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2010 A Computer Odyssey

My new computer gave me the dreaded blue screen of death this past week. Not once but five times in a row, all within 20 minutes of start up and restarts. The block of text was as ominous and incomprehensible as the Star Wars opening.  

"A problem has been detected and Windows has shutdown to protect your computer. ....Modifications of a system code or critical data structure was detected.... Stop code 0x00000109."

The first time, I was startled. The second time perplexed. The third time, hyperventilating. The fourth time (before I could even update my status on Facebook: Anne is hyperventilating) I was a quivering mass of nail-chewing hysteria. The fifth time - ya don't wanna go there.

I had just bought the system three weeks earlier, dropping $1300 plus on the top of the line monster with 8 GB of RAM, a hard drive with enough computing capacity that would have taken up 6 city blocks of IBM mainframes in the 1970s, and an enormous flat screen monitor capable of having three documents full size, all viewed at once for editing and multitasking.

 I had a day of writing and editing to do in a busy week and a nutso month. This could not be happening.  I have all my data obsessively backed up, but I need a functional computer just to get work done.  Telling editors, clients, and art directors that you are late on a deadline because of computer problems sounds as convincing as "the dog ate my homework."

But five blue screens! This was not a computer problem, this was a meltdown. My keening moans of woe  shook the quiet 1940s Victoria apartment block where have my office.

Calm down. Rending garments does nothing. This is obviously a hardware fault on a new system. It is all under warranty. Call Future Shop.

"What is the make and model of your computer?" the clerk asked between my sobs.

“Gateway MS Pro.” 

 “Let me see… oh here. Gateway has a chat forum and email tech support on their website. Just go to www.gateway.com”

 “Calm down ma’am. You are right, email is not much use if your system is not working.  I’ll see if I can find a phone number. Hmmm. I don’t see a phone number. I will transfer you to our tech support.”

I waited while Michael Buble played. Eventually a man came on whose voice sounded completely bored and flat -- to counteract no doubt the hysterical calls he gets all day.

I could hear him sigh as he listened to my problem: “That needs to be dealt with by Gateway, Ma'am.  You are still under warranty. They have online email support and a tech support chat room….”

“Okay. Calm down ma’am. Yes I guess that is no use if you can't get online. Yes, I do have a tech support phone number but we can’t give out that phone number as that is the one we use..."

My frustration was sky high. I tried to keep my voice as even as his. What did he suggest I do with a three-week old malfunctioning system?

"Well the best thing to do is pack up your computer and bring it in here. Blue screens are hard to determine. We will run diagnostic tests. That takes four or five  business days, depending on the problem. If it is not a software problem or a virus, but a manufacturer's hardware problem -- and it sounds like hardware -- then we ship it back to Gateway. It is all under warranty.

And if it was hardware ( I knew it was hardware) how long would my computer be gone?

"One or two months at the most...

 “Well no, we don’t give a loaner…” he said.

Eventually the bored-voice man - to get the hysterical me off the phone --  found a phone number for me to call – that of Acer, the manufacturer of Gateway.

I called the 1-800 number and a pleasant, computer generated woman’s voice answered.

“Welcome to Acer. Please say as clearly as possible the issue you are calling about. You can say sales or tech support or..“

“Tech Support” I yelled.

“Okay. Tech support. What is the technical issue you are calling about?”

“Blue Screen!”

“Okay, blue screen. For operating system issues we need your 11-digit SNID number. You will find this number underneath the bar code on the side of computer. If you do not have this number handy, this automated system will wait until you find it. Say halt to look for the SNID and then say continue when you are ready to proceed.”

(Oh dang!) HALT!

I pulled the computer tower out from my desk, disentangling wires and cords. The bar code was a tiny patch and the SNID an even tinier number underneath it. It looked like this: 00083383712.

I got out my reading glasses and rummaged for a pen light. On my hands and knees under my desk I still could barely make it out. I wrote it down as best I could and then climbed  back up to the phone.

Continue! I yelled.

“Please type in or say the 11-digit SNID number.”

I typed in the number, trying to get the zeroes, 8s and 3s in the right order.

“To confirm, the SNID you provided is: zero, zero, zero, eight, three, three, eight, three, seven, one, two.

That was what I had written down.

“Yes! ” I said.

“This is not an Acer Product. Please call the company who made your computer. Goodbye,” said the voice. The phone clicked dead.  The computerized woman hung up on me.

Shit! I pulled the computer back out, got out a magnifying glass and got back on my hands and knees. Dang!! I had an 8 and a 3 reversed.

I dialled the 1-800 number again.

“Hello,’ said the pleasant computer female. “Is this the same problem you recently called about?”

Okay, at least she is efficient. We can get right back to entering the correct SNID.

“Yes,” I said.

“This is not an Acer Product. Goodbye."

I called my husband Keith, frantic. "Find me another number for Gateway or Acer. I am being blocked by a cyber control freak." He searched websites and got a different number for customer support. I called this one. The same computerized woman's voice answered.

“Is this the same problem you recently called about?” the computer voice said.

“No!” I lied.

“Are you sure? Is this the operating system problem you called about at 10:05 am June 9, 2010,” she tested, almost HAL-like in her menacing, overly-calm tone.

“No!” I lied.

“Okay ( I could tell she didn’t believe me.)  To go any further we need your 11-digit SNID number. You will find this number underneath the bar code on the side of computer. If you do not have this number, the system will wait until you find it. Say halt to look for the SNID and then say continue when you are ready to proceed.”

I entered in the number, holding my breath that this time I would do it correctly.

"You are being transferred," the system said. Muzak played.

A human voice finally came on.

“Hello, this is Raminder, how may I help you?.”

He was in a data call centre on the outskirts of Mumbai, India.

I sputtered out my blue screen problems, the three-week old system, the whole sorry tale.

I could tell Raminder was reading from a binder. He was a lovely caring man ( I couldn't understand half of what he said, but he mumbled it in a very caring kind way.) But he was no use what-so-ever. Ultimately, his only advice: pack up computer in its box -- it was all under warranty -- and either ship it or deliver it by hand to the Gateway office in Burnaby or Toronto. It would be back in one to two months, all covered. But no, they do not give a loaner.

I was on my own.  

 (PS. Thank God for Darryl Gittins, tech writer for Boulevard and computer whiz extraordinaire. He took away my new system, hooked up an old lap top of his to let me survive for three days.  Running my new system through a series of diagnostic tests he discovered  my blue screen woes were coming from a 2GB module of RAM that had a manufacturing glitch. He pulled the RAM -- I still have 20 times more RAM than my last system. Now I am going to see if Future Shop or Gateway will reimburse the cost. I have a feeling, no, because I did not pack up the computer and send it back.)



Posted on Monday, June 14, 2010 at 01:04PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

RIOT! (Um, I'm allowed to laugh, right?)

I also called Gateway "support" and was amazed at how stunningly and thoroughly incompetent they were. The Gateway support tech told me to look in the BIOS, and then concluded that because there's a hard disk listed, was no problem with the hard disk drive. When I questioned them about the logic underlying their conclusion, they replied to say they were actually not "technically trained". They had no answer to my subsequent question of why they were working a technical help desk.
June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDarryl
Anne....get a Mac ferchrissake! David xoxox
December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Wilkinson

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