Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Latest Buzz

For a significant part of my working career I was a tech support field technician for the State of Oregon. Essentially I was the Maytag Repairman for the computers, routers, switches and everything wired into them for my region of the state. A decent job overall; I worked pretty much without direct supervision and got to be out and about at different offices to do my work.

Often people called me directly when they had a computer problem, but mostly my work orders were routed to me from the Help Desk, a central bank of technicians staffing phone lines taking service requests from users. The Help Desk would try to resolve the problem over the phone; and if they couldn’t, they would dispatch a tech (like me) to make an on site repair call.

One day I received a work order from the Help Desk; a user reported that their computer was making a buzzing sound. The Help Desk operator said they could even hear the buzzing over the phone when they were talking to the user. They couldn’t resolve it so I was dispatched to the location.

When I arrived I did my “detective” thing and started to interrogate the user; the usual questions like when did you first notice the problem and what have you tried yourself. As I was talking with the user, the computer buzzed for a few seconds and stopped. I heard it! I started looking at the screen and running a few diagnostics; about two minutes later, it buzzed again, but only for a few seconds and not long enough for me to clearly determine the source of the buzz.

As I sat there puzzled the user quipped “Yes, it even buzzes like that when the computer is turned OFF”. My eyebrows raised significantly.

There, it buzzed again. I began to time it with my watch. At regularly every two minutes (120 seconds precisely) it buzzed for 5 seconds. The computer’s CPU was placed on the floor under the desk so I got down on my hands an knees and put my ear to the side of the computer… looking at my watch, the buzz came right as expected. However the sound now appeared to be coming from over my head rather than from the computer.

I crawled out from under the desk and sat in the user’s desk chair; opening the desk drawer – there in the drawer was a pager. I watched as at precisely two minutes, the pager vibrated and danced around the wooden bottom of the drawer.

The moral of the story is that not all technical problems require a technical solution.

True story - The actual work order can be seen here.


Gorilla Bananas said...

The user thought it was a computer problem even though the buzzing occurred when it was switched off? 'What a maroon!' as Bugs Bunny would say. I was hoping it was an insect.

secret agent woman said...

That's pretty funny. I was guessing cell phone on vibrate when you started the story. Although it's one of those things where answers are far more obvious when it is your own area of expertise.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Gorilla I could probably fill a book with dumb user stories. My favorite is the woman who complained that the images on her monitor jiggled when she chewed ice. She wanted me to fix that. I suggested she microwave her cold drink.

Secret Agent I must admit, until I went on-site, I was puzzled as well. It was amazing to me, though, that people assumed that since they had a computer problem there was no way they could diagnose the issue themselves so they wouldn't even try.