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.


    I'll have to let the parents know that their simplicity has been recognised :p

    Now the lengthy attempt at remembering which email address I used :p

    Thank you Kaspersky

    A quick one...

    I get a call on my extension first thing in the morning:

    Me: hello
    Creative director: I think my Mac has a virus, it won't work at all and the login screen is shaking and I can't do anything... Panicked etc...
    Me: ok, I'll come up and have a look...

    So I walk into the office, look at the computer then remove the book sitting on the corner of the keyboard pressing the the return key on the num pad. The screen stops shaking... Let the creative director know that the crisis has been averted and then went back to whatever I was doing.

    I hate to state the bleeding obvious, but why would I want to put Kaspersky on my machine in the first place? Been using Microsoft Security Essentials pretty much from the start, and can't remember when I last had an infection or malwear! This seems kinda pointless to me?

      Because Kaspersky sponsored the competition - LH needs money to run just like any other news site.

        Heh, yeah I understand why they ran it, I don't understand why you would go to the trouble of trying to win it? Maybe find a prize people would find useful? #]

          Maybe the prize should be a free computer security lesson from EckyThump.

            Yes, and I would simply say,... use MSE, that's all you need! No snide remarks will make that different, will it now?

              To your question, I would simply say "No snide comments will change the prize for this Kaspersky sponsored competition, will they?"

                I don't want to get into a pissing match with you, lets suffice it to say if you want the extra security and you think Kaspersky is the bees knees then clearly you will go for it, as these guys did! I just think Kaspersky is in no way better than MSE! I doubt it would catch anything more or different either!


              Not if your copy of windows is slightly less than legal...

              It's probably safe to say that you're more than smart enough to survive on MSE, but there are (too many) people out there that REALLY need the extra level of protection that Kaspersky offers. Hell, a lot of them need more.

              Don't get me wrong, MSE on its own merit; it does a good enough job, but that doesn't make a more effective product pointless.

                Mmm I'm not a fan of running two security systems side by side, my system could get away with it as it's quite robust, many of those you are talking about will have basic machines too! #]

                  Just man up and use linux like a real man ;)

      Not really enticing me to enter the competition....... I thought you had to have a prize people wanted to begin with.

      Not to poke holes in your confidence there, but there is a chance your computer is choc-a-block with viruses and the like that your MSE does not see.

        What? No! Not EckyThump! Eckythump is a computer security professional.

    I wish I had some malwear. Captain Mal had awesome clothes.

    My first proper job in IT was with a mid sized dialup ISP. On my third day, my supervisor put together a machine from the test bench parts bin and told me to run it up. I went over and rested one hand on the plastic frame at the top, not far from the bare metal frame that was still exposed from the removed case, and hit the on button. I woke up a few minutes later, across the room, with a slightly burned hand and some decent bruises, in a dark room. My supervisor had mounted the power button upside down, with the active element against the frame. We caused a company wide outage, and power outage for a couple of blocks around our offices. The one word I said as what had just happened, and what had nearly happened registered with me became my supervisor's nickname for more than a year afterward. I can't put the word in family friendly comments.

    At the same job, in August '99, I had a call from a very drunk man who was concerned that his wife was cheating on him with some guys on the ICQ, and that those guys were getting all the women on the internet, all of them, to a party in New York City, a sex party, for New Years Eve, y2k. I still regret that I was too young, and too inexperienced to run with the moment - I just told him that unfortunately marital issues were not within the support umbrella provided by the helpdesk, and suggested he consider a marriage counselor.

      That better be a good job, if my supervisor tried to electricute me like that, I'd have quit and he'd have been sued.

    I think Ben from Wollongong might have been having a lend of you.. it's been a long time since they had projectors with caps on in lecture theatres - they're normally roof-mounted and centrally managed. I should now, I sell the buggers!

      My Uni (CSU, Bathurst) has ceiling mounted projectors with caps on them. We got told more than once to always make sure the cap is off otherwise we could start a fire with the heat of the bulb!

    My customer's idea of water cooling didn't get mentioned? I am disappoint :(

    Some very funny stories though

    Water cooling is a viable option for computers

      Obviously. I was referring to the story I posted in the competition which was about a guy that cut a hole in the side of his case and stuck a hose in the side and turned it on for water cooling.

    *ring ring*
    me: hello
    them: this place is useless, nothing ever works, when i try to print nothing happens, these printers are ****, i need to print something and i keep pressing print and nothing happens........ (goes on for about 5 minutes).
    me: ok, i'll come there now.

    i walk over there. this person is facing the bench where the printer is ok?... and get this..

    bright red LCD is flashing "LOAD PAPER TRAY 1"

    printer for the past 3 years has had a note on it
    "printers are not magic, they need to print to something, when the red light flashes load paper, you have to install paper to it, its just how it works, it is not the network administrators job to put paper in it"

    haven't had a call since about that...

    So does someone email me a Kaspersky serial?

      Yeah, I can haz my prize now?

    User: Hi, something happened to my screen...
    Me: OK - what seems to have happened?
    User: I was working on my document and suddenly my screen turned upside down by itself!
    Me: By itself?
    User: Yeah, I think I need a new screen, can I place an order for a new one?
    Me: Can you try press CTRL+ALT+ Up arrow key before we order your new screen?
    User: Sure... 30 seconds pass. Oh... It's working now.
    Me: Great! -_-

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