back to article Tech support discovers users who buy the 'sh*ttest PCs known to Man' struggle with basics

To no one’s surprise, Friday has arrived again, and brings with it On Call, El Reg’s weekly foray into the best (and the worst) technical problems our readers have helped solve over the years. This week, a very forthright “Bill” has written in to tell us about his time working in the tech department of a small IT firm for …

  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge


    Reminds me of the BOFH episode when Simon had helldesk duties

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Priceless!!

      kinda like "internet help desk" from "3 trolls in a baggie"

      1. VikiAi

        Re: Priceless!!

        Yes! A definite twelve-o'-clock flasher there!

  2. willi0000000

    do you think that's the reason the power button is on the bottom left on my monitor?

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      It is bottom right on every monitor I've ever seen. That makes it easier for right-handed people to use it. Probably this luser didn't know the difference between left and right either.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Actually... the power button for my new Samsung U28H75x monitor is on the back, on a joystick.

        You have to reach around and feel for the joystick (giggle) then click it in, and a menu pops up. You then click down and click again to select and it powers off.


        Yeah, I just pull the damned plug.

        1. Waseem Alkurdi

          "Actually... the power button for my new Samsung U28H75x monitor is on the back, on a joystick."

          Our 2012 Samsung TV uses the same system as well, except that the damned joystick is on the back but pointing downwards.

          The damned stick is close to breaking.

          And they do break, according to others' experience.

          And yeah, we also yank the damned plug as well xD

  3. Potemkine! Silver badge

    The right attitude

    When somebody does not understand, then it was not explained well enough.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: The right attitude

      Agreed - most of the time.

      If you say "press the button on the corner of the screen" to someone that grew up without computers, then they are going to look for a physical button on the display itself, not a virtual "button" in the corner of a non-tactile lit display.

      But users can also be absolute morons too. I have more-than-one user for whom it has taken four years to grasp that they can use the scroll wheel rather than having to hunt down the window edge, find the half-greyed-out miniature and ever-changing box, click and hold and then drag down the screen, instantly jerking 50 pages at a time and spending an age trying to get it back to the page they were looking it.

      And STILL, it's not their first action when they need to scroll, they don't get that they have to be in the right window (if you have ten scrollbars, how's it going to know what scrollbar you're scrolling?) and so when you have a scrollbar in a textbox on a webpage, the farce continues no matter what method they use.

      Don't get me wrong, they're lovely people, just not the most computer-literate. But I wouldn't start by assuming they just *know* how a computer works.

      My staff induction process consists of a first series of questions which are "What level would you like me to pitch this training at? You okay on computers? Happy for me to go at Warp Nine and you stop me if you don't understand, or you want me to lead you through it?"

      1. BlueTemplar

        Re: The right attitude

        Well, could be older people that used a mouse without a scroll wheel for a very long time, to the point that it's an ingrained reflex to hunt for the scrollbar?

        (Though someone *should* have explained them the point of Page Up/Down keyboard keys at some point, so...)

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: The right attitude

          Scroll wheels were introduced with Windows 95.

          Unless you grew up with Macs, they introduced theirs in 2005 with the Mighty Mouse, that's unlikely.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: The right attitude

            Rollout for a call centre in UK.

            PC's were freezing on the Windows 98 build for some unknown reason, couldn't find a root cause until I noticed the machines on the second floor weren't freezing.

            These machines were operated by older staff members who weren't using the scroll wheel on the mouse, one removal of the Logitech scroll wheel mouse driver on all the machines across the board resolved the issue.

          2. Loud Speaker

            Re: The right attitude

            I still have mice without scroll wheels, and a lot of people have only ever used laptops.

            Personally, I favour public humiliation for the shitbags who create scroll bars three pixels wide, and/or hide them, or who create windows with boarders one pixel wide (Seems to be the default for Mate).

            My screen is quad HD, and you can't click on such tiny features. Other people have higher resolution than me, and the display manager bloody well ought to know about PPI - I get at least 3 PPI related phone calls a day!

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The right attitude

          "(Though someone *should* have explained them the point of Page Up/Down keyboard keys at some point, so...)"

          It continually amazes me how many people, both those with years of desktop experience and those fresh from school who have no idea about keyboard shortcuts or any of the special keys on the keyboard and are constantly grabbing the mouse to do basic stuff like page up/down, file save, close window etc.

          I suspect that it's basically a lack of training or poor teaching. Or those doing the teaching never learned either and are passing on their lack of skills.

      2. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: The right attitude

        users can also be absolute morons too.

        I know that first hand!

        Nonetheless, even with morons you have to find a way to explain them. I never said it was easy ^^

    2. cortexatack

      Re: The right attitude

      I don't get it. Maybe you could simplify that a little more?

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: The right attitude

      When somebody does not understand, then it was not explained well enough.

      It depends on how 'advanced' your users are. I once very carefully explained that I wanted someone to turn a computer off, and specified that I didn't mean the screen, I meant the separate box with flashing lights on it.

      Cue five minutes of me getting more confused about a lack of progress, until I realised that contrary to what I'd said, the user was pressing the power button on the monitor.

      Not only do you have to explain things well enough that even the least technically-savvy can understand, they also have to f**king listen to what you say.

      Still, at least he tried, I've had other calls when I've asked the user to do something simple, only to be told "sorry, I don't do computers, you'll have to wait until my manager is back in next week".

      1. Stevie

        Re: The right attitude 4 phuzz

        Not only do you have to explain things well enough that even the least technically-savvy can understand, they also have to f**king listen to what you say.

        Ha! Ask a specific question on any technical forum and get back witless answers from our own lot.

        "I need to know how to do x on the new Raspberry Pi O/S. It apparently has changed since Wheezy" gets back "Check out the FAQ and you'll see that Wheezy has a widget for that".

        "How do I do y on Oracle RAC running on Solaris?" gets back reams of useless information about configuration options that only exist on Linux.

        "What options are available on package z on AIX" gets back dribble about package !z on Linux.

        All drawn from real life. It would seem IT is rife with people who cannot read for comprehension. I love getting back an RTFM response when I point out that I wasn't asking the question they answered too.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Couldn't agree more.

          One of the crunchiest of teeth grinders for me is when someone "replies" with "Google is your friend".

          This to me translates as "I either don't know or can't be bothered with the answer to your question, but I wanted to see my name in print yet again, whilst implying some sort of superiority over you".

          That said, there have been times when folk with an apparent surfeit of stupidity and / or sloth have had me almost make the GIYF response, only to remember how much I dislike it.

          If you can't be arsed to write a proper response, just be honest with yourself and write nothing, in the long run it's better for your soul.

      2. trydk

        Re: The right attitude

        @Potemkine! and @phuzz

        I'd like to recollect two examples of problematic communication, the first was when I held a series of Windows 95 workshops for a large oil company. The prerequisite for the workshops were high-level computer skills.

        At one of the workshops there were two people, a man and a woman, that sat at the same table, incidentally. Unfortunately, it seemed that their "high-level" skills did not include the art of double-clicking (and much, much more). At some point near the beginning of the workshop I had to show them how to double-click. The male participant did not have the fine-motor skills do it and gave up (I showed him how to single-click and then press Enter instead, which worked most of the time). His double-click consisted of a click, a slight pause, a jerk of the hand and then another click, and as you probably know, Windows does not register a double-click when you move the mouse between the two clicks.

        The second actually happened before the "first" on my personal timeline. I was a student and a Teaching Assistant at an Engineering university. I helped with the practical experiments in weekly, all-afternoon classes. In this particular case experiments with an 8080 processor. The students (in teams of four) had to connect the processor box to the power supply box at the beginning of the class. The power supply had a mains lead and five coloured sockets for each of its four voltages and ground (Red socket = +12V, Orange socket = +5V, Green socket = -5V, Blue socket = -12V, and Black socket = Ground). The CPU box similarly had five sockets in the exact same colours and then there were five coloured leads in, guess what? Yup, the same five colours. About half an hour into class, one of the teams approached me and said their setup did not work. I looked at what they had done, which miraculously involved connecting the mains cable correctly to the mains power as well as connecting the five sockets on the power supply to the five sockets on the CPU with the five leads, only ... No two sockets of the same colour on the two boxes were connected to each other and no lead/socket combination used the same colour, instead something like Red power supply socket connected with Blue lead to Orange CPU socket, etc.

        I asked the members of the team (nicely!) to observe the colours of the sockets and the leads, and asked them if they thought the leads and sockets were coloured for a specific reason. (A learning opportunity, eh?) They didn't take that very well and asked me (not entirely nicely ;-) to just f***ing tell them what to do.

        Tsk, tsk, tsk.

        Miraculously, the CPU had actually survived the misleading (sorry!) connections.

        1. Yes Me Silver badge

          Re: The right attitude

          as you probably know, Windows does not register a double-click when you move the mouse between the two clicks.

