Who Does Your Support?

So, I had an eventful morning.

Automatic updates on my Macbook kindly let me know that there was a security update available for Tiger (yes, I’m still on Tiger). As I’ve done many times in the past, I agreed to take the update, entered my credentials and went about my morning email checking.

Yes, now it's up to date, no thanks to you.

The update finished downloading and installing itself and asked me to restart/shut down, all standard operating procedure. I chose restart and kept plowing through my inbox. It restarted, giving me that classic Mac startup bong, but then it just looked at me, spinning around its process loop.

Not good.

After waiting 15 or so minutes and a few hard restarts, I’d made no progress.

Time to get some support.

I’ve blogged in the past about the path of least resistance for questions, especially technical ones.  Here’s a refresher:

  1. Ask the people nearby: over the cube wall, in the hallway, kitchen, rest room, break room, wherever.
  2. Ask the Interwebs, probably using Google.
  3. Ask the “official” support people.
  4. Read the documentation.

Following my own advice, I skipped straight to Google. I thought about pinging Rich, or another friend who’s a Mac-ninja, but Rich has been sick. Plus, I need to do this stuff on my own sometimes, and I really didn’t expect this would be a big deal. After all, the ‘tubes has a plethora of information about all kinds of Mac minutia. Luckily, I had a working computer Ubuntu, ftw!

I stumbled around a bit, finding nothing solid, which made me a bit panicked. The Macbook belongs to me, but like a surprising number of people who work here, I use it for work frequently. You might have seen me toting it at OpenWorld, complete with my childish stickers. Through Connect, I’ve found a horde of Mac users who, for whatever reason, use their Macs for work.

I struggle to explain why in a short sentence, but at least one person has said in effect that using the Mac makes work more fun. The downside of this is we have to do our own support, no IT security blanket. So, as I assessed my options for support, I cringed at the prospective of heading to the Genius Bar.

Natch, I hadn’t bought any service for it; why would I need service for a computer that “just works”? Irony break.

Apple Care wanted $50 to work on the issue, which seems high to me; I considered the Genius Bar, but even with roads icy and people staying inside, I couldn’t get a time slot until 5 PM. Wow, I hate going there.

Anyway, I did eventually find an answer on the Apple support forum and ended up installing the update manually from a USB stick after booting to the install disks. Not the most intuitive or easy process for most Mac users, since it requires running the .pkg from the terminal, which is fun when you don’t know the paths and the O/S isn’t fully loaded.


Anyway, I’m happy to report that I’m fully functional again, no thanks to automatic updates. I’m worried now that the fan is borked; it wouldn’t stop running before, and now it won’t start. Not good, but not relevant either.

My guess is most of you out there are pretty savvy and end up doing your own support, which probably means you do support for family, friends, and neighbors, too. You probably get asked computer questions at cocktail parties when you’re identified as being “in tech”. Just like a doctor, you get random questions about funny stuff people’s computers do.

Me too. It’s fun.

How do you support these people? There’s nothing worse than trying to diagnose and fix a computer with its owner hovering over your shoulder. Plus, I take chances with my own computers that I wouldn’t with other people’s, e.g. what it took to fix my issue today wasn’t something I’d want to do for the first time on someone else’s Mac.

So, when you hit snag, how do you get answers? My guess is the answers here are highly dependent on what software you’re fixing.

We’re at a weird time now. Computers have invaded just about every facet of our lives; it’s impossible to hide. Computers also cause huge amounts of frustration, e.g. my  father spent a weekend wrestling with a new inventory system. His main complaint: no one told him how to do tasks in the new system as compared to the old one. Seems obvious, but for whatever reason, he had to muddle through and figure it out on his own.

This is why businesses are built around instructional DVDs on how to sell things on eBay.

Customer support for technical products is one of the toughest jobs out there; having been there myself, it’s rarely fun, even if you can solve the issue. Because it’s so tough, good people don’t do it for long. So, constant retraining is required.

I wish I had a silver bullet idea to make it all better, but there are too many moving parts and too many contradictions.

Maybe the answer lies in simplifying the interface so much that it’s easy to use and hard to break.

Like a command line.

I’m open to ideas and opinions. Find the comments and share.




  1. Nice, I hope I'm not coming off as a fanboi, no pun intended.

    I really hope that update didn't hose my fan; sucker gets pretty hot. I don't feel like going to get it repaired b/c then I'd have to suffer at the Genius Bar.

    They should serve drinks there; that would make it better.

  2. You mean they can get away with calling it a “bar” without serving drinks ?
    Hey, now that's an idea. Set yourself up in the local drinking hole with a sign saying “Will provide tech support for beer.”

  3. I know, the audacity of a bar without a bar.

    I like the tech support bar idea; I've often wondered why places like shopping malls don't have bars. Imagine how much more commerce could take place if I didn't have to tag along with my wife while she shopped?

  4. Sweet. Maybe someone can translate what it really means in English b/c “Better living but anything” leaves me scratching my head.

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