Power Failure

I would guess that most people have probably read the story about the WordPerfect support tech who had someone call regarding his computer screen having gone "blank".  After quite a bit of troubleshooting, the tech finally realizes the guy is sitting in a building in which was in the middle of a power failure.  He suggests that the user box his computer back up and return it to the store, as he is "too stupid to be using a computer".  Supposedly he is fired for this...

This story is believed by many to be an "Urban legand"  (a story which has been passed around so much, it is considered "truth" even though there is no basis for it), and I am inclined to believe it is, as the first version of the story I heard left out some details which got mysteriously added later.  However, I wish I could say the basic premise of the story was impossible.  It isn't.  It happened to me.

On July 5, 1994, I was called by a client, who told me their computers "were not working".  I tried to walk them through some tests over the phone, but made no progress quickly, and as they were only a mile or so down the street, I figured I'd swing by there on the way to my next job.

I arrived at the office, and found the lights were mostly off, and the ones that were on were quite dim.  They were in the middle of a very significant brown-out!  I went out to my van, grabbed my multimeter, and measured that they had only about 50V coming out of their outlets (normal home and office voltage is 117V in the U.S.).  This is why their computers weren't working!

I pointed this out to them.  They had been rather mystified as to why most of their lights were not lit.  And they figured they probably ought to cancel the service call on the photocopier.  Uh, yeah, that would be a very good idea.

I invoiced them $95 for this (my invoice number 168).  They paid it.

Scarry fact: This was a doctor's office.  How would you like to have them diagnose your illness?

Good news:  They went bankrupt a few years later.

In their defense, this WAS a brown-out, not a blackout.  One of their computers actually managed to run seemingly properly on 50 volts, and this led them to believe that the other two were broke, not that the one that ran was weird.  Still, they managed to ignore the fact that they managed to break most of their overhead lights, their photocopier, two computers and who knows what else all at once, and called several different repair people at the same time, rather than thinking "Oh, maybe we should look for a common problem".

Never underestimate a person's ability to be dumb.

Postscript to this. Some years later, I was talking to the wife of a friend and mentioned this story. She got a good laugh, and said "Wow, that sounds like a former boss of mine!"

You guessed it. Yep, it WAS a former boss of hers.

Never underestimate a dumb person's ability to be remembered.

Copyright 2000, Nick Holland
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