          No, I didn't, and I've been clicking on Windows windows for an embarassingly large number of years. Thanks for the info.

          But OTOH why the f*** would I move the mouse between the two clicks? I've never done that until you told me to (and you're right, it doesn't register).

          1. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: The right attitude

            "why the f*** would I move the mouse between the two clicks?"

            Reading between the lines in what trydk said, the user had some kind of impairment/disability that made clicking difficult, and because of that they were unable to keep the mouse stationary whilst clicking.

            In that situation you could try turning down the mouse sensitivity, or possibly moving the user to a trackball (if possible).

    4. Mark 85

      Re: The right attitude

      Making a judgment call here... I think "Bill" had an attitude because of his employer, the policies, etc. and took it out on the customers. Yes, customers can be stupid, that's a given. But a toxic environment or being in the wrong place doesn't help. I hope he's found an employer that he's happy with. Customer service, HellDesk, etc. isn't rocket science but it does take a bit of diplomacy and a bit of teacher personality to get by. A few beers after work never hurts either.

      1. cream wobbly

        Re: The right attitude

        "A few beers after work never hurts either."

        Unless you attempt to drive home and crash into a horse. That would hurt.

    5. N2

      Re: The right attitude


      With one exception: my mother in law.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Takes me back to the joys of building computers with a power switch on the PSU where the customer previously didn't have one. Many an irate customer soothed by knowledge. Though there was on that was particularly funny as he decided to run through all his computer qualifications before we could even get to the power switch, he knew better apparently.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When ATX supplies were new I had to talk a customer (who was quite savvy with software on computers) through taking the case off his brand new PC, finding where the power switch plugged into the board, and then following the wires until we found where the manufacturer had hidden the power switch on the case.

      all the lights and reset button were at the top (clearly marked in a slim panel above the cd drive), the power button turned out to be the bottom of the front panel (unmarked) and you just pushed the front to power up the machine

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "until we found where the manufacturer had hidden the power switch on the case."

        Style over function. The sign of a company run by marketing.

        1. jelabarre59

          "until we found where the manufacturer had hidden the power switch on the case."

          Style over function. The sign of a company run by marketing.

          Funny, I don't remember Apple using that particular switch configuration...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "[...] and you just pushed the front to power up the machine"

        Or presumably power down also. In a desktop that would have been a prime target for a user pushing their keyboard against the case.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Like that didn't happen to you the first time? ;)

      Also the joys of 110V/OFF/220V PSU switch when after a mistaken split-second push in the wrong direction you feel cold sweat starting to form on the back of your neck while you wonder whether you just fried your PC or not !

      1. Jedit Silver badge

        "a mistaken split-second push in the wrong direction"

        I once had a PC that had a 110/220 switch on the PSU, and one day I caught said switch while the PC was switched on. That was certainly a sound to remember.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "a mistaken split-second push in the wrong direction"

          we had a user or switched said 110\240 button on a Gateway PC when they were still in the UK market. "What does this do?" BANG, Blue smoke, oh

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "a mistaken split-second push in the wrong direction"

            "BANG, Blue smoke, oh"

            A customer had his PC taken away by the police on suspicion of him being distantly involved in an alleged crime. They were very unhappy when his protestations of innocence were proved correct - their long investigation had been a wild goose chase. After a few months he was told he could collect his PC.

            A few weeks later there was a bang and a flash. The PC had been switched to its 110v setting and the PSU had finally succumbed.

            It is possible that the police's forensic lab used 110v for safety. One or two of my corporate customers did that in their offices - and they supplied a large autotransformer for visiting engineers to power 240v equipment.

            1. JulieM Silver badge

              Re: "a mistaken split-second push in the wrong direction"

              Probably not an autotransformer (which has only one winding and does not provide any isolation), but a proper safety isolating transformer, tapped 55-0-55 volts with the centre tap earthed.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Auto vs Separate Windings

                Upvote, as I misread it the first time too.

                However, in this instance, the scenario is that the company has laid on a 110v supply for its computers to be plugged into, hopefully with distinctive plugs and sockets to avoid confusion.

                Visiting engineers, bringing 240V only equipment need a 240V supply, so for such instances there is an auto-transformer available to boost back up to 240V.

                Isolation is not required here; in fact under some (not all!) fault conditions it can make things more dangerous rather than less, as it will defeat the action of residual current devices.

          2. bombastic bob Silver badge

            Re: "a mistaken split-second push in the wrong direction"

            it's a fuse tester. the test failed.

            1. Mark 85

              Re: "a mistaken split-second push in the wrong direction"

              it's a fuse tester. the test failed.

              It's not a fuse protector then? I'm shocked. I thought it was intentional for the circuit board to blow and protect the fuse.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        The little switch of doom, I made that mistake once, never again. The bang and smoke were a lot of fun though.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When adding a daughter board to a PC we used to leave the mains cable connected as a chassis earth.

      One day I did that and the PC powered up as the board was being inserted. My first experience of PCs with "stand-by" and "wake on LAN" functionality - and no isolating switch on the PSU. Fortunately it still worked ok afterwards.

      Later models had a disabling microswitch when you opened the case. This then made it difficult to work on the insides of the PC when it also needed to be powered up.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        When adding a daughter board to a PC we used to leave the mains cable connected...

        I did that, once, when adding memory. Destroyed the memory and the motherboard. In the manufacturer's defense, there was a lit LED on the motherboard, which I ignored, because I was tired, inattentive, or both.

        Lesson learned.

        Mains cable is now always unplugged before opening the case.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          better idea.

          Leave it plugged in BUT do switch OFF at the wall - keeps the thing earthed.

          1. Tom 7

            Re: better idea.

            No not a better idea. 'Earthed' is a relative thing, You need to be connected to the earth/chassis on the PC as you can be several KV away from the mains earth value which is not good for the memory chip you are fitting, Unless its a WOM,

          2. j.bourne

            Re: better idea.

            Not really. The socket only switches the 'live' wire - the neutral is still connected and isn't always at ground potential....

            1. Baldrickk

              Re: The socket only switches the 'live' wire

              Not on all switches. The one I fixed for my father recently, and likely all those in his house and mine disconnect BOTH the live and the neutral.

              1. j.bourne

                Re: The socket only switches the 'live' wire

                Double pole switches on sockets are optional and not widely taken up in the UK. Unless you know it's a DP switched socket for sure, are you going to take a risk?

      2. Stevie

        Later models had a disabling microswitch when you opened the case.

        "This then made it difficult to work on the insides of the PC when it also needed to be powered up."


        I have this exact same set-up and need to see the works in action with the lid off on my antediluvian clothes dryer and I figured out how to jumper the switch even when the panel containing it was removed in seconds, and built a reusable jumper to do the job in minutes. I guess they didn't have wire and crocodile clips in your "shop".


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I spent two years in tech support

    Every conversation I ever had began with my asking the user to "click on Start". And they could all do it.

    Then Microsoft's Department of Infinite Wisdom renamed the Start button, and now it's not called Start any more. In fact, it doesn't have a name. So now when relatives bug me with tech support phone calls, I instinctively say “click on Start” and they say “What’s Start?”

    “You know, the thing that used to be called Start but isn’t any more. In the bottom left hand corner. The thing, you know, the thing…” <grates teeth>

    1. hazzamon

      Re: I spent two years in tech support

      Though the button no longer has the text 'Start', if you hover your mouse over it you get a tooltip that says 'Start'. In Windows 10 at least.

      1. Cuddles

        Re: I spent two years in tech support

        "Though the button no longer has the text 'Start', if you hover your mouse over it you get a tooltip that says 'Start'. In Windows 10 at least."

        Not the version of Windows 10 I'm using. In fact, the not-start button appears to be the only thing on the taskbar that doesn't have a tooltip at all.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: I spent two years in tech support

        I get that in Windows 7, but not 2012 R2 (aka Windows 8.1) or Windows 10.

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: I spent two years in tech support

      It's not just the users..........After the company I worked for merged with (was taken over by) another company the head of IT changed. New bloke who is more of a manager than a real IT type wants to make staff store everything on a network drive to allow for hot desking. He therefore instructs all the machines locked down. Users will not be able to store anything on a local drive at all. There was a rule that no personal data/files were to be stored on the network. This meant users were now seriously restricted compared to what had gone on before. However if you used a particular software package if you didn't have local storage it didn't work. He was perplexed as to why we were getting so many support calls regarding this as he'd personally certified that all the software was suitable. He'd used most things elsewhere and done the same trick but had evidently got lucky. A joke email that went round suggested buying a copy of windows for dummies. As this was really something a lot of people used the machines were required to have local access. That buggered up his hotdesking plans.

    3. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: I spent two years in tech support

      Back in the 1970s I used a machine that had good old physical buttons on it. One was START, another was RUN. There were others too.

      START? RUN? Where did one begin?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I spent two years in tech support

        "START? RUN? Where did one begin?"

