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Computer Stupidities


Getting sound to work on a computer is a little more involved than with a stereo, sure, but a lot of the principles are the same. Plug in the speakers. Turn up the volume. But you didn't think it was really that simple, did you?

We sell Texas Instuments graphing calculators, the kind you can synch with your computer to put simple programs onto them. A customer called up with a problem his kid was having. They had tried to download a couple programs to the calculator, but neither worked. After a bit more conferring, it transpired that they had tried to put Quake III and WinAmp on the thing.

I wonder how that kid thought he was going to listen to music on his calculator?

Back in the days when "multimedia computer" was the latest buzzword, a student in my class overheard a conversation I had with my friend about sound cards. Later he came up to me asking me to copy my Soundblaster for him. I told him it was a piece of hardware, and you cannot copy it. The next day he gave me a disk and proudly announced it had a program on it to make hard copies.

I work as a consultant in the IT division of a big firm. One day the desktop computer I was using broke. It kept hanging up while loading the OS and printing some debug data on screen. It was quite obvious that something had gone awry with its hard disk, as it made horrible screeching noises.

After a call to the tech support, they sent a guy that was visibly out of place. First, he kept rebooting the PC, waiting for it to hang up, and staring blankly at the monitor. After the twentieth restart, he decided to call another technician for help. After some talking and twiddling, he finally decided, "Well, in my opinion, something has gone wrong with the sound card. You know, it's saying 'BAD VOLUME' here."

One night my son was playing a computer game while I was watching TV. I asked him to turn the sound down, and he did. After a short while he came over to watch TV with me. Every so often I would hear the engine noise of his game. I asked him to turn off the game. He did. I was still hearing the noise and told at him to turn it off. He said he had switched off the power to the PC, but I was still hearing the engine noise about once a minute. We went over to look. Sure enough, the computer was off, but the sound was still there. We unplugged the speakers. Didn't help. We pulled out the batteries. Didn't help. Then I realized it was my pager that had been sitting on one of the speakers.

My apartment-mate (we'll call him "Mike") sheepishly entered my room, asking me if I could take a "look" at his computer. He rarely relies on my Mac expertise to solve a problem; he usually takes it on as a "challenge" to solve it himself. So I knew this must be a stumper.

He turned on his Performa, and shortly after the extension parade, his Mac started beeping. Incessantly.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

We still had control of the Mac, and could open files, pull down menus, etc. But the incessant beeping was maddening. We checked every control panel for settings. All seemed ok. We changed the error beep in the "Sounds" control panel, and lo and behold, the incessant beeping became incessant quacking.

Quack! Quack! Quack!

Annoying, so we changed it back. We lowered the volume in the control panel, and now instead of beeping, the menu bar began blinking (which is what normally happens when you mute the beep sound).

Blink! Blink! Blink!

Obviously, first thing I tried was restarting with all extensions off.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

So, what was going wrong with his Mac? To what error was the Mac trying to alert us? And more importantly, was this a software or a hardware problem?

Mike's first guess was to replace the system software (perhaps it got corrupted?). As he pulled out the old floppies, I figured I'd test if this would solve the problem. I started up from the System Software CD-ROM that came with the computer. Guess what?

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Just to be safe, I then started up from the Disk Tools. Even though it was a minimal system, with no control panels, we STILL heard:

Beep! Beep! Beep!

No matter how we'd alter or re-install the software, this beeping would not go away. Perhaps a loose speaker connection? Mike finally admitted that he'd been pulling his hair for hours on this one, and I was his last hope. Apparently this incessant beeping was plaguing him for three days now, and he could no longer concentrate on getting his law studies done. I could see the psychosis building in his eyes. This was a desperate man.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

I'd ascertained it was a hardware problem, which meant it was out of my hands. Before giving in completely, Mike seemed let down that he'd actually have to bring his trusty, die-hard Mac in for service. Blasted Performas, I thought. Apple probably cut some corners to make the models less expensive. Weird new features, bundled software, ease-of-installation...I mean, how difficult is it to install and configure a real Mac?

I began to exit the room. Mike got on the phone. Defeat.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Then it hit me. I turned around, headed back for the Performa. At the base of the CPU were two volume buttons to "ease" adjustment...and the "up" button was jammed in. With a quick jiggle, it was released, and...

Silence. Beautiful silence.

Mike asks me for Mac help all the time now.

I was the lead programmer for a company. One day I was walking past the cubicle of another programmer, and there were three other programmers in there, all looking around at his computer case. It was beeping constantly, and they had all tried various things to stop it: disconnecting the keyboard and reconnecting it, hitting escape and ctrl-alt-delete, etc.

I walked in and slid the edge of an open notebook off the number pad's enter key. The beeping stopped. As I walked out, I swear I heard all four of them smack their foreheads and sigh.

Once I received the following email from a family member:

Every now an again when online my computer will make a sound that it does not have a file to make. I am not in a chatroom when this happens nor is it from any game I may be playing.

When it happens I freak out a bit & have norton scan things and whatever else I can think of.

Any idea what this is?

I met with some friends one day, we wanted to play some games in a LAN. Three computers were set up in three different rooms. We had to do some configuration (IP addresses and so on), and we sat in front of one computer, trying to click through the setup windows with the mouse. On any click, we heard an error beep, the kind you get when you're clicking outside a modal window (a dialog box that doesn't let you play with other windows until you've dismissed it). On any click. It was really annoying, because we saw no error, and we were able to navigate through the setup windows and get the PC configured.

So we went on to the second computer. There was a modal window open and some kind of error message. That computer had the same type of cordless mouse as first. We had been moving the mouse pointer and clicking on both PCs simultaneously, and the beeping we heard came from the (really loud) speakers of the second computer.