Saturday, April 16, 2016

Support Days, II: Two Customers

When I did tech support, I traveled to a couple of type shops on Long Island. One company I knew well, one I did not.

Danny and his wife owned the first one, in Hicksville. Danny was a very sharp guy, and at least a third, maybe two thirds of his support calls followed one pattern: Danny got one of us on the line, started to explain the problem, in the course of explaining the problem arrived at the solution, thanked us, and hung up. It was only later that I learned to call this rubber ducking. My only complaint about this was that Danny talked so fast that I would get out of breath listening.

Data General used to sell a unit, roughly the size of a cradle, that had a 25 MB hard drive and a drive for 8" 1.2 MB floppies, the latter generally used to back up the former. The hard drive seemed to suffer more minor failures than other units, perhaps because it was driven by a rubber belt; once I was at a customer's shop and heard a small bang when the belt dropped off, stopping the computer dead. Danny had one of these, though by now his main unit was a more reliable 73 MB drive, and so did the other fellow.

I don't remember the name of the man who owned the other shop. As at many of our customers, the system manager was the senior typesetter, who had arrived at that position by quick and accurate typing, not through any knowledge of computers. She was intelligent, but not particularly interested in computers. She was diligent in following the backup procedures, which backed up the hard drive to the floppies. But one day the backup required one more floppy than she had. She examined her directions, which I think were her predecessor's slightly more cryptic summary of the cryptic directions we provided. It appeared that she needed to format another floppy disk, and so, on a plausible reading of her instructions, she started a format of the hard drive. Fortunately, this failed (as it usually did) before destroying too much data. Unfortunately, it left the system unable to start. They called us, we called the travel agency, and I caught a plane to MacArthur Airport to see about salvaging data and putting the system back into working order.

This unit seemed to have developed other problems along the way, according to the field engineer. I ended up calling Danny, who had stepped up to the larger drive, and who kindly agreed to lend us his. The field engineer racked it into place, and we set up the new unit and started to transfer the data. About 7 pm, the lead typesetter went home. About midnight or one, I decided that needed rest. I called the local taxi company for a ride to a hotel, and went outside. After half an hour of waiting in the cool spring air for the cab, I went back in, and kept working. By the afternoon, the system was usable again, and I headed for MacArthur.

Some time, probably quite some time, later, Danny remarked that he had never got his drive unit back, and that the other guy didn't return his calls. That winter, I was at Danny's shop for an upgrade, which included a new 360 MB drive to go with the 73 MB one. I don't remember whether the new operating system even supported 25 MB drives; I doubt it did. I do wonder whether the other guy ever thanked Danny for bailing him out.

(One can walk into the drug store these days and purchase a 32 GB USB drive, that is to say, one that will hold more than 1000 times the data that was on these old 25 MB units. It will take up the space of a pack of chewing gum, and you'll get change back from your $20.)

No comments:

Post a Comment