No end in sight to technological reign of terror

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January 13, 2003 // UPDATED 4:11 pm - April 27, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

Laptops, printers and wireless network cards continue to mercilessly consume life-force

Some people have recurring dreams. I have recurring technical nightmares. In a three-day period, my printer stopped printing, my wireless access to the Internet malfunctioned, and my computer started sending me messages again -- plus it began to hum loudly.

I was in no mood for computer messages. I had just dealt with the problem it was telling me to fix. It took 90 minutes talking to Mark from Microsoft to solve it, and mentally I wasn't prepared for my computer to send me another message for at least six months.

I decided to ignore the message, hoping beyond hope that it would disappear.

But I couldn't ignore the humming. What if the computer was trying to tell me it was experiencing a potentially fatal infection? That it was about to die?

I decided on a home remedy: I whacked the laptop. That didn't work, so I turned the computer upside down and shook it -- gently at first, then, in desperation, like I was making Shake and Bake chicken. It worked. No more humming.

Unfortunately, this home remedy didn't work with the printer, so I had to call customer service. No 90-minute call here. Within five minutes my rep said he'd be happy to send me a brand new printer.

"We can't just fix this one?" I asked, somewhat amazed. "I've only had it for 10 months, and you already sent me one replacement."

"No," the rep assured me. "You need a new machine."

Somewhere there must be a spreadsheet showing it's less expensive to send out new machines than to have service reps talk on the phone. Or, more likely, the printer/fax/copier/scanner is such a lemon it's just easier to send replacements.

Which brings me to my wireless network card. From the day I got this card it had problems. It works like a cordless phone -- allowing me to take my laptop anywhere in my house and still have high-speed cable access. But about once a day I'd lose the connection.

When this first started happening, I called Linksys. Their recommendation: unplug the cable modem, unplug the wireless router, count to 10, and replug. Now, some people wouldn't tolerate a daily routine of crawling under a desk to unplug, count to ten, and then replug a router and modem. But I have a high tolerance for this sort of thing.

For the past 10 years the little ice tray compartment in the freezer door has been opening every time I close the lower refrigerator door. So instead of it being a three-step process to take food out -- open door, take food out, shut door, I have to add a fourth step: shut the ice tray door. Every time. For 10 years.

So I lived with the unplug-count to ten-replug routine ... until I started crawling under the desk several times a day.

I called Linksys again. Customer service said they would send me new software via email.

Two hours later, no email. I called again. Customer service apologized and explained the email department was not reliable. He assured me he would take care of it personally and said I would need to call back for help with the software installation.

At 5:30 on a Saturday evening, I called. At 6, the Muzak was still playing. At 6:30, I wondered if the battery in my cordless phone would last. At 7, after a 90-minute hold time, I heard a voice, "Please give me your name, phone number and a brief description of the problem."

"I don't need to," I offered "I have a case number."

"I don't use them," said Brian, my new customer service rep. Brian said he didn't trust any of the other reps and preferred to do his own diagnosis. Brian might be arrogant. Then again, he might be right. Whichever, he solved the problem. And it only took 30 minutes.

The reason for the 90-minute hold? According to Brian, 25 percent of the call center had just been laid-off.

Is this a taste of what's to come? Ninety-minute holds followed by 90-minute service calls? I won't think about that now. Right now, I have a new printer, wireless access and a computer as quiet as a church mouse. And that message? It did disappear on its own. My life is good.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at You can remain confidential, as can your company.