I used to work for a small systems integrator. (That is,
we produced both hardware and software.)
The software development staff, which included me,
was in the room right next to the customer service
department, and so they often came to us for help with
particularly tough problems or when they were overworked.
This often became quite a burden, but it did mean that
I got to be a part of or at least hear about all sorts
of entertaining service calls. Among my favories:
Insert floppy #2 ...
A computer was brought in for repair of a broken floppy
drive. When we took it apart, we discovered that someone
had managed to cram three floppies into it at the same
time! No doubt someone was carefully following instructions,
"Insert floppy number 1 ... insert floppy number 2 ...
insert floppy number 3 ..." and the instructions never
said to take the previous one out.
A compatibility problem
Another computer brought in for repair of a broken
floppy drive. Apparently the user had gotten some software
on 5 1/4" diskettes. (Remember those?) But her computer
only had a 3 1/2" drive. No problem. She just folded
the disk in half, and it fit in the drive no problem.
Another defective floppy drive
A customer called complaining that their floppy drive
did not work. As our service tech went through the
problem with her on the phone, it became more and more
curious. She could write to a disk and read back what
she had written, but if she tried to read a disk she
had made a day or two before it wouldn't work. Even
the disk that the service tech walked her through
creating wouldn't work when the customer called back
a couple of days later. They went around and around
on the exact procedures she was following, exactly
what the error messages were, etc. for many phone
calls over a period of weeks. The customer was starting
to get really made about this problem, and was
threatening to sue.
So finally we sent someone to make a "house call".
Once he walked in the office, he could see what the
problem was. The customer was apparently a very orderly
person, and she had devised a simple but effective
system for keeping track of her floppy disks. She
kept them all on a neat, well-organized peg board.
Of course, she had to punch a hole in the floppy to
hang it on a peg ...
Back in the days before lasers and ink jets, we
used to have a thing called "daisy wheel" printers.
Ever seen one of these? There's a little plastic "negative"
for each letter or symbol you can print. These are
arranged at the end of spokes on a wheel. I think it
looks more like a wagon wheel than a daisy, but I guess
that name sounded cuter. Anyway,
the printer spins the wheel so that the desired character
is at the top, and then a hammer presses it against a
ribbon, leaving an impression on the paper.
One day one of our customers who had such a printer called
with a problem. The daisy wheel had broken. Specifically,
the zero symbol had broken off. This was rather a problem
when it came to printing financial reports.
But this particular customer happened to be hundreds of
miles away. We couldn't just drive over there with a new
daisy wheel. There was no FedEx back then, so it would
take days to get to them by mail, and they wanted to
print their reports now.
So my boss dialed up their system on a modem, and fixed
the problem from a remote terminal.
How in the world do you fix a broken piece of
hardware over the phone, you may ask. I certainly did.
Well, he simply wrote
a trivial program to change all digit zeros to letter
ohs, and then installed this so that all their print
output was run through it. I guess that's why he was
© 1997 by Jay Johansen