You’re not that intelligent, are you? I’m referring to your laptop, not you

You’re not that intelligent, are you? I’m referring to your laptop, not you

Our story this week comes from “John” (not his name), who was working in New York as the century drew to a close.

Friday has arrived, and the promise of the weekend stretches out before us. Spare a thought, then, for those cursed to keep users happy, whatever the time of day. Welcome to On Call.

John had a pager. Also known as a “beeper”, the platform was a few decades old at the time and about to enter a decline as more modern communication technology came to the fore.

Still, the plastic slab with nagging LCD screen and audible (or vibrating) notifications was a common tool for anyone on call and so it was that John felt a trembling in his pocket as he was dealing with a client’s woes.

Somebody else needed him. Right now. Urgently.

“The CEO of another client had an emergency,” he told us, “and had to be in Europe with their non-working new laptop the next day.”

Germany was calling, presentations needed to be made, but the brand-new laptop was not producing video.

Readers who experienced laptops of the time might be nodding sagely at this point. After all, it was not that long ago that persuading something usable to come out of the external video port seemed to require a sacrifice on the altar of Gates or a substantial donation to the coffers of Jobs.

In this case, John reckoned the laptop in question was probably something running DOS or maybe Windows 95: “It was black, of course,” he ventured, “as all laptops were back then, and had a small screen.” It was also not producing video. Worse than that, the screen was simply blank. The lights came on, the disk could be heard spinning, but of the display, nothing. Even turning it off and on again could not coax the visuals into life.

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“Well,” he said – we like to think he sucked through his teeth at this point as well – “I don’t know if I’ll be able to fix it in time for tomorrow’s flight, but I’ll look.” It was an impressive bit of kit. John hadn’t seen one before, but gave it a once over anyway. Which is when he found the video brightness dial.

“Problem fixed.” “Then the question: Do I tell this high-powered person they didn’t turn up the video, or just say it was something simple?”

Decisions, decisions. After all, a magician never explains his tricks, but John also worried that the knob might get knocked again at the CEO’s European destination. So, he came clean and demonstrated how the control worked. “This nice CEO had the expected embarrassment,” he told us, “so I said, ‘I love easy fixes’.”

He also liked the number on the invoice for an emergency repair that had required pulling him away from a client with a real hardware problem. That said, he spared the CEO’s blushes by not itemising what exactly the issue was. “Just the amount due, with a smile.”

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