Computer Questions.

For any of us who have done technical support, this should bring back
some (fond? :-) memories.

Stories about luser questions compiled by, (Neil "YoYo" Pawson).

These are taken directly from postings on the news so the style varies
quite a lot.  Distribute freely as long as my name remains as the list
compiler and the list of authors at the end is left unaltered.

Contributers listed at the end.


(user)  I'm having trouble with this editor
(admin) Which one are you using ?
(user)  Um, I dunno.
(admin) Emacs? Which version are you running ?
(user)  Umm, I'm running version vi, and having heaps of
        trouble. Is vii out?
(admin) (mental grind) *duh*
(user)  Have they done anything new?
(admin) Well, yeah, they're up to xv now, but that needs a special
        graphical interface.
(user)  Oh, well, thanks anyway.
(admin) *shudder*


A tech support guy once told me that he got a call from someone saying
that the computer screen just went black and the computer wouldn't
respond at all.  The tech guy (starting with the obvious) asked the
guy if the computer was still plugged in that maybe his foot had
knocked the plug out of the socket.  The guy on the other end of the
phone said to hold on that he would be back in a minute with a
flashlight because the electricity had just gone out in his building
and he couldn't see under the desk without the lights....


The start of the new school term always brings out the most
interesting questions for computer consultants on campus. The
predominant questions this term pertain to "getting into" E-mail and
how to access the "Information Highway".

An obviously distraught student came into the consulting office
yesterday complaining that his E-mail wasn't working; his attempts to
get tickets for an on-campus concert kept resulting in returned mail.

He showed me the mail address he was attempting to reach- I asked him
where he obtained such an unusual mail address.

He replied, "The sign told me, 'begins@7:30 P.M.'"


A secretary in our office (years ago :-) was trying to save her data on
floppy. She kept complaining that the (single sided) 5 & 1/4 was losing
her data. Well, I was asked to investigate. I unwilling approached the

I asked her to show me what she did when she saved her data. She took
a new disk, inserted it into the drive, formatted it, saved her data,
and removed the diskette without a hitch. She then proceeded to peel off
a new label, and carefully applied it to the disk.

No problems so far.

She then took the disk, inserted it into the typewriter, scrolled it
through the roller, and neatly typed her label.

I found the problem on the first try.


I was trying to teach this sales person (for automated entrance system
[they made gates]) how to enter his letters into Word Perfect.  I told
him to select Word Perfect from his menu and when he did it gave him
the opening screen which said, "Press any key to continue..."  He
looked at the keyboard for awhile then asked me, "Where is the 'any'


There is the classic one (which I hope is an urban myth) of the
secretary working in an accounting firm who is told to make back up
copies of the discs every night.

Every night she carfully collected together all the discs and took
them away to copy them.  After six months the hard disc crashed but
no-one was worried because they had backups, until the secretary
brought in the huge pile of paper with a nice photocopied disc on


A user called the PC Support line of the university having trouble with
her Mac.  It was handed off to one of the Mac guys...

"What seems to be the problem?"
"It's not working."
Eyes roll.  "What's not working?"
"My Mac."
<- Five minutes of drawing the problem out of the woman deleted>
"Okay, to access the files on the disk click the mouse on the picture
 of the disk."
 Pause.  "Nothing happened.  I told you, I've already tried this."
 Support guy makes as if he is strangling the phone.
 "Okay, do it again.  Is the mouse moving?"
 "On the screen?"
 "Now click twice on the picture of the disk."
 Pause and the consultant hears the two clicks again.  "Nothing."

 "Maam, double-click once more for me."


 "Maam, are you hitting the screen with your mouse?"


A secretary who had gotten a PC for word processing had periodic
failures.  The disks would work for days, but after a couple of weeks
would fail.  They would be recovered by IBM (to an extent) but after a
couple of weeks the cycle would repeat.

At one point a service tech came out to the site to repair it,
suspecting damage in transit.

