OMG: Tech Support Nightmares From Lifehacker Readers

For our recent competition giving away 20 copies of Kaspersky Internet Security 2012, we asked readers to share their worst experience acting as support for friends or relatives. Here are the 10 winning entries.

Picking out 10 stories was tough, but these were the ones that stuck out. (We’ve edited some of the comments for length and clarity, BTW.)

Azza shared his story of coming up with a clever solution before discovering he didn’t need a solution at all:

I worked for a telecoms company and the boss approached with a thick pile of pages of data. Names, phone numbers and other ID details but he needed them in Name, ID, phone number order to import into some other program. He asked me to type them out in the correct format. I used OCR for the bulk of the work and was about 20 pages into checking the results when I popped into his office to ask a question about the data and he swung around to look at an Excel spreadsheet on his PC. He had a soft copy the whole time but didn’t know how to re-arrange the columns so he just hit print and passed it to me. 12 years later and I’m still telling that story.

Ben had one of those jaw-dropping encounters with basic ignorance:

I’m a student at Wollongong University doing computer science, I also have a friend doing an economics degree. One day I went into his lecture as I had nothing else to do and saw the entire room huddling around the computer at the front of the lecture. I go down and find out that the lecturer is doing the lecture from the 17″ monitor out the front because no-one can figure out why the projector isn’t working. I asked the obvious things like have you checked power, VGA cables, plugged in etc. I then walk over to the projector to find that the protective cap that goes over the lens was still on . . . sigh.

A different Ben (popular name in these parts) had to grapple with a boss who had changed settings that should have been left alone:

My boss came to me with his laptop saying that the speakers were not working and the computer was unresponsive. Upon receiving the laptop the first thing I did was to check the processes running to see if the CPU was being hogged, but nothing unusual was found. In continuing my search I decided to check the power management and voila! the problem was found. Somehow he managed to set the maximum processor state to 1%! Setting it back to 100% fixed nearly all his problems.
One more thing: no Windows Updates had being applied in over two years and no anti-virus was installed. After installing all updates and some anti-virus software I handed back his laptop. He was shocked at how easy the fix was and now he allows Windows Updates.

A good strategy for everyone, that. Joshua encountered a different kind of bug:

I was doing some work for a school and they wanted me to look at a PC they had sitting in the corner of a room, as it “wasn’t working right”. Since it had been sitting under a desk on the carport for so long most of the vents were blocked with dust. I shut it down, unplugged everything and took it outside to clean out, where I found more than dust in it. Ants had sent up a small nest between the bottom of the case and the motherboard, right under the CPU.

HowOnEarth — possibly not the name his parents gave him — proved that manuals with laptops could be better, and better-read:

I got a call from my parents saying they’d bought 2 brand new “state of the art” laptops. I was thrilled since they weren’t big fans of technology, but they were complaining that the power adapter didn’t fit into the laptop properly and was loose. A few days later I receive a call saying both the laptops were dead and wou;dn’t start, so I go around to their house and discover that they’ve been trying to plug the AC Power into the Ethernet port, and had used electrical tape to hold the plug in. Not really a disaster, but I almost wet my pants with laughter.

The enigmatically named Cryptowiz has a more complex tale. We’re not entirely sure this is true, but we enjoyed it regardless:

Many years back I received a call from a covert government agency. They explained that they were using an Cray X-MP super-computer to crack Triple DES encryption and MD5 hashes. Unfortunately, every time they ran Windows Solitaire it crashed the system. The solution was simple: I talked them through the uninstallation of the encryption cracking programs.

Brad had a support experience that was almost deadly:

My friend was trying to build a new computer and it would not turn on at all. Eventually we figured out the PSU was to blame and while I had just picked it up when it was still plugged in (test bench setup) my friend switched the voltage input from 230v to 110v and it blew apart in my hand. Afterwards I found that he had dropped a screw in there and it must have been causing a short . . . that bastard almost killed me!!!

Wiring was also a challenge for Aaron:

I was at a friend’s place and their computer was on the fritz. She said it had been doing this for a while now – intermittently rebooting and all kinds of random stuff. I open the case to find the wire to the CPU fan has been cut. The only other person to have opened the case in the last few months was a ‘professional’ tech support guy. He either did this himself or was so incompetent that he missed it completely. Sad but true.

After reading Drew’s story, we really strongly suggest he gives his winning copy to his mother:

I got my 75 year old mother onto Facebook three months ago and I still get a phone call almost every day with a question. Yesterday was a horrible day with the new look to Facebook; it took me 20 minutes to calm her down and stop her thinking she had been a victim of identity theft and someone else was using her Facebook page for illegal purposes . Welcome to my world!

And finally, Andrew had a particularly happy ending to his story:

Back in the DOS days I did PC support at the Minister’s office. A “very important” report had been written. After it had been approved a covering letter was written. One of his secretaries was asked to copy the covering letter to the report. She typed COPY COVRLETR.DOC REPORT.DOC and overwrote the only copy of the report. I was asked if I could recover the report. The word processor was IBM DisplayWrite4 which used EBCDIC rather than ASCII. When you viewed the disk with a disk viewer all you saw was gobbledygook. Fortunately, I knew that the Norton Utilities hex editor had an EBCDIC option. It took me several hours but I managed to recover all of the document. The secretary was very relieved. She invited me around to her place for dinner and . . . The best payoff for IT support I ever received.

Two words: booty call.

Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to Kaspersky for the prizes. And check out the 10 winners from Gizmodo for more horror stories.


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