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Even a klutz knows when to salute Big Blue
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Even a klutz knows when to salute Big Blue 

Technofile for Oct. 5, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

They don't call it Big Blue for nothing.

IBM isn't the monolith of the computer industry it used to be, but it's still one of the top companies in the PC world. You don't need to look far to find evidence, as IBM showed a few weeks ago by announcing a new way of making computer memory chips. IBM's method will use copper instead of aluminum, and the chips will be super fast.

But I didn't need to look past my wife's computer screen.

It suddenly went dark last month. It wouldn't come back on.

Nancy's IBM Aptiva PC was still under warranty, so I called IBM's 800 number and talked to a friendly techie-sounding guy on the phone. He asked me if I had made sure the monitor was plugged in and I said something suave, like "Um, I know about all these things, and, well, I surely know how to figure out if the monitor is plugged in."

My tech adviser let it slide. After all, I was the one calling HIM for help. And if I really knew all these things, why would I be dialing the help line?

He asked me for the monitor's serial number. Gulp! I was at the office, and the monitor was at home. So was Nancy. She works an early shift. I called her and asked her to sit in front of the monitor and get back to IBM.

She did, and a few days later a big box arrived. It was my wife's new Aptiva monitor. It worked fine. I put the broken one in a corner so we could send it back as soon as we could get to the package-mailing place on the other side of town.

And the check is in the mail, right? You know what happens in situations like this. The monitor sat there.

One night I felt guilty enough to nudge it into the box the new one had arrived in.

Two weeks went by. Nancy handles guilt differently. She sees St. Peter glaring at her on that fateful day. "You DID send back that Aptiva monitor, didn't you?" she'd hear him say.

So after work one day she tried to find a package-delivery place that would come and get the big box. While she was negotiating on the phone, the mail came. There was a letter from Big Blue itself.

"So, where's our monitor?" the letter said, more or less. It was much more polite. But it was firm.

Nancy trembled. St. Peter was looking down. Gabriel, too.

Maybe even the Big Guy himself.

She read on.

"We sent you everything you needed to return the monitor. Return shipping is guaranteed and prepaid."


"And you just call this phone number and someone will come and pick it up for you. For free."

That's what it said, more or less. She never showed me the letter. She was too ecstatic. Nobody ever made a telephone call faster than my wife made on that suddenly sunny September afternoon. A friendly guy came in a truck and hauled the big box away.

End of story, right?

Don't misjudge my incompetence.

A few days later I decided to "fix" Nancy's software setup. Windows 95 was limping along. All I needed to do was reinstall Windows. I do it all the time. Sort of.

Bonk! The PC tried to beep at me to tell me something when it booted back up. What it was saying was clear after I noticed the blank screen. Windows 95 had died. I had strangled it when I had tried to bring it back to health.

Two hours later, the patient was still lifeless. Four hours later, I took the course of last resort.

I opened the owner's manual.

"You will insert this CD-ROM and you will press Enter and you will restore everything the way it was before you messed up this PC," a notice in the manual said, more or less. I was too ecstatic to remember the exact wording.

So I did what it ordered me to do. Before long, the Aptiva was humming away, its desktop bright and inviting. Everything worked. The new monitor looked great. Even the Ring Central fax-and-voicemail program IBM sold us with the PC worked again.

I looked again at the manual.

"See, you klutz?" it said. "We told you so." More or less. I was too busy looking up, very high up, out the window, past the clouds. I was trying to spot a sign, any sign, that the Big Guy would understand.

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