He recovered what he could, cleaned and aligned the drive (for the
400th time) and gave it a clean bill of health at about 5:00...

and the secretary in question put the disk in the envelope, stuck it
to her wall with her magnet, and went home.

Of course this sounds stupid to us, but how many secretaries are
familiar with mass storage techniques?  A friend of mine fixed his
mother's TV by connecting the antenna.  After explaining the problem,
she asked:

"How far away is the TV station?"

"From here?  About 20 miles."

"You mean that picture can travel 20 miles to get to the antenna, but
it can't go another 3 inches to get to the TV?"

How do you explain that (in less than four years)?


These remind me of another story I heard (or probably read on
rec.humor.  It was told by an instructor who taught programming in
BASIC language.

He had given them step-by-step instructions on how to write a short
program that would let you enter two numbers and the computer would
return the sum of the two numbers.

When each student had all their program steps keyed in, he told the
class to type RUN and enter.  A lady in the back of the class said,
"It didn't work."  The instructor once again told her to simply type
RUN and enter.  Still didn't work.  So the instructor walked back to
see what the problem was.  It was obvious.  He had been spelling out
"R" "U" "N"....she had typed "are you in".


A user came up and wanted to know why their 3.5" disk wouldn't go into
the Mac's floppy drive.  I check out the disk, noted that it was okay,
and then walked over to the offending machine, suspecting a hardware
problem with the disk mechanism.

As I moved to insert the disk into the drive to test things out, the
user interrupted me:

"No!  Not that drive...*this* one."

"This" drive, of course, turned out to be a CD-ROM.


Every now and then, when users work on documents on multiple disks,
the Mac's will tell them to insert their other disk.  And sometimes,
you get to catch people trying to put two disks in the same drive at
the same time.  :)


I was at the local computer shop and I happened to be in the tech area
talking to one of my friends there and I overheard this woman say to
another technician the following:

"I am running WinFax to receive my faxes.  I want to know if I have to
leave the computer running in order to do this."

It was all I could do to from bursting out loud and rolling on the
floor laughing.


At my first real world programming position, we sent out updates on 8"
floppy disks.  To save time/energy, we put the following on the disk

        1) Insert disk in drive 
        2) Press ^C             (control-C)
        3) type  A:INSTALL      

We got a call from one of our users (um, "customers").  She said
"I don't know what to do.  I inserted the disk in the drive, but then
I forgot what the next step was."

This was the turning point for me.  I finally realized just how
foolproof things needed to be.  (We sent out paper copies with
instructions after that.)


While I was working in a placement office at the University, we helped
students write their resumes on the computer.  A student came up to me
and said he had problems reading the disk.  I asked him to show it to
me so I could see if I could recover the files, "sure." he said, an
took the disk (5 1/4" floppy) out of his pocket and unfolded it.


Another time, while working at a computer store, somebody who bought
his computer from us was having trouble with one of his disks.  The
man was living in another city, so I asked him to send me a copy of
the disk, and I would take a look at it.  A few days later, an
envelope arrived for me, it contained a "photocopy" of the front and
back side of the disk.


I overheard a nice conversation one day in a computer shop:

customer: I'd like a mouse mat please.

assistant: certainly sir,we've got a large variety.

customer while looking at said mats then asked:

"But will they be compatible with my computer?"

All i could do to keep a straight face was walk out of the shop.


A friend of mine works at Word Perfect in Orem UT.  He had a lady call
up and tell him she couldn't figure out how to install the program.

He told her "Insert Disk1 into the disk drive and type "INSTALL WP".
He then proceeded to have her insert disk 2 through 4 in sequential
order. She then stopped him to ask if it would be alright to remove the
previous four disks because the fifth wouldn't fit.


