Main      Site Guide    
Computer Stupidities


Once in a great while, tech support gets back at the inane callers. It's rare, but there are times when a little revenge is all that CAN be done.

Needless to say, that user was also a friend. I have always wanted to say this to someone, and there he was!

Our service does not work with a UART older than the 16550 one. One customer had an older UART chip, and he refused to believe it would keep him from using our service. He got very upset, finally snapping:

That kept her occupied for a couple of minutes, while I told my colleagues what was happening and we had a good laugh.

I work in the technical support department for a national ISP. One day, I was listening to the conversation of a tech next to me talking to a very frustrated woman. Apparently she had been having trouble getting online with our software, and the previous tech had her go into Dial-up Networking to create a new connection and get her online, so she could then download our software. That, amazingly, had been successful, but she was calling back to complain that when she had finished downloading the software and opened the CDROM drive, there was nothing in there.

The tech replied, in his thick Australian accent, "Ma'am, this is not a vending machine."

An old man walked into our computer store. He was talking extemely loud, and eventually walked up to the counter and spat, "I need to upgrade my boots! They don't kick @$$ anymore!"

I told him it sounded like a user error to me.

I worked on my manager's computer a while back. While waiting for an operation to complete, I was idly spinning the cursor around the screen, as many do. My manager asked why techs often seem to do that.

"Oh," I said, "sometimes you have to spin the mouse around in a clockwise direction to wind it up. You don't have to do it very often, but we usually do it while we're working on other things to save time."

The manager swallowed the story, and my co-workers and I had a good chuckle about it later.

A few days later, another of our guys was working on the same machine. The manager caught him moving the cursor around while he was waiting on the computer to finish something.

"Why are you spinning the cursor counterclockwise?" the manager asked.

Without missing a beat, he replied, "Every so often, they get wound up too tight, and you have to unwind them."


This story is from dark ages, before PC helpdesks were invented, PCs ran DOS, and Windows hadn't been inflicted on the world. We were slowly moving from mainframe green-screen terminals to desktop PCs.

This particular Monday morning, I got a trouble call from the internal auditors. They were a powerful bunch. Get on their bad side, and they might decide to audit you, so people tried to keep them happy. They had demanded a PC, even though they hadn't a clue how to use it or what to use it for. But they got what they asked for, and one day they had a problem.

The reported problem seemed simple -- the roof of the audit office had let the rain in over the weekend, and they were concerned that their PC had maybe been damaged by the water. No, they hadn't turned it on -- very sensible.

Now it so happened that a few months previously I had been evaluating some shareware, and the collection I'd ordered included just the right programs, a scheduler and a couple of harmless jokes. So I dug out the appropriate 5-1/4" floppy and wandered up to the audit office. The leak hadn't been serious; the area was at worst damp, not wet. The PC looked ok. I powered it up, looking for smoke and sparks. Everything seemed to work. I explained that I needed to do a few checks, and was it ok to use their computer or was there any thing sensitive on it? They gave the go-ahead.

I put the floppy in and used a few utilities from it to do some basic checks. I also did a few edits to the root directory of the floppy, setting the trap -- they weren't watching what I was doing, silly auditors!

I pronounced the machine to be fine and rebooted it, priming the trap. I advised them to leave the PC on but not use it for a while, just in case it needed to dry out.

Back in the office, I explained what was happening to the technorati. The atmosphere was strained as we awaited the end of the 10 minute countdown I'd set. Sure enough, less than a minute after the trap fired, there was a panicking auditor on the phone. It seemed that the damp PC had put up a big, bright message announcing "water damage detected - spin cycle starting" and was making loud noises like a washing machine spinning.

I returned and gravely inspected the scene. The auditors were not-quite-cowering as far from the PC as possible. It was easy to extract the floppy and reboot the PC, getting it back to normal. "No real damage done -- the spin-cycle seems to have worked," I announced. I escaped before I exploded into laughter.

Eventually, the head auditor arrived for a "quiet word." He hadn't been around for the fun but had received a full report. A bright boy, this one -- he knew his team had been duped and wanted to know how. I confessed, and he roared with laughter, shook my hand, and congratulated me. Not the response I was expecting!