        No idea, but the Commodore PET had a RUN/STOP button :-)

    4. VikiAi

      Re: I spent two years in tech support

      The button formerly known as 'start'.

    5. Trixr

      Re: I spent two years in tech support

      This is one where it's not actually that hard - "Click on the Windows icon at the bottom left of the screen". Unless you're using #$@*#$&^ Vista/Server 2012 (not R2) of course....

  6. Tom 7

    perl to swines alas.

    MS poisoned the world when it pretended that computing was easy.And then made an OS to make it even harder!

    1. oiseau

      Re: perl to swines alas.


      MS poisoned the world when it pretended that computing was easy.

      Exactly ...

      I've been saying that for years now.

      Not only 'computing' in general but also very basic things like e.g. taking into account that if more than one person has access and editing rights to the same document, there had to be some sort of version control over what is happening to said document.

      Many years ago, being responsible for giving desktop support to a 60+ employee public sector IT setup, I repeatedly insisted to the legal team (they all demanded editing rights) that it was something that should be put in place and that at the very least, there had to be just one person dedicated to checking that the latest version was the one to be edited and eventually sent to me for publishing on-line.

      But you know lawyers (yes, they were lawyers), they did not have time for that/give a hoot.

      After all, what did I know?

      So eventually I ended up being dragged in front of the ministry's auditor because the printed version of a specific document sold in an open call for tenders was not the same version that was previously published on the government website, something which gave one of the losing bidders ground to challenge the result.

      So when the shit hit the fan, all the DHs pointed to me.

      Nice people.

      I was able to defend myself citing their supine ignorance wrt to use of computers, blaming it not on their lack of basic common sense but on the fact that, in spite of MS saying it was so easy that anyone could do it, they had not been trained to use a computer, giving the auditor a set of three or four questions to ask them to prove my point.



    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: perl to swines alas.

      "MS poisoned the world when it pretended that computing was easy."

      When fixing PCs for people I always refused any payment in money or kind***. I occasionally had to point out that the number of hours it had taken would have cost them a small fortune if it had been a garage fixing their car.

      ***you have to make them feel an obligation otherwise they recommend you to all their friends.

  7. DailyLlama

    It's 2018

    If people don't know how to use a computer by now, they shouldn't even be in the workplace.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's 2018

      So that's most people then

      1. NXM Silver badge

        Re: It's 2018

        How is that most people?

        I'm middle aged. Everyone who went to school after me has had some sort of contact with computers, and absolutely everyone using a computer must know how to sort-of use it, at least. My mum's a dab hand with the things and she's 81.

        Using a computer is a life skill now, so if people can't use one it must be deliberate.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: It's 2018

          Using a computer is a life skill now, so if people can't use one it must be deliberate.

          Imagine learning to drive a car, but then every so often someone changes your dashboard and controls around for no good reason. Also lately some controls will be invisible until you actually touch them when they appear.

          1. Sgt_Oddball

            Re: It's 2018

            Having a touch screen in the dashboard and various steering wheel controls for vehicle settings I can say yes... There is a reason I don't let the wife learn to drive in my car. But once she's learned I'll let her on it.

            (for the record my 79 year old mother-in-law has the base version of the same car and manages just fine with the toys)

          2. Col_Panek

            Re: It's 2018

            Wait til you see the "glass cockpits" coming. Ample opportunities to muck up the UI for the sake of new&shininess. Renting one will be hell.

          3. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: It's 2018

            Like the hire car I had a couple of weeks ago where putting it into reverse gear reset the volume on the stereo to the default, bearly audible level? And putting it in first gear switched the air conditioning on, when it was a freezing winter morning. And putting it in fifth gear would switch the stereo from off or line-in to radio and the volume to ear-splitting maximum.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It's 2018

              "Like the hire car I had a couple of weeks ago [...]"

              Our company insisted we could only drive directly from A to B in a hire car. So there was no chance to have any practice in it - even though the make and model that was delivered was totally unpredictable.

              One morning I left the office and entered the nearby motorway. After a short distance it started to rain - and the screen smeared. I pulled back on the column "wiper" stalk to get a washer jet and nothing happened. I had to glance down at the dashboard to identify the marked knob that had that function. As I looked up a lorry had come down a slip road and changed lanes into my "safe" space. He had then stood on his brakes as he saw that the traffic ahead was stopped.

              The company said the hire car models were outside their control - and it was the company insurance which forbade anything other than the shortest A-B route. So from then on I used the trains and taxis. It turned out to be a very comfortable decision.

              1. Down not across

                Re: It's 2018

                One morning I left the office and entered the nearby motorway. After a short distance it started to rain - and the screen smeared. I pulled back on the column "wiper" stalk to get a washer jet and nothing happened. I had to glance down at the dashboard to identify the marked knob that had that function. As I looked up a lorry had come down a slip road and changed lanes into my "safe" space.

                So, why not check the impotant controls like lights,wipers,heating/blower while still parked, before embarking on you journey?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  "UI differences" in cars have always existed

                  There are cars with auto transmission gear selection on the steering wheel, some on the console, some on the steering wheel. Some have wiper controls on the left, some on the right, and when I was a kid I remember my dad's car had them on the dash. Some cars have a stalk for cruise control, others have buttons on the steering wheel. I won't even get into the multitude of ways climate control, radio, setting the clock etc. works.

                  I don't see this problem as being any different than it was 50 years ago, other than than cars can do more stuff so they have more stuff to control. This will all be resolved in a decade or so by autonomous cars, where you'll have a touch screen to do anything you need to do which won't distract you from driving because you won't be.

                2. Glenturret Single Malt

                  Re: It's 2018

                  In older, simpler days, the one question I always used to ask when hiring a car was how to put it into reverse as that was the one thing that seemed to vary from one type to another. More recently, I discovered on a trip to Thailand to see my son that, in his car, the control stalks behind the steering wheel were the exact opposite way round from my car in UK. Much potentially dangerous confusion there until I got used to it and then again on my return home while I readjusted to "normal".

                  1. Baldrickk

                    Re: It's 2018

                    Am I allowed to both look down on someone for being computer illiterate if I also look up to them for their non computer based skills?

                    I might need some sort of MC Escher Staircase to do it, but I'm sure it's possible.

                    1. VikiAi

                      Re: It's 2018

                      There is often no need to be computer literate, and I am certainly not advocating everyone should need to be an engineer to use one, however, people claiming (or being assumed as having) computer literacy because they know how to post comments in a web form is a bit much for me.

                      You certainly don't need to be a mechanical engineer - or even a motor mechanic - to drive a car competently. But you definitely do need to have put some effort into acquiring driving skills.

        2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: It's 2018

          "Using a computer is a life skill now, so if people can't use one it must be deliberate."

          Just read Japanese cyber security minister 'doesn't know what a USB stick is'.

          I wouldn't call it deliberate but cultural in this case. It is also a prime example of SNAFU (Some Nipponese ...).

        3. Lilolefrostback

          Re: It's 2018

          The key point in your post being "sort-of". Yes, they all know how to use facebook and twitter and, maybe, email. They can probably get on Amazon and order stuff. But they probably cannot use Word or Excel beyond the most basic of activities.

          And, more to the point, they do not understand what is going on behind the scenes. They don't understand what file systems do for them. Or do not do for them. They do not seem to understand that the things they can do with a mouse on program X may well work on program Y. Many of them have no clue about keyboard shortcuts (even the very common shortcuts).

          I've suggested, several times, to my mangler that we (corporation) need to train our users better. His response is always that we (IT) do not do training - that's the job of the training dept. All well and good, but, in that case, we (IT) need to communicate the clear needs that we have identified to training (and probably help training develop the curriculum). But IT has no interest in that. And, of course, our users' manglers believe that our users already know how to use computers so they don't need further training. And so, our users muddle along, making infuriatingly stupid hell-desk calls as they need to.

          Sorry for the rant (although I expect many others have the same sad story).

          1. peter_dtm
            IT Angle

            Re: It's 2018 @ Lilolefrostback

            In spades !

            Mellenials claim to be ‘net citizens’ - they most definitely are NOT. At the best they are a pile of ignorant tourists!

            I deal with people (plant operator) who USE computers everyday, they look at a screen, click on things and the plant works. They have no need to know anything about how a computer works, other than clicking a mouse on a target on the display.

            Even sales droids who may appear to know what they are doing can’t normally cope if the normal programs stop working.

            Very few people know how computers work.

            Most people know how to use a (very limited) sub-set of programs, and then a limited sub set of the programs themselves.

            And this is exactly as it should be.

        4. VikiAi

          Re: It's 2018

          Or a University!