> The best protection against computer viruses is to keep the cover on the
> floppy disk when you insert it into the drive :-)

Don't laugh. At the store in which I used to work we actually had
people come in with disks stuck in their Macs and on the disks the
plastic disk cover. One of the downsides of being "easiest to use" is
that you do get a lot of bonehead customers. To paraphrase John
Dvorak, the only interfaces which are truly intuitive are rocks and


Someone complained he couldn't get his disk out.  I said, "Type
Command-E (Eject) when you're in the Finder."  He came back.  It
didn't work.  I said, "Type Command-Shift-1."  He came back.  It
didn't work.  I then said, "Reboot the Mac while holding the mouse
button pressed until the disk ejects."  He came back.  It didn't work.
So I decided I'd have a look at it myself.  He had succeeded in
cramming 2 disks in the same disk drive.  Any guess what.... they were
stuck!!!! ............  computers!!!!!


Man comes in, in a panic.  He had typed a document the day before, and
now it was all gone.  "Have you saved it properly?"  was of course my
first question.  Yes, he said, it was saved properly.  But all the
text had mysteriously disappeared.  On his disk, I found a completely
empty document.  Indeed it was saved, apparently, and indeed it did
not contain text.  Of course, he had saved the document right BEFORE
he started typing.  When it was finished, he took out his disk and
shut down the computer.  And now all that text was gone, even though
he had SAVED!!! .......  To top it all off, he got mad at ME when I
told him the only thing he could do was retype the whole thing.  


Someone comes in and asks me how to print a document.  I explain about
the Page Setup (making sure the user selected "A4 Letter" as his
document size, the one for our LaserWriter) and then selecting the
Print command in the File menu.  Happy, the user walks away.  Comes
back in two minutes.  Still no document with his name on our spooler.
"Make sure you have selected the Info-Groep Laser Spooler, I said.  He
had checked.  It WAS selected.  "Have you issued the Print command
yet?"  Of course, what did I think he was, a dummy?  So I went over to 
have a look.  The "Print" dialog box was still on his screen.
I clicked on the "Print" button....  "Oooooooh, you have to click on


Our computer center has both PCs and Macs, and the most frequent
stupid error is people who create a file on a Mac, and try to edit it
later on a PC.  When I tell them that they have to use a Mac to edit
their Mac files, they look at me and say, "But all the Macs are being
used."  Most of them eventually accept that they have to stick with
one type of computer, but I have gotten into some extended arguments
with a couple of stubborn users.


Of course, there are people that try to retrieve a file from the A:
drive, when their disk is in the B: drive.  The first time I can see,
but after the little light comes on in the wrong drive, you'd think
they'd figure it out.......


Here where I work (research clinic) one of the secretaries recently
complained to me that she just saved a file on a disk but now it
wouldn't read it.  Apparently, she had put the 5.25" floppy sideways
(with the slot on one side) into the drive.


Another incident I remember froma a few years ago when I worked at
the computer center of the University:  a student came in a complained
that she saved a file (Mac) earlier that day, but now she can't find it.

Computer assistant:  And which Mac did you use earlier when you saved

Student:             Oh, this same one.

Computer assistant:  Perhaps it's on the harddrive...

Student:             No, some other assistant saved it on my disk for

Computer assistant:  (Looks for disk icon, looks in drive, can't find
                      the disk)   Where's the disk?

Student:             In my bag...


I also heard a story of a guy doing tech support for a small company.
A lady called in telling him the company's software wouldn't work.  He
went through a bunch of questions about how the software was acting,
and came to discover that the lady was having troubles getting her
computer to turn on.

He asked her, "What happens when you turn the computer on?".

She replied, "The screen just stays black".

He then asked, "Is the computer plugged in?".

She replied, "I took it to a repair shop last week and they apparently
fixed it so it doesn't need a power cord anymore."

He asked, "Is the computer a laptop computer?".

She replied, "No, but they never gave me back the power cord so they
must have fixed it so it didn't need it."

He said, "Go back to the repair store and get back your power cord.
They just forgot to give it to you."


cartoon seen in an old computer magazine:

little boy sitting in a pile of diskettes, he's holding a horseshoe
magnet. Father is in the adjoining room doing some take-home work.

