The Microsoft “no help” forums

Back in the early days of desktop computing, when WordPerfect was still the king of the hill in word processing, they had a Customer Support number. You’d call up, get in queue, and listen to a real-live “hold jockey” spin tunes, provide information about the software, tell you where you were in line, about how long it would take for your turn to come up, and then connect you to a helpful, qualified, American technician who would help you solve your problem. It was almost like being able to say “shibboleet.”

But ever since the early days of Microsoft, and I’ve been there since the beginning, getting any real help from them has been an exercise in futility. There’s an old, old joke about Microsoft’s technical support, and it goes like this:

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications qquipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to fly to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “WHERE AM I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign and held it in a building window. Their sign read: “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at her map, determined the course to steer to SEATAC airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, like their technical support, online help and product documentation, the response they gave me was technically correct, but completely useless.”

Sadly, things have gone downhill from there. These days, responses are not even technically correct. Some time ago we “upgraded” to Windows 10 – and those scare quotes are there for a reason – and my wife lost her old suite of games that used to come standard with the operating system, like Solitaire.

Here’s an example taken from a real live Microsoft Community page; I came across this issue today when I had the same question and was looking for help. Of course, it should be noted in passing that to ask questions or provide responses on any of these fora you need a Microsoft account.

The question posted was:

SOLITAIRE ON WIN10 – HOW TO GET RID OF XBOX SIGN-IN

I’ve downloaded Microsoft Solitaire Collection for Windows 10.

When I want to play a game, it presents me with a sign-in screen for xbox live.

I don’t want to sign in to xbox Live and have to go through several steps to get rid of the login screen and play as a guest every time I select Solitaire. How can I get it to stop asking me to sign in?


And here is the “featured response” from Microsoft Representative 
Syed Abdul Jabbar:

Hi [Name],

Thank you for posting the query on Microsoft Community. I am sorry to know that you are facing issues with Windows 10. Do not worry, will assist you with the issue.

If you’re looking for help with audiovideo and hardware driver issues while playing a game on Windows 10, you’re in the right place. 

For anything gaming or Xbox related, head over to the Xbox Forums& they’ll take care of you.

In future, if you have any issues related to Windows, do get back to us. We will be happy to assist you.

By the desiccated skull of Mogg’s grandfather, it’s like the responder (who supposedly represents Microsoft):

a) didn’t even bother to read the question, or
b) doesn’t speak English, or
c) is a bot, or
d) all of the above.

Many of the frustrated follow-up comments point out just how useless this response is, and my experience of Microsoft Community answers is almost uniformly like this. Either the answer is painfully useless, or the solution offered is so complex as to be incomprehensible by the average computer user. If I were the CEO of Microsoft I would be mortified to my very bones if I allowed this to be my customers’ experience. There is only one possible explanation:

Microsoft doesn’t care.

And they haven’t cared since day 1. They’re the biggest shark in the pond, and even though Windows’ market share has declined over the last 5 years from roughly 91% to 88%, they pretty much have the world by the short hairs and they know it, so there’s no sense in expending any resources on helping their customers have a useful, satisfactory experience with their product.

That’s not to say that there isn’t help on the internet – you’re just much less likely to find the answer you’re looking for on a Microsoft forum than in other places. As it turns out, in this case there’s no way to use the Microsoft Solitare Game Pack without an XBox Live gamertag, and the only solution is to head for the app store and find a free app that does the trick. Sadly, most free applications include ads, but at least I can avoid the ones that push you to make in-app purchases.

I think Microsoft made a bad move when they stopped including Solitaire, Minesweeper, and other games as integral parts of the operating system. As we’ve all seen, that’s hardly the only bad move they’ve made – think Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows Vista, and others – but I can’t ever envision a time when they ever start paying the price for their insouciance.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Poland House Antiques – A recommendation, with a caveat.

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Driving back from visiting the Shaker Christmas Fair at Sabbathday Lake in Maine today, we decided to stop in at the Poland House at 338 Main Street in Poland.

My senses were overwhelmed. I have never been in a more crammed, crowded, and fascinating panoply of home decor both old and new. Every single nook and cranny in that old home was stuffed to overflowing with things to look at and covet – one example below, which doesn’t do the place justice:

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I loved so many things, and wished I were richer than Crœsus so I could decorate my own home with some of these treasures.

