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Computer Stupidities

Miscellaneous Dumbness

This section contains the stories of silliness that don't fit anywhere else.

Many people in computer labs will assure you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were doing everything correctly, and it still wasn't working, only to make you get up from your nice comfy seat to walk over to the other side of the room and do it yourself. Invariably, after it works the first time for you, the response is, "THAT'S WHAT I TYPED THE FIRST TIME!" Obviously not.

A customer, attempting to show that he's knowledgeable about computers...

We have a customer here who recently bought his own domain. His catch phrase everytime he has a problem is, "Do you think I could add a MIDI file to fix that?"

My family got our first computer when I was 14, back in 1995. It was a then state-of-the-art Packard Bell 486 running Win 3.11. One of their friends set it up for them, and this guy was the type that thought he knew everything about everything but really didn't. He had us all gather round as he showed us how to turn it on and off. He told us to never, under any circumstances, turn on the monitor or the printer until we heard the "little beep."

The beep would sound once the computer checked its memory and everything checked out okay. My parents followed this routine religiously for years, honestly believing the computer would sustain damage if they didn't do everything in the proper order. I still laugh about this.

I work at the help desk of a university.

I once received an email that included the line:

By the way, what does BTW stand for?

A friend of mine was recently typing up his resume and listing his experience with different operating systems. When the Word spelling/grammar checker came across "Windows ME and Linux," it was quick to suggest that "Windows, Linux, and I" would be more appropriate.


I work for a large company. One day one of our servers had a serious crash, and the tech working on it needed assistance with the recovery process. He went to the CIO and asked him what he should do.

The CIO replied, "If a server has a hard drive and some ROM, and when you push the 'on' button on the monitor the screen at least flickers, then there's no possible way there could be any error on the machine whatsoever!"

I have a friend who isn't very computer literate. Whenever she saves her work, she does it five times, one right after another, just to "make sure it will actually be saved."

Once I had a guy bring in two polaroid pictures of screen shots of his computer. He claimed they were "before" and "after" shots and wanted us to diagnose his computer problems by looking at the pictures. They looked the same to us -- but we kept them and posted them in the back area with a $1000 dollar reward to anyone who could diagnose the problem that way.

Cut from our email support log:

This morning I tried to sign on and for a purple screen. After several tried with different browsers then I got the message you were down. I tried to exit. It went to a background with huge pixels and stuck. I mean no amount of rebooting would get rid of it. Finally I had to reset my wallpaper.

I had a guy in my office who decided he didn't like his wall paper. He was a Windows 95 user with a policy editor, and he couldn't figure out how every time the machine restarted, the same wall paper came back. His first step was to blame the person that worked on the opposite shift from him, and the second was to remove the offending file.

Being a not so experienced user of four years, he decided to restart the machine in DOS, change to the Windows directory, and type in "del *.*".

Our store had a few demo computers running so customers could try them out. I kept an eye on one guy who went to the DOS prompt and started viewing EXE files with the "TYPE" command. I watched him doing it for over ten minutes, after which my curiosity was too much to resist. I went over and asked him what he was doing.

When I was in college, I worked four hours a week as a tutor for an introductory computer class. Once I was helping a student out who was having trouble using Microsoft Excel. He couldn't figure out how to print out cell formulas (a common problem). After I showed him what to do, he hit the print button, then sat there and stared blankly at the screen. After a few seconds, he turned to me and asked, "Do I have to go get it from the printer now?"

A former manager told me he wanted to get a new Excel spreadsheet, but after opening an old one and deleting the data, the formatting was still there.

"You mean other than selecting 'File' and then 'New'?" I asked tactfully.

I started up Excel, and a blank spreadsheet opened up. "Yeah, that!" he exclaimed. "How do I get a new spreadsheet like that?"

"Well," I said, choosing my words carefully, "just open Excel, and you get a blank sheet automatically, or if you already have a spreadsheet open, just go to 'File' and select 'New.'"

Happy as a clam, he walked away, and I just shook my head and laughed to myself.

I work for an ad agency. A customer of ours sells peripheral hardware for computers. They asked me to post all the latest drivers on the web site we made for them.

Before I could say another word, my genius co-worker arranged for a professional photographer and two days of studio time for photographing the drivers.

I was working at a help desk, and, thankfully, my co-worker took this particular call. A man nervously called saying that he couldn't print his proposal due out that day, because WordPerfect was reporting an error that his fonts were missing. My co-worker told the gentleman that we'd send somebody right up. Apparently there was quite a back log, though, and no one could get there fast enough for him. He had continually called throughout the day asking for his call to be expedited. Finally, at the end of the day, his secretary called and asked, urgently, "Could you PLEASE send somebody up as quickly as possible? He opened the computer with a screwdriver and is looking for his missing fonts."

I received a call from a friend who was fairly new to computing. He had bought a new game and was trying to install it on his PC, but the installation failed for some reason. So I asked what instructions he had, and he seemed to have some written installation notes, so I decided to talk him through the installation.

Step one, copy all files to c:\windows\fonts.