I was interning at a local ISP and every once in a while got to take a tech support call. I probably only took about five at the most. Here's the best one.

He hung up.

I did call him back and helped him fix his problem. He didn't complain about my response, but he did get members of the department asking for a while afterwards if he'd fixed his "other" problem.

When working as a computer consultant in college, a co-worker and I were playing around with the NETSEND command in Windows NT. At one point he accidentally sent a message to all the NTs in the lab that said, "Can you see me?" Shortly thereafter, a girl came to our station looking perturbed.

We laughed for a good fifteen minutes after that.

While I was at college I had to develop and install a new mainframe payroll update system. I coded it up and finally the day came to introduce it to the business office. I couldn't resist. I told the staff there that the system had an advanced feature whereby it could read hand prints off the screen to authenticate the user. So after they keyed in their usernames and passwords, I had them put their hands on the screen and hit enter. I had the cursor flash across the screen, like it was scanning the hand print, and then a message would welcome them to the system. For about a week, all five staff members were putting their hands on the screen to log in. Then one day my boss happened to notice what they were doing and had me remove the "scanning" part.

In 1989 I worked as a repair tech for a company that made Amiga and Atari modems and hard drives. On one of the Atari computers I used for testing, I added a screen saver that just made a blank screen. One of the female line leads used this particular computer for auditing floppy disks and was unaware that I had added the screen saver. One day when she came over to test a few disks, she asked if I would turn the computer on for her. I told her that it was already on and jokingly told her that there was a loose connection somewhere in the computer, but if you bang on the table by the computer it should fix it long enough for her test (when in reality, it was just bumping the mouse and turning off the screen saver). I even banged on the table to show her. She accepted this and continued to bang on the table whenever she tested some disks, and each time I had to hold in the laugher. I decided to see how long I could get her to believe this. A couple of weeks later she was training someone new to her crew and included the table banging to "activate the loose connection" as part of the training. This went on for a month before I finally decided to tell her what was going on when one day she banged on the table a good ten times trying to activate a computer that was turned off.

I am a system administrator, but at times, when I'm feeling benevolent, I assist technically challenged users. I was speaking with one of the network analysts while enjoying a cup of latte, when a woman from the Health Services department frantically rushed over to us. We told her to call the help desk, which is what she is supposed to do first, and then her problem would probably be assigned to one of us. She couldn't wait, though -- you know that scenario. She needed to copy a document to a disk immediately, but her disk drive was "broken." She was flailing her arms with the diskette in her hand saying, "I keep trying to put the diskette in, but it won't go in. The disk drive is broken!"

The analyst and I looked at each other, then followed her to her computer. We stood next to her as she repeated her story. At the same time, she was unsuccessfully attempting to shove her diskette into the drive...with the disk upside down.

I told her that there wasn't anything wrong with her drive. I said her computer was upside down.

I just had a phone call from a high-level academic asking why his screen was so white, bright, and blurry, and if there was any way he could increase the amount of ink it used.

I directed him to his monitor's brightness and contrast controls.

As a friend of mine has just commented, "Funny. There's a brightness dial on the monitor, but the users don't get any smarter."

My boss received complaint about me from one of those users that hates all tech support personnel. He said, quote:

I had not touched this person's PC for several months. I went to her desk and discovered she had moved her desk to the other side of the cube. She had disconnected the Cat 5 LAN cable because it was too short to reach the new desk location.

She was not in the area, so I moved the desk back and hooked the PC to the LAN. I left a note saying it would "only work on this side of the cube."

Being an "idiot," I doubt that I could have found any of the longer LAN cables in the tub drawer at my desk.

One night there was a thunderstorm in the area, and one customer, notorious among the tech support crowd, called:

My face lit up like a Christmas tree, and it was all I could do to keep myself breathing evenly.

The owner of the company I was serving as system administrator, webmaster, and whipping boy, showed up one day and plopped down with his laptop and prepared to do some work. All of a sudden I heard my name called, so I ran up there and the following exchange occurred:

So I sat down and crank the laptop up. Sure enough, Windows started loading, and then the whole thing died. Fearing the worst, I tried it again (it'd been a long day), and the same thing happened.

