|Befuddled PC Users Flood Help Lines, and no Question Seems to be Too Basic From the Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, March 1, 1994. Reprinted without permission AUSTIN, Texas - The exasperated help-line caller said she couldn't gether new Dell computer to turn on. Jay Ablinger, a Dell Computer Corp.technician, made sure the computer was plugged in and then asked thewoman what happened when she pushed the power button. "I've pushed and pushed on this foot pedal and nothing happens," thewoman replied. "Foot pedal?" the technician asked. "Yes," the womansaid, "this little white foot pedal with the on switch." The "footpedal," it turned out, was the computer's mouse, a hand-operated devicethat helps to control the computer's operations.[boring stuff deleted] Only two years ago, most calls to PC help lines came from techiesneeding help on complex problems. But now, with computer sales to homesexploding as new "multimedia" functions gain mass appeal, PC makers saythat as many as 70% of their calls come from rank novices. Partlybecause of the volume of calls, some computer companies have startedcharging help-line users. [boring stuff deleted] John Wolf: "A frustrated customer called, who said her brand new Conturawould not work. She said she had unpacked the unit, plugged it in,opened it up and sat there for 20 minutes waiting for something tohappen. When asked what happened when she pressed the power switch, sheasked, 'What power switch?'" Seemingly simple computer features baffle some users. So many people havecalled to ask where the "any" key is when "Press Any Key" flashes on thescreen that Compaq is considering changing the command to "Press Return Key."Some people can't figure out the mouse. Tamra Eagle, an AST technicalsupport supervisor, says one customer complained that her mouse was hardto control with the "dust cover" on. The cover turned out to be theplastic bag the mouse was packaged in. Dell technician Wayne Zieschangsays one of his customers held the mouse and pointed it at the screen,all the while clicking madly. The customer got no response because themouse works only if it's moved over a flat surface. Disk drives are another bugaboo. Compaq technician Brent Sullivan saysa customer was having trouble reading word-processing files from hisold diskettes. After troubleshooting for magnets and heat failed todiagnose the problem, Mr. Sullivan asked what else was being done withthe diskette. The customer's response: "I put a label on the diskette,roll it into the typewriter..." At AST, another customer dutifully complied with a technician's request thatshe send in a copy of a defective floppy disk. A letter from the customerarrived a few days later, along with a Xerox copy of the floppy. And atDell, a technician advised his customer to put his troubled floppy back inthe drive and "close the door." Asking the technician to "hold on," thecustomer put the phone down and was heard walking over to shut thedoor to his room. The technician meant the door to his floppy drive. The software inside the computer can be equally befuddling. A Dellcustomer called to say he couldn't get his computer to fax anything.After 40 minutes of troubleshooting, the technician discovered the manwas trying to fax a piece of paper by holding it in front of the monitorscreen and hitting the "send" key. Another Dell customer needed help setting up a new program, so Dellechnician Gary Rock referred him to the local Egghead. "Yeah, I got mecouple of friends," the customer replied. When told Egghead was asoftware store, the man said, "Oh! I thought you meant for me to find acouple of geeks." Not realizing how fragile computers can be, some people end up damagingparts beyond repair. A Dell customer called to complain that hiskeyboard no longer worked. He had cleaned it, he said, filling up his tub with soap and water and soaking his keyboard for a day, andthen removing all the keys and washing them individually. Computers make some people paranoid. A Dell technician, Morgan Vergara, sayshe once calmed a man who became enraged because "his computer had told him hewas bad and an invalid." Mr. Vergara patiently explained that the computer's"bad command" and "invalid" responses shouldn't be taken personally. These days PC-help technicians increasingly find themselves taking onthe role of amateur psychologists. Mr. Shuler, the Dell technician, whoonce worked as a psychiatric nurse, says he defused a potential domesticfight by soothingly talking a man through a computer problem after theman had screamed threats at his wife and children in the background. There are also the lonely hearts who seek out human contact, even if ithappens to be a computer techie. One man from New Hampshire calls Dellevery time he experiences a life crisis. He gets a technician to walkhim through some contrived problem with his computer, apparently feelinguplifted by the process.