After I explained what fonts were, he was less than happy at having spent $20 on something that was not a game. He didn't even have a word processor package on his computer at that time.

Around 1999, I worked for a Norwegian computer company that built computers and installed software for the customer. As a standard procedure, we always checked the hardware properties just in case something was not working.

The guy I worked with used to brag about his education at a computer college. I was self-taught, just by playing around and testing things. Anyway, one time I was fiddling with a system and noticed there was a yellow mark on the sound card icon that indicated it was not functioning properly.

Strange, I thought. That'd have taken about 45 minutes, so I started poking around in the system. Lo and behold, there was a simple conflict error. Another piece of hardware was allocated the same address. I manually chose a new one, and poof, everything worked.

My co-worker was amazed. This would save him hours of work every day, as the error occurred on about one third of the machines. His education didn't impress me so much after that.

Once I went out to a customer site to investigate what was reported to be a grinding sound coming from the hard drive.

I lifted the stack of interoffice envelopes that were stacked beside the system and turned them so that the tie strings were no longer hanging into the fan. All my calls should be this easy.

I was an IBM tech at the time. A customer called in with a complex problem. During the course of the call I could hear, in the background, a screeching wail. I tried to ignore it, but it was distracting, and later I began to get worried about what sort of thing was going on there. About five minutes into the call I considered putting the customer on hold and calling the police when the customer asked if I was wondering what the noise in the background was. She said, "I work in an opera school, and that particular student is excessively terrible at singing." I had to put the customer on hold until I stopped laughing.

I worked as a computer tech for an insurance company. One day I received a call from supervisor on the sales floor.

The phone went dead. I put the phone down, and it rang again.

I work for a large ISP. In the middle of a call, suddenly there was a piercing high pitched beeping noise in the background.

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

I work for technical helpline. When our lines are busy, customers can leave messages in our voicemail. The system asks for the customer to leave contact info, machine details, and description of the problem. Here's one message I got:

"There's something wrong with my computer. I really can't tell you what the problem is or what the machine does, but there definitely is something wrong with it. Could you please call me back soon?"

I hope the customer got the psychic message I sent him about how to fix the problem. I sure didn't get his psychic message about the problem and his phone number.

When I was a college senior in 1988, I was flipping through the Boston Globe want ads. On one page was a job posting for a programmer with "a minimum of five years of Macintosh programming experience."

I sometimes wonder if they found a qualified candidate. The Mac had only been on the market since 1984.

Back in 1998, I was going through the employment section of the newspaper and found this:

"Applicant must have 5 years experience with Windows 95."

Turned out she was watching Home Shopping Club and got our tech support number mixed up with their number and waited on hold for 45 minutes as 'Gateway Radio' played Top 40 songs with intermittent "Have your customer ID or serial number" and "Be sure to have your computer on and are sitting in front of it" messages.

An elderly woman called, furious.

Isn't it wonderful when they get vague? Turns out she clicked on the "Help" button in Word or something three days prior and was waiting for us to call her...despite the fact that her computer had no modem and was not near a telephone line.

Once I received a call from a customer who was obviously using a cell phone. There was some slight noise in the background, but I didn't think anything of it. He said he couldn't remotely connect to his company's network.

I am head of tech support for a small ISP in northeast Georgia. One day a man called Internet Tech Support wanting us to step him through the process of fixing his joystick. One of our techs told him that we could not fix his joystick problem. The man got irate and wanted to talk to the manager, me. I told him the same thing. He ended the conversation by saying that we as an ISP would never make in the computer repair business with that kind of attitude.

While working as a consultant in the eighties, I wrote a simple dBase program for a client. She phone me a few weeks later to say that it had stopped saving data.

I dropped by her office, and asked her to enter a record while I watched. She typed the data, then pressed Ctrl-Q. This conversation ensued:

The "little light" was the hard drive light.

I worked for a time with a large Mechanical Systems contractor. They had need of a new estimating program and since I had some programming experience I accepted the challenge. After working long and hard on a Microsoft Access database that would fit the bill, I invited the owner of the firm to preview the new system.

As he came into the office, he sat down at the computer and I told him to click on the "Estimating" icon. Noticing the blank look on his face, I pointed to the correct icon and said, "Click on this with your cursor." His eyes dropped to the keyboard and began scanning feverishly. (I still do not know what he was looking for!) Patiently, I pointed to the mouse on the pad next to him and said that it could be used to move the cursor and click on the icon. He looked relieved, then flipped the mouse over and began moving the ball with his fingertip. I turned the mouse back over and showed him how to move the cursor. As I returned control of the mouse to him, he began to move the cursor all over the screen. Suddenly he exclaimed, "This is great. Did you really do all of this yourself?" Of course, I accepted praise for the basic workings of the operating system and proceeded to spend over one hour on a demo that should have taken about ten minutes.

I was giving instructions to a caller once, but his son was the one physically sitting at the computer, so all my instructions had to be relayed. Here's a snippet of the conversation:

The really scary part was what his son said then:

Do we really want to know what goes on at that house?