This is when I spotted one end of the power cord lying on the desk. I plugged it in, and it worked just fine. I played out a hand of solitaire (like I said, it'd been a long day). When I told him that I'd fixed it, he was astonished and asked how. I still remember my response to him:

And he actually bought it.

After much cajoling and gratuitous verbal abuse, he finally consented to let me configure his program. He downloaded his mail and then asked, in a sneering tone:

After that, I received a gushing email from a fellow tech who did a check on the guy a few weeks after the call. By his name and encrypted password was the word "cancelled." Sweet.

I work in a small computer store, not only as a tech, but also as a salesperson. A customer came to me with a question about whether a piece of software would run on his computer.

Alarm bells go off in my head.

Ten minutes later, after making no progress whatsoever, I decided to throw together some random jargon and buzzwords to get rid of him.

The customer, unhappy with our "poor service," rants, raves, and goes down the street to another computer store. I happen to have a friend there, so I called him, warned him, and told him what to say. Last I heard, the guy was still trying to figure out how to stop a DMA type 3 conflict with the processor cache.

I work as a clerk in a computer store. Once a guy came in needing RAM for his 486. I told him he probably needed parity SIMMs.

I put the parity away and got him two 8 meg non parity. As he left, I got a good one in.

I had just completed a test install of a LAN-based remote control tool, when a VERY dependant secretary called my office. She calls me way too often to have me show her how to do very basic things. Her boss, "Don," insisted that "Tess" did not need special training, only my occasional assistance. That day, Tess was frustrated while trying to learn how to use the thesaurus feature in Word 97. I recommended that she use the Help Assistant to learn. She was unaware of how the assistant worked; an idea came to mind.

I snapped. Keep in mind that (a) we don't really do tech support, so she can't complain to anyone, and (b) even if she does, as one of the only competent student employees, I can get away with a lot. I laid into her hard, called her some nasty names, and hung up the phone. I'm so glad I was able to do that.

I trudged down to her cubicle (she had gone out for coffee) and looked at her Windows 3.11 workstation. She had changed her background window color to mauve, and her text color to mauve. I switched her text color to black and left a post-it note saying the problem was fixed. Fifteen minutes later:

Again, she had gone for coffee while I was there (she drank a lot of coffee). Now her background color was blue, and her text color was blue. Sick of this, I selected "Windows Default" for the color scheme. Then I changed the permissions on her DESKTOP.INI file to read-only. I left the post-it note and went back to my game of solitaire.

I once went on site to fix a problem a customer had. Nothing would come up. I asked if he cycled the power, and he said he did. I asked him to show me exactly what he had done. He turned the monitor off and on again.

I reached down under the desk, hit the reset button, and everything was fine. He asked what the problem was. I said, "Don't worry about it sir, it's an eye-dee-ten-tee error -- takes too long to explain -- have a nice day."

Write down 'I,' 'D', '10', and 'T' together, and you'll see what I meant.

I had the phone on mute when I said this last line, but my supervisor didn't know it. The look on his face was great.

The classic Freudian slip delivered to PC users whose mouse and modem share the same interrupt request:

I have a Mac friend that convinced the other IBM people at his company that when the token ring network went down, it was due to someone removing the cable and the token falling out. He actually had businessmen on the floor looking for it. I think he eventually stated he found it himself to avoid getting lynched.

Way back, in the early 80s, I programmed a printer driver. But I made a really stupid mistake: I converted all characters to lower case. Just when I realized it, a supervisor came in and wanted to see whether the driver would work. He saw immediately that my test printing was in all lower case. He asked what could be wrong. I replied, pointing to the printer cable, "We need thicker wires for the upper case letters to come through." It took him at least ten seconds to realize that I was joking.

Some years ago, I was working for Apple's Customer Service line, answering as many technical support calls as possible. Since this was before Apple offered "official" customer assistance, I often answered technical questions with the standard company line, "Have you called your Apple dealer yet?"

