure sugar and the spill must have occurred about a week before I got there.

Keyboards were fairly expensive at the time, so I wanted to try to salvage hers if I could. I tried chipping away the sugary substance with a screwdriver, but I couldn’t get it off. I had gotten in the habit of cleaning keyboards in rubbing alcohol, but a normal cleaning just wasn’t working. Since I couldn’t seem to free the stuck keys from their sugary cocoon, I decided to try soaking the keyboard in a bucket of alcohol. The problem was that I made the decision at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. When I returned to the office on Tuesday, the alcohol had dissolved the sugar, but it had also dissolved much of the plastic. The keys now had the consistency of Jello. There was simply no saving the keyboard after that.

3: Centipede infestation
A user at one place where I worked installed a copy of the game Centipede onto his computer and then gave bootleg copies to everyone else in the organization. Unfortunately, the game was infected with a rather nasty virus. The next day, I had to drive to Ohio and spend the entire day cleaning the virus off of everyone’s computers. The morning after that, I got a call from the director of the facility saying that the virus had returned. I drove all the way back to Ohio and started checking out the infected computers. I noticed that the Centipede game had been reinstalled. When I asked one of the users about it, she told me that I was an idiot and that computer games can’t carry viruses, so she had put the game back onto everyone’s computers.

4: CD extraction
Somewhere around 1992 or 1993, I was working for a large insurance company that had an in-house marketing department. The marketing department decided to invest in a graphic arts software package that included a rather extensive clipart library on CD. Although this might not seem remarkable today, there was only one computer in the entire company that had a CD ROM drive, and that computer belonged to the IT department.

The marketing department could have purchased a CD ROM drive for about $500. Instead, they asked the IT department to copy the clipart library to floppy disk for them. The size of the individual clipart files made it impossible to fully utilize the capacity of every floppy disk. Therefore, it ended up taking roughly 800 floppies to store all the clipart. The floppies cost about $1.50 each at the time, which meant that the marketing department could have purchased at least two CD ROM drives for what the floppies cost. Never mind the fact that it took dozens of hours to copy all the clipart, and those hours were billed back to the marketing department. Another problem was that although the floppies were all labeled, it ultimately proved to be impractical to dig through hundreds of disks to find one single clip art image. After much money wasted, the marketing department finally decided to invest in a CD ROM drive.

5: Nigerian prince
We’ve all seen the fraudulent email from the alleged Nigerian prince who wants to give the recipient millions of dollars. Even though that email message (and an infinite number of variants) are laughable today, there was a time when the message was brand new.

I once had a department manager tell me that one of his employees had quit his job rather abruptly because he was receiving millions of dollars from a Nigerian prince who had contacted him through email.

6: The computer science teacher
I have to admit that I had never touched a computer before 8th grade. That year, however, I was accepted into a school that focused on math, science, and technology. Because the school placed such a heavy emphasis on computer science, I would have thought that the teachers would have been computer savvy. But I remember one teacher using magnets to hang 5.25-inch floppy disks on the side of a metal filing cabinet.

7: Bad power strip
I once got a call from a user who said that he thought that either a circuit breaker had been tripped or his power strip had gone bad because neither his computer nor his monitor were receiving any power. This guy was normally pretty sharp, so I assumed that his diagnosis was probably correct.

When I showed up with a new power strip, I began unplugging everything from the old power strip only to discover that the power strip was plugged into itself rather than being plugged into an electrical outlet.

8: The daily server failure
One time, a user called saying that their server was down. I drove to the facility and found the server powered off. I booted it back up and all was well.

The next day, the same thing happened. This time, I was able to ask the person I talked to on the phone to check to see whether the server was powered on. The server was turned off, so they powered it up and fixed the problem.

About a month later, I had all but forgotten about the power failures. I was at the facility for something completely unrelated when someone made an off hand comment that every day the server goes down at about the same time and they have to manually turn it back on. I confirmed the person’s story by looking at the event logs and decided to come back in the morning to see what the problem was. The next morning, I watched in horror as someone yanked the server’s power cord out of the wall so that they could plug in a coffee pot (which they sat on top of the server, no less). When the coffee was done, they unplugged the coffee pot and plugged the server back in.

9: Wrong printer
One company I worked for had a number of printers throughout the building. Needless to say, there were plenty of instances of users having trouble figuring out how to select the correct printer. The story that really sticks out in my mind was about a guy who decided to look for another job. He printed a resume and cover letter while he was at work. This alone would have been bad enough, but his cover letter seriously bashed the company he was currently working for.

