Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Shut Up and Reboot

As a former tech support associate, one of my all-time favorite Dilbert cartoons is this one:

For the record, while I sometimes rolled my eyes at some of my more vexing callers, I wouldn't have dreamed of telling them to shut up and reboot. So you can imagine my surprise last week when I phoned my Internet provider for tech support and was basically told to shut up and reboot.

I'd finished my endless list of chores one evening and gotten Allyson in bed early, so I figured it was the perfect time to install those parental controls I'd been thinking about. I wanted to restrict access to inappropriate sites and also to limit Ethan's browsing time. I found the instructions I needed on the provider's website, downloaded the necessary program, and installed the program all within ten minutes. Wow, that was easy!

And then a login screen came up, asking for my account ID and password. What's an account ID, I wondered? It had to be my email and email password, I reasoned. I entered those three times, but kept seeing a message that the login had failed. I went onto the provider's website and verified that I could log in there. I tried to search their knowledge base to see what an account ID might be, but any time I left the main page, an error message informed me that parental controls had been activated, and I did not have access to this site. Next, I tried to Google the problem, but the same error message came up. I could feel my blood pressure rising.

I dug out my latest bill and located the tech support number. A friendly computerized voice greeted me. He didn't introduce himself, but to me he seemed like a Bob. Bob gave me a long list of menu items, none of which seemed to fit my problem. After following several rabbit trails, I kept repeating "operator" until Bob said, "It sounds like you want to speak to an operator. Is that correct?"

"Yes!" I shouted.

"One moment while I transfer your call."

I heard a click, some silence, and then a dial tone. Argh!!

I dialed again, explained my problem again, and ended up in the tech support queue at last. Bob cheerfully informed me that due to unusually high call volume, the estimated wait time was 45 minutes. "Perhaps you can hang up and try our online knowledge base," he suggested.

"That's a great idea, Bob... IF I COULD GET ON THE INTERNET!"

While I waited, Bob offered one totally irrelevant suggestion after another. And then he asked me a question to see if I was listening. "Often, rebooting your computer will resolve the problem. Have you tried rebooting?"

I groaned. "No, because-"

"It sounds like you have not rebooted your PC. Please reboot your PC and call back if that does not resolve the problem."

"No! I don't need to reboot. It automatically rebooted when I installed the-"

"Thank you for calling."


Oh, was I mad! I'd just been told to shut up and reboot by a COMPUTER! And then it hung up on me!

I dialed back in with trembling fingers and snapped at the ever cheerful Bob when he answered. "Have you rebooted your PC?" he asked.

"Operator!" I shrieked. "I want to speak to a freakin' operator."

Just as I was yelling at a computer over the phone, Ethan walked in and eyed me quizzically. "Who are you talking to?"

I held a finger to my lips, straining to hear Bob. "It sounds like you want to speak to an operator. Is that correct?"

"Yes!" I hollered.

"One moment while I transfer your call. The estimated wait time is... five... minutes."

I grinned. Apparently Bob had some sort of programming that analyzed the caller's mood. He must have detected the rage in my voice and bumped me to the head of the line. Awesome!

Turns out, he was just lying to appease me. The wait was more like 30 minutes. While I waited, I sheepishly explained to Ethan that I had just installed parental controls on the computer and had locked myself out of the Internet. He snickered.

"I'm not sensing a lot of compassion from you," I said.


After listening to ten more of Bob's inane suggestions, I finally got to talk to a live body, a girl named Cherise. Talking to her felt a lot like talking to Bob; she was clearly following a branched script. I breathed deeply and willed my pulse to slow down.

At last I was able to make Cherise understand the problem, though I was pretty sure she didn't believe me about using the correct password. (I have to admit, had I been in her shoes, I probably wouldn't have believed it either.)

She tried several things with no success, including resetting my password--which, incidentally, Bob had already done for me while I was waiting. Then she ran across a solution that sounded promising: she walked me through finding the parental controls program on my hard drive and uninstalling. But the dreaded login screen reappeared, and it still would not accept my user ID and password.

We rebooted for good measure, and then she reset my password again, and then we were able to uninstall the program. Here's where it got stupid. I agreed to let her walk me through reinstalling it. Initially, I was able to log in with my email and password. I thanked Cherise profusely and started configuring the controls.

I set up a sub account for Ethan with a browsing curfew of 11 P.M. on weeknights and 2 A.M. on weekends.

"What?? Why do I have a curfew on the weekend? " 

"Well, you don't need to stay up all night playing games online," I said.

"I don't stay up past 2," he protested.

"Good, then you won't have a problem with the curfew," I said. "Now what user ID do you want?"

"Slave," he said flatly.

I swiveled in my chair so he could see my raised eyebrow. "Slave? That's the user ID you want?"

"Yes, 'cause that's what I am."

I pressed my lips together to hold in the laughter. "What password do you want?"


"Slave1? Really?"


"That's not a very strong password," I said, choking on my laughter.

"It's fine." Ethan was not amused.

"You do realize how embarrassing it's going to be if I have to call tech support, and they see my child is set up as Slave?"

Ethan chuckled in spite of himself. "Good."

I completed the setups and logged out. When I brought the browser window back up to test it out, I saw that "Slave" was now the default. I entered the password, Slave1.

"Login failed."

I tried it again. Slave, Slave1.

"Login failed."

With a sinking feeling, I tried my own ID and password.

"Login failed."


Ethan laughed out loud.

By this time it was 11:30, and there was no way I was up for another skirmish with Bob. So I did some more deep breathing and went to bed.

The next day, I rebooted and tried again. Wow, Bob was right about rebooting! Now the password was accepted. I immediately uninstalled the parental controls.

I don't know who's more relieved: me, or my Slave.

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