Tech Support Times Three

I have three tech support stories to tell. Two are brief, the third is not. They all have relatively happy endings.

The first concerns a phone call I received yesterday from the company that provides much of the on-air weather equipment we use at work. We’d had a terrible problem, which they fixed. Now they wanted some log files.

The logs were needed because they fixed the problem, but weren’t sure how!

That sounds terrible, though it’s not as unusual as it seems. Points to them for asking me to send the files. These log will help them understand what they did for us, so they can do it for everyone.

The second story concerns my laptop. It is, in computer time, ancient. There’s a sticker on the front attesting to the fact that it was designed for Windows 98!

If you’re technically inclined, it’s a PII-300 with 128 mb of RAM for memory and 2 mb more for video.

If that was a meaningless blur, it’s got about the same horsepower as a tricycle.

A while ago, I upgraded it to a heavily customized version Windows XP. I carefully turned off as much as I could to preserve as much of this machine’s minimal power as was possible. It’s still a hog.

This has been a hacker machine for me. I’ve experimented with it by swapping hard drives in and out. Until today it had a tiny 8 gb drive.

With a weekend trip coming up, I wanted more storage, so I swapped in a 20 gb drive last night. Windows XP was on the drive, so I freshened some programs with newer versions and then went to reboot.

Before the power went off, Windows told me it had to install some updates… 57 updates!

Are they serious? Sure, this drive had been out of service for a while, but were there really that many updates (mostly security related) to XP? And this version had already been inoculated with SP2 and other fixes.

I took a shower while the laptop did its thing.

Tech support story three is a little more troubling. It started with phone calls from Matt Scott, one of our meteorologists at the TV station.

When he went to fire up his Dell desktop machine, it quickly crashed into a Blue Screen of Death or BSOD! The BSOD screen is cryptic, but it hinted at problems with the boot sector. That’s serious.

Before Matt got to me, he had spoken with Dell tech support. Their solution, after a few tests, was to send the drive to a forensic computer lab where, for $1,800, it could be resurrected!

He brought the PC in to work and Jeff Bailey, our webuy, began to work on it. I did some scouting around Google and found what typically causes this particular BSOD.

HINT: If you ever have a computer problem, write down exactly what’s on the screen and search for it on Google. You are not the first person with this problem. You can often find solutions just by looking. It’s very important to search for the exact words you see.

“Matt, do you have any disks that came with the PC,” I asked. My suspicion was, Dells don’t come with disks… and it hadn’t.

I went through the station looking for a Windows XP CD. Yes, what I was doing probably violates some stipulation in the end user licensing agreement – sue me.

By the time I returned with the disk, Bailey had the machine on its side. A panel had been removed from the case, exposing the innards to the world. As it turns out, that wasn’t necessary, though it makes Jeff and me look like &#252ber Geeks (as if knowing how to make a “&#252” on the screen isn’t enough).

Computer repair is modern day sorcery. You must follow a number of steps, none actually documented, before you begin to fix the trouble. We started by reconfiguring the BIOS to boot from a CD instead of the hard drive and loading XP’s recovery console.

Matt looked sheepish – fearful his pictures, video and documents were about to get trashed.

We lucked out. Matt’s problem was the same as most of the others I’d read about. It took a few hours, but slowly but surely, his computer fixed itself, rebuilding files and reconstructing the recalcitrant boot sector.

Why couldn’t the Dell tech fix this? No clue. They should be ashamed of themselves for the solution they recommended. That’s totally unacceptable.

Why doesn’t Windows XP do this on its own without demanding a disk most users don’t have? Again, no clue. Microsoft should be ashamed of that and for its often meaningless BSODs.

Bottom line – always have a geek at the ready… preferably two!

3 thoughts on “Tech Support Times Three”

  1. Hey Geoff:

    I forget how I came across your blog initially, but I’ve been reading it for a few weeks via RSS. Just a couple of things:

    I recently reformatted a PC w/XP. It was being re-purposed, and reformatting/reinstalling was the easiest/securest way to do that. In the past, it was also fastest. The disc was OEM with SP1a. It took all of an hour to install XP and the drivers… It took several days (of single 4-hour shifts) to do all the updates! I mean, when there’s this many bug fixes, isn’t it time for a service pack? Oh, and SP2 is almost 120 megs!

    Oh, and don’t get me started on Dell tech support! The fact is, the tech probably mis-interpreted one of the symptoms, flipped to the wrong page of the flip-chart (or whatever they use now), and saw the suggestion for when an HDD is destroyed or all data is erased…

    I agree 100% in what you said about “Copy down the issue and Google it”. It’s saved me a lot. Why re-invent the wheel or spend hundreds for somebody else to do it?

    Sharing discs isn’t a EULA violation, as long as the system which you’re installing on is licensed for the version you’re using. With most XP versions (OEM, VLK, etc), this is of course easily identified with the sticker containing the product name and CD key. You know this, I’m sure… More-or-less for your readers’.

    And the BSOD’s… Yes, they can be cryptic and sometimes anti-detailed. Do you know how many things can cause a DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL BSOD? One thing that can help (assuming that you get over the BSOD) is the Windows XP debugging tools ( or Online Crash Analysis page (

    Nerds on hand is usually a good thing. Especially when tech support wants you to spend money.


  2. Dell has got to have the DUMBEST bunch of script readers I have ever encountered. The last time I tried to resolve a Dell PC problem — I asked why I was doing each trouble shooting step — absolutely no idea WHY. After insisting I get a supervisor — he had me run a diagnostic utility that took 20 hours (HD and verification app); I assume so I would get another tech (term used very loosely) to proceed with my problem resolution.

    That is a long way to saying, after buying maybe 8 Dells, that I will never buy antoher one. Based on many surveys I have seen, Geoff you are not the only person whom finds current Dell tech support a JOKE. Besides they barely speak a version of “English” that is real hard to understand.


    PS To get a CD version of the OS — call Dell within the 30 day return time frame and say you bought a *** GB Hard drive and did not get it –due to the OS (and crap) being on the HD. Indicte you intend to return the PC. They will express mail you the install OS and drivers on CD’s, for free.

  3. Less than 2 weeks ago, I had to hurry and get a new laptop (while *praying* someone can later save all my stuff from the other one–same problem, not having the original disk, since it was pre-installed) —and I was stunned at the number of updates the new one needed. One of them alone would have taken 42 hours (IF I had a 56 kbps connection, but my dial-up is only 26 to 28 kbps!–and the availability of DSL ended a few miles from my out-in-the-sticks location)—so luckily a friend with high speed allowed me to do the longest updates there, since I didn’t want to risk waiting for a SP2 CD to possibly be mailed. Those who have high speed, count your blessings.

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