          It depends on your definition of 'use a computer', of course. Pretty much everyone these days knows how to log into something and post in a web form. Doesn't make them in any way 'computer literate' though - I have plenty undergrads in a 'digital media' stream who can't handle differentiating between a media codec and a media container. And as for navigating a filesystem....!! Not to mention the senior professor in the same field who was frankly shocked that the HDMI output port on his MacBook couldn't also be used as a HDMI input (after hitting the expensive glossy sales brochures for a bunch of equipment on the assumption that that was the case)!

          And don't get me started on people who think plugging in a graphics card means they 'built their computer'. Nope, if you didn't solder the chips on the board, you assembled a computer (which is a fine thing in itself so qudos, but I grew up in the days of 40pinDILs on a protoboard).

          1. jelabarre59

            Re: It's 2018

            I have plenty undergrads in a 'digital media' stream who can't handle differentiating between a media codec and a media container.

            The same is true of many consumer electronics manufacturers. I've had multiples of those portable DVD players that claim to play AVI and/or MKV files. And if I can manage to track down the manufacturer (not a simple task in itself) I ask them which codecs they support. Usually get a dumfounded response.

    2. Julian 8

      Re: It's 2018

      My misses can use the computers and ipad at her place all day long - as they are only exposed to corporate apps and there are no issues

      Problem comes at home when it is just vanilla windows (not even going to head her to the unix devices)

      The internet is "google", explorer meant IE and windows explorer

      As she had an old imaging app with an old camera, it is no longer called "pictures", but "kodak pictures" (just a sub folder under pictures BTW) - which is even more fun when she talks to her mum (who is even worse) and says to look in "kodak pictures"

      1. lglethal Silver badge

        Re: It's 2018

        If people don't know how to use a computer by now, they shouldn't even be in the workplace.

        My dad cant use a computer to save his life. He's only just got his first smart phone. But guess what he's an auto electrician - why the hell would he need to learn how to use a computer to be part of the workforce?

        Not everyone needs to use a computer. muppet...

        1. Sgt_Oddball

          Re: It's 2018

          I worked with an auto electrician 18 years ago and he knew how to use the shop Unix system to check parts and orders. Modern motor vehicles pretty much require a computer (through the odb2 port) to diagnose and repair issues (at least on any car using a host bus network to run everything).

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: It's 2018

          "But guess what he's an auto electrician"

          So he only works on old cars then?

      2. revdjenk

        Re: It's 2018

        The Mrs. and I have been through seven different OS's (she is definitely the trooper!)

        Color Computer Color Basic (OS/9 very briefly)


        Windows 1.03 (would almost equate this with 10, the basic colors, non-overlapped windows)

        GEOS Ensemble

        Windows 3.1 - Vista

        Linux - various, but primarily PCLinuxOS for 2 years and LinuxMint for 10


    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: It's 2018

      "If people don't know how to use a computer by now, they shouldn't even be in the workplace."

      "Arrogance, millenial style" <-- new idea for a TV show too

      icon, because, facepalm

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That story obviously wasn't from 2018

        And your superior attitude doesn't belong in the workplace, either.

    4. Tom 7

      Re: It's 2018

      So no managers in your office then!

    5. trydk

      Re: It's 2018

      I'm afraid requiring computer skills in this age is an attitude that not only looks down on people with other skill-sets or abilities to the extent that you cannot become a brick-layer or gardener in some countries without actually going to school. Denmark, if I remember correctly, has stopped apprenticeships and force all craftswomen and -men to attend colleges instead.

      We've reached a point where many (most?) people seem to look down on non-academic people, almost to the extent that non-academic people do not seem to have a right to live, love and work any more.

      C'mon people!

      1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

        Re: It's 2018

        TBF, some people are utter morons and actually view it as a badge of honour

    6. N2

      Re: It's 2018

      Maybe not, but then in some roles 'using a computer' isn't that important and to some it's a pain in the arse.

      A pain that could be eased by some consistency in the user interface by those Microsoft twats, but no the chief twatspanner always has to thrust his member into the works to bugger up what used to be simple.

      1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

        Re: It's 2018

        I hope Microturd doesnt get into the car industry, fuck knows where the steering wheel and engine will be put according to which phase of the moon is current

        1. Highinthemountains

          Re: It's 2018

          Microslop had a deal with Ford to do their dash console screen. Ford gave the system up after a couple of years because it was always rebooting.

  8. Zog_but_not_the_first


    I can explain it to you.

    But I can't help you to understand it.

    1. cbars Silver badge

      Re: Alternatively...

      I couldn't decide whether to upvote this. While you're right that to understand some topics a prerequisite level of other knowledge is required, that's why we don't all go straight into academic research after learning to speak. But I just can't get past the arrogance of the statement. For most things, you can explain 'in laymans terms' well enough to allow another human to perform the desired task adequately. They don't need to fully *understand* it, just as I don't need to fully understand how the engine in my car works, so long as I can get it to work and understand it's bad if it's on fire...

      Communication skills are key in any walk of life, explaining things is a communications skill we should all practice.

      1. BlueTemplar

        Re: Alternatively...

        Indeed !

        And the way that you explain something is going to have a dramatic effect on how well the other person understands it.

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: Alternatively...

          I know that you believe that you understand the words that you think you heard me say, but what you fail to realise is that the words I used were applicable only to the thoughts that I was having at the time I used them and may not apply to the processes that your brain was considering at the time you were hearing them. You will therefore need to re-assess your conclusions as to the knowledge I was imparting using an alternate frame of reference.

          1. Glenturret Single Malt

            Re: Alternatively...

            This discussion reminds me of the time when, as a final year undergraduate studying chemistry, I set out to read the venerable professor's book on Crystallography. The first paragraph consisted of a sequence of words that I could recognise as English but I had no idea what they meant collectively.

      2. MrMerrymaker

        Re: Alternatively...

        'I couldn't decide whether to upvote this. While you're right that to understand some topics a prerequisite level of other knowledge is required...'

        Hmm, I just took it as 'explaining is one thing, but understanding isn't guaranteed' rather than some slight about why, exactly, the understanding isn't taking place.

        Coming to understand things is, I believe, an internal process, always down to oneself.

        Yet you're... Kicking off, as if this is an elitist concept. Funny what we understand being different, isn't it :)

        1. Zog_but_not_the_first

          Re: Alternatively...


          'I couldn't decide whether to upvote this. While you're right that to understand some topics a prerequisite level of other knowledge is required...'

          Hmm, I just took it as 'explaining is one thing, but understanding isn't guaranteed' rather than some slight about why, exactly, the understanding isn't taking place.

          Coming to understand things is, I believe, an internal process, always down to oneself.

          Yet you're... Kicking off, as if this is an elitist concept. Funny what we understand being different, isn't it :)

          Exactly. As I said, I can explain it...

          OK, just a touch of trolling here.

        2. cbars Silver badge

          Re: Alternatively...

          @ MrMerrymaker

          It was the icon on Zog's post that tipped me toward interpreting this as an elitist slight. Yep, we all take away different things, and there are more possible interpretations when only text and one icon is available. Having said that, the article was an extreme case where Zog is bang on, there isn't much more to say after 'put the spoon in the food and then in your mouth'...

          @Zog, love the troll ;)

      3. Trollslayer

        Re: Alternatively...

        If they haven't understood it you having been paying attention to them.

        Different people need different training.

      4. Tom 7

        Re: Alternatively...

        For most things, you can explain 'in laymans terms' well enough to allow another human to perform the desired task adequately.

        If you can explain it in laymans terms you wouldnt need a computer to do it on,

      5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Alternatively...

        "Communication skills are key in any walk of life, explaining things is a communications skill we should all practice."

        I think he's referring to the fact that the support desk is used a low cost training budget. If the staff are not trained in the first place, then the support staff have to do the training over the phone, on the fly.

        Having said that, I did spend 10 years training users across the "PC boundary", ie on CP/M and similar, then through the "IBM PC revolution" and had to become quite adept at analogies because most of the users were coming into IT usage completely "cold". They may have seen blinkenlights and spinning tape drives on TV, or maybe even used a typewriter, but computers? Nope, No experience, no prior knowledge to build on. Sometimes it was tough going, but much of it was dealing with the wonderment many of them experienced :-)

    2. Mephistro

      Re: Alternatively...

      I've suffered several cases of clients that think "They Know Better" and wouldn't pay any attention to any explanation I could provide, and they would also fight every method I suggested to fix the issue*. Like it or not, there's people out there who don't want to learn.

      And let's not forget the ones that are too stupid to learn any user-level IT. I've suffered a few of those as well.

      Note *:This makes me wonder why the eff these customers don't just fix the issue themselves instead of wasting their money hiring an IT guy.**

      Note **: Anecdotally, I've seen often customers in these categories trying to fix their computers by themselves, with predictably comical results.

    3. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Alternatively...


      There was a famous law case in England.

      The judge said to the barrister, "I have listened patiently to your long explanation, but I am none the wiser".

      Barrister: "No, my lord. But much better informed."

    4. Nick Kew

      Re: Alternatively...

