Friday, May 29, 2015

Long silences at Microsoft

I called Microsoft today because I had a couple of little problems with my computer. The problems didn’t bother me much, but when I had a look into it, I saw an error message in my system log that I wanted to investigate. Windows provided me a handy link to click so I could learn more about the error message, but when I clicked, I got a 404 error. Microsoft had changed something, so I pressed ahead with a web search on the error and ended up at a Microsoft support site. Microsoft said I might qualify for free support if I provided my properly-activated product ID, which I did. Presently I found myself talking to a genuine Microsoft Support Engineer who called himself Eric.

In the process of getting Eric on the line I gave Microsoft all the information about me that they needed, but Eric had to ask me again. This gave me a clue as to what would be next: Eric didn’t know a thing. I told him about the mysterious error message and mentioned that one of the symptoms of my problem was that my computer didn’t go to sleep or shut itself off last night. He begged my indulgence and put me on hold for five minutes or so while he did some research.

When he came back on the phone, he announced triumphantly that fixing the computer-not-sleeping problem would be easy and he asked if I’d give him remote access to my computer. I started to agree and then thought better of it. I told him that I used to be a Microsoft support engineer too and if he just wanted to look at my power plan options, I’d be happy to do the typing myself. I opened up the advanced settings window and asked him where he wanted me to look. He started describing “the left column” and I realized that he still hadn’t gotten into the advanced settings on his own computer, so I backed up and coached him.

“OK,” I said. “I’m looking at the window where it says to turn off the display after five minutes on battery or after ten minutes when plugged in. The next line says to put the computer to sleep after fifteen minutes or 25 minutes. Do you want me to click on ‘Change advanced power settings?’”

He decided that would be a good idea, but when we got in there he didn’t know what to do. I asked him which section he wanted me to open first, and he was silent. He’d been silent a few times before, but this time I had to ask if he were alive. He replied affirmatively but it still took him a while longer to decide he wanted me to look in the obvious place, under “Sleep.” This was so obvious that I’d checked it long ago, and I asked him if he’d ever done this before. He chose not to answer.

The rest of the conversation didn’t go any better. I was hoping he’d give up and kick me upstairs to somebody who actually had a clue, but he preferred to ask me to pay him $145 so he could provide me with the in-depth support I really needed. I’m not sure what magic he intended to apply after I paid him, but I knew I didn’t want him mucking around in my computer. “This,” he exulted, “I’ve done before.”

I got exasperated and told him he wasn’t going to do it on my computer. Then I hung up and solved the problem myself in about two minutes. It was very simple and completely obvious. I just hadn’t managed to think of it when I got distracted by the 404 error.

Now I remember why I always had work when I used to be a computer consultant.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Where was I?

My blog posts keep getting farther and farther apart and the readers have noticed. Traffic to my blog site has gotten limited and I feel a little bit bad about it. But not too bad: I’ve been busy!

We began April with a few days of delightful springtime in Minsk. Then we flew to Boston via Istanbul, hoping to see the tulip festival. At the last minute, I threw a wool hat into my luggage because the weather forecast for Istanbul looked a little chilly. Good thing: The cold reached well beyond “chilly.” Undaunted, we left our hotel with all of our clothes on and walked to the park where we wanted to see the tulips. The park’s main gate was closed, but I led Alla through a pedestrian gate and got fifty meters inside before a guard came rushing over to ask what we thought we were doing.

We tried to negotiate with him, saying that we’d come to Turkey specifically to see those tulips and we had only one day. Finally, we talked him into letting us spend one minute beside the nearest bed, but he worried that strong winds would knock tree limbs onto our heads and he wouldn’t allow us to sneak behind him. We went into Topkapi Palace instead, where they had their own tulip garden and views over the park we couldn’t enter. We enjoyed the palace until we finally got so cold and wet that we went indoors to enjoy e a leisurely lunch, and we hung out indoors for the rest of the day.

Fortunately, we had enough time the next morning to walk the park end-to-end and enjoy the tulips before we rushed off to the airport.

There’s not much to say about Boston. It’s home and we like it, but we didn’t have any special adventures and I don’t want to bore you. At one point I wanted to write about how spring hadn’t even reached Boston when we got here and we still found a few piles of snow. I would have showed you the picture I took the day the parks service finally started putting water into the pond in the Boston Common. But now it’s spring and I feel like I missed the opportunity to make its absence into an interesting story.

Meanwhile, I went off to California for nine or ten days. I wanted to meet a couple of newborn cousins and had a very good time with much of their extended family. This coincided with a college reunion, so I saw a whole lot of people and reconnected with some whom I hadn’t seen in a long time.

By the time I got back to Boston, spring had finally arrived here. The city has been ablaze with flowering trees since I returned, and our social life has been ablaze in its own way as we attempt to reconnect with friends. It was a busy month.

If something surprising happens to me in the next few weeks, I’ll try to tell you about it. Meanwhile, I’m focused on my book, where I’m making much more progress.