Losing my hair and losing my mind in Western New York

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I'm Surrounded by Morons!

Working at a technical support center can be very rewarding sometimes. Helping people out with a complex technical problem in 15-30 minutes (even after they have spent HOURS trying to fix it) feels great. And the reaction you get from these folks is usually just fantastic. It makes you feel so good just knowing you helped them out in a sticky situation. Fortunately, most of the people you work with are like that.

But then there are the 'others'. I think you know who I am talking about. The idiots. The imbeciles. The people who make you wonder how they manage to stand erect.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about people who don't have alot of computer knowledge. Those are the merely ignorant and that's alright. I don't expect everyone I talk with to be a computer guru. Indeed, I fully expect the people I work with to not have a great knowledge of computer systems. The truth is if everyone else was a computer expert, I'd probably be out of a job. So being PC ignorant is ok in my book.

No, the people I'm talking about aren't merely ignorant about PC's. They are ignorant and proud of it. They don't know anything about the PC they have, (and spent thousands of dollars on) they don't want to know anything, and they wear their ignorance like a badge of honor. They are unobservant, they don't listen, they are unresponsive when asked questions, they vacillate when given a decision to make, and they seem to be incapable of any higher thought processes beyond when their next e-mail is going to arrive! They are, in a word, Morons.

Morons are the ones you dread getting a call from. When you do get a call from them, you just pray that it's a simple issue that can be solved with a reboot. Because if their issue is in any way remotely technical, you had better settle in because it's going to be a long call.

When you give them a simple instruction, such as "click the 'Start' button." they will respond with either "what?" or a long period of silence. The silence is the worst, because you just know they are staring, dumbfounded at their computer keyboard looking for the 'start' button! These are the ones that when you say, "Ok, now right-click the 'My Computer' icon" they either open the 'My Computer' icon, they right-click somewhere else on the desktop, they ask 'what?' or (of course) the dreaded silence as their brains attempt to process the concept of a left and right mouse button!

Morons fall into several broad categories, I will try to detail a few of them here;

The Geezer

The Geezer is the most ancient of morons. They may have been intelligent at one time seeing as they lasted as long as they have. However at some point their brain has partially ossified from lack of attempting to learn anything new, and they are mentally stuck in a past of adding machines, punch cards and the ENIAC. The entire concept of a Graphical User Interface seems to have escaped them. How (or why) these people managed to get their hands on a modern (or semi-modern) PC is beyond me.

Watch these ones. They are particularly aware of their ignorance, and are usually quite cranky and oversensitive about it. If they even think they hear the slightest trace of impertinence or impatience from a technical support person they will go off in a tirade of righteous geezer indignation. This will eat up quite a significant amount of time as they exhaust years of pent up frustration at their complete technical impotence and bewilderment with a world that technologically (and in many other ways) left them behind 30 or more years ago.

The Dude

The Dude is at the opposite end of the age spectrum from the Geezer. The Dude is primarily male, although there are some unusual instances of female Dudes (known as Dudettes). Something of an oddity, they are strangers to the very devices that most of their peer's lives revolve around. This is largely due to their lack of cognitive function and reasoning capacity. Their lives tend to be focused around some type of sports related activity, or alternately, the consumption of alcoholic beverages and/or the inhallation of "the Herb". Their primary interaction with any computing device is usually in the form of a Gaming Console (which is usually what they are calling in to receive assistance with). They are characterized by slow responses to questions and a liberal use of interjections such as 'uh' and 'um'. Usually these witicissms are grunted out in a low monotone voice that betrays their miniscule mental capacity.

Fortunately, dealing with the Dude is fairly non-hazardous, although it is time consuming. Their slow brain function means that instructions have to be repeated several times before they sink in through the alcohol/drug/head trauma induced mental fog the Dude lives in. I have found that adopting a 'Surfer' style of speaking (think 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure') with liberal use of the words 'man' and 'yeah' helps when working with these types. It seems to cause some spark of inspiration in them as they think they are talking with one of their own, someone who "understands them".

The Trader and The Businessman

This is a more broadly defined group set, as several aspects of this type of moron intermingle with each other in such a way as to defy a more narrowly defined catagory. The primary defining factor of both groups can be summed up in one word. Arrogance. Arrogance with a capital 'A' written in 104 point type in a very bold font.