      Oh dear.

      Dorothy Parker on horticulture springs to mind.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alternatively...

      "I can explain it to you.

      But I can't help you to understand it."

      Wrong ...... that is exactly what you *should* be doing !!!

      Your job is to explain it in a way that *can* be understood !!!

      If you really believe your original statement then change jobs *please* as you are likely to go 'Postal' one day as 'Users' have an infinite ability to *not* understand :)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My strongest memory of my time at a major UK isp was having a Word window open that I alt-tabbed to whenever someone came over to find out why one specific call was taking forever.

    The document just contained the text "He typed capitala" - they read it and walked away hastily.

  10. John70

    Had similar call

    Many many many moons ago when working on the hell desk I had a caller who was having problems with her monitor. Asked the usual stuff "Is it switched on? Are the cables in the computer? etc?".

    In the end I had to go round to the office, sat down at her desk, pressed the power button on the monitor and Bob's yer uncle, there was life.

    1. Stevie

      Re: Had similar call

      Back before PCs I would get a call once every three weeks from "Bob" which would have he rest of the office howling with laughter as I ran the script.


      Ring ring


      "Oh hello Bob."

      "You can't log onto the system?"

      "Can you see a poll indicator?"

      "In the bottom right corner of the screen. The word "poll" flashing on and off."

      "Pull the keyboard forward and look at the panel under the screen. Can you see any lights?"

      "Do you see the rocker switch on the right hand side of the panel?"

      "Good. Press the side of the switch marked 'on'."

      "Can you see the word 'poll' flashing on and off?"

      "Good. You're good to go."

      "No problem Bob".

      Word for word. Every three weeks. It was high comedy for the other buggers in the office.

  11. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Don't ask if computers are smart enough

    Ask if people are.

  12. chivo243 Silver badge

    the sound of Bill rolling his eyes.

    I can't upvote the author, but if I could I would! So have a pint on me!

  13. Russ Pitcher

    I recall my early days in the industry when I was still playing the desktop support role. One user who had been working at the company for at least six months, and who I was, shall we say, familiar with, put in a call for urgent assistance. As he worked just around the corner from the HellDesk I popped out straight away. On arrival at his desk he gave me an apologetic look and told me that he had a knotty problem with a word document he was writing. He showed me the screen that had a single line of large point text on it, looked me in the eye and said "Sorry to bother you, but I've tried everything and I'm stumped. How do you get the cursor onto the next line?"

    I stared mute at him for about five seconds then, without breaking eye contact, reached out and hit the enter key. Bless him, his face lit up like a Christmas tree and he couldn't thank me enough. "I'll have to remember that!" he said as I left him, more than a little bemused that he has survived in the job that long without that kind of knowledge.

    I wish I was making that up!

    1. M E H

      Just not his area...?

      I might have posted this story before but here goes...

      Many moons ago I was working for a body shop outsourcer and was doing second line support onsite at a customer.

      Said customer decided to insource. Fair enough. The guys the new IT manager recruited were both complete assholes and didn't like the outgoing team as we were helpful to users and accessible.

      Anyway, the web master, a contractor so in neither camp, was attempting to run an SQL script on a new server. He was a Microsoft guy through and through but I think the database was Postgres something similar.

      Basically the script wouldn't start run.

      In desperation they called me over. I had a look and could see the issue as I'd written my degree project in LAMP.

      Me - Try it again and end the script with a semi colon.

      Them - What!

      Me - Just humour me.

      Them - Ran script again, ending in a semicolon

      Of course it worked.

      They still hated me.

      The moral of the story is that you can be quite technically competent in one area but clueless in another if you haven't been exposed to it before. The other moral is that assholes are assholes.

      1. oiseau

        Re: Just not his area...?


        The other moral is that assholes are assholes.

        Indeed ... =^/

        And it is one that many times we forget to take into account, for the sake of being decent.

        And end up paying the consequences.

        Yes, been there and done that, far too many times.



      2. Stevie

        Re: The other moral is that assholes are assholes.

        I had a colleague who asked me to help him manage a system he'd put together in which reports were mailed to a server that used procmail to trigger a script that reformatted them and pidgeonholed them for display on a webserver - the pidgeonholes were how the dynamic stacked hyperlink index of documents was built. Crude, maybe, but hard-wearing and easy to administer.

        There were three classes of report, but only two were being displayed as intended. The third had "some bug I never had the time to properly sort out - probably an OS patch needed or something". It had been broken for years.

        I procured Martin McCarthy's excellent book on procmail from Amazon and two days (prime membership for the win) and a short read to get up to speed later I dug in and spotted the typo in the recipe almost immediately. New pair of eyes and all that.

        I fixed the issue and asked if I might not take over that admin chore, as I could see a couple of new applications for the technique.

        Within four hours the server passwords had been changed, locking me out. He didn't speak to me for a couple of weeks after that either.

        So I guess the answer was "Thanks for fixing the problem but I don't think we need an admin for that specific application".

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "he had a knotty problem with a word document he was writing. He showed me the screen that had a single line of large point text on it,"

      Is that even possible on any word processor? A basic plain text editor, maybe, but as far as I can remember, every word processor I ever used going back to Electric Pencil on a TRS-80 in the late 70's would auto-wrap at the end of the line. Had he somehow managed to set the right margin to something insane?

      1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

        It's Possible in Emacs

        ... which was first written in the late 70's. M-x menu-bar-open (or just F10, if it's bound to do this) olt (for Options -> Line Wrapping in this Buffer -> Truncate) will do this. It's also possible in Type-Rite, a word processing program written in the late 1970s and which ran on Jacquard Systems hardware.

  14. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    "We would usually be on the road three to four days a week, with the remaining time spent in the workshop building barely serviceable PCs out of third-rate components, sourced always from the supplier with the cheapest, nastiest and least reliable components on offer."

    So, Bill worked for RM then?

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Surely 3rd rate was several steps above RM?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "So, Bill worked for RM then?"

      You never had Time to look at other makes?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Pesky RM

      With their 'proprietary' memory cards.

      Cheap as chips machines bought by an education department then handed over to my team to support when they were proving to be about as reliable as Morris marina, They had been underspecced drastically but instead of being able to re-use memory from the finance PC's we had upgraded (I had buckets of them) I had to spend £100,000 on RM cards.

      we also had to develop a complete new image to include different drivers to stabilise the POS pc's then re-image every single machine. That was a lengthy task as we had to find and preserve all the data/ documents etc. before we could re-image.

      I think it saved £20K for the education department buying RM but cost me £250,000 in increased support resources, memory upgrades etc over the next 3 years.

    4. Soruk

      I was thinking more like Silicon Group, who were notorious for this.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How many sanities were saved by Teamviewer and the likes, I wonder ...

    Tales from support from me:

    - This dude was blind and lived alone and I went there for some support. Tried to use the mouse, to no avail. The poor thing was semi-dead. Of course, a blind can't use a mouse so this was never noticed. He was using kb only (knew keys by heart), cycled through windows with tab, and used a specialized software which was reading windows title + content. I was AMAZED at what he could do: read letters, write letters, use the net etc ...

    - An in law once called me: "I used zip to zip a file. But is the zipped file ?". How could I know, lol ? This is when I discovered (and used) Teamviewer.

    - This lady who once summoned me to install an AV. I was totally baffled by her mouse behaviour. No idea how she did this, but moving it left would move the cursor right and vice-versa. Controls were reversed ! She said it was because she was left-handed, which hardly is related. Needless to say, it was a chore to work on !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Teamviewer

      The last one sounds a *lot* like the kind of pranks that we used to do in high school using sub7...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pranks

        I know one helpdesk crew that would replace a users wallpaper with a screenshot of that users wallpaper, and have a fit of the giggles when said user was clicking on the "icons" and they did nothing ....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pranks

          Used to work with a guy who went for a 10min smoke break, every hour, on the hour, that rankled with other members of the team (even the ones who smoked). One day I took a picture of his empty chair, doctored it to make it look like a 'monitoring station' and opened a window on his desktop showing the pic (he never bothered to lock the PC before disappearing). Cue panic on his return and a frantic search for the 'hidden camera' with lots of cursing. (unfortunately it didn't cure him and AFAIK he still does it, although no longer in front of the ground floor's aircon intakes)

    2. David Nash

      Re: Teamviewer

      I once encountered a left-handed user who used the mouse upside down, with the wire trailing towards them. Move left, it goes right, etc.

      My guess is that she did it the first time to reverse the buttons, then just learned it like that.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The dyslexic can be worse

    A couple of decades ago when on an ISP helldesk, I had the misfortune to be supporting the government decision to give the chronically dyslexic their own PC's, which would apparently magically ease their condition. Now, having had friends at school who used word processors for exams, I understand this can help for some.

