Over the years there have been a great number of calls to help desks. Sometimes it feels as though I took most of them myself. They fall broadly into several categories, which I have listed as hardware failure, network problems, forgotten passwords, unfamiliarity with equipment and software, and the downright bizarre. Here's a summary of some of my all time favorites.
"The system won't recognize my password. It was OK on Friday, but now it's Monday morning, and it doesn't work anymore. Is it a virus or is the network down?"
No, you've forgotten that you changed your password last thing Friday afternoon.
"My mouse isn't working."
This turned out to be a weird one, but one that became clear as soon as I visited the desk. The caller was left-handed and had naturally picked up the mouse nearest to his left hand. The user next to him was getting highly frustrated by all the random submenus that kept appearing on his screen.
On the same call we found another nonworking mouse. This time it was because someone had stolen the ball.
"Whatever I write on my computer, the screen shows something totally different."
This was the result of a simple prank involving swapping two monitors so that each person was looking at the screen of the person opposite.
Again in the prank stakes, the caller reported that the wrong letters came out on his screen.
A cursory investigation revealed that his key caps had been rearranged to display an abusive message. The caller failed to notice the message but was not touch typing. The problem was that after all the thousands of hours spent bashing away at a keyboard I assumed that I would be able to replace the caps onto the correct keys, but it took longer than I thought. I eventually had to obtain another keyboard to refer to.
"Are you updating the Internet? I can't get into my e-mail."
I've got the < >virus; I can't get my printer to work.
This one turned out to be related to number 4. The user was hitting CTRL+P, but his printer remained resolutely silent. I promised to investigate just as soon as I had dealt with number 4.
The person in the next office over reported that the same 50-page report had been coming out of his laser printer continuously for the last hour.
That was one of those situations when I felt like putting the two telephone receivers together and getting them to sort it out themselves.
"What am I doing wrong?"
"I don't know, what are you trying to do?"
"Oh, just the usual stuff."
I've always been touched by the user's enduring faith in my clairvoyant skills.
"Sometimes I get an error code on the screen. What is causing it?"
"What does it say?"
"I don't remember."
"Then I don't know what is causing it."
—and sliding in at the top spot:
"My screen has exploded! Can you fix it without losing my work?"
I insisted that the user unplug the monitor. When I arrived with a replacement screen I was able to plug it in. The work was still showing, and the caller was amazed. I advised against watering plants that had been placed on top of the CRT screen.