As you have probably already guessed, he sent the resume and cover letter to the wrong printer. It gets better though. Since the document didn’t print where he expected it to, he assumed that the printer was having problems and tried resending the document many, many times. Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, everyone in one of the other departments was having a big laugh over the misdirected resume.

10: Tandy 1000
I used to work for an organization that had a policy that all computer hardware purchasing had to go through the IT department. One of the department heads came to me for a quote on some new PCs. He didn’t like the price I gave him and decided to go shopping on his own. I don’t know where he found them, but the guy got a cut-rate price on some old Tandy 1000s. For those who may not be familiar with the Tandy 1000, it was a PC that was released by Radio Shack in 1984. This incident happened in 1999. So the computers the guy purchased were roughly 15 years old. He just couldn’t seem to understand why I refused to connect the computers to the network or why I was unnecessarily costing the company money by insisting that departments purchase modern hardware.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

6 Reasons The Guy Who's Fixing Your Computer Hates You

By my calculations, about 96 percent of all computer repairs are done, not by the local computer guy or the Geek Squad, but by The Friend Who is Good With Computers. Often that friend is nothing more than an average computer user who knows how to look up error messages on Google, but it doesn't matter -- once they become known as TFWIGWC, they will get the call every time something goes wrong. And they will fix it, probably for free, because TFWIGWC pities you.
Still, any time a bunch of TFWIGWCs get together and share their computer repair horror stories, you learn that there are certain things their "customers" do that make them want to ram their head through a wall.
So, before I touch your computer, friend who may or may not do me a favor in return for this free repair job, here's what you should know:
#6. Future Computer Problems Are Not Automatically My Fault
This computer is yours. You know exactly who has used it. It is in its current condition without any outside interference, especially from me. I, on the other hand, am about to spend several hours of my own time trying to get it back into the condition it was in before you or someone you love screwed it up. So, two months down the line if I get a call from you, saying, "That program you installed messed up my computer." I will beat you until it causes hydrogen fusion. Or at least I will imagine myself doing it.
This is how it's gonna go down, chief.
See, the vast majority of the computers I fix are broken because of some bullshit the owner has installed, like Weatherbug, or some program that changes their cursor into an amusing animated kitten. Or, they've been playing some online flash game that just funnels in malware as fast as their connection and processor will allow. While fixing your computer I will explain all of this, and talk about how an entire industry of malicious free downloads thrives purely because so many Internet users are trusting souls like you. You believe all men are good at heart, especially on the Internet, so no amount of antivirus warning popups will convince you that the people distributing "Wild Bill's Poker Roundup" for free want anything but the best for you.
So, I go through and strip out the malware and toolbars and Trojans, then install protection like Malwarebytes or something like it to help block this type of deceptive shit in the future. Then, two months later, I get that call:
"Yeah, I don't know what you did to my computer when you were here but it's so slow now that I can mow the lawn waiting for it to check my email. I need you to undo whatever you did."
At this point I will drive over, again, imagining myself slamming the owner's dick in his own laptop. Five minutes after I arrive, this exchange will occur:
"Wait, where's Spybot? The program I told you to leave on there?"
"I uninstalled that. It was messing up my computer. It wouldn't let me play any of my games."

But at least you have this fake scanner.
Yes, it was Spybot. Not the programs that I told you would cause the exact problems we're looking at right now, you impossible dipsh- "Wait, where's the antivirus?"
"Oh, I got rid of that, too. My cousin was downloading music, and it wasn't letting him open the files, so we had to get rid of it."
"Sure, sure. Now, this is going to seem like an odd request, but for this next step, I'm going to need you to take out your dick, and lay it on your laptop's keyboard."
Anywhere around the "G" key will do just fine.
#5. Expect One More Person for Dinner
"Wow, I didn't think it would take that long," you'll say as I'm into hour two, removing eight months' worth of stupid bullshit from your hard drive. "Is it going to take much longer?"
Yes. It's going to take much longer. Much, much, much longer. Probably. See, the thing is, I have no way of knowing how long it's going to take me to find the problem. That's why before I came over here, I canceled all of my plans for the rest of the day.
The only reason I'm not punching you in the neck right now is because I know this ignorance isn't your fault. Despite owning a computer and probably using one at work, much of your knowledge comes from Hollywood, and Hollywood hasn't got the slightest goddamn clue what they're talking about. In movies, everything from hacking the Pentagon to creating Kelly LeBrock can be done in one flurry of keystrokes.

