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.

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