The Dreaded Zebra (from Eric)
Before the turn of the century, I was a field desktop support analyst at a large hospital system, which meant that I’d get escalations from the help desk to go out and physically check up on computers and printers. Being a hospital and all, we were required to rotate “on-call” shifts should emergencies arise.

One night, I received a support page at 3AM. After wiping the sleep from my eyes, I called the number and asked what the problem was.

“This printer doesn’t work,” a nurse responded, “I need you to come here and fix it right now.”

“What kind of printer is it?” I asked.

She barked, “just come here and fix it!”

I explained that I was on-call and that it would take a solid 20-30 minutes for me to make it there. Most likely, I told her, I’d be able to help over the phone and save us both some time.

“Fine,” she grunted, “it’s the Zebra printer.”

Ah, crap. Those Zebra printers printed various things like armbands and labels, and had a few different configurations. My only hope was that she had skipped the simplest fix that everyone in the hospital should have known by now. You see, these Zebra printers often went offline or were set offline by people. It’s a single button on the front, with a light beside it. I asked her to look at the online button and see if the light was off.

“Look, I just don’t have time for this,” she said, getting more and more frustrated, “just come down here and fix it!” She then hung up.

Flabbergasted, I stood there for a minute letting the rage settle in. After punching my mattress a few times, I got dressed and drove across town to the hospital. I walked in, took the elevator to her floor, and went straight towards the nurse’s desk.

Not even acknowledging her, I walked straight up to the Zebra printer, pushed the online button, and saw it immediately start printing. I turned around, walked to the elevator, and went home without saying a word.

The next day, someone received a strongly worded letter about their complete lack of professionalism. Sadly, that person was me.

 

Supported Image Formats (from AP)
As the sole programmer at a small company, I tend to wear a lot of different hats, including internal helpdesk. I’ve gotten plenty of questions over my time here, ranging from legitimate support requests for the applications I’ve developed, to things like “how can I copy stuff from one cell to another in Excel?”

Recently I had a question from one of our employees about an upload control I had written for uploading logo images to the website. “The website won’t let me upload this logo,” he asked, “why doesn’t it work?”

Although the helper text next to the upload control clearly states the accepted image formats (jpg, jpeg, png, gif) I had to ask the obvious. “What image format are you trying to upload?”

Affirmatively and without hesitation he responded: “Word.”

 

The Un-fix (from Charles)
A couple years ago, I was working at a tech support desk for a major electronics retailer. Being at such a low level for home-user PC support meant we got all the people who barely knew enough about computers to buy one, but had no clue how to use them. It was not uncommon for us to get face-slapping issues like computers that “wouldn’t work” because a pet rabbit had chewed through the power cable.

The real gem came from a grumpy old man who made it clear right off the bad that he wasn't happy to have to bring his “brand new”, 3-year old laptop in for service. He said that the CD drive on his laptop would not open, and after we verified his problem, we took the laptop in to get a closer look.

Naturally, this was one of the models with no easy way of removing the CD drive, so I had spent an hour taking most of it apart to get the CD loose. Once the CD drive was separated, and I could delicately get the casing off, the problem became evident pretty quickly. Through some feat of physics, ingenuity, and dumb-luck, the guy had found a way to fit a 3.5" floppy disk into the CD tray, and shut it, without damaging the drive. Obviously the extra pressure on the mechanisms prevented them from opening again.

We called the old man up, told him we’d found his problem, we could fix it, and what it would cost him for the time we’d spent. When he came in, he refused to pay, saying that we’d already fixed his computer and couldn’t un-fix it. While I guess that was somewhat true, he also assumed that we were bound by an IT version of the Hippocratic Oath. Turns out, we’re not.

So, the only natural thing to do was put the computer back like we found it. With him watching, I crammed the floppy disk back into his CD drive and handed the computer to him. A week later, he was back with the $120 in hand and the drive still jammed. Knowing what the issue was, it took five minutes to fix. I also let him watch this time.