One day I received a call from an elderly woman, who wanted to pay her local utility bill. I told the woman that she had reached Apple Computer, and that she had probably dialed the wrong number, fully expecting that she would acknowledge her error and that this would be the end of the call.

Much to my surprise, she countered, "Young man, don't tell me where I've called. I dial this number every week and you can't tell me that I cannot pay my bill through this number!" I was stunned. I repeated my insistence to her that she had reached the wrong number. Still, she wouldn't budge. She had dialed the right number, and come hell or high water she was going to talk to someone who could help her.

I was exasperated, but being the quick thinking employee that I am, I replied, "My mistake ma'am, you are correct, you have dialed PG & E. If you just tell me the amount on your bill, I'll enter it into our records here." I made some keyboard noises in the background trying to sound as official as possible. "You're all set here, Ma'am. You can just mail your check into us."

There was a pause on her end. Then, "Could you give me the billing address so I can mail my check to you?"

Red alert! "Uhhhh, Ma'am? Our address should be right there on your bill."

"Oh yes, you're right."

A VT220, of course, is the model number of a dumb terminal made by Digital.

The tech knows full well that the cord has a grounded three-pronged plug that cannot be plugged in upside down.

Pause. Beep!

This is a firsthand account of a phone conversation that occurred during my brief employment at an office supply store.

This was gonna be good.

My manager and I laughed for weeks afterwards.

I work for an entertainment company that has about 150 stores. We run servers in the back office that connect out to dumb terminals that the associates use to ring sales. This is probably the worst call I had to field in two and half years of tech support:

After ten minutes of checking power cords on one or two of the terminals her manager gets on the phone.


There is a long wait while he lugs the terminals around. It's not a pleasant task, because of all the dirt and dust that builds up.

The actual time I spent with the manager on the phone was about twenty minutes. I got written up, but it was worth it.

An elderly lady bought a Mac Performa and when she got it home she decieded to give me a call.

Last night, I had a woman on the phone who was trying to get her Mac's DOS card to see more memory. Not only did she change her story ten times, but she kept restarting the Mac, over and over.


Anyway, we'd go back into the PC Setup, change something, and then, inevitably, BONG! I got so upset, I finally said to her, "Ma'am, you shouldn't restart so much, you're going to burn out your restarting coil, and that's not covered under Apple's warranty." She got so scared, she didn't even want to restart her Mac ever again. She even told me, "Thank you so much for telling me that, I don't want to burn out my coil."

A support representative friend of mine came up to me one day and said that he thought he had done something wrong. He had been walking a novice Mac user through rebuilding her desktop. She tiresomely questioned every direction the technician made. After half an hour of patiently talking her through what should have been a one minute process, she finally stated, "Oh! Now it says, 'Are you sure you want to rebuild the desktop on the disk XXX?'"

The next thing he heard was the phone hitting the floor, the sound of rapidly retreating footsteps, and a door slam. After numerous calls over the course of an hour, the customer finally answered the phone. She had waited outside for an hour -- when the computer didn't explode, she went back inside and unplugged it.

I forwarded the Computer Stupidities anecdote listed above to a friend of mine in our in-house computer support department. He thought I was having a real problem. He asked what kind of XXX stuff I was getting on my computer.

I work in the IS department of a healthcare company, and we are converting all our sites from old LANtastic networks to Windows NT server and new computers running Windows 95. A manager at one of the sites called me with a problem.

I put her on hold and called her site on my other line. When I got the receptionist, I asked, "What's your manager wearing today?" She gave me a full description. I went back to the other line.

I described exactly what she was wearing, right down to the fact that she'd spilled coffee on her blouse earlier in the day. She hasn't called back since.

My friend was quite good with computers. His brother was not. His brother's biggest problem was double clicking. He could never seem to do it fast enough and would often get very frustrated in his attempts. One day, while his brother was away, my friend took a snapshot of his brother's screen, set it as the wallpaper, and cleared the desktop of all icons. You can't even begin to imagine how frustrated his brother grew trying and failing for hours to click on the "icons" in the wallpaper.