Back to the days when I worked in technical support, I had a customer call me with a problem. I took his name and information, then asked him what the problem was. He got angry and started to yell at me, saying, "You should know that by now." When I told him that all I had was his username, password, and phone number, he assumed I had connected to his computer via the Internet and had complete and total access to his computer. When I explained to him that that wasn't possible, he was angered even more and said, "Then what the hell am I paying you for! This is technical support! You're supposed to be able to fix my computer!" He hung up.

I did tech support for the now defunct Zelos Digital Learning. We published and produced CD-ROM educational multimedia titles. One caller asked if he could get a copy of our "3-D Tutor" software on floppy disks. I told him the software would take up roughly 450 floppies' worth of space. "So will you do it?" he asked.

While working in tech support, I received a call from a user who asked me to install some piece of software on her machine. While installing, there was a bit of a wait so I tried to make small talk. I said, "This machine is slow, isn't it?" She replied, "Well, I have a friend who has Quicken on her machine. If I install it on this machine, will it run faster?"

At work, each employee has a home directory on a UNIX file system. The home directories are sorted into subdirectories, one per group within the organization. Recently I moved from one group to another and consequently needed my UNIX account moved to the new area.

Finally I was informed that the move had taken place. I logged in and discovered that instead of copying the contents of my old home directory to my new home directory, the copy started one level up. So inside my new home directory was actually a copy of the whole directory for my old group. Basically I had a copy of all the home directories of all the members of my old group right inside my new home directory. (On top of that, my old home directory was never removed from the old location.) Fortunately, among the many home directory copies I had was a copy of my own. I fixed the problem myself. Good thing I'm a scrupulous person.

From the MySQL online manual:

21.1.1 How to convert mSQL tools for MySQL

1. Run the shell script msql2mysql on the source. This requires the replace program, which is distributed with MySQL.
2. Compile.
3. Fix all compiler errors.

A user came into my office this morning. Apparently, her computer had popped up a message that included the words, "See your System Administrator," so she came down to find out what I wanted.

When a colleague of mine first ran across the original PKARC program (this was a while ago) he thought it was the greatest thing. He figured that he could reduce each of his files to a single byte by re-running PKARC on a .ARC file enough times.

I couldn't convince him otherwise because, lacking a detailed knowledge of software compression techniques, I had only my own gut instinct to rely on. That and the fact that, if he were correct, it would mean that the number of different possible files was limited to 256.

A guy I worked for was kind of a penny pincher. One of his disk space saving techniques was to compress compressed compressions. He would use the product that compresses EXE files internally so they automatically expand when executed, then zip a whole bunch of files including those, then store the zip file on a DriveSpace compressed volume. I think his eventual goal was to get all his files down to 1 byte.

One of the managers of marketing in our company is among the most clueless computer users I've ever had the misfortune of working with. It wouldn't be so bad except that he's so dead set against actually learning anything. He refuses, for example, to be taught how to pull pictures off his digital camera or print out images, instead requiring others to do these simple tasks for him.

An argument could be made that this is all for the better. One day, when he was feeling uncharacteristically adventurous, he sought to take a 5 meg movie file -- a short commercial advertising our company's services -- and make it smaller by increasing the compression level or reducing the resolution. After some initial assistance, he amazed us all by actually figuring out how to accomplish this, then emailed me the result, along with the comment:

ok..i reduced it itdown to 80 bytes....

I replied with the following:

I have to admit to doubting that - this email is longer than 80 bytes.

("Longer than 80 bytes" of course included my signature file.) The great kicker to this story came in the next reply:

yes..i meant 800 bytes..damn this keyboard!

The customer called in and indeed bought the MS Works suite. Two hours later, I got the same customer on the phone again.

Below is an email is received while working as a webmaster for a mapping company.


I work for a help desk. The other day, a user was receiving an error message of some kind, and I was trying to walk her through taking a screenshot of the error and sending it to me in an email.

When she opened up Paint and selected "paste," she exclaimed, "Oh no! I got the error again!"

I'm an occasional consultant for a group of lawyers who spend all day every day in Word and WordPerfect, completely ignoring the rest of Windows and other applications. One day the secretary called me and told me she was worried they were running out of disk space on the server and wanted to start saving space.

I told her all about archiving, zip, WinZip, etc. At her insistence, I helped her download and install WinZip. I walked her through the process of using the system, creating archives, decompressing them, etc. A week later she called again, in a panic.

Cautionary Note: In some versions of Word, merely opening a WinZip file in Word will corrupt the file. Thank Microsoft that computers are not boring.

A friend of mine had just found a working 386. He said the end of the monitor cable was missing a few pins, but he was going to fix it by gluing new pins into the holes.

How about a time machine?

I work as a lab proctor in a computer lab on campus. One day a gentleman was having trouble editing his document, so I went over to his computer to see what the problem was. He was trying to type his paper in at the DOS prompt.

For some reason, all our classroom's computers' sound cards stopped working. We determined that someone had deleted the sound drivers off all the computers, so we told the teacher.

