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  • A Guru's World #14 - Where The Rants Come From
    October 23rd, 2000
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    Yes, I have been guilty of belittling those who are ignorant in the matters of computer technology just to get a laugh.

    I'm not sorry. Why should I be?

    I don't name names and I don't harass anyone to their face for not knowing something that I take for granted as common knowledge. What I do try to do is point out the people that lay the claim down that they are some kind of mega-expert, when they do not even have the knowledge that should be common for their position.

    I think this is what makes me different than your average "Bastard Operator from Hell" or Saturday Night Live's "Nick Burns".

    The BOFH and Nick Burns harass what I would consider average users over not so common knowledge. At least not as common knowledge as operating a toaster. Much to the amazement of most of my friends, I don't find any of this funny. OK, I have to admit the when Nick Burns yells, "MOVE!" at the person at the computer, I do laugh a little. That part is true no matter who you are.

    I actually like helping the people that are eager to listen and learn. I'll get strange looks from the other techs when I spend 15 minutes calmly explaining how to FDISK and Format a new drive. It's great!

    It's easy when the guy calls up and says, "I got a new drive, now what?"

    OK, cool. Let's go…

    But even this simple procedure can be a road to hell when the guy on the other line is a raving egomaniac: "Where's the EZ Drive this hard drive is supposed to come with? I've been doing this for 10 years and these drives always come with EZ Drive!"

    "Sorry sir, but OEM drives never come with software." I respond, at this point having no real reason to dislike the guy.

    "How am I supposed to set this drive up?? If I don't have any software I don't see how I should set the drive up!"

    10 years, eh? Instead of gaining credibility, he's losing it quickly. I can see why he would want to use EZ Drive. I don't like it, but I know the process is a lot faster than running both FDISK and Format. But I can't help but think that if he's been doing this for 10 years, where are all of those EZ Drive floppies he had from all of the drives he's installed over the last ten years??? I know where they are in my house. I use them for blank disks. "Sir, I see on your invoice that you bought this drive with a Microstar K7T Pro. The drive is only 30 GB. The board can EASILY handle that. I suggest just using FDISK and Format."

    "What???" The customer screams at me like I just told him to wash his cat in the dishwasher. "You expect me to set this drive up without EZ Drive? Give me an RMA number! I want a refund!"

    So you see, the people that get the flack from me are the ones that feel it necessary to start every conversation with their credentials or assume that telling me how long they've been doing what they're doing should somehow persuade me into agreeing with everything they say, give them 300% refunds and pay for freight both ways to have their product returned.

    Actually, it's really not even such a bad idea to tell the guy you are talking to what you do for a living because you can cut through a lot of the simple stuff like "did you plug in the machine"?

    I do it all of the time, but I often just say, "I'm a tech over at Blah, Blah, Blah" and not "I'm an A+ certified, MCSE at Blah, Blah, Blah, and I've been here for three years and before that I was doing this for twenty more years."

    There's a big difference there.

    Maybe I should clarify what I mean by this with what happened to me this past Friday.

    A gentleman called with an Asus A7V motherboard. He said that it did not post. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was not that he was lying to me, but that he may have done something wrong. I only get less than one out of a hundred Asus A7V boards back because they are DOA, so I had to ask him if he had done the most common mistake done on this board.

    For those of you not familiar with this board: it has a jumper mode and a jumper free mode. In a few cases, I have had people throw the dipswitches that set the bus speed and bus frequency for the CPU without moving the jumper from jumper free to jumper mode. For whatever reason, the board won't post when you do this I never fault people for doing this. The dipswitches really do look like something that needs to be set. You wouldn't take any Socket 7 motherboard that I know of, that has jumpers, and throw it together without moving a jumper or throwing a dipswitch, so I can certainly understand why so many people do this, but this motherboard really does work right out of the box without touching a thing and this is the way it should be tried BEFORE throwing ANY dipswitch. No big deal. You ask a simple question and if the customer says they threw some switches, we put them back the way they were and try again. Easy.

    So I asked him if he had set any of the dipswitches on the board.

    You would think that the answer to this question would be either yes or no.

    His answer was, "I'm an MCSE."

    I'm sorry. I don't recall which MCSE test had the question, "Do you set the dipswitches on an A7V out of the box when you want to run jumper free mode?" I don't recall which text when studying for the MCSE had the layout of the A7V motherboard and what every dipswitch and jumper does. My bad.

    Why do I get this?

    I have a friend that is an MCSE, but he's strictly networking. He's a former bike shop mechanic so he has the mechanical inclination to put the machine together physically, but falls short on the installation process. I help him. No problem. But do I hold his ignorance against him? Hell no.

    I have another friend who is an MCSE, but he's strictly a web page and database guru. He'll build a machine once every two years and that's just for himself. He likes doing it every so often and is willing to admit that he will make some mistakes. Why would I hold that against him?

    I have a co-worker that's an MCSE, but he's primarily web pages and databases. He can put a machine together for the most part, but just the other day I helped him install NT on a SCSI hard drive using an IDE CD ROM. Not exactly text book stuff. Most tests assume that the source and destination drives are of the same controller. Do I hold that against him? Well… yes, but that's a whole other issue.

    But none of these guys come across with the "I'm an MCSE, bow to me" attitude that I get with some of the people I talk to on the phone. They got the paper, they got a job, and they get paid. That's the way life's supposed to be. Now enjoy.

