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Computer Stupidities


A great many people are daunted by the power and complexity of computers and are deathly afraid of them. Sometimes warnings about viruses or hackers on TV magazine programs scares the living daylights out of people, complicating the issue. Paranoia is an integral part of the role computers play in society today. But some people take it to gross extremes.

While working the customer service desk at Staples, a white-haired gentleman came up with a DSL filter and asked if we sold them. We did, and I told him where they were located. Then he asked me if I knew anything about them.

I have both a laptop and cell phone that are bluetooth-compatible. I tried to show my mother how I could connect the two pieces of equipment.

I work for the computer help desk of a large university. One of our more memorable clients is infamous for what I can only describe as techno-paranoia. The last time she called to tell us we were going to have to do something about the "Internet Communists." She was convinced that they were getting into her PC through her television and putting typographical errors in her word processing files. "They weren't there before," she insisted, "and I don't make those kinds of mistakes!"

About a year ago, a customer from Roswell, NM, called in to place an order. To break the ice, I jokingly asked if he or any of his neighbors had seen any aliens lately. The guy laughed and proceeded to tell me all about the crazies (his word, not mine) that not only live in Roswell but who come on vacation there in hopes of seeing a UFO themselves. As he talked, I processed the order, and the last bit of information I needed to complete it was the guy's email address for marketing purposes.

I know a woman that believes there is a hacker attacking her computer. Every time there is a problem, or she gets an error message she is convinced it is "the hacker" messing with her. Almost every day she tells me "The hacker made me lose my document" or "The hacker made my email return with a wrong address message" or "The hacker made Explorer freeze today" or "The hacker made Napster lose its connection today" or "The hacker made a floppy unreadable" or "The hacker made the printer jam."

She has even assumed her imaginary enemy has superhuman powers. When I tell her some of the things she says are impossible to do, she says, "He knows how to do it. He is a genius."

She is sure this guy exists, and he devotes enormous resources and several hours a day, seven days a week to the sole purpose of bothering her.


I got a call from a user telling me that there was a set of eyeballs looking at her from the software I wrote. She sounded really worried about that. I connected remotely to her computer, and it appeared that she had the paper clip MS assistant on her screen.

Once I helped a friend get online for the first time.

He was hysterical. I explained it all to him, but he was still terrified. Later, when I was done showing him how to surf the web, he asked:

TV channel 11 in Atlanta has just advised us to turn off "and unplug" our home computers to keep them from being vandalized by web site hackers.

This is the same station that told us our cars weren't going to start on the morning of January 1, 2000, because of the Y2K problem.

I've just written to them to try to clue them in that most web sites aren't hosted on home computers. But the "and unplug" was the amusing part.

At the end of the eighties I was working for a company that made software for doctor's offices. I frequently gave demonstrations to small groups of physicians. One of the main concerns was safety. There was so much talk about hackers. Would their patient records be safe from intruders? I explained to them that one could only get into a computer from outside the office if the modem was on, and the computer was running a communication program and acting as a host. At that time, this was a rare situation in private practice. But even the most powerful argument I could think of, "You can't break into a computer that's turned off," did not have the impact I had hoped for. One way or the other they were convinced that a clever hacker would not be stopped by such a trivial problem!

I was an editor for my high school's newspaper for a couple years. The newspaper and the yearbook staffs shared a computer lab, because it was too costly to keep separate ones. The yearbook advisor (a little off her rocker) was convinced that we newspaper students were sneaking into the journalism room at night, removing all the memory from the computers, and selling on the black market for a higher price. The reason she believed this is that we always got type 11 errors (Mac), and she thought that since they had to do with memory and the computers were fairly new, one of us had to be physically doing something to the memory. She finally went and told the principal. He, not being much smarter than she, proceeded to tell our newspaper advisor about our "illegal activities," and she laughed him out of the room. The only thing that really happened is that the yearbook lady finally had a police officer come in and lecture us about the harm of stealing school property.

