Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hell hath no fury like a programmer patronized

Oh, the hell of technical support. The hell of corporate procedures. The hell of futility in convincing an idiot that I'm not another idiot. Praise be to any/all deities that I've had as few of these encounters as I have, and eternal damnation to every agonizing minute of the process.

A little over a year ago, my wife and I craved a new laptop. I particularly craved one that would play nice under GNU/Linux with its wireless hardware, still more rare than it ought to be. Our search led us to Circuit City of all places, where we got a decent deal on a nice little rig that has treated us pretty well. My wife's paranoia won out over my penny-pinching and we also got an extended 3-year service plan for another $300 or so. This has turned out to be a good thing. Sort of.

The hard drive's going bad. It powers up happily, it reads and writes, but when it arrives at a growing number of troublesome sectors, it fails. A failing hard disk is nothing new to me. Been there and done that many times. Scrape off all the data I can, replace it, restore or reinstall, and move on. But right now I'm stuck at the "replace it" step.

Circuit City does a huge amount of business, apparently mostly with idiots. Their unskippable phone maze starts with a very fake-looking (800) 555- number, and goes on to include this menu: "For troubleshooting with your keyboard, press 1. For troubleshooting with your mouse, press 2. For all other troubleshooting, press 3." I wish I was kidding, because that would be pretty funny if it weren't true. As it is, it's just depressingly sad. So after 5 minutes of maze navigation and 30 minutes of mind-numbing hold music punctuated by ear-scorching reminders of how important I am and how busy everybody is, I spoke with a human being. It's pathetic how little things improved after that point.

It gradually dawned on the rep that I knew what I was talking about, but he was powerless but to go through his script and force me to waste my time and his. Had to rule out the possibility of a boot sector virus, for perhaps the disk isn't going bad at all. Perhaps I've been hallucinating that fsck gave me a list of which sectors were bad, and that the list has been growing. Also, apparently lots of boot viruses manage to install themselves in Lilo, perfectly mimicking my specific multi-boot configuration, 'cause not only would that be worth a virus-writer's time, but viruses can work seamlessly across any operating system. ...That's sarcasm, by the way.

The guy I was talking to didn't catch any of my sarcasm, which is fine I guess. He's just doing his job, and probably doesn't understand that he'd save us both a hell of a lot of time if he'd skip the bullshit and listen to me. 'Course, he wants Microsoft-formatted voodoo output from scandisk or chkdsk or whatever goddamn thing windows uses, and what I have is fsck telling me what's actually going on. To his credit, he called my bluff that I had done a bunch of time-wasting steps he'd told me to do. (Hey, it's worked before.) So he knows how long it takes a Windows recovery console to boot up. Whoop-de-freaking-doo. But, until my time has been thoroughly wasted and their ridiculous steps meticulously followed, Circuit City will remain in stubborn denial that I'm looking at bad hardware.

So I get to call back again tonight after running scandisk or whatever, assuming windows lives long enough on the eroding disk to spit up a magic log file with Microsoft-colored descriptions of which sectors don't work. For the love of God, I already did all this homework. I know empirically that the disk is going bad. I paid good money for extended service, now let me send it in, and give me a new one. It's not hard. Maybe I should play the I'm-an-engineer-at-Novell card or something, I just can't believe they make everybody go through the idiot channels no matter what. Then again, I guess I am an idiot after all, for buying anything at Circuit City to begin with, and for paying out the nose for support that they'll do anything to avoid providing.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Free Driver's Ed, part 1

Most people I've met on the roads since I moved to Utah have had no formal driver's education. They logically cannot have done, because people who know a few basic things do not drive in the manner I bear witness to daily. Therefore, as a free service to my community, I'm offering right here on my blog some free driver's ed.

Lesson # 1: the self-explanatory car pool lane
There's a new lane along a few miles of I-15 in Utah Valley. It's marked off with a solid white line, and has huge signs dangling above it, every mile or so, that mention something about how a "car pool" means "more than one person per vehicle", and possibly clarifying "motorcycles ok". Some mention fines for car pool lane violations. It's basically impossible to misunderstand what's going on.

I chose today to give this lesson because fully half of the cars that passed me this morning via the car pool lane contained only the driver. No passengers. How interesting, that so many people I share the road with on a daily basis either cannot read, or do not care that they are assholes.

So concludes my first and mildest installment of Free Driver's Ed. Stay tuned, Utah drivers. I ain't through with you yet.