I’ve always been somewhat compulsive about putting things in order. I remember as a kid waiting in line at stores, I’d pass the time by sorting and rearranging the products on the shelves – much to the amusement of the adults who felt I had a promising future as a stock boy.
Three times today my cell phone has rung. Each time it’s some company trying to sign me up for a home security system. Different phone number each time, different pre-recorded soundboard voice each time, but always the same spiel; it keeps prompting me with yes/no questions, then asks for a time of day when a “specialist” can call me back to arrange an installation. The most recent call, I said, “Right now. Don’t call me back, I’m available right now, put me through to someone.” The soundboard didn’t have a canned response to fit that, so the person pushing the buttons hung up on me.
A few minutes later I was called by a human being – maybe in response to that, maybe not. She went through the spiel, saying she’s from Alliance Home Security, every day so many people get robbed, yadda yadda yadda …
I cut her off. “Alliance? I signed up with you a month ago when you called! You were supposed to be here last Tuesday to install but I never heard from you!” This tripped her up; she asked for my name and address so she can look me up — “YOU called ME! Don’t you know who I am?” She apologized, said she’s only in the sales department… “It’s always the same every time you call, you never have my info and you always have to start over from scratch! Look, I’m done. Cancel my appointment, put me on your don’t call list.”
“Sir, you’re being unreasonable,” she said, sounding annoyed.
I sounded more annoyed. “A week it’s been, and no word! And then here you call and it’s like you don’t know me at all! Put me on your don’t call list.”
“We don’t have a don’t call list,” she replied sourly. I asked her what she does have, then. “We have a DO NOT CALL list.”
“Okay, then put me on that.” And I hung up on her.
The phone rang this evening. It was a man with a thick Indian accent. Hello, I am calling you from Windows Technical Department. I am calling regarding your computer.
I suddenly had an idea. “Good evening. How may I help you?”
Sir, we are calling due to numerous error messages we are seeing from your computer.
“I see. I can help you. Would you please tell me what version of Windows you are running?”
I – uh – Windows 7.
“Which version? Home, Professional, or Enterprise?”
Uh. Sir, I am calling about your computer, not mine.
“But you say that you’re calling me because you’re seeing numerous error messages. I can help you with that. What version of Windows, please?”
Sir … sir … This is Windows Technical Department –
“And you’ve reached the Technical Support Department. My department supports your department.”
– I can show you the error messages –
“Which office are you calling from?”
“I see. Would you please read me the exact wording of the error messages you’re seeing?”
Sir, there are many errors regarding the registry and –
“The exact wording, please. Along with any error numbers you see.”
… Sir, please allow me to reconnect you. The line went quiet for a moment, then another Indian voice came on, slower and deeper than the first. Sir. We are calling from Windows Technical Department because we are seeing numerous error messages from your computer.
“I understand. Please read me the exact wording of the error messages, along with any error numbers you see, so that I can look them up for you.”
He started to say something, hesitated, then spoke again. Sir. This is not a problem on OUR computer. This is a problem on YOUR computer.
“I need to know exactly what you see so that I can help you resolve the error messages. Please read to me the exact wording and error numbers of the errors you are seeing.”
There was silence for a few seconds, and then he hung up.
I’m driven by two basic needs:
- I need to be needed. I find my self-worth in what I’ve done for people lately. I have an ability to figure out how things work, and I have reams of tedious technical trivia stored in my head; so when I can put them together to help someone solve a problem and save them some frustration, that’s what makes me feel fulfilled.
- I hate to be needed. I don’t want to be the person who’s only called on when there’s a problem. I want to surround myself with peers and friends, not clients. I want to be respected for more than what I can do for people.
This is a eulogy for Larry, eight years too late.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I was an innocent young Ivy League graduate with an engineering degree and no idea what to do with it. I took the first job offer I got: with Oracle, the database company in California. They had no idea what to do with me. They threw me into a three-week crash course in databases, then let me pick what group I wanted to join. I chose Tech Support.
Tech Support had no idea what to do with me either. I was assigned to the desktop team. They gave me a PC running Windows 3.1 (a very long time ago, remember!), and told me I had to resolve a certain number of customer tickets each week.
The transition from college life to the Real World had been a difficult one. No longer were there letter grades to tell me well I was (or wasn’t) doing! I had no objective way to compare myself with other people and objectively see if I was screwing up! But suddenly this closed ticket count took that place in my life and became the measure thereof, and I worked hard to get that number high and keep it at the top of the weekly department report. There were no company incentives for this, of course; as long as the quotas were met, upper management didn’t care about individual performance. I cared, but nobody else did.
Especially Larry. Larry didn’t care at all.
I am selling two MacBook Pro laptops and two iPads, and giving away a bunch of much older Mac equipment.
First, what I’m selling:
It’s nice that Apple has bundled all the tools necessary to turn a Macintosh into a server (mail, web, file sharing, DHCP, DNS, &c.) into a $20 app store purchase. I think the Server version of Mac OS X used to cost $500, and the new low price really puts the power of a server into the hands of the masses.
Unfortunately, Apple has also dumbed down the whole server interface. I can see what they were trying for; they want to turn the experience of editing config files into the experience of clicking on something that looks like an on/off switch. Problem is, there’s still a need for server administrators and there’s still a need to know how to edit config files. It would be like buying a button for your car’s dashboard that says FIX IT and telling you, hey, congratulations, you’re a mechanic now! But if you press that button and nothing happens, then, well, you’re in trouble.
I’ve been fed up with Comcast, the cable TV company, for a long time now. They have a long history of (accidentally) charging me for services I don’t have, (accidentally) removing services I pay for, and (intentionally) deleting my favorite channels from the lineup so they can move them to other levels of service that I have to pay extra for. Meanwhile, I’ve long wanted to try this “over-the-air” HD thing I’ve heard so much about. Getting HDTV for free, and all I need is an antenna? But I kept thinking that it required the equivalent of a ham radio license or something, and that all I’d get would be one or two channels. So I kept pushing that thought to a back burner. Then I got this month’s Comcast bill and I decided enough is enough.
A few days ago I was helping someone with some computer problems when I discovered she has a thousand unsent messages in Outlook. I was astonished. “You’re in the middle of writing a thousand emails?” I asked her.
“No, that’s where I keep any scraps of information I want to save for later!” she replied. “Web links, notes, bits of text I want to copy and store away…”