    Unfortunately, this isn't always the case, which is why lots of people who really couldn't read anything on a screen called in. You can try to walk people through by describing windows and boxes, but with very limited success...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The dyslexic can be worse

      "[...] which is why lots of people who really couldn't read anything on a screen called in.

      A young acquaintance had severe problems with reading - as did his two older brothers. In his late teens his face would show the intense effort as he tried to learn to read simple words.

      The fourth, and youngest, brother loved reading and words. He used to act as the intermediary when trouble-shooting the PC over the phone. The older brother used the PC to play games like GTA.

      Another young friend never learned to write properly. In his twenties his handwritten script was an apparently indiscriminate mixture of upper and lower case letters. His spelling was also atrocious. Surprisingly - looking over my shoulder he would have no problem spotting a menu item or reading the text. Using SMS has fixed his writing but his spelling is still atrocious. The word "tomorrow" gets a random number of "r" and "m" in various repeats of letter groups within the word.

      Explaining that "morrow" is a word with a meaning like "morning" - and that you just prefix it with "to" doesn't seem to help him.

      It's a bit like the old joke about knowing how to spell "banana" - but not knowing when to stop.

  17. MrMerrymaker

    Children of the Resolution

    There was one user who requested a bigger monitor via the helldesk. We needed manager auth, and said manager presented the OK. At which point it comes to desktop support.

    It was fulfilled basically, and this sorry agent here was the desktop munchkin who took it to her. Lo and behold, she takes a look at her new 19" monitor: it's too small.

    I beg your what, ma'am?

    It's too small!

    Us gents never like hearing that from a female, especially one quite fetching, so I asked her to explain the how, why, while I prepared the usual embarrassed defence of 'I think you'll find it's bigger than average' and 'well, it's cold in the storeroom'

    Turns out, groan... She couldn't see the text. It was too small and blurry. I whacked up the text size in Windows and she was happier and said she'd give it a whirl.

    Ambled by a week or so later, and she had the resolution at a garish 800x600 or similar. I was having palpitations. I politely enquired wtf and, satisfied and smug, she explained:

    I can see it properly now! The text isn't blurry anymore!... (she looks at me and whispers:) I didn't want to use my new glasses in the office....

    1. Andytug

      Re: Children of the Resolution

      Very much this......

      A number of years ago we kitted out a whole floor of 80 people with lovely new 20" monitors, business case for buying them based on being able to open two full windows at once.....guess what, within a week most had complained the text and icons were too small and set them to 800x600, thus negating the 40k+ spent on the monitors.........ffs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Children of the Resolution

        My mother does this.

      2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Children of the Resolution

        A Devon & Cornwall detective (in his 20's) I encountered repeatedly insisted that his monitor be set to 800x600 (Build was locked to 1024 x 768 resolution) because he couldn't read it.

    2. Stevie

      Re: Children of the Resolution

      Years ago I deployed a print workstation and browser solution to an enormous distributed enterprise. We managed things from the helpdesk using PC Anywhere, and I only got involved when there was Trouble Up At Mill.

      I get a call from he helpdesk asking if I can have a word with the staff at a particular site who were changing the resolution of the desktop from whatever it was (I forget) to something they could presumably see with old eyeballs.

      The problem was this meant that it was a nightmare trying to troubleshoot with PC anywhere because of dreadful resolution mismatch issues. This, combined with the slow network response to make life utterly miserable for the helpdesk staff.

      So I called after hours one day when all my office colleagues had left and spoke to the two older ladies who were the entire workforce at that location. I told them I had trouble seeing the text myself, wondered if that was the reason they were altering the screen resolution, and that I could show them something that might make their lives very much easier.

      I took control of the workstation from my desk and demonstrated the print browsers in-built "zoom" feature by zooming in until the screen held only a single, giant letter. Then I zoomed back out again until the print was too tiny to see (talking them through the process as they watched), and finally, I demonstrated the single hotkey "default size please" reset.

      I did it again, giving the ladies time to write down the hotkeys, asked hem if this would be an acceptable way of making the print readable and was assured it was perfect.

      They were delighted. Hotline staff were delighted. I went to drink beer. Everybody won.

    3. Loud Speaker

      Re: Children of the Resolution

      Many years ago, I made an interesting observation:

      Most pretty girls have bad eyesight. This is because they don't see the flaws in their appearance, and so don't draw attention to them.

  18. John 110

    25 years of IT support... a laboratory where Louis Pasteur would recognise the techniques we use.

    * One poor soul couldn't understand why that big silver DELL button didn't turn the computer on.

    * Our office manager (who could lay out documents on a typewriter that you would swear had been professionally typeset) kept all her correspondence in a single Word file (5 for DOS, then kept the practice up when we transitioned to 2.0 on Win 3.11).

    * A friend who took early retirement rather than have to face using a PC every day.

    It's easy to mock these people, especially when we work in a high-tech environment, but like I say, I've worked 45 years in a microbiology lab (25 of those in IT support) and the technological changes we've seen in that time have been unbelievable (look up MALDI-TOF). The pc revolution just seemed like one more thing to cope with for some people.

    These days of course, we're sitting people down in front of desktop PCs using keyboard oriented software, when their computing experience is mainly stabbing their finger at a phone or iPad. Still, keeps me in a job (until next year)

    1. Ivan Headache

      Re: 25 years of IT support...

      I think I've posted this before but a repeat fits perfectly here.

      I had a call "I can't find the right page 2"


      "There's lots if page 2s and I can't find the right one."

      Cue visit.

      The screen is littered with page 1s and page 2s plus the odd page 3

      Turns out she was in typewriter mode and thought that you needed a new document for the next page.

      She had managed ok for a while but as work progressed it had got out of hand.

      Would have helped a bit if she had developed a file naming procedure that linked the pages- but no. Page 1, page 2.

      Spent a bit of time helping her match them up and joining the relevant pages and then naming the new document and she slowly started to appreciate the differences between a typewriter and a WP.

      Lady's occupation?

      Career guidance counsellor.

  19. Steve Kerr

    Joy of users

    Had this call once

    user "I can't login"

    me "to what"

    user "the program"

    me "which program?"

    user "don't know, don't you know?"

    me "We have many programs, what does it do?"

    user "don't know"

    me "what's your login id?"

    user "don't know"

    me "I suggest you talk to one of your colleagues and call back when you know which program and which user id your using"

    Never got a call back

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Joy of users

      LOL at this one.

      The poor sod was probably new in the job and some idiot just threw him at a PC with no other support than 'call Helldesk" in case of trouble.

      Still not funny for support ....

  20. OzBob

    Speaking of shitty equipment

    my boss was leader of tech IT for a large government department, and in the late 90s he was sick of constant complaints about various models of printers not working on our intranet with the various applications. Fortunately he played golf with the head of finance of said department, so one monday he came in and said "all printers to be connected to our network must be HP Laserjet III". Six months later, printer support calls for connection issues were a rarity. Just goes to show what standards can do (and the political horsepower to ram them through).

    1. Lilolefrostback

      Re: Speaking of shitty equipment

      Wow. I wish.

      One group at work puts together large document stacks to be sent to a client (before anyone starts in on "why don't you do it electronically?", there are LEGAL reasons for paper. Every person in that group has their own printer. Just about every printer is a unique make/model. Nightmare. There is no reason for it at all - any of the printers in use would suit all of the users. The folks that buy printers simply look for the best deal. Except that having to support umpty different printers is not the best deal.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An Excel user complained that cut&paste between spreadsheets had stopped working.

    Went along to their office. They demonstrated that they selected some cells on the current workbook's sheet and did "copy". Then an alt-tab to their destination workbook - where "paste" had no effect.

    Both sheets were otherwise perfectly accessible and working ok.

    Then I spotted it. They had managed to load the two workbooks as separate instances of Excel. The copy&paste action apparently only works across workbooks in the same Excel instance.***

    ***still the case for Excel 2010

    1. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Office's "intelligent" paste can be a real curiosity at times.

      If you copy some lines from Access, pasting into an Excel sheet will also give you the column headers above the data.

      If you tell Excel to paste as values... you get the table name, the column headers and then the data, but at least it doesn't muck with the font.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I have also never ending shit to say about the morons that come up with locked-up templates, full of merged cells, 'cos they failed to understand you can have entire lines of text without merging cells to bring more space with multiple default sized cells.

        It's always very entertaining to see copy/paste fail miserably because of that.

  22. Keith 12

    WTF are you doing in my .....

    As a co-owner of an IT services / repair outfit many years ago, we received a very strange call, so odd that the member of staff who initially took the call asked one of the partners to take it.

    I found myself speaking to a highly distressed Lady who sounded at the very end of her tether. Despite requesting more information on the problem over a period of some minutes, even confirming that she did in fact require some form of IT support, and not an Ambulance or the Police, I was unable to ascertain what the problem actually was - she was highly agitated, extremely emotional and basically begging someone to visit.

