Digital Illogic

“Fuzzy logic” was going to be the next big thing in the ’80s. I think it was killed shortly afterward by Microsoft’s invention of “Rampant illogic.”

As the “technologically literate” one in the group, I spent all last night trying to load Vista Service Pack 2 on a friend’s machine. The installer kept saying I had to load Service Pack 1 first. But the system information pane assured me (correctly) that Service Pack 1 was already present, and when I tried installing Service Pack 1 over again, the installer told me the same thing.

Good engineering practice would demand that if there is an indication somewhere in the system of which packages are present and which are not, then every program that needs to check would look at the same indicator so they would all agree on a given package’s presence or absence. A ten-year-old could probably deduce this; it isn’t brain surgery. Obviously, Microsoft is short of ten-year-olds.

What to do? I discovered Microsoft offered free telephone support for people unable to load service packs, so I called them. They activated a tool that let them take over my PC screen (actually, they activated a third-party tool on top of their own tool, because theirs apparently doesn’t let them click on the security “continue” buttons Vista throws up!) and then they went to town.

A few hours later, I was popping popcorn and sitting back to watch them thrash. They couldn’t fix it. They couldn’t even figure it out. Ironically, I had already tried almost every fix they tried, courtesy of a Google search on the symptom (the web is so wonderful!) Even funnier, every fix they attempted to apply was resisted by the same type of Windows brain-damage we’ve all come to know and love:

  • “No, you don’t have access to change that. I don’t care if you are the administrator.”
  • “Windows has encountered an unknown error. Check our knowledge base for detailed information about this error.”
  • “Click here to have Windows recommend solutions to your problem. [After clicking:] Windows cannot detect a problem.”
  • “Installation has succeeded. More installations are available. Oh, look — one of them is the installation I just told you succeeded.”

One thing they did manage to do was wedge the machine so that the “Fn” key worked backwards: if you wanted to type normally on the keyboard, you had to hold the Fn key down, because if you didn’t, you got numbers on the right side of the keyboard instead of characters. “That’s a side-effect of our ‘Easy Access’ [screen-sharing] software,” said the tech. “We’re working on fixing it.” (Later, I discovered that the effect is permanent — I thought it would go away when I rebooted, but something has wedged this keyboard permanently. When will that “fix” be out, please??)

In the end, the nice Indian fellow gave up and scheduled a callback for me at 10 AM. (You can never call Microsoft, you know — they have to call you.)

At 11 AM, another nice Indian called me, and did most of the same things. Then he changed a value in the registry that hadn’t been touched before, and asked me to reboot. Suddenly, I had no network. Attempts to bring up any network configuration control panels hung for minutes, then said services were missing. Changing the value back didn’t reverse the problem. Now I had no network and a fouled-up keyboard. The tech said he would have to call back.

About an hour later, I got two callbacks, about three minutes apart, while I was on the phone with an important client. I couldn’t break off to take them. Then Microsoft stopped calling me altogether, on the theory that they were thereby off the hook for the problem.

When I called back the number that had called me (513-698-1051), I was greeted with the following recorded message:

“Hi, this is the Microsoft Technical Callback Team. We were unable to reach you at the time agreed upon by you and our callback team. We may attempt up to two more calls in an attempt to reach you. If you have any further questions, please call back. Thank you for calling Microsoft, and have a great day.” [Hangup.]

“Please call back???”

Call me a sucker, but I called back, just in case Microsoft had some unexpected stateful technology that would let them know I had called before and would forward me to an actual human being the second time. Stupid me. Of course, all I got was the same message.

What do you believe is the minimum IQ a person has to have before he realizes how stupid it is to tell people to “call back” to a recorded message that never changes, and which nobody will ever answer? Probably even less that the IQ required to realize that every program that needs to know a certain machine state should check exactly the same indicator. But what do I know? I’m an engineer.

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