Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

Gill's Journal, Issue

Quarterly magazine of The ARM Club the Leading Independant
RISC OS Computer User Club.

Toby's up-and-coming company have recently discovered the downside of running a public website. It's the public. It's amazing how many people join, giving their e-mail address and details, and adding themselves into a few groups - groups which are, essentially, mailing lists - and then complain, often quite offensively when they happen to get mail. From a mailing list! Some have even accused the company of using some sort of evil software to steal their e-mail address, when the only way the advanced technology can get information about you is if you type it in.

Gill confides to her Journal her opinion of those people, from cavemen to the non-spods of today, who can't get to grips with technology

While I know that all of my readers know their mouse from their modem and their bytes from their browsers, not everyone in the world is as fortunate. So, for a change, I'm giving the spods a chance to get their revenge, and have a bit of a laugh at the numerous masses who wouldn't know an ID ten T error if it leapt up and hit them. (Think about it - replace ten with 10 and read it carefully!)

I asked for contributions from your very own Club committee for this journal, and was amazed by how little response I got. Maybe they've all been using computers for so long that every error is now dull, maybe they don't want to drop their mothers in it (I'm glad mine wont read this!) or maybe they hang around in slightly more clued up circles than these. I apologise if some of these stories are old to some of you, but then people have been misusing technology since the first caveman decided to decorate his cave with that nice rounded thing that rolled down the hill.

My first contribution comes courtesy of generations of schoolchildren, and is probably one most people have done at some time or other. It's amazing how often someone will send something to the printer dozens of times, and then report the printer broken, all without checking whether paper might be a nice idea! Although of course, if you have a slightly more complicated error, and the machine "can't find" the printer, it might be best to check that they're facing each other - perhaps you could even introduce them politely... you wouldn't be the first!

Of course, that's nothing compared to the problems that some people manage to have with the mouse. For example, once they've worked out that it isn't a foot pump, many people manage to get 'stuck' at the edge of the mouse mat, and can't get the mouse to wherever they were aiming to move to. Still others have problems because the pointer is meant to follow where the mouse moves around the screen, but picking the mouse up and waving it around in 3D rarely has quite the desired effect. These mistakes are of course assuming that the user has managed to take the 'dust cover' off - or perhaps just the plastic bag the mouse came in!

I'll assume you've heard the many stories of users who call tech support to find out why their computer isn't working, only to be faced with the complexities of having to plug it in. Others are faced with the fact that the machine doesn't just keep going through a power cut! The 'on' switch is also a good idea, as I watched many fellow Arts students discover. It always amazed me how few people had worked out that the computer was much more likely to work if you hit that big button on the front. Another popular one is deciding that it isn't working, and switching it off, when that little 'on' switch on the monitor might be worth a try?

More worrying still are the tales that tell of people managing to break their computers - or parts of them - through sheer stupidity. I'm sure you've all heard of people complaining that the mug holder broke - you know - that nice little sliding thing that comes out when you press a button? Perfect for a cup of machine dispensed coffee.

Of course there are plenty of older fashioned ways to damage your computer. For example when loading stuff from disks, put in the first disk and install. When that's finished, put in the second... by the third, it can be really hard to jam it into that small slot! This does of course assume that your disks are still flat - that you haven't decided to roll them through the typewriter to type the labels or pop them on the photocopier if someone asks you to send copies.

A fun trick that a certain spod who will remain nameless used to play on my poor mother was to lift a floppy disk up to the light, slide the metal part aside and then mutter "Ah yes, I can see your problem. Something to do with that letter you've got on there...this is a difficult one..." Not normally a trick to impress your future Mother-in-law, but fortunately she has a sense of humour!

Technical support teams across the world are regularly amazed not only by the filthiness of keyboards, but also by the methods of cleaning them. It's amazing how many people appear to share their lunch with the computer, in lots of small bits of course. Others try to clean them off with anything from vigorous shaking (always good, for any computer parts!) to removing the keys, and popping them and the keyboard into a tub of hot soapy water. The much easier, safer task of cleaning the mouse - and even mouse mat - seems to be too much of a challenge. Many people seem to prefer to run a gritty mouse around a patchy mouse mat, jumping wildly about the screen as they meet these hurdles, rather than attempt any cleansing there.

Others have had fun trying to send a fax, or an attachment. Sadly these cannot be sent by waving them in front of the monitor, or by stapling the document on to the screen. Great fun to watch though...

Of course, the all time classic errors are usually the most common too. The long search to find the 'Any' key may not have been something you wasted time on, but you probably know someone who did. Tell them that's another name for the 'Enter' key, and they'll be fine for life! Of course keyboard problems aren't restricted to users. When the machine can't find its keyboard many produce an error message explaining this, and asking the user to 'press space bar or F1 to continue.'

My absolute favourite example of user error is the distressed caller to a helpline. The poor caller was really upset that the computer was being pretty rude and abusive, and while being aware that they didn't know much about the technology, the user felt this sort of personal attack wasn't on. Why should anyone - or thing - tell him that he was "bad" or an "invalid." I believe the helpline tech did manage to explain that "bad command" and "invalid" meant that the user should still be calling for help, but shouldn't take it personally!

Written by Gill Smith. Published Winter 2000. Reproduced with permission.