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Nashville Scene War Stories

Everybody's experienced computer stupidity.

By James Hanback Jr.

MARCH 23, 1998:  There's a little Homer Simpson in everybody. Whether you're the federal government, which, according to cnn.com, has received a "D-minus" for its efforts to upgrade computer systems to contend with the Millennium Bug, or just the average guy who accidentally hit the power switch on his PC rather than the CD-ROM eject button for which he was aiming, we've all done our share of forehead slapping.

The strange fact is that, no matter how sophisticated computers become, all it takes is one person accidentally kicking the power cord to bring an entire corporation to a halt.

In the computer business, you must have a sense of humor if you're going to stay sane.

And you don't even have to be in the business. If you work with one of these beasts every day, chances are, you're going to run into some strange situations.

Since my column about wrestling with a computer virus a couple of issues back, I've received a few e-mails from readers relating their own stories--and not all of them are about viruses.

Somewhere in America right now, a hapless victim of technology is wondering why his network password no longer works. He's been at it for an hour, typing and retyping the password, pausing only to run his fingers through his few remaining strands of hair.

It's a problem that reduces even professional typists to the hunt-and-peck method. They want to be absolutely certain they're hitting the right keys.

Finally, the nervous wreck calls technical support, waits 15 minutes on hold listening to an elevator-music version of some old Aerosmith song. Then, when the problem is related to the tech, the first words out of the his mouth are, "Is your caps lock on?"

Yes, it's happened to all of us.

Sometimes, reading the manual before you use the software is a good idea. This exchange was submitted to me via e-mail from someone visiting the "Computer Stupidities" Website (http://pubpages.unh.edu/~ss1/stupid/ cs_misc.html).

Customer: "My computer crashed!"

Tech Support: "It crashed?"

Customer: "Yeah, it won't let me play my game."

Tech Support: "All right, hit Control-Alt-Delete to reboot."

Customer: "No, it didn't crash--it crashed."

Tech Support: "Huh?"

Customer: "I crashed my game. That's what I said before. Now it doesn't work."

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

Tech Support: "Click on 'File'; then 'New Game.' "

Customer: [Pause] "Wow! How'd you learn how to do that?"

And more from the same site:

Tech Support: "What version of that software are you using?"

Customer: "The computer version."

Just in case you think a technical support number is the answer to everything:

Customer: "I had been waiting on the phone for you guys for three days! So I finally decided to heck with it and did what the instructions said."

Admittedly, not all stupid mistakes are the fault of the end user. Sometimes it's the fault of the people who are supposed to be knowledgable about technology.

One choice Microsoft technical-help story involves a man who sent a thank-you note to a tech for his help on a problem that had been resolved. The reply to his kudos was: "We are looking into the problem and will contact you with a solution as soon as possible."

Thanks to all those who submitted stories, and special thanks to those who pointed me to the Computer Stupidities Website.

Meanwhile, here's one for the road:

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.


Credit where credit is due

There seems to be some confusion among computer nerds as to which of their abilities they should be bragging about.

A report at cnn.com last week indicated that an 18-year-old Israeli hacker has claimed responsibility for teaching other teens how to break into government and university computer facilities.

The hack attacks were first reported Feb. 3, and included the hacking of unclassified documents from the Pentagon. Reports indicated that two California teens have been questioned about the incident, and that the Israeli, who claims to be retired from hacking to focus his energies on the computer security industry, is being sought.

"It seemed a shame to let my knowledge go to waste," he is reported to have said when asked why he chose to teach the teens to hack into other computers.

Fine. It's great to know how to do something like that. But report it, so agencies that need protection from dangerous elements--like some idiot with a nuclear arsenal--can secure themselves. Whether you choose to help out or break in is the difference between community service and criminal stupidity.

Want respect? Then have enough respect for others to stay out of places you don't belong.

Protecting the children

In response to a need for better protection for children using the Internet, law enforcement and online leaders have teamed up to create a national online abuse tipline.

The $600,000 project is now online and offers a Website and telephone number where people can report possible violations against children in Cyberspace. CyberTipline can be reached on the Internet at www.missingkids.com/cybertip, or by telephone at 1-800-843-5678.

It's a step in the right direction for providing a secure Internet community for children, while protecting the First Amendment rights of all people online.

James Hanback Jr. is systems administrator for the Scene. He can be reached by by e-mail at james@nashscene.com.

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