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10 things - no, 11 things - you say that drive your computer tech person crazy

© August 2011 Anthony Lawrence

If you saw this title and expected something making fun of "dumb" computer users, you are probably going to be disappointed.

Yes, of course people sometimes say or do silly things, even outright stupid things. We all do.

Look me straight in the eye and tell me you have never done anything like that with a computer and I'll look you straight in the eye and tell you the same thing and then we'll both try not to laugh.

People misunderstand things. People read things hastily and get it wrong. We are humans, we make mistakes. I am human also, and I make mistakes. I may not make as many computer mistakes as "ordinary" people, and they may be mistakes at a different level, but trust me: I make them. So, this is in no way about "dumb computer mistakes".

However, there are certain things that happen frequently in computer tech support that really do cause us to grind our teeth, just a little. See if any of these things remind you of yourself and, if so, pay attention to the explanation so you don't make another computer support person roll their eyes when they talk to you.

These are things you should not be saying. If you are saying them, you have misunderstood something basic and I'm here to help you learn what you missed.

"It's 'www dot something.com backslash foo dot html' "

No, it is not. This is a backslash: "\". This - "/" - is just a slash. Yes, I know you hear people on the radio and TV saying "backslash", but they are wrong.

So, "www.something.com/foo.html" is "www dot something.com slash foo dot html".

I've had people say "Well, that's what Microsoft calls it". No, they do not. I could pick out many pages from Microsoft documentation to prove that to you, but I'll just pick one from one of their Excel support documents. The title is "The yen character appears as a backslash in Excel 2004 for Mac when you open an Excel for Windows workbook" and the first paragraph explains:

When you open a Microsoft Excel for Windows workbook in Microsoft Excel 2004 for Mac, the yen character may appear as a backslash (\).

See? Even Microsoft knows what a backslash is. And now you know too, I hope.

But while we are talking about this, there is one more thing. Very few sites need "www" in front of the name. In fact, those that do are sometimes run by people who really do NOT know much about how to set up web sites. That's not always the case, but it is a lot of the time.

Most of the time you do not need to bother to type "www". Try it - it will almost always work.

"It has 100 Gigabytes of RAM"

There are computers with 100 Gigabytes of RAM (well, probably 128 Gigabytes) , but you don't buy them at Best Buy and that much RAM alone could set you back close to $10,000.00.

Your disk drive may have 100 Gigabytes of storage space, but that's not RAM. A 100 GB disk drive is common, 100 GB of RAM is not.

RAM is Random Access Memory. You might have as much as 4 Gigabytes in an older computer (though you might have as little as 512 Megabytes) or even 8 or 16 Gigabytes in a newer machine, but you probably don't have 100 Gigabytes or anything close to that.

RAM goes away whenever your computer is shut off. The stuff on your drive does not. You don't normally see what's in RAM (your Windows Task Manager or your Mac Activity Monitor can show you), but those icons on your desktop are showing you what is on your disk drive.

Still confused? Try this "RAM vs. Hard Disk" article or this longer "What is Computer Memory? RAM vs Hard Drive" page.

Oh, one more thing. If we are talking about RAM, 1,024 Megabytes is one Gigabyte, and a Megabyte is 1,024 Kilobytes and a Kilobyte is 1,024 bytes. So a Gigabyte of RAM is 1024 times 1024 times 1024 or 1,073,741,824 bytes.

In many other situations, and especially with hard drives, a Gigabyte is just 1,000,000,000 bytes. Yes, that's silly, but that's just the way things evolved.

"I don't have an email password"

Yes, you do. You may not remember it and if someone else set up your email, you might never have even have typed it even once in your life, but trust me: you have an email password.

It was probably stored in your email program. Maybe you got a new computer, maybe your email program changed, whatever, something happened and now you can't get mail until you know the password or until the email administrator changes the password for you.

You HAVE a password. What you should be saying is "I don't know my email password".

"That IS my password!"

Sure, maybe. But unless there is a broken key on your keyboard or you forgot to turn on Num Lock, if it's not working, you probably aren't remembering it correctly.

I had an example just this week: I had set up someone's browser to go to her Verizon mail login page. She called me to tell me that her daughter has tried to login to her mail on that page and couldn't, so she wanted me to "set up a page" for her daughter. I explained that the login page would work for any Verizon customer and suggested her daughter might have mistyped her password.