Oh, that reminds me, we're going to need some bras.
In real life, the same symptoms could be the result of any of three billion different problems. Especially when the symptom is that the computer is "slow." Or when the thing you're complaining about only happens once every two days, and never when I'm around. If it's a result of the malicious software and other bullshit I was just talking about, remember that it's specifically designed to be hard to remove.
Half the time I'm going to wind up Googling for other people who've had the same problem, because none of the standard spyware removal tools will do it. Half the time, my search will take me to a message board and I'll find this:
User: ComputerGuy
Posted: 8.1.11, 10:24 PM
Subject: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: (Exact description of the same problem we're having)
User: Admin
Posted: 8.1.11, 10:36 PM
Subject: Re: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: (Request for more information, OS, HijackThis logs, etc)
User: ComputerGuy
Posted: 8.2.11, 8:15 AM
Subject: Re: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: Never mind, I fixed it.
User: Admin
Posted: 8.2.11, 8:29 AM
Subject: Re: Trojan, Malwarebytes and Combofix Don't Detect It
Body: Issue resolved. Thread locked.
OK, try it now.
You might notice me becoming steadily more frustrated as this process repeats itself eight or nine hundred more times. And you're making it worse by being the kid in the back seat who's constantly asking, "Are we there yet?!" I want to make it clear: I have no problem whatsoever bending you over my knee and spanking your ass until you shit blood. Go find a movie to watch, and I'll let you know when it's fixed.
#4. Assigning Blame Is Not a Priority
The subject of who is to blame for your screwed up computer is sure to come up. There are a couple of reasons -- one, some people, usually douche bags, live in a world where everything is somebody's fault. The computer can't just break. Somebody has to have broken it. Nothing "just happens," right?
But other times it's just that whoever's computer I'm working on wants to make sure I know that they didn't screw it up. It's, "I told my son not to install that Firefox thing." Yes, Firefox broke your computer, not the 27 "free screensavers" websites that each came with their own toolbar, or the hundreds and hundreds of sketchy porn sites.
"Yeah, but you were shopping on eBay the other day!"
But the focus here should not be on blame -- I don't want to hear how stupid your wife is. It needs to be on repair and preventative action, so that we don't have to go through this again. And by "we" I mean "I." And, the thing is, there's a good chance you're not going to want to hear why your computer is actually in this condition. At least not from me. Let me talk to your son in private, and you'll be a much happier person. I've tried the direct route with parents before about their teenage son's porn use, and how he's not old enough to know to keep to the reputable porn sites, and it never, ever ends well.
"Bobby?! He wouldn't do that. He's a good kid."
"Yep. He's also a teenage boy with a volcano full of dick-related hormones that require an outlet."
"OK, what's the cup fo- OH MY GOD!"
"I know my son, and he wouldn't. Maybe a hacker did it."
"Yes. A hacker, out of the blue, decided to break into your computer and place temporary files onto the system in the hopes that a repairman would see them and then report them to you. Evil hackers have it in for your son, and this is by far the best way to do it."
But even that isn't as bad as when there is no kid involved at all. Then I have to figure out which spouse has the poop fetish. Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person can cause an instant rift in a marriage. But saying nothing at all means that the activity will continue the second I pull out of their driveway. And a month later, I'll be getting the blame for the computer's relapse. "You know, eBay sure does have a lot of popups for shemale porn sites these days."
#3. Don't Ask Me How to Make Your 10-Year-Old PC Faster
"I just bought this game, and my computer won't run it. What's wrong?"
If your computer is more than five or six years old, the answer is most likely going to be: "You need to buy a new one." No, I can't upgrade it, you bought it at Wal-Mart and one reason you got it so cheap was that the motherboard has absolutely no place to add any components.
"Can't you just put more memory in it?"
Via Boringest.blogasian.com
That long blue slot is your RAM slot. Most new computers have four or more.
Nope. All of your RAM slots are filled. Replacing the motherboard with one that has room for more RAM creates a domino effect where everything other than your monitor, mouse and keyboard also has to be replaced. The hardware is obsolete, all of it, and it's not my fault.
"Yeah but even the stuff I used to do runs slower."
Yes, because you are using newer, updated versions of those programs and the people who make that software assume you are regularly upgrading your computer. Each version of Microsoft Office is going to be more of a hog on your computer's resources than the last one. Everybody makes their programs load on startup because they assume you have vast stores of RAM to keep it in. See those six rows of icons down by your computer clock?
"OK, so here's what we do: I sell my computer on eBay for a couple hundred bucks, and we buy the new system with that."
Not so fast, Johnny Mnemonic. Your setup wouldn't sell for a couple hundred bucks. It won't sell for 10 bucks. Remember that "obsolete" thing I mentioned earlier? That means that virtually nobody on the planet has any use for it. I don't care that you paid $1,000 for it 10 years ago. Right now, it's worth less than the shipping and handling fees it would take to deliver it to your customer. Computers degrade in value at roughly the same rate as bananas.
How about instead of me buying those from you, you pay me to haul them off.
No, it's not some huge scam on the part of the people who make computers and computer programs. And even if it is, I'm not in on it.
#2. Toolbars Are Bad News
I've used the word "toolbars" several times, and you'll notice I use the word kind of like how you'd use the word "virus." Toolbars are little strips that get glued to the top of your browser, bearing some advertisement and a bunch of buttons that will probably take you to even more advertisements. When you downloaded that free program that rotates pictures of your children on your desktop while playing inspirational songs, way down in the Terms and Conditions it mentioned that the price of downloading that free program was that they got to stick a toolbar on your browser.
And when you download the next gadget, its toolbar will not replace the last one. It will glue itself to the other one, and the next will get stacked on top of it. Eventually it will look like this:
The first thing I'm going to do when I start poking around on your machine is open Internet Explorer and Firefox, and the number of toolbars I find there will tell me everything I need to know about the problems I'll be encountering and what caused them. And I'm going to uninstall them all.
But I bring this to your attention because from now on, when you download anything, pause for a moment while you're blindly and rapidly clicking "next" on each window that pops up, and look for the word "toolbar" on the list of things they're asking to cram onto your computer. Uncheck it if it will let you. If it won't, just bail out of the whole thing.