My senior year of high school, I was helping a friend of mine (who was a tech aid for the school) work the bugs out of a new administration program the computer labs were going to use. This was an override program the teacher could use to get the entire class' attention, or just a certain person if need be.

The teacher hadn't realized we had the program working and we were looking around at other students' screens. The teacher was helping a particular student with something when I looked at my friend and gave him an idea.

Suddenly, the teacher's monitor went black, and the words, "Enter any 11 digit prime number to continue" appeared.

After a trip to the math department, the teacher returned to a class that had been laughing the whole time she'd been gone.

My senior year in high school, I spent about half my school day helping the computer teacher and helping to administer the school network. We had a program on the network that would allow you to pull up the screen of another computer and control it remotely. I was bored one day, and so I logged myself in as the administrator and proceeded to "check up" on the students in the computer room to see what they were working on. I found one girl I knew typing a steamy letter and decided to scare her a bit. I started by erasing a few of the characters in her letter. She paused for a minute, but then continued typing, so I did it again. This time, she paused for a longer period and then started backspacing her whole letter. I then wrote "hello" on her screen. After a while she finally responded, and we got a bit of a conversation going.

She asked who this was, and I told her I was stuck in her computer and couldn't get out. She fell for it and asked how she could help. I told her she needed to lick the computer screen. She said she did. I didn't believe her, but I continued: I said she needed to stand up and act like a chicken. A minute passed, and she said she did that, too. I didn't thinks he had, and this time I told her so, but she responded by saying that not only had she done what I asked but had gotten detention for it.

An hour later, I went into the computer room, and the teacher told me that he had had to give a student detention. I asked why, and he said that he was watching her and all of a sudden she licked her computer screen and stood up and acted like a chicken. It was all I could do to keep from laughing.

I work on a help desk for a company that sells large orders to government agencies. They have their own on-site techs who call now and again, and together we can usually determine and resolve the problem quite quickly. However one tech recently called and told me they needed three 20 gig hard drives in one machine for a special project. He asked me, "How much does a 20 gig hard drive weigh when it is full?"

When I realized he was serious, and since he represented a twenty million dollar client, I had to give him a serious answer.

"We don't ship anything out with a hard drive bigger than 8.4 gigs, as it would get too heavy and take two people to lift the computer."

He thanked me and told me that he would be advising his boss, as no one had thought of this and it would affect how they would direct the project. I heard from his boss a few weeks later, who told me that he did not appreciate what I had told his tech, but when I told him to tell me that with a straight face he said he was almost on the floor when he first heard the story.

I work doing tech support for a company with a large home user client base. It was my last call of the night, and the last thing I wanted was someone with a serious comprehension deficit. That, of course, is exactly what I got.

A lady called up and said she had been waiting for three days for her computer to "resume Windows" (pronounced "res-u-may Windows").

Fifteen minutes later, I figured out that this woman thinks the logo I'm talking about is the monitor brand name on the frame of the monitor, and she has been "rebooting" by turning the monitor off and on again.

I finally got her to reboot properly (a miracle in itself), and then:

What can I say? I couldn't resist.

This is a true account of personal trial, which happened while I was working Tech Support for a company which sold Stock Analysis software. The company would sell data to its customers who would download said data from the company's database on a daily basis. Their listing of data was, therefore, kept on their hard drive, along with the data itself.

For the next half hour, I try to explain amidst all the interruptions that he is going to have to pay for the replacement data, either by downloading it again or by getting it on disk from us, and that it would be Monday at the earliest (this was Friday, one hour before closing) before he got it back regardless of which method he chose. This, of course, was unacceptable and resulted in me being subjected to more tirades of ridiculous cursing and genetic analysis. Finally, just to change the subject (he refused to hang up, which I was hoping for), I inquired further into the whereabouts of his missing data.

At this point, I, and the other techs who were listening in by now, shared a great laugh, which I didn't bother to mute.

Epilogue: When he called back on Monday, the manager terminated his account for abusive behavior for that record two minutes, thirty-eight second call.

Minutes later:


Four hours later, he calls back.