"Dad, you've been jipped. None of these are magnetic"


A salesperson hoping to demonstrate to a skeptical corp. how easy it
is to use windows.

"Just point and click" he says. "Just point to the application you want
and click on the mouse button."

So the exec take the mouse, lifts it, hefts it like a tv.remote points
at the screen and clicks the button.


A foreign gentleman came in needing help using a word processor to
write a letter.  I took him over to a Mac and gave him a brief
overview of its capabilities and commands and left him at a point
where he could just start typing.  He looked at me, puzzled.  See, he
didn't know how to type.  Not just that he didn't know how to type
well, but it was like he didn't understand the concept of typing (the
's' key puts an s on the screen).  Eventually I ended up typing it for
him bacause it was easier than arguing with him.

Another gentleman came to us frantic.  The day before he had saved a
very important document on the hard drive of one of our Macs and he
could not find it.  He was yelling at me that our lab employees must
have deleted it and we need to have more respect for users, etc.  (We
have a policy of allowing documents to remain in the hard drives for 7
days before being erased by the staff.)  I helped him look for his
paper, but when I couldn't find it, I explained our policy and the
fact that we can't control what other users might do with a document
left on a computer.  He was *not* happy.  Then in a sudden flash of
genius I asked him, "You were using *this* particular Mac, weren't
you?"  to which he responded, "No, I was using one in the other room."


We once had an elderly female end user (the type that technology
passed by) who would get very angry with the machine, generally when
it would do EXACTLY what she had instructed it to do. Her usual
response was to bang the mouse down on the desk. Obviously, it didn't
take long for the mouse to break. We analysts knew what she was doing,
but she always denied it when the tech came to replace the
mouse. Finally, one of the techs, took a mouse apart on her desk as
part of the replacement process. Says he, "You hit this mouse pretty
hard." The reply, "Oh, no.  I never did anything. It just broke." To
which the tech said, "Well Ma'am, as you can see by the value on the
impact capacitor here, this mouse has been subjected to a very bad
force. Probably caused when someone picked up the mouse and dropped it
or banged it on the desk."


In another case, I had gone to a customer site with one of the
hardware guys to install a machine. The new sysop, a true novice,
asked a number of questions about the care and feeding of the
machine. At one point, being funny, I told her that for best
performance she should dust and wax the boards occasionally to keep
them clean. She looked at me a bit askance, as we knew each other
previously and she knew of my penchant for practical jokes. At that
point the hardware tech looks up and says, "Be sure to get a good
polish like Pledge or something. And don't get anything with lemon
scent. It messes up the contacts." She believed.

We later called her boss to gently suggest that her leg might have
been pulled.


There was an big, athletic-looking guy fooling with one of our brother
(IBM) printers.  He was opening it up, shaking it a little, and trying
to jam a paper into the manual paper feed.  When I asked him what the
problem was, he said, "Your copier isn't working."


Meet the man who asked which was the laser printer.  i asked him which
machine he was printing on; we have different laser printers.  he
gives me this nice sarcastic response, ''this is a *mac* lab, right?''

So i pointed him to the mac laser printer.

The trouble is, (1) maclab is the *old* name; and (2) he was on an IBM

Of course, this didn't occur to him for the (I swear to bill) 35
minutes he stood at the wrong printer waiting for his printout, until
he asked me how long the print queue was (it was empty, had been for
most of the 35 minutes.)

Very patient man, if nothing else...

I mean, come on, even *i* know that an empty queue doesn't take 35
minutes to print, except when my assignment is due.


- Hey, can you help me? my program doesn't work...
- What is the problem, are you using Turbo Pascal??
- Yes, the program just blocks the machine...
- Well, does it compile?
- I don't know, it just doesn't run...

I went to his computer and he told me:

- You see? there's the .EXE file, if you  run it it blocks the
- And where is your source, the .PAS file???
- I wrote it and renamed it to .EXE so it could run...