Ever since the first day at my typing class I suspected my teacher was an idiot. To test the theory, my classmate and I went around and unplugged various network plugs to see if the teacher could figure it out. After about thirty minutes of watching her struggle to get the network working, we plugged it back in. She thought she was a genius for getting it back online.

The next day we unplugged the network again. She got so discouraged that she gave us a written test on the basics of computers. I felt pretty good, thinking I'd get an easy A on the test. Nope. Two of the questions:

"How do you produce a computer saved?"

I decided she was asking how to load a saved file. I was right.

"How do you key a dash?"

I almost fell down laughing. I answered "hit the dash button." I got this one wrong. The answer was "hit the dash button twice." With more questions like this, I ended up failing the test.

I was on a call at the airport when the airport manager came in and said, "I can't log on to the city network! It won't accept my password! And it's been like this for three days!"

I went in to his office while asking the usual questions about checking the caps lock, spelling, etc. When we got to his computer I asked him to try logging in. When the Netware Login came up the username was "admin". Someone from IT had been in and done work on his computer using the admin account, which would come up as the default username in the login dialog until another user logged in. He said he didn't know you could change the username and had just been using his regular password. So for three days he hadn't been able to do any work and hadn't bothered to make a phone call to the help desk to try and resolve it. I guess that's why managers get the big bucks.

A couple walked into our computer store and told me they were coming to get their computer that had been here for repair. I asked them their name and looked for their computer on the shelves but couldn't find it. As I was franctically searching for the repair invoice in our customer database, they kept saying how mad they were because it took us so long to repair their computer. I finally told them that I couldn't find any trace of their computer.

Last I ever saw of them.

I provide tech support over the phones for a company. We don't support Windows 98 and usually refer Win 98 calls to the Microsoft tech support line.

Recently, we upgraded all our users from WordPerfect 5.1 to 6.0. One user was so happy that she decided she'd never use WordPerfect 5.1 again. So she went into 5.1 and deleted all her files. A short while later we got a call. "I can't find any of my files!" she complained. "What did you do with them?"

One of my clients called one day saying that a bunch of her folders were missing when she tried to open documents in Microsoft Word. She was smart enough to check trough Windows Explorer to see if the folders were still present, which they were. After several attempts over the phone to find the missing folders my service manager decided to send me over to take care of the problem. When I arrived, I asked the lady to duplicate the problem. She started Word and clicked on 'Open'. She then pointed out that some of her Folders were there but not all of them. As politely as possible, I pointed out that the scroll bar on the bottom of that window was not all the way to the left. When she moved it left, her missing folders appeared as expected. Needless to say she was very embarrassed since she had been using computers for over four years.

My mom wanted to make a card for her sister, so I spend over two hours walking her through the procedure.

I own a computer retail business that I ran out of my house. I had sold a PC to a friend of mine and then had a support call shortly thereafter. It seems that every time my friend would start his machine, he would get this error message to "Be sure to keep your system clean." So he asked me to recommend some virus software to him. I reluctantly suggested McAfee or Norton Anti-Virus but was skeptical that this would help. The guy called back a few days later and said the virus software wasn't working, and he had even gone so far as to open the case and vacuum the inside of his PC and wash the outside with Windex, but still the system was giving this crazy error message that neither he nor I had ever heard of. So I suggested he bring the machine over for me to look at. He did, and when I looked at it, I discovered that this error message was actually a Microsoft Word document that the guy had never closed. Somehow it kept appearing on start up.

My friend owned a pool business. The document consisted of instructions for how to clean a filter system.

I had a call from a user with a problem with his spell checker. I walked him through fixing the problem and later sent a follow up email, asking if the problem was gone.

I got this back:

Thanks for inquiring, the spell chicker works fine.

I once saw a person with a spreadsheet in front of him. The spreadsheet had a few lists of numbers, and he was adding them manually by punching them into a calculator.

Our former accounts manager was a very "traditional" accountant and didn't trust computers at all. So he insisted that his staff check the "=SUM()" formulae on their spreadsheets with a desk calculator to confirm that the computer was telling the truth.

During an Excel course:

In our company, we use Lotus Notes as our database. I am an executive assistant and am involved with determining how to handle or solve problems our field personnel have with the database.

One person was telling me that he had lost one of his databases.

Apparently all he had done was rearrange his databases and only needed to scroll down to find it. Needless to say, I had been laughing the entire time.

A very irate dentist called to complain that the custom office package which I had written was extremely slow.

I was able to calm him down and offered to rewrite any portion of the software that wasn't executing correctly, which he finally agreed to. That afternoon I sat with the receptionist to watch her use the software and see where the slowdown occurred.

She began entering her first appointment:

S............... m............... i............... t.............. h............

I have never seen hunting and pecking go so agonizingly slow. No wonder it took thirty minutes to enter an appointment.

I was helping my friend with her computer once. I asked her to move a window that was partially obscuring another. I watched her as she resized the overlying window by pulling the lower left corner way down, then resizing it again by pulling the upper right corner so that it was the proper size again.

I showed her how to move windows around by the title bar, and she was amazed.