"No, she tried it three times."

I sighed. "Maybe she just is remembering it incorrectly?"

"No, she knows her password."

"Well, that page will let anyone login - it's not special for you."

She paused, took a breath, and said "Well, I don't want to argue with you but my daughter cannot use this page."

Shrug. I bet her daughter has MSN..

"There was an error message that said something"

Would you go to your doctor and say "I had something wrong last week but I wasn't paying attention so I can't tell you what it was"?

Of course not. If your computer shows an error, print the screen or copy and paste it or write it down if you have to.

You don't know how to print the screen? Don't feel bad - we don't do that often so I often forget myself, and honestly both windows and Mac make it unnecessarily difficult.


You press PRT-SCRN, which appears to do nothing. You then have to open a program like Microsoft Paint, hit CTRL-V to paste in the shot, and then you can do whatever you want with it.

Vista and Win 7 have "Snipping Tool", which is supposedly much better (but I've never used it).


Press Command-Shift-3 (whole screen) or Command-Shift-4 (portion of screen) to create "Picture x" (x is 1 to whatever) on your Desktop. Print or email that file for the support tech. Because of better features and control, I prefer Skitch.

If you have to write it down, be thorough. Write down EXACTLY what it says, not what you think it means. If it has a bunch of numbers like 'Error F875AA in module DB578", try to copy those accurately - your support tech will be ever so thankful!

"I don't know how to cut and paste"

You should shoot whoever taught you how to use your computer, because you have wasted a lot of time retyping things you did not need to retype.

Windows people might find "Basic cut and Paste" useful for learning. It's basically the same for Mac users except that you'll use the "Command" or "Apple" key instead of control. For Mac, I prefer "Jump Cut">/

Please, please learn how to cut and paste. You'll be happy for it.

"The Operating System is Explorer"

Yes, you probably use Microsoft Internet Explorer a lot if you use Windows. But your operating system is "Windows something". Maybe "Windows 95" (I hope not!). It could be Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Vista or Windows 7. That's what the tech needs to know.

Nowadays they might also need to know if you have 32 bit or 64 bit. You can find out easily enough right now and try to remember that for when they ask. The computer tech really will be impressed that you knew that answer right off the top of your head.

But while we are talking about Internet Explorer, please consider using Firefox, Safari or Chrome. Opera is a nice browser, too. Heck, get 'em all - they are all free and if you have trouble with Explorer, using one of those can help pinpoint where the problem really is.

"I put it in Word and attached it to the email"

Why? Why in the world didn't you just type it into email?

I get particularly crazy when I get a Microsoft Word attachment that just says something like "Can you call me later today?"

People use Word for too many silly reasons anyway, but to use it to send a text message in email is beyond silly. Don't do that.

"I tried it but It doesn't work"

If you tell your doctor "I can't walk", I bet he or she would want to know just a little more. Do you mean it hurts too much to walk or that you physically cannot get up to walk? If it hurts, what hurts - your foot, your knee, your back?

It's the same thing with computers. I like to remind people that what we techs really want to know is this:

What you were trying to accomplish? "I wanted to print a file"

What did you do? "I opened it in Word and pulled down 'Print' from the menu"

What did you expect to happen? "I expected it to come out on the laser printer"

What exactly happened? "It didn't print" or "it printed garbage"

That third thing ("What did you expect to happen?") is often the most important, but too often gets left out because you assume we know what you wanted. Yeah, it might be obvious, but say it anyway. It might really make a difference.

"I've printed it over and over but nothing comes out"

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

Yes, I can understand trying it twice. That's OK. But don't you think ten or twenty times might be a bit excessive?

Here's the problem: almost always, what you have done is actually created 20 print jobs that WILL come out of the printer once the problem is fixed. If each job was a forty page document, you've created quite a stack of paper, haven't you?

If they remember to, the tech geek can clean that up so all those copies don't print. Or you could not try the same thing twenty times over the next time it doesn't print.

"I always remove all the cookies!"

Some people have acquired the idea that browser cookies are always evil and dangerous.

They are not. All that these are is files that your browser has stored on your computer. They usually contain information about preferences you might have at a particular website you have visited in the past.