Ironically, they are among the more technically astute of the Moron classes. Their failing comes in the form of their belief that they can do no wrong and that their issue must be the most important in the world because it affects their business. Wether that be their online stock trading business, or their VPN to the office, or their e-mail access. They want it fixed and they want it fixed now. Nevermind that there is a hurricane/earthquake/snowstorm related outage that's affecting ten thousand other people in the city/county/state. Nevermind the fact that if it really was that important, maybe they should have invested in a backup ISP connection. They want you to fix it now because the fate of their entire business and financial future rests on getting connected RIGHT NOW!

And you better get it fixed bub, or they will ream you and your company a new one with phrases such as; "If I ran my business this way, I'd be out of business in a week!" and "Do you think that's good customer service?" and my personal favorite, "That is unacceptable!".

Dealing with this group is probably the most difficult of all of the Moron groups. The Trader/Businessman's own sense of self-importance makes them much more difficult to work with. Largely because they don't want you to work with them, they want you to work for them. To a Trader/Businessman, every support person they talk with is just an extension of their own workforce. A workforce extension they can treat as poorly as they want because there are no HR concerns to deal with afterwards.

There really isn't any single best way to deal with this Moron group. I have found that trying to relate to them in a business sense sometimes helps. Throwing around business jargon when appropriate helps put them at ease and can sometimes defuse what is almost always an explosive situation.

Ultimately, making sure there is a Supervisor available to hand them off to is usually the best policy, since thay will frequently be unsatisfied with anything you do if you cannot get them fixed immediately. If you are able to somehow satisfy, even partially, the Trader/Businessman when you are unable to really fix their issue, pat yourself on the back. You have accomplished a truly impressive feat of Technical Support prowess.

The Gamer

Not to be confused with the Dude class of morons, Although they can bear a striking similarity to the Dude, especially console Gamers.

The Gamer's entire existence is oriented around their ping time and their overall connection speed. To them, fast pings are the elixir of life, and latency is doom. They will call for any and all 'slow speed' issues, even if there isn't one! Their technical knowledge varies, but it is usually just enough to cause you trouble.

When you get a Gamer on the line, be prepared to spend alot of time, because they want the absolute max they can get out of their connection at all times, and they will almost NEVER believe that it might be the 10 different types of spyware they got from surfing porn, or the filesharing software they have running in the background, or the unsecured wireless router they are running through that might be at issue here. Of course you can forget about trying to explain that the advertised speeds are simply the possible maximum and aren't guaranteed (as it says in the fine print). As far as they are concerned, if it says 4MB down, then they should be getting 4MB down all the time.

If, during your sure to be extensive troubleshooting session, you discover that there is indeed a legitimate issue with a network router or something along those lines, the Gamer is likely to expect you personally to be able to fix it. because you work there, so of course you have administrative access to all the ISP's routers! If there is an issue with a router outside your ISP's network, expect the Gamer to want you to fix that too, because "aren't you my ISP?" (logic isn't usually any moron's forte.)

If you can't find an obvious problem, then you are in real trouble, because the Gamer will expect answers (My ping to the Counterstrike server is over 80ms! You have to fix this, I'm paying alot of money... blah blah blah). I've found the best thing to do in this situation is to punt. Set them up with a trouble call for slow speeds. Most likely it will just be a waste of the Cable tech's time, but it gets the moron off the phone and makes him think you are doing something to solve his 'issue'.

Ultimately, you may be forced to explain to the gamer the concept of shared bandwidth, and the simple fact that he just might not get the maximum speed advertised by your ISP. Careful phrasing and judicous use of technical details will keep the Gamer baffled just long enough to be able to get them to hang up and go game rather than hassle you about things you can't change or fix.

The Housewife

This can potentially be either one of the worst ones to deal with or the best. Usually the Housewife type is the non-technical spouse of a geek. The Housewife is usually female, but in the case of same-sex partnerships, or houses where the geek is the wife, they can be male

When they call, it is often because the household geek has setup a home network that for one reason or another has ceased to function on the very day when the geek is out of town. This leaves the Housewife to handle the problem. Unfortunately, the Housewife's technical skills frequently leave much to be desired. Often they are downright technophobic. This can make your job very difficult as you are dealing with someone who may only know how to open a web browser and an e-mail client and nothing more. Even worse, often they will be so technophobic they will downright unwilling to follow your directions for fear of having to do some very simple things.