I work for an online banking service as a sales and service support representative. Part of our marketing included having our number on customer's bank statements. Needless to say, we received many calls unrelated to our service as customers would dial the first toll-free number they saw on their statement. Most of the people tho had called in error quickly understood and were content to let us transfer them to their local branch or just let us give them the correct number. One elderly lady took some extra convincing, and after five minutes of explaining that she had called the wrong area, reluctantly accepted my offer of giving her the correct number.

I hear four telephone keypad tones come through my headset.

After dialing-in remotely to a field user's computer, I activated PCAnywhere's chat window to communicate with the user since she didn't have a dedicated phone line. I typed, "Barbara, if you're there, just type back." After about ten seconds, my chat window started displaying, "BACK" . . . "BACK" . . . "BACK" . . . "BACK"

We sell an add-on for a popular flight simulation game. A customer called and was very concerned about the message telling her that she needed a license in order to fly any of the planes in the game. After a moment's confusion I realized that she was referring to the license agreement that comes with just about all commercial software. I explained that no, we just needed her to agree not to resell the product without a license.

What amazed me the most about the call was not that she had misunderstood the license agreement, but that she'd actually read it in the first place. I mean, who reads those things?

Understandably, I was shocked.

I put him on hold. For about three minutes. I hate to be screamed at.

I work in the internal tech support department for our bank's computers. Computers, mind you. Tech support for the computers.

Several years ago, we had an intern who was none too swift. One day he was typing and said to a secretary, "I'm almost out of typing paper. What do I do?"

"Just use copier machine paper," she told him. With that, he took his last remaining blank piece of paper, put it on the photocopier and proceeded to make five blank copies.

I once got an especially helpful reply to a question I asked on Microsoft's on-line tech support service. I wrote back to thank them for a complete and concise reply and said how much I appreciated it.

The next day I had a response:

We are looking in to the problem and will contact you with a solution as soon as possible.

One man complained that a message that appeared when installing Microsoft Excel said that the installation would take thirty minutes...and it only took ten. This is the first time anyone has ever complained that the wait was too short.

Turned out, the user was playing Lunar Lander and crashed his spaceship.

Someone needed help installing a game from a diskette.

I was at my fiancee's house for Thanksgiving, and her father was filling out a form on the computer. He was new to the wonders of Windows, and so didn't quite understand the "Your computer has performed an illegal operation" error message. I heard the exclamation from the living room: "What? It is NOT illegal for me to fill out this form!"

I once saw a student type, "Please change my tutorial times," into a computer. Surprise, surprise, it didn't work!

A guy said whenever he typed the letter 'O', his Mac acted as though he typed Command-O. I told him I didn't think our INIT could do that and suggested that maybe the Command key was stuck down. He replied, "****, this call is costing me money!" He had a point, so I asked how he found out our product was causing the problem. He said he did an automatic conflict resolution test with his startup manager, which restarted his Mac five times in a row and identified our INIT as the culprit. Fair enough. Did he attempt to duplicate the problem after each startup? No? So how did the startup manager know what it was looking for? He said he told the startup manager what the problem was by typing the words CORRUPT KEYBOARD in the Notes field. I tried to find a polite was to say that startup managers don't read English yet, but it wasn't polite enough to prevent a rebuttal composed entirely of cuss words. Maybe if he'd typed that into his startup manager....

Since I teach nights at a local community college, I get a lot of professional programmers in my classes upgrading their education. One student, who was one such person, attended every lecture and smiled and nodded and took notes. But he only turned in his first assignment. The results of his first test were horrid. Out of curiosity, I asked my wife, who barely knew how to turn a computer on much less program one, to take the test (which was mostly true/false and multiple choice questions). My wife scored higher than this guy.

The semester's end came, and he flubbed his final, too. A few weeks later, I got a call from him complaining about his 'F'. I pointed out he hadn't turned in any of his assignments, and those counted 75% of the grade.

"Did you hear me say something besides what the other students heard?" I asked.

"Well, I thought my test grades would carry me," he replied.

It had turned out his company had paid for him to take the course. Since he failed, it suddenly came to the attention of his employer that he didn't know how to program, and now his job was in jeopardy. As I hung up the phone, I mused that his company shouldn't fire him. It was a perfect match: a programmer who couldn't program and a company that couldn't figure out sooner that he couldn't.

During 12th grade, I read up a book called "Stupid Mac Tricks." One of the tricks in it was how to replace the Mac's startup screen. As a joke, I made a graphic of a black-bordered white box with a gray background. The text in the box read, "This computer will self-destruct in ten seconds. Thank you, Apple Computer Co." I made this the startup screen for a computer in my high school's computer lab.

The next day an "out of order" sign was taped to the monitor. The lab attendants usually wrote the reason on the bottom edge of the paper, so I leaned in to read what had been written there. It said, "Will self-destruct."

A call came in and the customer said that his computer was acting funny. The customer said that he shouldn't be having these problems, because the computer was reading that it was "Ok." The tech pondered a moment, and came to the realization that the display actually was "zero K" -- the customer's disk was full.