    So I say to the A7V customer; "Sir, an MCSE doesn't tell me anything about your own experiences in this sort of situation, so I really need for you to answer the question for me." The other techs in the room are giving me strange looks because at this time I'm up out of my stool and moving around talking with my hands. I tend to do this as a way to keep "level headed". There just isn't enough St. John's Wort in the building to keep me sitting down.

    He responds, once again with neither a yes nor a no, but rather with, "I'm a WORKING MCSE".

    I did something wrong. I did something that was not funny.

    I lost it.

    "Sir, I'm an out of work bike mechanic, but I still know how to overhaul a Sturmey Archer 3 speed. Give me a break here and answer the damn question."

    He hung up on me.

    OK… Maybe it was sort of funny, but certainly not appropriate. I could've handled the guy better.

    Now, I don't want you to get the wrong impression. Certainly, not ALL MCSEs and A+ certified technicians that call me are like this. I hope you gathered that from my using my friends as an example. Unfortunately, I can't use too many of the people I actually talk to on the phone as an example because I don't know who is and is not "certified" because they never really say they are certified unless they are using it as a defense against one of my apparently "stupid" questions.

    One example of a certified technician that's perfectly cool with being wrong every once in a while is this gentleman I know that works for an actual manufacturer in the next town over.

    His company had bought a bunch of CPUs and fans from my work and he couldn't figure out for the life of him why all of the machines were locking at the same point of an NT install.

    Of course, I refused to believe that all of the CPUs were bad, but I also knew that this guy was totally aware of how to install NT. I figured it had to be user error, but something that he had PHYSICALLY did wrong with the hardware.

    "You didn't change anything in the BIOS and there's nothing in any of the PCI slots and both the CDROM and hard drive are IDE and not SCSI, right?"

    "Yep" he answered, "everything is as normal as normal can be. It just keeps locking up at the same point where it's supposed to tell me that it's detected an LBA drive."

    "Pull the fan dude. You left the plastic film on the phase change thermal compound and it's overheating the CPU once the it hits a certain level of overhead."

    "No way! Let me check." He pulls the fan of the CPU and sure enough, there's a plastic film on the bottom of the CPU. "Duh! I thought that film WAS the thermal compound!"

    We both laughed and I told him that he owes me a beer.

    Another example is this one gentleman I just recently met on ICQ.

    He lectured A+ certificate recipients and is now a tech himself. He asked me something that I would've considered a simple question. He asked me what the typical bus speed for the PCI slot is. I answered him that it was in fact 33 MHz. I didn't insult him, belittle him or tell him that he should find another profession just because he didn't know what the bus speed of PCI was. He asked me a question and I answered it. That simple. He then told me that he had lectured A+ and we laughed a little because he had read my rants and I had said to him that typically when I talk to someone who has exposed themselves as A+ certified, It'd be some guy that calls and tells me first that he's A+ certified and that the PCI bus is actually the same as the front side bus and nothing I could tell him would prove to him otherwise.

    Well? It's true. Sad, but true.

    Of course, it's not just the guys that are certified that do this to me.

    I'm thirty, and over the phone I think I sound like I'm twenty. So often I get the problem a lot of younger guys get when they are trying to help someone twice their age.

    I will get the most hair-brained stories when the person on the other line has an issue with my age. These guys are really my favorites though. It's sort of like when your grandfather tells you that he had to walk uphill, both ways, in the snow to get to school.

    "I was doing this in submarines 30 years ago during the war!"

    I actually got that line once. I will always remember it as well as my response: "then I take it you've replaced the appropriate vacuum tubes before you called?"

    Ok, ok… I'm sure the sub actually used transistor based computers, but still: It's like saying you know everything about the Bosch Motronic fuel injection system just because you overhauled your daddy's Edelbrock when you were young (you do understand the analogy, right?).

    A lot of times these guys will try to "test" me by shooting off names of older computers. I usually just play along. It's sort of like a quick game of Trivial Pursuit on company time.

    "Remember the Altair?" they ask. "Remember the Scelbi 8H from a year prior?" I'd respond. I often get irate when I see people give the Altair so much credit as the first production PC.

    Then I get trumped: "Remember the MCS4?" Hey! No fair! That was never commercially released!

    "Remember the Commodore 64?" they ask. "Remember the PET???" I'd respond. My school had PETs. It ticked me off because all of the cool schools had Apple IIs and the kids would play Oregon Trail all day.

    "Remember Pong?" they ask. "Remember Computer Space?" I'd respond. When I was a kid, the Arcade at the Westminster Mall in Colorado actually had a working Computer Space console.

    "Remember the 2600?" they ask. "Pfft. Remember the Magnavox Odyssey?" I'd respond. The first game console I had was a ColecoVision back in 1983. My girlfriend at the time had a hand me down 1972 Odyssey. She said it sucked and always wanted to play my Coleco. Maybe that's why we broke up. I was intrigued by its charm of the Odyssey with its 40 transistor and 40 diode construction and I thought it was great that this far down the road in its life, she still had the overlays for the TV screen.

    By now, I've gained the customer's trust. I don't know if it's a good thing or not. Sometimes these guys call now, just to shoot the crap with me like I'm some old war buddy or something.

    "We lived through the computer wars of the mid 80s!"

    I wouldn't mind so much if I didn't have 5 other people lined up in the queue. But hey, if they ever wanted to catch me after work at the Bennigan's, I would love to discuss how the Apple IIgs had so much untapped potential. I could tell the wife that I was "with clients".

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