As ISP tech support reps we really can't deal with people's home networks, so we often will ask the Housewife to bypass their router and plug directly into the cable modem. This is where things usually fall apart. Most Housewife types seem to be incapable of following the simplest directions when it comes to technology. Upon seeing the wires it's as if their brains go into panic mode and they completely lock up. They can't even reason the simplest spatial realtion concepts such as "Follow the wire and see if it plugged in at the other end". They seem to be dumbfounded by the simplest mechanical concepts like "Connect the PC directly to the cable modem using a single wire". These are elementary school concepts taught every day to millions of children by Sesame Street, and the Housewife is stumped by it.

In case you are wondering how I know this; my children, being special needs children, regularly see special therapists so they can learn how to follow simple instructions like this. The therapists have told me that this is a skill that they could expect a normal 3-4 year old to be able to accomplish given the instructions I just gave. The Housewife is baffled by this level of instruction when it comes to technology.

Ironically, it is the Housewife's basic fear of technology and unwillingness to learn that can often be your saving grace. Upon asking them to bypass the router to continue troubleshooting, they will go into panic mode and decide that it would be easier to wait until the geek gets home and let them deal with it. If this happens, go with it. Better to let them suffer a lack of Internet for their ignorance and unwillingness to think then to suffer for it yourself. If they decide to continue, a slow soft voice and lots of repeating using different examples can make the difference between a successful call and an irate Housewife.

The Foreigner

I've left this group for last, because it's more difficult to discuss this group due to people's general touchiness regarding race these days. But do not be fooled, this is not a race issue. It is however a moron issue.

The Foreigner moron is probably the most frustrating morons to deal with. Not just because they will almost always have an incredibly opaque accent left over from their home country. The primary reason they are difficult to deal with is their complete lack of assimilation into our society and their absolute unwillingness to surrender their ideas and concepts about how things should be. When Americans do this in other countries, they are referred to as "Ugly Americans" and treated appropriately poorly. The only difference is that it's the Foreigner doing it here, and generally most Americans are too politically correct to dress the Foreigner down for it. Thusly the Foreigner will continue down their oblivious way. Then they will decide to get High Speed Internet service. This is where your misery begins.

Often the Foreigner will have a relatively simple issue, but your difficulty in understanding them and your honest attempts to comprehend what they are saying will drive them into a tizzy. They will then proceed to go off on a tirade about your company in specific and America in general in english so badly mangled that even the Swedish Chef would have a hard time comprehending them. Alternately, they will hail from an english speaking country and spend half their time correcting your 'horrible American speech' while you are trying your hardest not to break out laughing at their outrageous use of colloquialisms.

The primary problem with the Foreigner is not usually technical issues. Usually they will be fairly technically compenent, although not always so. The primary issue is one of communication. They will simply be unwilling to put forth the effort it takes to bridge the communication gap between you and them.

The best way to deal with the Foreigner is patience and very very very close listening. Since they are unwilling to put forth the effort to speak correctly and clearly, you will have to make up the difference with extra effort on your part. Unfortunately there really is no shortcut when dealing with the Foreigner moron type. You simply have to slog it out and hope they have a simple issue.

Fortunately they are usually the vast minority of calls that you will get from immigrants. Most immigrants and even long term visitors understand the value of learning to speak the language clearly and blending in with the culture of their newly adopted country.

There you have it. My not entirely complete detailing of many of the kinds of Morons that we here at technical support have to deal with on a daily basis. Study the list closely, After reading it you may realize that you know some of these people. They may be your friends, your neighbors, your relatives. They may even be you.

Monday, May 16, 2005

This is getting expensive!

Ever have one of those weeks? You know the ones I mean. The "I just can't catch a break!" weeks. It's been one of those for me. This week it's been plumbing issues. Having two kids who are both potty training at the same time is turning out to be an expensive venture as they (and I) discover what can and what cannot be flushed down the toilet. Just for the record, here's a short list;

CAN go down the potty:
1. normal sized human waste products
2. toilet paper

CANNOT go down the potty:
1. Baby wipes (This one took me off guard. They say flushable right on the package! So much for truth in advertising.)
2. toothbrushes
3. rubber duckies
4. plastic toy cookie cutters
5. excessively large solid human waste (You wouldn't think something that immense could come out of a four year old...)

Now, the baby wipes thing I actually discovered a while back. But my 2-1/2 year old son has not learned this yet. However he has discovered that it's fun to flush the toilet, and even more fun flushing things down the toilet along with the water! This is how we learned that various other non waste related products will willingly try to get flushed down the toilet, but usually get stuck about halfway to the sewer main, causing messy and unsanitary backups at the worst possible moments.

