- Customer: "Well, I just want to know if I load this disk into my computer, won't other people be able to get into my computer and access everything I have in there?"
- Tech Support: "No, that's not possible."
- Customer: "You see it on the TV all the time."
- Me: "DSL is a lot faster. It--"
- Friend's Father: "Yeah, but if you have DSL, there are a lot of threats."
- Me: "Yes, that's true to a degree, but there are firewalls that--"
- Friend's Father: "No, but they can hack into your computer even when it's off and steal your electricity."
- Me: "Umm...I'm pretty sure that won't happen."
- Friend's Father: "It's all over the news. You mean to tell me they're wrong?"
- Me: "...I guess so."
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.
- Customer: "Email! I won't have anything to do with that Internet or modems of any sort! You should be careful about those. Don't you know that once you install a modem, the government can look into your computer and watch everything you do? That's why every night before I go to bed, I turn the monitor to the wall."
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.
Once I helped a friend get online for the first time.
- Me: "Ok, do you have your Internet Explorer ope--"
- Him: "What!? Your Internet EXPLODED?"
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:
- Him: "Are you sure the Internet is safe to use?"
- Customer: "I think I've broken my computer! There's a message across the screen that says: 'It is now safe to turn off your PC.' WHAT SHOULD I DO?!?!"
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.
- Tech Support: "Sir, did you just install Office 97?"
- Customer: "YOU'RE IN MY COMPUTER, AREN'T YOU?????" (click)
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.
- Her: (shrieking) "WHAT ARE YOU DOING???"
- Me: "I'm checking my email--"
- Her: "It looks like you're breaking into the computer!!"
- Me: "No really -- I'm checking my mail."
- Her: "But that's not HOTMAIL!!"
- Me: "I don't use hotmail. I use--"
- Her: "But EVERYONE uses HOTMAIL!!"
- Me: "No, my account goes through UTM. My email account ends with--"
- Her: "But that's not what MYYY UTM looks like!!" (apparently referring to the UTM web page)
- Me: "Yes, I'm telnetting. It's another way of accessing--"
- Her: "I think you better shut that off. You're breaking into the computer."
- Me: "But I--"
- Her: "Turn it off. I don't believe that 'checking mail' story."
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.
- Me: "I scanned these pictures in, then tried to open this GIF I downloaded."
- Her: "What? You can't do that! That type of a file is for Windows machines only! It isn't supported on Macs."
- Me: "No, it is a standard graphic file. It can be opened on either machine."
- Her: "No it can't! You might have to pay to fix this."
- Me: "If it can't open on a Mac, how did I get it to open on this Mac right here? See?"
- Her: "Don't do that! You're gonna break that one also."
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.
- Tech Support: "Yes, ma'am, we require a credit card or checking account in order to sign up on our service."
- Customer: "Well, I saw on the news that I should never give out my credit card information!"
- Tech Support: "Well, ma'am, we have to have a way to bill you."
- Customer: "No other service does this!"
- Tech Support: "No, ma'am, the others don't allow you to use a checking account."
- Customer: "No honest company would ask me for my credit card information!"
- Tech Support: "May I have your phone number, sir?"
- Customer: "I don't give out my phone number!"
- Tech Support: "All right. How may I help you, sir?"
- Customer: "How much for your Internet service?"
I gave him the prices.
- Customer: "If I own the software why do you keep charging for it?"
- Tech Support: "Well, sir, the software is free, but you are charged for being online."
- Customer: "YOU CONNECT YOUR COMPUTER TO THE PHONE LINE?!?"
- Tech Support: "Well, sir, you do use a modem to dial online."
- Customer: "I WILL NEVER HOOK MY COMPUTER TO MY PHONE!!!!" (click)
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.
- Officer: "We have a new part time person working in our office who uses the computer, and I have to ask you something, but you need to keep this confidential."
- Me: "Ok, what's the problem?"
- Officer: "Well, over the past two or three days I've glanced over at the new person's computer, and several times I've seen a message that says 'You have performed an illegal operation,' but he keeps clearing it by clicking something. I need to find out what he's doing wrong and if we should call the local police."
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.
- Customer: "Why do you guys keep kicking me offline?"
- Tech Support: "Can you hold on a moment while I look at your account logs?"
- Customer: "Sure, but please hurry."
- Tech Support: "Ok." ... "Hi, thanks for holding. It looks like our servers are reporting that either your modem is hanging up like a normal disconnect, or the connection is just being lost. This is usually attributed to line noise. I'd advise you get in touch with--"
- Customer: "No, that is not what it is!"
- Tech Support: "Well, that would normally be the first place I'd look. The modems are just losing touch with each--"
- Customer: "All right. Apparently they do not tell you everything there. What I'm trying to look at are some Croatian newspapers to keep up with what's going on in my old country. The government did not like me when I was there and they do not like me being in touch with my family and events there today."
- Tech Support: "Sir, the government there cannot disconnect you from the Internet here. You are in the United St--"
- Customer: "My government was very powerful. They can do lots of things you would never imagine."
- Tech Support: "I'm sure in Croatia, the government would have the power to disconnect you from the Internet. The service providers are under their jurisdiction there. However, in America, there is nothing they could do to force our computers to knock you off line. You're safe. I'm telling you, the first and foremost place I'd look is the telephone company to have them do what's called a 'data grade check'--"
- Customer: "No, no, no. That is alright. I just wanted to know if you were doing it intentionally, or if it was them. Thank you. Thank you. Have a good night."
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.
- Customer: "I had an important document that was password protected, and I can't get in it. I don't know the password."
- Tech Support: "Ok, we do have a program the get passwords from Word documents. Can you email me the document?"
- Customer: "No, it is very sensitive. That's why it was password protected. I won't even keep the file on the server. I keep it secure on a floppy."
- Tech Support: "It would be much safer if you kept it on the server. Floppies are easily corrupted. At least on the server it would be backed up each night."
- Customer: "That is exactly what I don't want to happen. For legal reasons, I don't want any copies of this file. I want you to come down here and get the password for me."
- Tech Support: "I'm not in the same office as you are, so I'll need to send someone there to your desk to help you out."
- Customer: "Have them call ahead first so I can get security here when they are work with the file."
- Tech Support: "Security? Sir, We sign a non-disclosure agreement, so that won't be necessary."
- Customer: "Yes, it will be necessary! This is a very important and sensitive document, and we don't want anyone touching it without some security."
- Tech Support: "Ok, that's fine. I'll let them know to bring the password software so they can get the password you forgot."
- Customer: "I didn't forget it!"
- Tech Support: "Excuse me?"
- Customer: "I didn't have to remember it."
- Tech Support: "What do you mean?"
- Customer: "The password was written on a yellow post-it note attached to the disk and must had fallen off. It has be somewhere on my desk, but there are so many papers here I can't find it!"
I had to mute the phone so they wouldn't hear me laughing.
Blogged with Flock