Back in the 1980s, my university had sponsered a "computer show" for various vendors including IBM and Radio Shack. IBM had just announced the IBM PC, complete with dual low density floppy disks and standard 64K RAM, expandable to 640K. A very pretty blonde woman was operating the booth and was eager to answer my every question.

She showed me a line in a manual: "After booting, BASIC will print '64k free'."

I helped a customer with a UNIX command that wasn't working once. He was entering the full path to an executable on the command line but typed an extra slash in the middle. I told him to retype the command without the extra slash.

A tech once calmed a man who was enraged because his computer "had told him he was bad and an invalid." The tech patiently explained that the computer's "bad command" and "invalid" responses shouldn't be taken personally.

A customer needed help setting up an application. The tech referred him to the local Egghead.

When told that Egghead was a software store, the man replied, "Oh! I thought you meant for me to find a couple of geeks."

I am a tech for HP Calc support and I got a call last week from a lady who wanted to send in her husband's calculator to be "overhauled." When I asked her what was wrong with it she replied, "Oh, nothing, it works fine; he just wanted to get it looked at and have some upkeep maintenance done on it." I guess she wanted the 10,000 calculation tune-up.

About six years ago I was starting to get into 4th Dimension (on the Macintosh) and was setting up a multi-user database for a client. I got everything setup as a single user system for the customer because they didn't want to allocate resources to the database until debugging was through, etc. So, all was fine and dandy as a single user system. The customer called me back three days later and was very frustrated trying to get multi-user working. Everything seemed ok in his setup, but he couldn't use both "machines" at once because the other user kept "messing up the screen." Turns out that he just plugged two keyboards into the same Macintosh and thought that meant multi-user.

There was a fellow who set his type color to black, just after setting the background color to black. Took him a couple days of blind typing to get things back again.

I just had a call from a woman who read to me everything in the "About Box" for Microsoft Works for the Macintosh. Her frustration was that every time she tried to click on the user's name in the about box it disappeared! "How do I get rid of this woman's name," she asked? "Well," I explained, "that's the name of the author of the program; you can't get rid of it." "What?! You mean every time I startup Works I'm gonna have to look at my husband's ex-wife's name?"

I heard this old story from someone who worked for a French company. They had a problem with a program on punched cards written for them by a US subsidiary. The programs never worked when loaded in France but the US systems house swore blind that they did at their end. Eventually, in exasperation, someone followed the working set of cards from the US to France. At French customs, he observed a customs official remove a few cards at random from the deck. Apparently, the French customs are entitled to remove a sample from any bulk item (such as grain), so a few cards from a large consignment shouldn't matter, should it?

A customer called a desktop publishing outfit and wanted a poster made from a color slide. It was a picture of the caller's recently deceased father with a couple of his fishing buddies in a boat. The caller mentioned there was a slight problem -- in the picture her father was facing away from the camera. She wanted the photo expert to flip the negative so you could see his face. When it was explained that this would only provide a mirror image of the back of his head she became irate and screamed into the phone, "If you can take the pimples off those glamour girls why can't you put a face on my father!"

A few months ago a lady started to call our tech support department over and over again. She couldn't get a DXF file to import into our 3D program. After exhausting the tech support pool, I was asked to see if I could help this lady. I promptly asked her to send me the file that she wanted to bring into our 3D program. After receiving the file I look at it and found that it was a 2D DXF file. I called this woman to inform her that she could not import a 2D file. She responded by screaming that she wanted her money back if our program couldn't automatically make a 3D object out of her 2D CAD drawings.

We received a fax from a customer last year. It was a tech support question about our accounting software package:

I had what sounded like a 90 year old lady call me once:

This customer was calling from a medical center.

One customer kept reporting a problem with her system beeping at her. This would happen (at times) without a user at the computer and at no specific times. The random timing, of course, made the troubleshooting difficult. Our decision was to create a problem report and have her call in when it was occurring or had occurred.

One month later, she called back. It turned out that a pager had been dropped under the desk where the computer was situated.

I used to service bank teller workstations. One day we received a call that a workstation was beeping. I took a look and couldn't find anything wrong. I cleaned the keyboard, just in case it was a stuck key.

The next day, she called back and complained that the computer was beeping again. This time I replaced the keyboard. But the problem didn't go away -- she called back the next day.

I noticed that she called at the same time of day each day, so I asked if there was something she did every day that might made the computer beep. She said there wasn't and that the computer would beep for about 15 seconds and then stop.

The next day I happened to be in the bank for an unrelated issue. At 3pm, the beepin started, and I went over to track it down. It seemed to be coming from the keyboard until I looked a little further in the desk drawer. There was a digital alarm clock in there.

One day I downloaded a game that my sister really liked to see. Unfortunately, due to the economic crisis here in Indonesia, bandwidth to outside the country is not much, and the download times are large. My sister was growing more and more impatient by the minute.

