Tuesday, March 27, 2007

'Do I have to be online to get to the Internet?' (and other crazy help desk questions)

Readers provide their own 'you can't make this stuff up' stories
David Ramel (Computerworld)

Readers really enjoyed our last compilation of "Crazy questions that stump the help desk," and many sent in stories of their own bizarre experiences with users for everyone to enjoy.

One reader recommended that we start a regular column of these things. Hmm....

So let's keep this train a-rollin'! Send your own wacky, unbelievable, twisted or just plain kooky stories to david_ramel@computerworld.com

But right now, sit back, relax and have a chuckle.

(Note: Where we didn't get permission to use full names, we have used initials.)

Yes, it was a real question

I work at an IT help desk, and I once got a call from a student at our university that baffled me to no end.

I answered the phone, "Computer services help desk, how may I help you?"

The student responded, "Yeah, I have a question. Do I have to be online to get to the Internet?"

-- M.H.

The wrong ruler

We work on a storage team and frequently allocate storage for projects. One work order requested storage space for a document imaging system that could scan documents and store them digitally.

After receiving the work order, I contacted the lead engineer to ask how large each digital doc would be on average, to which the engineer replied: "8-1/2 by 11!"

-- D.S.

You don't want a mouse with a broken leg, do you?

I had a user who called the help desk complaining that her mouse wasn't working properly. She couldn't really explain the problem and asked me to dial into her PC so she could show me.

I used NetMeeting to access her PC remotely and asked her to demonstrate the problem. She did so and I saw the mouse cursor move to almost be able to click on an icon and then stop.

I asked her what the problem was and she said she couldn't move the mouse any farther ... or it would fall off the mouse pad!

-- Jeff Wingate

You didn't say whose tech you supported

Once a "customer" called tech support and immediately showed his disgust and demanded to talk to engineering. Since I am the software support engineer, the call was forwarded to me, and I let the "customer" vent for several minutes, wondering what he might be talking about.

After he was done bashing the product, I asked him which piece of software he was using. He replied with the name of a competitor's product -- he apparently dialed the wrong support number.


The Google phone revealed

It's real, it's spectacular, but it's not what you think
Mike Elgan

You've heard that Google is working on a cell phone everyone is calling the Google Phone. And you've also heard that they're not working on one. Well, which is it?

The "evidence" is compelling in both cases:

* A pervasive rumor suggests that Google operates a secret lab staffed with 100 engineers and led by former Apple executive, Andy Rubin, the designer of the Sidekick mobile gadget who now works for Google.

* The U.K.'s Guardian reported late last year that Google held talks with Orange, the giant European carrier owned by France Telecom, on a "multibillion-dollar" deal involving a co-branded cell phone made by Taiwan's HTC.

* Recently, someone claimed in an online post to have taken part in a market research survey in which he was asked questions about a possible Google phone made by Samsung. The poster says the phone bill for this device would be subsidized by advertising.

* Google's top executive in Spain, Isabel Aguilera, told Noticias.com that "some of our engineers' time is dedicated to the development of a mobile phone," according to a translation on the Ars Technica Web site.

* Venture capitalist Simeon Simeonov of Polaris Venture Partners blogged recently that Google is working on a "BlackBerry-like device" code-named Switch, powered by an operating system and optimized Java that supports voice over IP.

* Nomura analyst Richard Windsor reportedly told clients last week that Google confirmed at CeBIT that it's working on a phone designed to "bringing Google to users who don't have a PC."

All that sounds pretty convincing. But other facts suggest that Google is not working on a handset:

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Connecticut Investigating Best Buy's Intrastore Web Site

By Evan Schuman, Ziff Davis Internet

Best Buy is getting into some hot water because of an intrastore version of its Web site.

The Connecticut Attorney General's Office has launched a probe into the chain's use of an internal version of its Web site that looks and acts virtually identical to the public Web version except that it sometimes offers higher prices, according to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal, in a telephone interview with eWEEK.com on March 3, said his office began the probe after a column published by The Hartford Courant raised questions about the site.

Although the probe began on Feb. 9, Best Buy officials have yet to formally talk with the attorney general's investigators, instead opting to send "a written communication," Blumenthal said. That communication was less than explicit, he said. In an interview with the Courant, Blumenthal said, "Their responses seem to raise as many questions as they answer. Their answers are less than crystal clear."

What Best Buy is accused of doing is misleading consumers. The original reports had store associates disputing special offers announced on the Web site and making their case by calling up a copy of the Web site right there and then, in the store.

The initial question raised by the reports were whether this was simply a matter of having Web site prices for Web purchases—requiring the delay of shipments for the consumer and the lack of brick-and-mortar costs for the retailer—being different from in-store prices. But the initial defenses offered by Best Buy—both to local media and to the Connecticut Attorney General's Office—make no mention of this. If that were the case here, one would think it would be the first defense offered.

The Courant columnist, George Gombossy, told eWEEK.com that employees described to him their ability to access either the public Web site or the intrastore version, depending on what they wanted to do.

He published an account of his attempts to replicate the problems of one of his readers, in which he was indeed able to reproduce the apparent dual Web site bait-and-switch scheme, he said. He wrote that one "long-time employee" showed him both versions of the site.

"The salesman told me it was a site that only employees could access because it contained confidential information as well as item prices. Sometimes, as in the case of [a product that had been purchased by the reader who complained], the clerk said, the intranet site would not show the discount. In rare cases, the intranet site will show an even lower price than the Internet site."

Best Buy officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment, but they apparently did issue a statement to the Courant that said, in part: "Although we have an intra-store web site in place to support store operations—including products and pricing—we are reminding our employees how to access the external BestBuy.com web site to ensure customers are receiving the best possible product price."

That line prompted Gombossy to try to put that education process into context. "That last sentence seems to indicate that Best Buy, which is supposed to be staffed by tech-savvy employees, is putting the blame on memory lapses: that employees have somehow forgotten how to access BestBuy.com from the store. Having been to many Best Buy stores where some helpful employees showed me how they access the intranet and Internet, I can assure Best Buy officials that the re-education process will probably not be lengthy," he said. "After making sure the computer is turned on, employees should click twice on the Yahoo Internet icon and then type in BestBuy.com."

The initial reports of the incident suggested the possibility that Best Buy was simply displaying a local version of the Web site, so that consumers could peruse their Web content but be unable to surf over to a competitor's site or a price-comparison site or even to a publication such as Consumer Reports.

If that had been the case, then the pricing disconnects might have been nothing sinister, but merely a result of the fact that the external Web site is updated much more frequently than a static version in the stores.

But some of our own conversations with Best Buy employees March 3 cast doubt on that theory, with employees saying that they are only aware of the public version. (Gombossy's reporting also found many Best Buy employees who were unaware of two sites.)

Another scenario is that the dual-site effort might be regionally localized, as opposed to being a national corporate effort. But that also seems unlikely, as such a site would likely be sanctioned by corporate. Why would such a site be created and then only offered to isolated areas? Is this some sort of a pilot program? This is one story eWEEK.com will be watching closely.

Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesn't plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.