The valley of the n00b

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This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of CRN magazine.

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The valley  of the n00b

Everyone who possesses a working familiarity with computers and similar technology has, at some point, been called upon to provide technical support to friends and family. It's an occupational hazard, and we do it, if not entirely happily then at least willingly.

It does get frustrating, though, when the person you're showing how to change the font in Word for the hundredth time is someone who, in most other ways, appears to have no learning dysfunction.

My father, for instance, is a highly-qualified medical professional who has no problem explaining the intricacies of the lymphatic system at a moment's notice - but if his printer gets a paper jam he's lost.

The other incredibly frustrating thing is when the otherwise-intelligent naïf gloms on to some bit of technical jargon and throws it into their explanation of the problem, in hopes this might garner some respect. It almost never does.

"I think the USB flash buffer might have had a RAM crash."

"No, it's a paper jam. See the blinking light that says ‘paper jam'? That means it's a paper jam."

I'm dwelling on this at the moment because, a few weeks ago, I bought a used car. A few weeks ago minus one week it broke down. Since then it has been in for repair approximately half the time I have owned it.

Now, I am not an entirely stupid person. Complex and abstract concepts are not beyond my intellectual grasp. I actually read "A Brief History Of Time" and understood much of it. And I can clear a paper jam.

Cars, though, are like things from a different planet. I can drive, and I know how to check the oil and tyre pressure and top up the windscreen wipers.

Beyond that, I may as well be looking at the lymphatic system.

The ongoing saga of my used-car purchase is more than mildly embarrassing. If I were a more motor-savvy person, might I have spotted its flaws?

Indeed, might I have spotted them and been able to fix them without relying on those practitioners of the automotive arts known as mechanics? I do not know. I cannot know.

What I do know is that every time the tow-truck drops me off at the service centre I feel deeply ashamed.

It's going in for service next week, because it's developed a weird sort of chugging thing when it's idling. Makes a funny noise and kind of wobbles. I do not feel entirely comfortable telling a mechanic that.

So I have done some reading, and found that the model I own has a reputation for its small "throttle casing" which can become blocked and produce something like what I described.

Now, do I tell the mechanic I suspect it might be "the old throttle casing problem again" with a roll of my eyes and a shrug like we've both seen this so many times before; or will that be the automotive equivalent of a USB flash buffer RAM crash?

Wish me luck.

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