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Computer Stupidities


Online services are the rage, and everybody wants to experience it. There's only one problem...there's a little piece of hardware you need to buy first.

Overheard in a classroom just prior to an animal science class at the University of New Hampshire:

Seeing the light, at last:

I used to work for a PC retailer in the UK. One day an old gentleman came in with an external modem he had bought from us.

I was about to tell him that he needed a PC to be able to get on the net when I saw my manager behind him. He was flapping his arms and mouthing at me to just give him a refund and get him out.

It made my day.

I recall a conversation that my mother and I had about five years ago. I had been begging and pleading with my mom to let me sign up with an ISP for Internet access, but the answer was always no. Eventually, after months of whining, she agreed. I was thrilled and I told her I would go price modems that day. "Hold on," she said. "What are you talking about modems?"

I explained to her that in order to connect our computer to the phone line, we would need a modem. "Forget that," my mother bellowed. "We'll get the Internet now, but the modem can wait until next year."

Many years ago my family got its first computer. It wasn't long before we wanted to get on the Internet and enjoy the wonders of email and the web. My two younger sisters, and I begged Mom to let us get hooked up. We discussed it a couple of times, and she asked us a bunch of questions. After a while we had finally convinced her. Her last question was, "So, should we get America Online or a modem?"

A few years ago, there was an ISP that had a kiosk set up in our local mall. One woman bought a modem from it, then returned the next day, saying that it was "eating" her hard drive. She believed that the noises coming from the modem were actually coming from the hard drive and that the hard drive was getting all scratched up.

I have a friend who, one time, said that he "overclocks" his cable modem. How does he accomplish this bizarre task? He goes into Napster and sets his connection type to "T3." This, he says, makes his cable modem run as fast as a T3, but it gets "quite warm."

I'm a Senior Tier 2 DSL tech for an ISP. External DSL "modems" (not really a modem, but actually a router) have lights which can often help diagnose specific situations. When a Speed Stream 5260 modem has a hardware failure, all four lights on it go red, and the only recourse is to replace it.

One day, I got a call from a customer who wanted to know if his DSL modem was cool enough to use. (Well, the 5260 IS kind of cute, so I thought it was a cool one to use.) I asked for clarification from the customer and was told that all four lights had gone red and that the modem had become too hot to touch. Obviously a major hardware failure had occurred, and there was a risk of fire, there, too. He said he called in previously to tier 1 support and was told to put the modem in the refrigerator to cool down.

I thought, "No, no tech would be stupid enough to tell him that!" But sure enough, the account notes I pulled up read, "Told customer to cool off modem in refrigerator and try it later."

That tech is no longer with us -- big surprise -- but I've wondered how in the world he got hired in the first place.

One day, a tech sitting near me received a call from a feeble old gentleman with a southern drawl.

Thinking that perhaps the rep may have sold a DB9 cable when the customer had a DB25 Comm port, I innocently asked, "Well, what model computer do you have?"

A young lady came in, dropped a PCMCIA modem cable on the counter, and said, "I need a new modem. This one is broke."

A customer rang up reporting that his modem had been recently connecting at really slow speeds and occasionally dropped connections. I asked him how long the problem had been happening, and he replied, "Just after I put the new phone in upstairs."

It turned out there were six phones (three upstairs and three downstairs, two of which were cordless), two faxes, and a burglar alarm (that alerts the police online) all on one phone line.

Even worse, the user had all of these connected into two sockets via a network of extension cables and double adapters. The modem, for example, was connected to an extension cord on a reel and then through a surge protector. The extension cord was fifty feet long, of which only five feet were used -- the rest was still wound on the reel.

I was surprised that he was even able to connect at all. Needless to say, once the number of phones was reduced to two, his modem started connecting reliably again.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine when someone overhearing us butted in:

The other night I was explaining to this woman what a modem was and why she needed it. She said "OOOHHH! I get it! You're talking about that brand new 17 color modem, right?!?!"

Overheard in a computer store:

My friend wanted to have a modem for his computer, so he asked if he could copy mine.

Friday, a gentleman called and complained about not being able to connect to the system. His modem was dialing but it would not make the connection, stopping before it prompted him for his username. He said, "I don't see why I'm not getting connected. The modem is getting a good strong signal -- it's loud." I tried to explain that the sound of the modem connecting and the volume didn't really have that much to do with the connection. He insisted that he should be getting connected since he was getting "a good strong connection."

Checking on a customer's connection problem, I discovered that the modem was listed five times in the system's driver list. I wondered about this, and then the customer said, "Well, maybe I do have five modems in my laptop!"

A lady said that her computer was dialing last night but in the morning she couldn't get in. I asked her if she had an external or internal modem. She said that she had an external modem. I told her to turn her modem off and then back on.

I explained that it wasn't her modem, it was her computer and her modem was inside of the big box.

I went to a library to access the Internet on their brand new computers. Usually I can just sit down and click on Netscape Navigator, but that day the monitor was blank. I tried the monitor's power button several times. I looked all over for the computer, but I couldn't find it.

So I asked the librarian to help me. He pointed out the tower case hidden in a cubbyhole and said, "There's your problem. The modem's not turned on." He flipped the power switch, and the computer hummed to life. "That's the modem," he informed me. "It won't work without the modem."

I laugh hysterically.

Chances are, she thought the monitor was the computer.