In the last 2 weeks we have had no less than 4 seperate visits from our plumber (3 this week alone) Initially to clear what turned out to be a toothbrush related backup in our main floor toilet. My wife had been looking for her toothbrush for 2 days at that point. Needless to say she decided she didn't want it back. He also cleared out a good sized chunk of baby wipes at the same time.

Visit number two turned out to be the rubber ducky. It got about as far as the toothbrush did, just past the valve at the bottom of the toilet, hung up between the pipe flange and the underside of the toilet.

Visit 3 and 4 were on the same day. This one was the basement toilet. It wouldn't have been too big a deal, except that we discovered when we emptied the tub after giving my son his bath that the tub drain and the downstairs toilet were running off the same 'T' joiner that connected them to the primary sewer drain in the house. With 40 gallons of used tub water pressing down and a plug in the exit port to the main sewer line, the basement toilet (you guessed it!) backed up into the basement spewing filth ridden water all over the floor. The only saving grace is that the emergency drain for the basement floor is about 2 feet from the basement bathroom door, so most of the 'water' went down that and escaped into the sewer system.

As far as what caused that one, apparently my son must have tossed more than the rubber ducky down the toilet, because the blockage holding back all that water turned out to be a 2 in wide butterfly-shaped plastic toy cookie cutter. Also, there was something else even further down the line that almost made it out, but not quite. The plumber had to use his rooter machine to get that one out. He ended up just ramming it out the end of the line and into the Main. So one of our wayward toys is taking an epic journey down the Amherst sewer system, never to be seen in our home again.

Needless to say, ensuring the bathroom door stays locked at all times is becoming rather important around my household. Especially since the total cost for all this work tallies in at just over $300 US. But on the bright side, we did end up getting some much needed toilet maintenance done (New wax seals, new water fittings, properly seated the flange under the upstairs toilet) and we KNOW the lines are clean and free flowing, at least for now...

Well, I think I'll just leave it at that for the moment. Besides, you have no idea what kind of mess I still have to clean up in the basement! Ugh. Anyone got a good set of rubber gloves? I'm gonna need 'em!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Choices, Choices

Sorry I haven't posted in so long. Many things to do, not enough time to do them in. You know how it is.

Well, things are finally starting to settle down over at Adelphia. The roadmap for the next year or so has been largely laid out for us, and those of us in my division are pretty much assured jobs at the company we will be going with (can't say which one, sorry.) Mostly it's nice not having the uncertainty of the Adelphia bankruptcy hanging over our heads anymore.

On a more personal note, the Weary Man has got a storage issue. To be specific, a Data Storage issue. For some time I have had a file server running on my home network that has served my storage needs well. However I have recently been running into the limits of it's 120GB drive, and need to expand. I have already gone in and freed up some space by deleting many older and unneeded large files and folders (It's amazing how much data detrius builds up over time) but I'm still running dangerously short of space and I am in dire need of expanding my storage capability.

I have looked into several different options, including installing a Sata RAID card and 4 150-200 GB Sata drives running RAID 5. This would certainly be the most reliable method, and would solve my Data Storage issues for a good long time, although I would eventually run into issues with the aging of the hardware platform I've got the RAID array running on, and no proper backup (IE: tape system) to speak of. Also there is the cost to consider. Having taken some time to price out a proper RAID system to add to my current server box, I am hitting price ranges from $600-$1500 US. Not a trivial amount of money, even in today's dollars.

A second and very appealing option is to go with a prepackaged external drive solution that I can simply attach via USB 2.0 or firewire to my Server box and mount as a spare drive. While it doesn't have the cachet of a RAID array, it is more flexible as far as the machine I have it connected to, and I don't need to worry about transferring the data over to a new server when my current server gets out of date (old/failing hardware) or I need to change operating systems (upgrade to windows or a transfer to Linux) Of course, I still have the lack of a proper backup system to deal with, but with the lower cost of this type of solution (about $300-$400 US for a 400 GB device) I could buy a second one down the line and use it as a backup for the first one. The only issue I have with this setup is that I am short on electrical outlets in my "server room" (basement shelf area)and I would probably also need to look into a new UPS with more outlets and capacity, which could nearly double the costs associated with this option.

I will need to choose between one of these two options sometime within the next month or so, simply due to my server HD space rapidly running out. Personally I am leaning towards the External drive, Only because 400 GB is likely to take care of all my storage problems for the forseeable future, and I think I can get around the UPS issue without having to buy a new one right away. But I have to say that it's not nearly as uber geeky cool as being able to say "Yeah, that's my server box. It's got a 400GB RAID array".

I dunno. I guess I will have to decide, And soon.