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An adorable mini-nutcracker stand.

But beware: my enjoyment of the atmosphere was soured like vinegar added to milk – read below the review I posted at Yelp:

I was totally gobsmacked by the incredible selection of stuff (we came at Christmas time, the atmosphere was mind-blowing.) Much of it was new, but there were a lot of really, really cool antiques. As I was leaving I asked the proprietor if this was how it looked after the Christmas season, and he said, no, he takes it all down by himself and replaces it with the antique stuff.

Then he saw my phone out and asked, “You weren’t taking pictures, were you?” I said, “Yes, isn’t that all right?” He replied, “No. People who come in and take pictures without asking are beyond me.”

Fine, dingaling. You may think that owning a half-million-dollar house stuffed to the gills with millions of dollars worth of inventory makes you better than everyone else, but here’s a couple of tips:

  1. If you don’t want people taking pictures, post a sign on your door to that effect.
  2. If someone happens to be taking pictures, you could ask them politely not to – something like “I appreciate your coming in, but I’d prefer you not take pictures.”
  3. Don’t make people feel like an idiot. I was taking photos to show everyone what an amazing place you run. Instead, you get one measly star for being a turdcasket.

So if you like lots of amazing knickknacks and decorative stuff, by all means shop here. The prices are not too outrageous, some of them seemed quite reasonable. But be warned – the proprietor doesn’t give a rat’s south-40 for his clientele.

It’s clearly not just me: have a gander at this review left by another Yelper, Marie H, on September 7th:

Well I didn’t get very far although the shop looks interesting. I chose to take a bike ride and stopped there to look around. The guy was outside and never said hello, just” you’re not going to carry much with that!” Eying my bike. Against my better judgment I walked in the entryway and started looking. He said ” can’t be too healthy doing that on a day like this. ( he could use some pedaling). The atmosphere really felt hostile to me so I left. He said ” that it?”
Will never go in there again

Every moment is a choice, and every choice has prices and benefits. Treat people well, and they’ll come flocking to your door. Treat them like dirt, and they’ll never come back.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Customer Service – It even sucked in 1750 BC

I saw this image pop up on reddit somewhere, and thought it was amusing in light of today’s challenges with companies like Comcast:

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Well, of course I shared it round, and then people started asking me about the provenance. Stuff like this tends to go wild on places like Pinterest and Flickr, generally without attribution, so it took me a while to track down some relevant information about the piece.

According to the British Museum, this tablet is currently part of their collection; the description reads:

Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery; slightly damaged; 23 + 25 + 3 + 2 ll. Dated 1750 BC, Excavated/Findspot: Ur (Asia,Iraq,South Iraq,Ur (city – archaic))

A little more digging provided me with some intriguing information about the tablet itself, provided by redditor /u/labarna, who claims a PhD in Babylonian astronomy:

If you’re curious here’s the translation of the letter (emphasis mine). This is taken from Leo Oppenheim’s book “Letters from Mesopotamia“:

Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

This letter is quite interesting because it was actually excavated from Ur, so we have an approximate find spot, which is unfortunately somewhat rare for most cuneiform tablets.

It’s also interesting because of the mention of merchants who trade with Telmun. As far as we know Telmun (or Dilmun) was a polity in the Persian Gulf, probably near to if not located on the island of Bahrain. There was a certain type of merchant alik Tilmun (literally “one who goes to Dilmun”) who was associated with trade in the Persian Gulf. And not surprisingly (if you read the letter) copper was a major part of this trade network. Now it should also be said that there were many trade networks flowing into and out of Mesopotamia at this point and the trade through the Persian Gulf was just one facet of a larger network.

/u/labarna then also links to a pencil sketch of the tablet in question:

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We are challenged to compare said sketch to the image of the tablet, and told that this passes for fun among those who study cuneiform. Intriguing indeed, doing such a comparison would give me a headache, and I have nothing but huge respect for those who can decipher such things.

It would be interesting to know the outcome of this particular trade dispute. if Ea-nasir was anything like Comcast, he would have sent back a clay tablet with the Bablylonian equivalent of “It sucks to be you.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.