I am a software installer for a large healthcare information systems company that produces products for the AS/400. On a recent install, shortly after going live with the product, I needed to copy a new file to the live environment. In order to do this I needed to have all the users off the system. Rather than just shutting it down, I sent a message to all the terminals that read, "Please sign off by 17.15. If you do not sign off voluntarily, your job will be terminated. Thanks." I sent the message and about five minutes later, I received a call from the most irate ICU nurse I have ever talked to. She demanded to know who I was and who I worked for. I explained to her that I was employed by the hospital to install their new system. She basically ranted and raved for a couple of minutes and told me that my message was the most obnoxious and rude message she had ever read. She then hung up on me. I asked two of my colleagues to read the message and both of them thought I was quite polite. After all, I did say "please" and "thank you." I had the system down for about an hour and then brought it back up. I called the emergency room to make sure that the fix I had put in was working. The nurse informed me that it had but then asked me if she were going to be fired. "Excuse me", I said. She asked again, "Am I going to be fired?" I told her I didn't know what she was talking about and then she told me that she wasn't the only one worried. She then explained she had been on the system when it was taken down and she thought that meant losing her job! I couldn't believe it. I explained to her that the term "job" was a computer term meaning the program you were currently in. It suddenly dawned on me why the ICU nurse had been so rude and why, I found out later, the nursing supervisor and the head of Information Systems had been beeped! I send out a message over the system apologizing. The next morning, I ran into the CEO and CFO of the hospital who thought the whole thing was hilarious and took to calling me the Terminator. They told me that anyone that stupid deserved to be fired.

I took Fractint in to the computer lab at my high school ('286's, VGA, mongo HD's, brain dead supervisor), and this is the conversation I had:

Rather than try to explain the concept of a moderated binaries group, I went through proper channels and brought in a hard copy (which, for all she knows, I typed myself) of the pertinent docs.

It's been a week so far.

I once read a short story where the villain sent email to the goodguys, in which he gloats about his escape. He tells all about his evil plan and says that money must be deposited in his bank account by clicking on a "deposit-only" icon (which consisted of three ASCII symbols embedded in the email message). He then went on to say that the email message itself couldn't be used as evidence, because it was self-destructed by an "auto delete" feature "triggered simply by accessing these last two paragraphs."

Obviously, this novice writer hadn't done his homework.

Once I helped a user whose folders were all named "New Folder." There was a "New Folder" and a "New Folder (2)" and so on up to "New Folder (35)." He opened up one of them, and there were more "New Folders." And inside those were more. He had a series of handwritten sheets that indexed each of his files for him. He'd look up a file he wanted to find, and it would say, for example, "New Folder (22) - New Folder (5) - New Folder (8)."

I mentioned that he could rename the folders to reflect what data they contained. The user thanked me but assured me that the system he was currently using worked quite well.

I live in Italy. I'm sort of knowledgeable with computers, so friends and relations often come to me when they have a problem. One day, my brother-in-law told me his brother's laptop wouldn't work anymore and asked if I can help.

He drove over one day and came into my office with the laptop. He told me the machine hadn't been able to boot for the last three days, though it worked perfectly before then. I switched it on, and it started going. Then it froze. I told him there's probably some corrupted driver, and the first thing to do is back up his documents. I booted from a floppy and checked his folders. When I looked into the Windows directory, I noticed a bunch of files named "A," "B," "C," "1," "2," and so on -- and a few Italian translations of original file names, like FINESTRE.EXE instead of WINDOWS.EXE.

We got computers in our school in Finland around 1989-1990. They were old CGA/EGA PCs with no hard drives, and two DD floppy drives. I was 12 at the time and was trying to save a file I had created in Paintbrush. A younger student observed. Because my grasp of MS-DOS technology wasn't as good as it is now, I kept trying to write the filename in the "directory" box, and of course it kept failing. The other student saw this and suggested that maybe it needed an English filename instead of a Finnish one.

An executive secretary, who was a beginning computer user learning on a PC clone, got lazy about naming her files. Instead of using descriptive file names to name her files, she started her own system. She numbered the files (1, 2, 3, etc) and kept a notebook listing the file number and file description. This system worked well enough for her, getting her up to over file #5000. And it would have continued to work for her had disaster not struck -- she lost the notebook. Each and every file had to be opened and renamed. Luckily for her, she was an executive's secretary who had been there forever, so her job was safe.

A user once wrote in to demand that we (an ISP) switch servers from a SparcStation costing as much as a small house to a "superior" $5000 Win 95 machine, or he and all his friends would quit. His letter closed with the line, "Don't fight me on this. I never lose." He lost.

I work at a University's computer cluster.

The next day the student came in with the JPEG file, renamed to have a .BMP extension.

I have a friend who isn't the smartest computer guy in the world. One day my computer was crashing due to a file in my Explorer directory. I asked my friend if he could find the file on his computer and send it over to me.

He asked where it was, and I told him, and then he asked how to find it, and I told him to start up Explorer and right-click on it to send it via ICQ.

After about ten minutes, I got an incoming file request:

SHORTCUT TO EXPLORER - a two kilobyte file.

I asked him why he sent this, and he replied, "Oh, I didn't feel like looking around for it. You can just find it yourself in my Explorer."

