Today's Best of '13 classic was written by Ellis Morning and originally ran back on March 12th. It shows that one constant remains as true today as it was years ago: the very worst users are sure to call just as you're about to walk out the door. Google+


6:55 PM. Tom's shift ended in precisely five minutes. Neither he nor any of his late-shift copilots were on the phone at the moment, so increasingly carefree banter flowed through an otherwise empty office. His co-workers discussed that new game, Myst, and the latest puzzle that stumped them. They'd keep it up all the way out to their cars.

There was one break in the banter: 6:59, that magical time when everyone rushed to his or her cubicle to hover a finger over the button that would release him or her from the phone queue. Tom jumped out of his chair and joined them in that much. Performing late-day housekeeping on his open tickets had taken longer than he’d anticipated, but it was good not to have to wait out the eternity that stretched between 6:55 and 7:00.

An even longer eternity spanned between 6:59 and 7:00, but the inexorable march of time sided with the support team. Only seconds to go, and-

Tom’s phone began to ring.

He cursed under his breath. The air filled with the sympathetic groans- sympathetic but nevertheless grateful they weren’t at the top of the queue.

Tom plunked back into his chair, donned his headset, and answered the call. With practiced speed, he created a new ticket and gleaned the caller’s name, company info, and the product for which they were calling. He then summoned his best upbeat persona. “So, what can I help you with today?”

“Well, the program runs, but it won’t be long before it starts misbehaving in strange ways,” the caller said. “Sometimes I can’t click on any options, sometimes the whole computer freezes…”

RAM issue, Tom thought. The more the customer rambled on, the more certain he was. The product in question used a DOS extender, and required a robust 4 MB of RAM to function properly. Many users ignored that requirement, and tried to run with only 2 MB.

“How much memory is on your machine, sir?” Tom asked when he could wedge in a word, raising his metaphorical sword over the heart of the beast.

“Four megabytes.”

Alas, the beast was in another castle. “OK, can you start up the program and read off what it says in the bottom-left corner?” Tom asked.

“Sure.” Pause. “Memory… 4096 KB.”

Tom led the caller through twenty minutes of troubleshooting within the application. Despite the machine having sufficient memory, Tom still believed he was staring down a memory problem. The program had locked up and crashed the caller’s machine a few times, causing several reboots. The memory check on the startup screen said 4 megabytes as well.

“What kind of computer is that, sir?” he asked during one of the pauses.

“An IBM… PS/1.”

Tom frowned. “You’re certain it’s got four megs? We’ve run into issues like this on two-megabyte PS/1s.”

“I ordered and installed this machine myself,” the caller insisted. “I know there’s four megs.”

Another forty minutes slipped by as Tom ran the caller through every program setting, log, and external diagnostic he could think of. CONFIG.SYS, HIMEM.SYS, a utility that output a system profile… everything came up with sufficient RAM, and yet the program still behaved like it was choking to death. Between each troubleshooting step, Tom waited amid the uncomfortable silence of a deserted office.

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what else we can check,” Tom admitted. “Would it be possible if we adjourned for the evening, and I can call you back tomorrow once I’ve done more research on my end to see what we can try next?”

“I really need to get this working tonight,” the caller urged.

Ugh. Tom racked his brain. “OK, um… maybe there’s something wrong with the RAM itself. Let’s run that last memory diagnostic again, but I want you to add a few switches that will break down the RAM usage into its separate parts.” It also output the memory values in hexadecimal. “Read back the characters at the end of each line for me, please.”

The customer complied as though pronouncing glyphs from the Rosetta Stone.

Tom wrote down each value. “Hold on one sec.” He muted the phone, then went down the list of figures, converting each one to decimal before summing them for a grand total of…

2048.

It was a good thing the phone was muted, because an inappropriate word left Tom’s mouth. He spent a couple of seconds tamping down his frustration, putting a smile on his face that was more like a snarl, then…

Unmute. “OK, thanks for holding. Sir? According to the output from this diagnostic, your PC only has 2MB of RAM.”

“I know,” the caller said.

Tom’s jaw dropped. “What? I thought-”

“If I said it only had 2MB, you’d just tell me the program can’t run.”

Tom faltered in the wake of an hour of calculated deception and wasted life. He dropped his pen and jumped to his feet, burning off a fraction of the rage that might otherwise have induced him to put his fist through a cubicle wall. “Sir, it can’t run on 2MB.”

“This is why I hate calling you people,” the caller seethed. “You just say no all the time and never do anything to help. I want to talk to your manager!”

Tom’s manager was long gone, which was unfortunate. She had put in her time supporting the product in question, and would gladly get on the phone and talk the customer down without throwing Tom under the bus. Thinking fast, he came up with his own lie. Why not? “My manager’s not here right now, sir; we’re past our normal operating hours for the evening. However, I’ll be happy to review a recording of our call with her first thing tomorrow morning, and have her call you back with-”

Click.

YES. Tom’s shop didn’t record calls.

He still burned with frustration, but at least he was off the phone. Tom logged out of the queue, closed the ticket, and headed off to salvage his evening.