That "cancel" button is there for a reason. The program won't be offended.
Even if you don't mind viewing your Internet through a two-inch window at the bottom of your screen (maybe you like to pretend you're seeing the world through the slit of a knight's helmet or something), a lot of these are malicious programs that track everything you do and, at random, will boot you out to some site they control.
I'm also going to get rid of a lot of free programs that sounded really useful when you clicked on the banner ads offering them. Again, I don't want to lower your opinion of your fellow man, but "Registry Cleaner 5000" was, in fact, not cleaning your registry, it was spawning fake warnings to make you go download more bullshit. Weatherbug will, in fact, tell you the temperature, while it's spawning popup ads on your system. But there are other ways to get that information.
#1. "Wipe" Means EVERYTHING
Worse has come to worst. I get to your place, and your PC is so screwed that it won't even boot -- not even in Safe Mode. Maybe you have a boot sector virus or maybe some key files got corrupted, but one way or the other, our only troubleshooting option left is start over and do a clean install of your operating system. With an exasperated sigh, you tell me, "Yeah, fine, just wipe it and start from scratch." I ask if you're sure because that means you're about to lose everything, since you did not keep backups. You say you know. You just want to start over.
Several hours later, all of the drivers are installed. Windows is up to date. You have a new antivirus. Your system is smoking fast (well, compared to what it was). You can actually see a whole screen's worth of Internet in your browser. It's like new again.
You sit down, open up your browser and ask in horror, "Where's my email? And all of my music?! And my pictures?!"
You just told me to wipe it. Did you not know what that means? Because when I said "lose everything," I didn't mean, "lose just the bad stuff." I meant every motherfucking thing. In some cases, this is a breakdown in communication. The person has heard a "computer guy" use the term "wipe" before, and they're just repeating it. Trying to connect with you by using terms you're familiar with -- even if they're not. "Yeah, 'wipe,' like when you're cleaning a window, right? You wipe it off?"
Or, they figure I couldn't have wiped everything because, look, Windows is still there. Hey, maybe that other stuff is still hiding somewhere, too!
No, Swordfish, you didn't keep any of that important stuff on any kind of a backup drive, you kept it all on the exact same bit of hardware you have been dragging through a shit gauntlet of adware, spyware and Trojans. So, you're starting from scratch. Think of it as a second chance. A fresh start; to clean up all off those bad habits, and to treat your computer like the crucial yet fragile tool that it is.
See you again in about three months.