A quote from someone on an IRC chat room:

Overheard at the office:

A columnist from an Italian newspaper needed some training on our story editing software. I went into his office and trained him to the very basic features of the system.

Ah! He wants the computer to write the articles for him!

Ok, he reads too much science fiction. How can I get rid of this moron? Idea!

I once had a computer science professor who couldn't understand how overhead projectors worked, despite her many years of teaching experience. One day she discovered that the focus knob made the viewing area on the screen bigger or smaller. Then she put a transparency on the thing, and I could scarcely contain myself when I witnessed her trying to adjust it.

She'd look back at the screen and use the focus knob to focus it properly. Then, when it was, she'd turn back to the projector and crank the same knob in order to make the viewing area bigger -- naturally throwing it all out of focus. Then she'd turn back to the board, realize it was out of focus, then adjust the focus with the focus knob (aided by the students, who had started to offer verbal advice -- "a little more," "too far," "right there," and so on). Then, the focus fine-tuned, she'd turn back again and crank the focus knob a bunch of times to make the image bigger. She did this probably three times before she realized that making the image bigger also meant throwing it out of focus. I don't know why it didn't register that what she was doing didn't make an ounce of sense.

A co-worker once thought he was being electrocuted when his new beeper was set to vibrate, and he was fixing his reading lamp when it went off. This same person accidentally shot himself in the foot while he was being strangled by his rental car's automatic seatbelt. It was on his honeymoon -- he was returning the vehicle to the drop-off and was unloading his pistol en route. (A story in itself.) He was too far away from the ticket machine and couldn't back up because he had already driven over the spikes. He had his pistol in one hand, still loaded, and opened the door to get his ticket. The automatic seatbelt did its thing. It pushed him to the floor and somehow wrapped itself around his neck when he closed the door. It began to strangle him, and while he was trying to reach the emergency release, the gun went off, putting a hole in his shoe, his foot, and the floor board.

I write HTML. My supervisor asked me to modify an imagemap so that a formerly inactive link could become active. Studying the positions of the links above and below it in the image, I added a rectangle area to the imagemap. She was greatly impressed and asked how I knew which numbers to enter.

Twenty minutes later, I was still explaining the basics of Cartesian geometry.

Once I worked as an operator on an old IBM 370/Model 138 mainframe at a local college. My position had been reclassified to fall into a new area outside of the I/S staff. One day, my new supervisor entered the room and stared at the air conditioning unit directly behind me. He studied the two flashing lights for a few moments and asked what job it was currently processing. I killed my career by replying, "Actually, sir, it's cooling the room. The computer is over here."

Submitted from a completely different reader is this reversal of the above anecdote:

A Sun server in a tall rack-mount cabinet was installed in an early 19th-century building in the only available place: the corner of a conference room. A distinguished faculty member was ushered into the conference room one day, where he would grade some tests, read some applications, or something of that sort. After a while the server crashed. When the techies went into the conference room, Professor X explained, "It got cold in here, so I turned off the air conditioner."

One morning at a former workplace at which I did PC support, the Lotus Notes server went down because of a hardware problem -- the fourth in three months or so from failed hard disks. Later that day, after the newest dead drive had been replaced and the server brought back up, the network administrator told me about a discussion he had with the IT manager. The IT manager had asked if we could "schedule server failures for more convenient times in the future." He was dead serious.

I got a call from an angry customer who complained that we had sold him a dead computer because his computer wouldn't start up. Come to find out, he had been trying to start it with the keyboard lock a car.

I once worked at a local newspaper, typesetting ads for them. Training was non-existent, so I could almost forgive the sales reps for their stupidity. They worked in outlying offices in other towns, with all the offices in ISDN contact with ours. We frequently had to print out proofs of ads to their office printers for approval. Almost as frequently, we had to phone them up to ask them to put paper in their printers.

I couldn't forgive the IT manager for his stupidity, although some of my workmates made money from it, by selling the working 17" monitors and 2 gigabyte hard drives that he threw in the dumpster. He would regularly come out with pronouncements like, "You have to all delete your wallpaper -- it's making the server crash," or, "We can't let you have internal email -- you'd clog up the ISDN lines."

His most concentrated act of idiocy (other than removing Quark XPress from all our Macs and replacing it with a non-industry-standard, ten year out-of-date piece of "graphic design" software) was asking the Studio staff to delete the contents of their hard drives (1 to 2 gigabytes each for five staff members), because the company couldn't afford more hard drive space. He thought it was cheaper to ask the entire creative team to delete about one year's worth of work each than to buy more drive space. After all, they could always redo that work if they needed to, couldn't they?

Back to those sales reps. I'm not saying they were all brainless bimbos, but one of their managers came in on a Saturday when only three of us were working there and the building was all locked up. She stood outside for about ten minutes, and eventually phoned us on her mobile asking why we didn't answer the door.

It turned out that she hadn't been pressing the door buzzer -- she'd been pressing the light switch. She didn't seem to notice that the porch light above her head went on and off whenever she "rang the doorbell."

From one of my smarter clients: