Sunday, October 6, 2013

Adventures in Technical Support; Or, Resisting the Abdication of Self-Reliance

Like, I imagine, many children of the digital age, I have achieved a basic understanding of the modern computer without actually having any cohesive insight into its true workings. When my family received our first computer in the medieval wastes of 1998, my brother and I garnered a practical education in what computers can do, what one should not do (in my brother's case, delete the system.ini file), and how to fix one's typical problems, such as finding files in the computer's internal labyrinth, getting the printer to connect, updating drivers, booting the computer through startup, getting damaged floppy disks to read onto the drive (mostly by hitting the computer case), and dealing with viruses. Oh god, the viruses. Of course that means that my parents still believe their spawn are computer Svengalis who can magically fix their every error.

So the result of all this is that, in the rare cases where a computer problem falls outside my domain of pragmatic fixes, I tend to know immediately that outside help will be required. Monitor broken? Go to Best Buy. Monitor breaks again, almost instantly? Back to Best Buy. [Note: this does not constitute approval for Best Buy's selection, business model, or prices. Trust that I have not been paid off by generous, morally upstanding, compassionate overlords there.]  Liquid cooling system brimming with eels? Call your local spear-fisherman. And so forth.

                         Nothing these bastards love more than a good mainframe.

Anyway, in the not-too-distant past, I was listening to something mundane when the audio quality changed drastically from no apparent cause. Being that I didn't want to spend the next couple years listening to Megadeth rendered as either whale song or a child's tin-can telephone, this problem had to be solved.

Unfortunately, audio drivers are about as far removed from my expertise as anything, so the simplistic scans and diagnostics from the Control Panel did nothing, and my efforts to find useful technical advice on web fora were fruitless. Imagine that. So what happened, in my darkest hour, was to turn to live chat with technical support on two separate websites. One was Microsoft itself, the other was something more generic (I can't remember its title offhand, but it might have been

So we went through a time-sink rigamarole with my information, and description of the problem, and an eternity later I entered tech support chat. As always, I am miffed by the possibility that I might be talking to a computer masquerading as an actual person, which resulted in my application of a lo-fi Turing Test (consisting of variations on "Are you a human?" - let's face it, I was in need), which seemed to return the result that these entities were at least partially human.

                                                 Our worst-case scenario.

Results were mixed. The Microsoft android (potentially) only said he couldn't fix the problem and that I would have to send the computer in to have it fixed for the low price of $100. I told him that was unreasonable and that he could find some other sucker, which he seemed to take in stride. For the non-corporate avatar, however, my problem was far worse. They accessed my computer remotely (which might not have been the wisest move for me to allow) and determined, via some fancy graphic, that my computer had been invaded by "polymorphic viruses" and it was critical that I have them inspect and repair it for the entirely reasonably price of $200. I don't know why all these prices come in multiples of 100, but it might have some significance.

While that sort of terminology might have intimidated rubes and True Americans, I immediately determined it was hogwash and told them in no uncertain terms that they were not welcome in the conversation or on my computer. So, bereft of outside help once again, I paced and pondered whether to lug the desktop all the way to campus to the Student Technology Center (who had been helpful in virus removal years before, for affordable prices). As I was doing so, I doublechecked the connection of my speakers to the rear of the stack.

Apparently movements of my feet or my desk had ever-so-slightly disconnected the cable from the jack. My audio started working perfectly.

C'est la vie.

1 comment:

  1. a good call back to the old days when actual bugs would get trapped in giant vacuum tubes and mess things up.