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Outrageous Help Desk Stories

From the Help Desk of a company that would rather stay anonymous

Printer problems

My favorite story comes from my past when working in a tech support organization for a computer company. At the time of this story, the company had released some buggy spooler software in their product, which was a database product. We were quite used to frantic customers calling after trying to run an end-of-month job to complain that nothing is coming out of the printer. The typical fix was to dial in to their computer, go into a debugger and through a laborious process unclog the confused spooler software so the job would print. We would then admonish the customer to install the latest patches.
In this particular instance, the customer called at the end of the day, frantic and upset. A couple of us sat around a terminal and modem and dialed into the system. After pawing through the entrails of the machine for a while, the tech next to me talked to the customer on the speakerphone.
tech: “would you mind going over to the printer?”
customer: “OK, I’m there.”
tech: “Do you see a white, square button labeled, ‘On Line?’”
customer: “Yes, I see it.”
tech: “Is it illuminated?”
customer: “No.”
tech: “Please press it once.”
customer: “OK, I did that...Wow! The most amazing thing just happened: the report is spewing out of the printer. Good job! Thanks a lot!”
And this, of course, is why most companies don’t use local support. They know it is impossible to kill someone over the telephone. Upside Down Envelopes A long-time user complained that the network printer had begun printing envelopes upside-down. I told her the printer could not be printing them upside down, but the envelopes had to have been inserted backward. She insisted that she had been putting envelopes into that printer in exactly the same way for over a year and she knew it had always worked that way before. My solution was to open the printer, take out the toner cartridge, shake it up a bit, turn the envelopes around, reinsert the cartridge, and have her try again. Voila! “See,” she said, “I KNEW I had loaded the envelopes right! It really was something wrong with the printer!”

It’s Magic!

This incident occurred at a previous employer. It was not an ourageous complaint, but was more an example of how incompetent users can be. A user came to me complaining that she could not get any of her documents to print. I went through the normal checks to make sure everything was functioning properly, which it was. I then determined that she had not logged on properly to the Novell network so her documents were not getting to the networked printer.
Without her knowledge, I got her logged on, but before I printed anything, I thought I would have some fun with her. I asked her if she was familiar with the terms bits and bytes, and she said she was. I told her that her computer sends bytes of information through the network to the printer to be printed. But for some reason, there were a large   number of bytes clogging the line to the printer. We then went over to the printer where I unplugged the network connection. I told her we had to let the bytes “escape” out of the line so it would be clear to print again. I plugged it back in, went to her machine and printed a document. She was amazed! After that, whenever she had a problem, she asked me to come “Clean the lines again.”

Black and White in Color

Received a call from a new user wanting to know why her documents were not printing in color. I told her that the printer is a black and white laser printer She said well the program said what you see is what you get. I told her again that the printer is only prints in black and white. She continued to blame the software and her computer and wanted someone to come take a look at it.

Click the Power Switch

I had a guy who was sitting in the building with all the power off calling me and screaming that he could not print his Excel spreadsheet.

  Steve BassSteve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and ran the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at 

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