The Computer Whisperer

COMPUTERWHISPERER

My dears, for many years I have laboured under the tyranny of silicon, woman and girl, battling the forces of Intel to bring order to the chaos which is personal computing. I have hewn the mighty forests of Novell and delved the mines of Microsoft. My wandering star has led me through the valley of CPM to the heights of Oracle via Linux lakes and OS/2 shores.

As a humble scout of the Web, a weaver of mysteries of the first and even second circles, I have many a tale to tell that would freeze your blood or perchance light fire in your eyes, and occasionally crinkle your lips with amusement and wry amazement. Truly you would not believe the half of it!

In days of yore when this technology was still fresh and new, it is the unassailable truth that when I asked a colleague to copy a disk they did it on the photocopier.

I once worked in a central London location where the Circle Line ran beneath the building and caused power spikes and cuts at random intervals. On a day of a power cut I raced up and down flights of stairs making sure everyone knew how to recover draft files when the power came back on. A little later, in a corner I found a colleague in tears. She had spent several hours working on a document of infinite complexity and had not been saving as she went along. All was lost!

I droned on about how to get back the draft.

There was none to retrieve.

Was she sure?

Oh yes.

Why was she sure? (You have to check.)

Because it was switched off when the power cut happened.

Ah…. I have good news!

In another job I worked with colleagues in various parts of what we then called “countries of the South” (aka the Developing World). In particular, Sudan. There were the obvious difficulties when my ability to explain the more esoteric concepts of Windows in Sudanese French met a wall of baffled silence, but we coped. Good humour and pictures are wonderful things. The biggest problem though was the locusts laying eggs in the nice warm, dry, sheltered interior of the computer casing. It was an interesting insurance claim.

Later I took a job with a charity that had around 250 PCs in its possession, of which about 8 were Year 2000 compliant as of January 1999. It was an interesting year and somehow I became embroiled in the wider project to ensure our residential clients were safe in the event of Armageddon on 1 January 2000. If nothing else it was a useful exercise in planning for disasters. The security systems were set to open all doors if power failed, for good reasons. We merely had to be ready to prevent clients who were often mentally confused or learning disabled from wandering off and becoming lost or injured as a result.

I have talked people through opening up computer cases to remove CDs inadvertently inserted (with some force nevertheless) through a gap in the casing, or in using the command line to delete a file (like they do in the films as if there are no computer mice in Hollywood – what is all that typing about? They aren’t writing a blog! I’m pretty sure Microsoft / Apple will have thought up Spaceship Destruct Sequence Wizards by now), or through plugging in a keyboard. This last was very traumatic for the poor person involved. She was convinced I was trying to electrocute her.

I’m going to break ranks and let you all into a little secret. The lovely patient people on your favourite helpdesk have an acronym for the more challenged computer users out there. Not the average person like me who forgets their password because they have been on holiday or can’t find the right printer or needs to find a file they saved last week. Those are normal run-of-the-mill things that can happen to anyone. We all have days when the brain cells desert the sinking cranium.

I have had my share of lonely home-based workers who just wanted a chat. I offered that service gladly. I have been called up to find out the date of Easter next year or the translation of Latin phrases or a recipe for vegetarian haggis. It’s all part of the service.

No, this phrase is for the frequent fliers who have been talked through how to switch the computer on seventeen times this week and it’s only Wednesday. Or the ones who can’t put a CD into the “cup holder” the right way up until the 3rd attempt. (What was he doing? Balancing it on its edge? And it happened every time!).

I have sorted out the virus infestation caused by letting a teenager use the computer to download illegal music. I had the Director who filled up the corporate shared drive with Dido CDs because he liked to listen to music while he worked and could never remember where he saved it last time. I had the Professor who kept installing a different word processor to the corporate standard then wondering why it crashed. He did it over and over again, despite the fact that the same thing always happened. I had the person who decided he wanted to try Windows NT because his mate told him it was better than Windows 98 (that much was true), bought a copy at a car boot sale and installed it only to discover it was a French version. Merde, as they say.

We use it for the ones where we suspect it is deliberate attention-seeking behaviour, for people who are just not trying properly.

It’s PEBCAK.

I suppose after that build-up I should probably tell you what it stands for. But the devil is in me today and glinting from behind the screen. “Make ‘em guess!” it cries.

What do you think? Should I?

It could stand for “probably errant behaviour causing anomalous Kafka-ism.”

Or maybe “potentially embarrassing bigwig chasing attentive kindness.”

What about “purely erroneous banter cheapening all knowledge.”

You may suspect it’s “patience ended by considerable altercation. Kill!”

The interpretation my team has actually used in the past is merely “problem exists between chair and keyboard.”

Feel free to join in below with your own ideas. Keep ‘em reasonably clean; IT workers are fragile creatures really.

Namaste.

 

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11 thoughts on “The Computer Whisperer

  1. I have had the fortune (misfortune?) to have been involved with more than one IT guy in my past (not at once), so I actually knew that one.

    Our helpdesk services are contracted out, and I know they have to go by the checklist, but I really wish there was an express-help option for those of us who have turned the computer back off and on again.

    • They usually hate saying it as much as you hate hearing it! It aggravates me when I have to call them too 🙂
      The really really really annoying thing is that it usually works!

  2. I was in at the dawn of computers but I’ve long since been left far behind. I’m in awe at you techies that have got a grip of all this stuff. I’m still a great believer in yanking the power cord out which at least gives great satisfaction, though probably falling short of the thrill of attacking the monitor with the keyboard.

    • I always loved the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles episode with the evil computer which was finally overcome by April pulling the plug out!
      Nowadays I know little about the technology as I am more involved in project management and haven’t opened a box since about 2004, which is almost back in the era of the dinosaurs.

  3. I used to call the “Help Desk” the “Helpless Desk” because often I knew more about the software than they did. Alas that was some 15 years ago, I was not able to keep up with the new software, the brain just refused to let me learn it and now I’m retired and not asked to do anything complex on my laptop. (Yay!)

    (Remember when they told us computers would eliminate the need for paper documents? We’re finally almost there.)

Go on then, it's your turn

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