    So disturbed by the call in fact were we all that both partners decided to visit along with a young technician.

    On reaching the address we were met by a middle-aged lady who looked worn out and very stressed.

    Entering the property and looking down the hallway, and I still remember it to this day, I noticed that all of the doors to the rooms off the hallway were closed and she pointed to the closed door at the very end, and moved behind us, with, unfortunately, myself in front.

    I also remember, and I know this may sound ridiculous, but so charged was the atmosphere, thinking that this was some kind of setup and began to frantically run through any and all previous work that we had carried out locally to question if any of the jobs involved might be about to result in some sort of payback…

    It didn’t help that, as I neared the door I couldn’t not but notice that the Lady involved was now stood well away from the 3 of us in expectation of a forthcoming traumatic event…

    I knocked the door and there was no answer, I turned and looked at my colleagues, raised my eyebrows, knocked once more and opened the door…

    And was met with what I can only describe as a hellish volume of sound comprising of what appeared to be cats screaming, brake pads binding etc, at such a high level that it was physically painful.

    An elderly guy sitting at the desk, and busy at his PC, angrily looked over, gave me a questioning stare as if to ask who the hell we were and WTF are you doing in my Lounge?

    Any sort of verbal reply from me rendered impossible due to the noise level, at this point, fortunately, the Lady herself entered the room and there ensued a somewhat fraught marital confrontation, mainly using a basic sign language during which it became obvious that the guy himself was completely deaf and did not accept that there was any form of problem with his PC

    As I tried to calm the situation down a little and attempted to confirm the Wife’s complaint to him about the noise, though he was having none of it, but managed to coax him away from his desk, my business partner unscrewed and edged the cover off the side of the PC to note it was the rear case fan that was responsible.

    Realising that we had not bought a replacement fan we decided to remove a fan from a PC that we did have with us, and, a few minutes later, after a trip to the car, and a quick reboot, domestic bliss was restored.

    Turns out the problem had existed for some months.

  23. Howard Hanek

    It Probably Started Very Early

    With incorrect head clamp usage at birth.

  24. Richard Gray 1

    Before the internet!!!!

    I used to work in the Tech department of a certain large store.

    Parents would buy their sweet little sh... kids a PC and some games.

    These would always need tuning, ensuring that the CDdriver was in the CONFIG.SYS and the MSCDEX.EXE was in the AUTOEXEC.BAT

    So we would have to tell the little shi ... kids what to do over the phone. Said phone generally being in the hallway, while said PC was in a bedroom.

    Cue the Chinese Whispers of Me speaking to parent, who shouted up the command to shi... child #1 at the top of the stairs who relayed it to shi.. child #2 in the said bedroom...

    Beer because I needed one then and I need one now..

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is a classic case (as are some of the comments) of the problems stacking up for the future. There's a widespread assumption that everybody can, and wants to, use computers for a huge variety of activities. But many people don't automatically understand computers. Some can't (and it has nothing to do with intelligence) and some don't want to. The fact that it's your world doesn't mean that everybody else in every other world has to understand it. I was doing an arts degree course a couple of years ago and another student who was in his 40s said he only used a computer as a last resort, so it's not necessarily age-related either. The people who design computer equipment and UIs need to realise that they have to make things as simple as possible for ordinary users.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't help when even experienced users suddenly find something in the OS or application has been updated. What you used to be able to do in your mind's eye - is no longer accessible in that way.

      A colleague used to keep a logbook of every change he made to install or tune something on his PC or the network devices. The problem was that over 40 years the data became very voluminous. It had no index - so eventually he often couldn't find the information. When he retired the last thing he ever wanted to do was to be an "expert" in such things again.

      It becomes a never-ending task of keeping plates spinning.

      When you want to use your PC to do a job - you don't want to have to trouble-shoot why some essential function no longer works.

  26. Jimathy

    At what point..... you tell them to put it back in the box and tell them they're too £^&!(^% stupid to own it?

    1. MrMerrymaker

      Re: At what point.....

      Probably never.

  27. Stevie


    I had one quite like that, but with the surreality knob twisted up to 11.

    I had inherited the trouble ticket system from a consultant who abruptly quit, and was told "get rid of all these old tickets!" by my boss, so I started to reach out.

    I called my first (and as it happened, last customer), whose ticket was almost seven months old.

    "You've taken your own sweet time getting back to me!" said the customer.

    I explained that on the contrary, I had started work on the ticket backlog only that day and he was my first call.

    "Well this ticket was URGENT!" he said in aggrieved tones.

    I opined that it couldn't have been that urgent since the ticket had lain fallow for half a year with no attempt to escalate by the requestor.

    "I'll transfer you to the user with the actual problem" the nice man said. I never found out who he was so I could enact vengeance for the alternate universe experience he dropped me into.

    Me: "Hello. Can you tell me what the issue is you are experiencing?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "No. My terminal's not working"

    Me: OK, let's see if we can figure out why. Are you sitting by the terminal now?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "Yes".

    Me: "OK, what do you see?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "I don't know."

    Me: Are you sitting in front of the terminal?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "Yes."

    Me: "Can you see a menu?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "I don't know."

    Me: "You can see the screen?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "Yes."

    Me: "Is there a menu of options displayed on it?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "I don't know."

    Me: "Is the terminal switched on?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "I don't know."

    Me: Can you see a green light under the screen?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "I don't know."

    Me: "But you can see the screen itself?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "Yes."

    Me: "You are sitting in front of the terminal?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "Yes."

    Me: "But you can't see the power light?"

    Urgent Problem Sufferer: "I don't know."

    A light belatedly dawned.

    Me: "I'll have to do some more checking at this end and get back to you."

    I hung up and closed the ticket. To this day I have no f***ing idea what that was about.

    Note: You may have read that story on The Shark Tank, where it was roundly dismissed as made-up by the commentards. I posted that story, and I swear it is true. No, I cannot tell you what the fsck it was about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      "I don't know.""

      It almost sounds like someone who had learned a little English - and "I don't know" was their way of saying they didn't understand what had been said.

      A neighbour's 4 year old has a mother tongue of Polish and his mother wanted him to have a firm grasp of that before getting too involved in English. Now he is going to pre-school his English is coming on - and he knows that speaking Polish to me doesn't work. It becomes an exercise in mental word substitution to grasp what he is asking me. I have learned that a clearly spoken "Why is ..." that doesn't make sense in the context - is probably "Where is ...".

      1. Stevie

        Re: Bah!

        Nope. Fluent in US English and not blind or color-blind (I edited out about two thirds of the questionnaire for brevity).

        I've never figured it out.

        I had another guy call me after I was relieved of ticket duty.

        Him: "I need to speak to Consultant McQuitface"

        Me: "I'm sorry, he no longer works here."

        Him: "Well I need to speak to him about an urgent ticket."

        Me: "Well, as I said, he no longer works here."

        Him: "This ticket is urgent!"

        Me: "Well, I haven't worked the ticket system myself for six months and he had a backlog of another six, so it can't have been that urgent"

        Him: "I really need to speak to Consultant McQuitface"

        Me: "He doesn't work here any more."

        HIm: "I Really need to speak to him."

        Me: "Mr Consultant McQuitface no longer works here. He quit. He walked offsite with no warning."

        Him: "...are YOU Consultant McQuitface?"

        I was so blindsided by this I completely neglected to do what I normally do in such situations and yell "YES! YES I AM AHAHAHAHAHAHA!" and slam down the phone. All I could do was hang up on yet another Call from the Twilight Zone.

  28. RobThBay


    A long time ago.... I used to get calls that a monitor was blank. After having them check all the usual suspects (is it plugged, power light on, etc) I would end up driving to their site.

    It turned out brightness was turned down as far as it would go. Easy to fix and of course no one admitted to touching tne brightness button.

    As time went on I was still getting those calls and it was always the brightness (or dimness haha). It turns out they were accidentaly pressing that button whenever they moved the monitors. The button was located under the front edge of the monitor which was the perfect spot to grab the screen when it needed moving.

    At work we would refer to it as the dim bulb problem.

  29. Sam Therapy

    The company? Has to be Packard Bell. Famed for making new Packard Bells out of old Packard Bells.

  30. jt_Canuk

    1980s, an iron foundry business: avg age of personnel, 50-60; avg disposition to computers: skittish at best, absolute panic at worst. My job: systems mgr / sysadmin / support mgr. We standardized our network pcs on Macintosh for three reasons: robustness (took 3-4 months in a hellish environment to kill them; PCs lasted weeks); cost (Apple would provide annual renewable warranty for $130/ea.; we swapped out both system & video card reliably every 3-4 months under warranty); user-friendliness (easy to learn - even my friend's 2 yr. old was functional, on her own, in 20 min.!).

    Fool-proof, right?

    But every morning I'd get a call from Darlene the receptionist complaining her networked Mac wouldn't boot. Sure enough, boot disk failed every time. And the boot disc was garbage.