"Remove the sleave, and insert the floppy disk into the drive."

[hours of technical support later]

"You know -- these vinyl covers they put on disks are really hard
to get off..."


[45 minutues of trying to fix a terminal -- including a process kill
and a full shutdown (UNIX)] "Oh -- wait a second..... Oops, the
intensity was just down. I have a login prompt now."


A bank clerk friend told me this the other day:

An elderly customer came into the bank complaining the ATM wasn't
working.  She had been waiting for half an hour after "requesting a
new cheque book" and it still hadn't come out yet!


A customer (wife of an obnoxious history professor, none the less)
comes into the store with a Macintosh which I had just replaced a bad
drive in a few days previously.  She complained that it wasn't working
again, implying that I didn't fix it right the first time.  So, I get
out the diagnotic tools, but can't find a thing wrong with it.  I then
checked some of the diskettes she brought in with it, and find that
they are loaded with viruses.  After cleaning up the diskettes, I
explained to her that her computer probably got the virus by trading
diskettes with someone whose computer was also infected.  She then got
a very sullen expression on her face and asked me, "Can a person catch
this virus from their computer?"


On another occasion, a lady came into the store, apparently interested
in buying a home computer.  After surveying the models on display, she
walks over to one and points the the monitor and keyboard saying, "I
think I need one of these, and one of those, ..."  She then points to
the CPU and continues, "... but I don't think I need one of those.


This one just happened.

User walks into the office.  "This disk doesn't work."

Computer literate non-staff:  "You have covered the disk slot with the


I guess it's my turn to contribute to this thread, so here goes: One
of our lusers called me about a problem she was having with her PC,
she was using a vt220 emulator to connect to one of our UNIX-boxes,
and "half of her prompts were missing". Two days earlier I had set up
the emulation software for her, and had checked that everything was
ok, so I tried to get her to be a bit more specific (fat
chance!). Anyway, to cut a long story short, it turned out that the
screen on this particular PC was one of those fancy things where you
can adjust the height, width vertical and horizontal placement of the
screen image......she had accidentally shifted the whole image to the
left, so the first half of her prompts were off-screen. :-)


On my previous job a user needed a program but didn't have a modem, so
I told him I'd overnight him a diskette.  He then asked me if i could
*fax* the diskette to him!  If I didn't need my job I would have told
him I would, but dominos was faxing me a pizza and he'd have to
wait a bit. :)


Customer: Where can I get a BIOS upgrade for my 286 computer?

Tech: The unit should have been shipped with the latest bios.

Customer: Well I upgraded the processor myself, and my computer
          doesn't seem to work.

Tech: What did you upgrade the processor to?

Customer: I upgraded it to a 486DX-50.

Tech: Sir... The 286 chip is soldered on the motherboard!

Customer: I know, I took out my handy soldering iron and took it out and
          put the 486 on myself.

Tech: Sir, the 486 is bigger than the 286.

Customer: I know, I had to use quite a bit of solder to solder the
          extra pins together.

Tech: Sir I have to put you on hold for a second.

the Tech laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair.


In my first *real* job, I was not only responsible for programming but
I also did customer support and training.  Our company used to sell
time on our computers so very small companies that couldn't afford
computers at the time could do their bookkeeping, etc.  One day, a new
woman came in to use the trash-... i mean TRS-80 (boy I'm really
dating myself ;-) She fumbled about for about 10 minutes but I paid no
attention to her.  Finally she came out & grumbled something about how
the computer wouldn't turn on.  I grilled her with the usual obvious
questions: Did you turn the switch on?  Did you plug it in?  Did you
turn on the switch on the power strip?  She was sure she had done
everything right.  I was sure she neglected to plug one of the power
cords into the power strip.

So, I went to investigate and she was *RIGHT*, she *HAD* plugged
everything in to the power strip... including the power strip's own
power cord - talk about a ground loop!

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This message was sent on 3 Sep 1996