I work for an ISP. One day I had the following conversation with a customer:

The customer dutifully read the brand name off the modem's packaging:

While on the phone to a customer regarding a problem with a LaserWriter, I finally managed to work out that she had the printer cable in the comm port instead of the printer port. I asked her to remove the cable from the comm port and place it in the printer port. Seconds later, the phone line went dead.

I had one of my co-workers call me over because she was having problems getting her laptop to access the net. The laptop had a Xircom PCMCIA modem with one jack for the wall and a second jack for a phone. She had a phone line connecting the two.

A few years ago we were trying to install our first dial-up Internet connection. I went to school the morning after the modem was delivered, intending to come home that evening and get it working. During the day my father decided to try to install it, but, having used a computer approximately twice in his life, he ran into some trouble and rang the technical support line. The woman on the phone asked him to right-click on something to bring up another menu. He said he had right-clicked and nothing came up. She seemed fairly confused and asked him to do it again. He replied "I have -- I pushed the mouse all the way to the right, and clicked it."

After a few more similar incidents, the technical support assistant asked, "Do you actually have a computer?"

What really confuses me is that around 6pm I arrived home to find a working dial-up connection and my father telling me this story. How he got it working, I will never really know.

My sister called me once, complaining that her modem didn't work. When I looked at her computer, I discovered she had connected the modem to the phone line, but hadn't put the modem in the computer -- it was lying on top.

About four months ago we upgraded all of our modem banks to 56K x2. We spent a great deal of time switching all of our customers to the new system. One custom er (who had previously inquired about a job as a technician) decided that since we upgraded, he would do the same. So he called one day and explained that he had bought a brand new US Robotics 56K modem. He had it all hooked up and installed, but the modem didn't seem to be getting a dial tone. I asked him a bit about his new modem as well as his old one. He explained to me that his old modem was an internal, while his new modem was an external. So I walked him through checking his dialup networking to make sure it using his new modem and not the old one (figuring it was probably attempting to use the old modem which was not connected to the phone line). Everything appeared fine, so I asked him to make sure he had the phone line plugged in properly from the new external modem to the wall.

"To the wall?" he replied.

I, in turn, say, "Yes, the phone line needs to go from the external modem into the phone jack on the wall."

He, seemingly somewhat surprised, replied, "Well, if I disconnect it from the back of the computer, how is my computer going to connect?"

He had cleverly hooked his phone line from his new external modem directly into his old internal modem. Needless to say, we didn't hire him.

I work for a major PC manufacturer. A very irate gentleman called me up one time and complained that he could not send faxes. I asked him if he had installed any fax programs, and he didn't understand the question. He had tried to put a document in the crack just behind the front bezel on the top of the computer and needed to figure out how to dial out to fax the document. I explained to him that he needed to install the fax software that came with the PC, and he became very upset and insisted that he had a fax modem which should send faxes.

I told him that he was correct, but he first needed to install some software to send faxes first. He explained to me that the modem was a fax machine inside the computer and I didn't know what I was talking about when I said "install software." Yelling at this point, he threatened to send the PC back and told me he was going to buy a PC from a different company.


After some basic Windows navigating, it becomes apparent that the modem isn't plugged in correctly.

My mom and I had just gotten our computer back after having it fixed. It was hooked up, and I soon found out that I had no sound. When I connected on the Internet for the first time, however, the dial tone came through the speakers. It turned out the speakers were connected to the modem, not the sound card.

Overheard as my boss was talking to a co-worker:

Doing ISDN tech support I got a call from a frustrated customer who was having a problem with her modem. I suggested that she reset her modem (always the first step with this particular modem). I said she'd need a pen or a screwdriver to press the reset button on the back of the modem. Unfortunately, the customer had mistaken the modem with the computer and forced a screwdriver into the power supply unit. Now that's a serious reset. The customer was fine; the computer was not.

There was a woman who bought a modem for her Mac IIsi. She called and wanted to know how to use it to do virtual reality.

I was working at a company that manufactured internetworking hardware for minicomputers, providing in-house support for other employees of the company. One day, a user buzzed me on the intercom and asked, "Is the computer down?" Since I was reading and did not actually know the answer to her question, I sat up quickly and began typing on my terminal to see if the computer had crashed when I wasn't looking. It hadn't. I replied, "No, it's up." "Well, I can't log on," was the reply. When I got to the user's office, I checked the obvious things: the terminal was plugged in and turned on, the keyboard was plugged in and the lights showed "online." I reset the terminal -- no effect. I checked the terminal settings (baud rate, parity, etc), all correct. Finally, in desperation, I craned my neck around the back side of the terminal and noticed that there was one and only one cable running into the rear of the box -- the power cable. I asked the user where the other cable was (the serial connection to the mini) and was told, "Oh, it's over here. I moved my terminal this morning. Is this thing important?"

I found out my library had a dial-up modem card catalog. I asked for the phone number and the login information. She wrote down the information and gave it to me, including the modem settings to use: 8 data bits, no parody, and 1 thought bit.

I would have felt guilty letting someone like that on the net.

One customer was having problems connecting and was getting incorrect password errors. I asked him his username (we often get calls from users of another ISP with a name similar to our own). Sure enough, he was a user.

I checked his modem drivers and configuration but kept turning up empty. Finally I asked which socket at the back of the modem the cable was plugged into.