    I stayed with her & watched her boot process: she'd feed the boot disc into the Mac, watch it fail. Hmmmm.

    Joiner her for shut-down at night. Watched her log off, extract the boot disc from the Mac & stick it to the side of her filing cabinet with a honking big magnet.

    Its easy to forget that for many users still, these things are magic, and not a kind of magic they wish to understand in any way shape or form.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "[...] extract the boot disc from the Mac & stick it to the side of her filing cabinet with a honking big magnet.

      There are several similar stories that probably happened where a customer had been instructed to keep a backup copy of an installation floppy in a safe place.

      1) they filed the floppy - stapled to a sheet of instructions.

      2) they filed the floppy - with holes punched to fit in a ring binder.

      3) they filed a photocopy of the floppy

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "We standardized our network pcs on Macintosh for three reasons: robustness (took 3-4 months in a hellish environment to kill them; PCs lasted weeks);"

      You were lucky with that Apple warranty. That sort of environment would normally void any warranty or service contract unless specifically written in and at significant annual cost. I bet the Apple of today wouldn't accept it :-)

  31. Hans 1

    Because I removed viri from computers in a hell desk, for a short period, I had complete n00bs on the line, who were offered to follow instructions on the web for free or would pay for hand-hold.

    I start saying: Fomr now on, you do exactly as I request, after each step I will ask you what you see on screen.

    1. Can you see the space bar on your keyboard, to the left of that is the Alt key, Ok, to the left of that is a key with a flag, hit that one please and tell me what you see.

    2. ...

    I still do that with my sister, she passed a computing course decades ago but has a mental health condition, she used to be able to author html and JavaScript, all gone, cannot even find a file she downloaded, I have told her 100 times ... hold the Ctrl key and hit J. She still remembers ctrl+c/v, but that is about it ... sooooo sad.

    I sometimes lose my temper ... especially after going through a procedure five times in a row and she still forgets halfway through ,.... she was supposed to have written it down ...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Our tall office building had a large mainframe accessed by developer terminal rooms on many floors.

    One morning the O/S crashed. A post mortem memory image was written to tape and the O/S reloaded.

    The tape was then printed - or rather it started to print before the O/S crashed again. This happened several times before it was decided to isolate all the terminals while the tape was printed.

    This was successful - but as soon as the O/S was reloaded it crashed again fairly quickly.

    I scanned the dump - spotted the bug and went to the indicated terminal in the building. There was a programmer sitting at the terminal fretting that the system had gone down yet again as she tried to type her BASIC program. She complained - "Every time I get to this line your system stops working".

    She had decided to number her statement lines from 1000000 - an unexpected range for which the BASIC compiler had no contingency handling.

  33. Juan Inamillion


    It's quite interesting to see some comments here about 'older' people. My client list is very eclectic and I can tell you there are as many 'young' people as there are 'older' people who struggle with operating computers. Never assume - it makes an ass out of u and me.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't blame the (new) users for Microsoft's GUI.

    The start menu used to be called "Start", once upon a time.

    This is getting old now: Laughing at total novices.

  35. JavaJester

    UI Guidelines mandate saying "Press a key to continue"

    I worked at a company that had UI guidelines that included command line and text interactive programs. The guidelines actually mandated to never use the words "any key". The correct phrasing was "a key". The document went on to reason that clueless lusers would search in vain for an "any" key before driving up helldesk costs with their calls. If "a key" was used, the users would search, and their search would not be in vain: they would find an "a" key.

    Personally I think those guidelines were inspired. They were probably written by someone who had gotten their start from the helldesk and answered that question many, many more times that anyone should have to.

    1. Loud Speaker

      Re: UI Guidelines mandate saying "Press a key to continue"

      After having the legendary "My keyboard does not have an any key" call, I got the instructions changed to "space bar" - only to discover that "any" did not include the space bar!

      This replaced software featuring the legendary "press any key to continue or any other key to abort". My personal tape backup script still says this 30 years later, but _I_ know that Ctrl-C will abort, and no one else uses the script.

  36. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    I worked in a school once and this was a daily routine for me

    Teacher: The computer doesnt work, can you come and take a look quickly as I am in lessons

    Me: I turn up, check lights, yup PC on, monitor not on. Pushes button

    Teacher: is that all it was?

    Me: Yup, then walks away while the students giggling

    I thought the teachers job was to enable students to learn, provide them with the skills needed to analyse and figure thinks out for themselves.

    Clearly, I was mistaken. Because this teacher did not show any aptitude in this area

    1. VikiAi

      Teachers that show aptitude in those areas are either unusually dedicated to education to stay in it, or quickly find a job with better pay and benefits and less stress outside the classroom. (My brother represents the former, I the latter).

  37. Highinthemountains

    Mike brought his “computer” into the shop because they’re spying on me

    I had a customer, Mike, who seemed somewhat challenged and a was challenge to deal with when it came to computers. Mike called me up one day and said that they were spying on him when he was on the internet. When I asked what made him think that, he said that there was a little eye at the bottom of his web browser and it was watching him and he want me to fix it so they couldn’t watch him. Now, this was the time before remote support programs, so I asked him to bring his computer into the shop so I could scan it for viruses and malware.

    A few hours later he comes walking in with his monitor. When I asked where the computer was he said that it was right here, meaning the monitor. I said no, the black box under his desk was the computer. I told home to take the monitor back home so he could shut down the computer to bring it in. He said that wouldn’t be necessary as he just unhooked everything before disconnecting his “computer”, meaning he just yanked the power.

    I sent Mike back home to get the computer so he could show me how they were spying on him. He come back with the computer, I set everything up and turned it on. The first thing it wanted to do was a chkdsk because of his abrupt shutdown. He complained that it was always doing that check thing. I explained that because he wasn’t turning off the computer properly, he was seeing the disk check. I told him that I would show him how to keep it from happening.

    After Windows came up I asked him to show me how they were spying on him. He launched Internet Explorer and went to his home page. He then pointed to the bottom of the screen and said, see there is the eye and they’re spying on me. What he pointed to was the old privacy setting symbol that they used to use in IE. When I tried to explain what it was, he was pretty adamant that he was being spied upon. (Well, he probably was, but back then we didn’t know how much data was really being slurped by web sites).

    I told him that I would put a different web browser on his computer that wouldn’t spy on him and I loaded up Firefox. Mike didn’t see the eye anymore and felt he was safe and secure. I was somewhat frazzled by my experience with him, but several dollars richer.

  38. ecofeco Silver badge

    Rite of passage

    I did thousands of these. Isn't it a right passage?

  39. aztec3

    How about these users!

    I was working on an IBM Helpdesk in the early 90's supporting, among others, EXXON gas stations via a customized hardware/software package that, when fully integrated, would manage inventory, customer repairs tracking, electronically read the fuel pumps...and print out billing invoices. Early 90's, computers, and auto mechanics...the software was named EXXACT (yes two Xs like in EXXON).

    Lots of simple minded calls, but one came in that even my mother could answer.

    "Yeah, the printouts keep getting lighter and lighter and lighter..."

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    monitoring software issue

    At this WW DC, we were using VPO (ex-ITO) as the HP monitoring solution for the whole DC.

    One sad friday, an idiot from HP lasted his day by selecting 90 000 old alerts, clicking "delete", then fucked off for the week-end. Of course without telling anyone in the ops team.

    The dude on duty didn't really appreciate spending day and night in the WE, troubleshooting the fact the DB under VPO would crash like every minutes, due to logs moving to archives at insane speed, filling up the file system.

    Of course, the workstation with th VPO GUI was not remote accessible ...

    Monday saw a bunch of angry emails, unsurprisingly.

  41. Martin J Hooper

    A video funny that you lot would enjoy I'm sure

    Technical Support funny video... You guys I think would like this.

  42. dmacleo

    sounds like the last few years of monarch computer (in US) who went from a great vendor to trash suddenly and then out of business. they had help desk manned by the pc builders for a short time.

  43. MOV r0,r0

    High Values of Two

    Re illustration, a little late to the party but I tried harder and found 2 + 2 = 5 is true for high values of two.

  44. RedCardinal

    >>met quickly by the sound of Bill rolling his eyes.

    Bill had particularly noisy eyes then? ;)

  45. E 2

    Me too

    Same thing, except it was in person. I was doing Novell & NT4 sysadmin in a biz school in Canada. This one guy - the executive director of an institute consisting of a single professor and an executive director - would always ask me how to do MS Office crap and of course I'd no idea about MS Office. But one time he asked me a Photoshop question and I did know something about Photoshop. I looked, he was trying to flood fill some space in a poster, and I asked him to click the paint bucket icon; for some damned reason he reached over and clicked the power switch on the PC to "Off", and looked up at me all doe-eyed and expectant. I just turned on my heel and left the room.

    BTW @Editors - I like the nested comment scheme.

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