There's an old joke that goes something like this:
A man receives a new suit from his wife on his birthday. He tries it on, but it doesn't fit well. His annoyed wife says, "Just reach your hand into the sleeve and bend over backwards and bunch the waistband in your other hand. Move your left knee over your right as you walk and you'll be all set." So the man follows those instructions and walks out the door. Two passing ladies see him limping down the street bent like a pretzel. The first lady says, "Oh, do you see that poor, misshapen man?" The other lady says, "Yes, but doesn't his suit fit well!"
Sometimes my adventures with technical support make me feel like that man. If you see your own tech support group in the following scenario, rip this out and give it to them.
Technical Support: I have some great news for you. After three years, we've upgraded you from your dull, grey, 300MHz, 8GB hard drive machine to a shiny, new, black 2.8GHz, 512MB memory, 80GB hard drive, DVD/CD-RW combo drive, 512MB secure USB 2.0 pen drive, flat-screen machine.
Me: Great, I'm very excited!
(The next day at the office)
Me: The computer is beautiful. But when I tried to insert a Zip disk containing work that I'm doing, I noticed that there is no Zip drive -- or floppy drive, for that matter.
TS: Of course not. Your new computer has a built-in DVD/CD-RW combo drive. For moving data, you also have a new 512MB secure USB 2.0 flash drive.
Me: Those are great, but I already had an external DVD/CD-RW combo drive that worked fine for me, and I was doing fine with my Zip disks and even floppies.
TS: USB flash drives are the latest and greatest, and they save money. They've made floppy and Zip drives and disks obsolete.
Me: Yes, but my home computer is a Mac G3 with an internal floppy drive and a Zip drive -- same as my old office PC -- but there's no USB port for the flash drive. I frequently transport files back and forth. Sometimes I use a floppy disk, sometimes a Zip disk. However, the flash drive won't work on the Mac, and the new PC has no floppy or Zip drive.
TS: You need to ditch that old Mac and get one with USB ports. Or add a USB port, even though that probably doesn't make sense economically. Or you can e-mail small files to yourself from home and open them at work, and for large files you can set up an FTP site either with your home ISP or with the school and then download to your new office PC.
Me: But isn't my life supposed to be easier with this new machine?
TS: (Silence)
Me: I also notice that you've put the PC tower on floor, not on the hutch on my desk like the old machine.
TS: It's too dangerous to put the machine on the hutch. It could fall in an earthquake.
Me: But now I have to bend down to insert the flash drive in the front USB port.
TS: Didn't you notice that white wire sitting next to your keyboard?
Me: Yes, it looks like a USB cable.
TS: It is! It's a USB extension cable. When you want to use the flash drive, simply plug it in to the extension cable right there next to your keyboard. What could be easier?
Me: Yes, but I noticed that you didn't connect my other peripherals, like my desk camera, printer and scanner.
TS: We didn't set them up because the USB cables aren't long enough.
Me: They were connected before.
TS: Yes, but that was when your machine was on the hutch, which is too dangerous.
Me: But what should I do now?
TS: You could set up the peripherals on the floor.
Me: But that's really not convenient.
TS: Then you need at least three additional USB extension cables -- like the one right there that we set up for your flash drive.
Me: Great. When can you bring them to me?
TS: We don't have any extra cables.
Me: Another problem I see is that I have a lot of stuff archived on Zip and floppy disks.
TS: Why?
Me: It's convenient.
TS: You'd be much better off transferring all those files to DVD. It will take less space, everything will be in one place, and DVD media will last longer.
Me: But I can't do that on my new machine, because it doesn't have a Zip or floppy drive.
TS: Well, you'll need to use your home system to transfer all your files to your home CD writer. Then you can transfer those files to your office computer and transfer them to the new DVD drive.
Me: Seems like a lot of trouble.
TS: But you'll be better off.
Me: Getting back to my new computer, I really do need a Zip drive.
TS: No computers are being purchased with Zip drives anymore.
Me: I want a Zip drive.
TS: You could ask your department to purchase either an internal drive, since there's plenty of bay space, or an external USB Zip drive.
Me: For a lot of reasons, including our budget, that's easier said than done.
TS: You could purchase a Zip drive yourself. Since they're obsolete, you could get one pretty cheap.
Me: Will you install the internal drive?
TS: We're not authorised to work on non-standard configurations. It would probably be best to get an external Zip drive. Also, don't forget to buy another USB extension cable.
Me: How was the decision made on the new baseline PC specifications?
TS: I don't know.
Me: Was there any input from people who are getting the new systems?
TS: I don't know.
Me: Who does know?
TS: I don't know.
(The next day)
Colleague: I see you got a new computer system.
Me: I hate it.
Colleague: But it looks great!

Lemos is a professor of information systems at California State University, Los Angeles. Contact him at [email protected].