It is true that cookies can be used to assault you with targeted advertisements, but that by itself is usually not a good reason to remove all the cookies from your browser every day. I prefer to see ads that reflect my interests, so I don't bother with any of this. If you are concerned about that kind of tracking, your browser can be set to reject "third-party" cookies. Those are the kind that can do ad tracking.

Your browser can't do that? Get a better browser.

There are probably more things I could mention, but these are among the most common. Don't be embarrassed if you have done every one of these things: you are not dumb, you just didn't know something and now you do. Your computer tech person will be happier for that and so will you.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> 10 things - no, 11 things - you say that drive your computer tech person crazy


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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Thu Aug 25 14:14:16 2011: 9738   Mark


User: I can't print
Me: Which of the 300 computers, 89 applications, and 50 printers can you not print from/to?

Along the same lines as a Word doc that contains plain text ... I've gotten Word docs with screenshots embedded in them!! Just send me the screen shot. Or even better a screenshot of a terminal that has some error message in it. Just copy the error text and paste it into the email for crying out loud.

Or users who won't take five minutes to learn something new because they are too busy. The five minutes you spend learning keyboard shortcuts in a heavily used application like an email client will save you dozens of hours over the next year.

Thu Aug 25 16:07:48 2011: 9739   MAXIMUSIRILIOUS


Honestly I hate having to explain things more than once, because people do not want to bother to do
things for themselves because I believe it is ok if you don't know because there is people out there like that but if you are told day in day out when something happens to lets says remember the error on the screen and right down what is then they are a lost cause. I been called because peoples volumes are not working ( muted) I un-mute then show them how to do it and sometime later they are calling for the same thing very annoying, and for the 100 gig ram lol that made me laugh.

Thu Aug 25 16:10:50 2011: 9740   TonyLawrence


My wife often reminds me that "Their money works just as well as anyone else's".


Fri Aug 26 03:18:39 2011: 9741   Sledge


I may have picked this up here but I have (finally) successfully integrated the following questions in the minds of the CSR's at my firm:
What were you doing/What application were you using?
What was supposed to happen?
What happened instead?
Has anything changed/weird happened recently?
If I have this information the customer will save me time and them hundreds of dollars.
Next on the list is to get all the techs to ask "What do you want this rock for" whenever a customer says "bring me a rock" Which I did pick up here.*

* (link)

Fri Aug 26 18:06:26 2011: 9745   MAXIMUSIRILIOUS


well if you need a good laugh and time read.

tech support calls from hell.


"One time I got really frustrated with a caller who had claimed that "the Internet had changed the color to black." Eventually I worked out that her computer had switched off.

* Me: "For the last time, could you please turn the computer on?"
* Her: "But I don't have the file!"
* Me: "What file!?"
* Her: "You know, the file."
* Me: "Could you please press the button with the circle and the line on it, please?"
* Her: "Don't you talk like that! I still need to download the file! I know what to do. I have friends who are computer experts!"
* Me: "Just press the button even if the file still hasn't 'downloaded' yet."
* Her: "Ok. Well, nothing's happ-- oh, it's got some gibberish written over it now. It's blue, and there is one thingie that says my name! Wow! My husband taught the computer my name!"
* Me: "Yes, that's what happens when you turn it on. Ok, I'm happy the problem's fixed. Bye!"
* Her: "But--"


Mon Sep 5 13:35:21 2011: 9772   tony


One of my all time favorites: "I was typing and all of a sudden my computer went wacko and now I can't do nothing.

My response was "could you please describe the word wacko?"

Another favorite: "Can't you tell what's going on?" When you get a call at home about a computer problem. - somehow I'm supposed to be able to interact with a system without the use of a computer.

Mon Sep 5 13:35:21 2011: 9772   tony


One of my all time favorites: "I was typing and all of a sudden my computer went wacko and now I can't do nothing.

My response was "could you please describe the word wacko?"

Another favorite: "Can't you tell what's going on?" When you get a call at home about a computer problem. - somehow I'm supposed to be able to interact with a system without the use of a computer.

Tue Sep 20 22:15:30 2011: 9868   anonymous


How about the infamous..."Nothing has changed" answer delivered by nearly every user with a problem.


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