A customer called saying he was getting an error in Windows 95. He told me what the error was, and I recognized this as a typical error that occurs after installing MS Office 97.

I was once using the generic telnet program on the library computers to check my mail on UTM (the local university) with Pine. The computer-inept librarian walked up behind me.

When in college, I had to make a fake advertisement for a class. I had a GIF that I downloaded that I wanted to put into it, so I sat down at the only Mac that was connected to the scanner in the school's computer lab. For some reason, it couldn't open the file, and the program crashed repeatedly. I got a lab technician to come over, and I explained the problem. She asked what I did to it and got angry with me. So I went to the Mac next to the one I was on and opened the picture in the same program. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was responsible for ruining the computer.

To protect her computer from evil me, she leaned over and flipped the power switch off.

Back in the beginning af the 90s I worked as a technician in an university, and my job was to keep the PCs and Macs at the department connected to the university network. At this time, the network cabling was a coaxial cable in each floor in the building, terminated in both ends, and the computers were connected to this cable by using a T-connector directly at the main coaxial cable. This also meant that when we cut the cable to hook up a new computer, the computers at the other end lost the connection to the network.

One day, more than three quarters of the computers lost their connection, and the telephone went red from angry employees not being able to print. After a lot of work, we found the problem. One of the professors, convinced that this computer network was a threat to his health, had cut the coaxial cable and removed the part of it that was running through his office. We were not able to convince him that there was no harm in having the cable there, so altered the cabling so it wouldn't run through his office. Afterward, the professor was angry that he was not able to use the big laserjet printers that everybody else used.

I gave him the prices.

The second day I worked doing phone tech support, I was called by an elderly woman who was sobbing and panicked. After spending twenty minutes getting her calmed down, I finally found out what her problem was. She had been on the Internet and recieved the ever-popular message "This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down." Immediately afterward, she had heard police sirens down the road and thought, "They're coming to lock me up!"

I've done my time in tech support and have managed to live through some very weird calls, but this one was the best. An older lady bought a brand new desktop system with all the extras and had been using it for about a month when she got an error about an "illegal function." She took apart the whole system down to the hard drive and hid it in different parts of her house, called us, and wanted to know how much longer she had until the police were going to come get her. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time on the phone putting the system back together.

I work as a computer tech at a community college. Most of our computers are currently running Windows 95. One day, an officer from our security department stopped by to talk to me. His face looked grim. He pulled me quietly aside.

He looked so scared and serious, I had a hard time containing my laughter.

One of my users recently came into the workforce and is literally terrified of her computer. Each sound it makes be it from the speaker or random drive noises causes her to flinch and turn pale. She sits at a custom-built wraparound desk surrounded by her computer, the switchboard, an electric typewriter (she hates that too), and the postal meter. In order to point at the screen I have to stand directly behind her chair.

She was having great problems with the telecoms software convincing herself that she really had downloaded the file. In order to demonstrate that the "dir" command would show her that her files really were in the directory I chose the c:\dos directory to use it on.

When the dozens of filenames flickered down the screen she was so panicked that she thrust her chair backwards crushing me between the chair and the typewriter.

To simplify things, I installed Windows 95 and demonstrated how to move files from the folder to the trash can. Later I wandered by her desk and noticed a forest of icons surrounding her trash can. She hadn't managed to hit it once.

I work for a nationwide ISP, doing overnight technical support. A man who had immigrated from Croatia called to ask us, in his thick eastern European accent, mind you, why we were kicking him offline.

At 3:37 a.m. on a Sunday, I had just looked at the clock to determine my annoyance level, when I received a frantic phone call from a new user of a Macintosh Plus. She had gotten her entire family out of the house and was calling from her neighbor's. She had just received her first system error and interpreted the picture of the bomb on the screen as a warning that the computer was going to blow up.

I had to mute the phone so they wouldn't hear me laughing.