An intermittent computer error reporter looks in on Dirk, Bethany, Josh and Sklar

Janet's world

February 04, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

I often get an "error message" on my computer, indicating that I have an "unresponsive program" that must close immediately. Afterward, I have the opportunity to send an "error report" before restarting my computer and getting back to whatever I was working on, which likely will cause another error in a matter of moments.

When you send an error report, I believe it goes to Microsoft Corp. because a nice little box signed by Microsoft appears on my screen, thanking me for submitting the report.

At best, I am an intermittent error reporter. I wonder whether my reporting makes any difference for any other computer user, or results in software design enhancements. Or does it just gather data on me and my particular computer, compiled by some quad-cube dweller in the cellar of Microsoft?

I can picture him -- let's call him Dirk -- sitting at his gunmetal gray desk in the dank basement, a space heater whirring at his feet, maintaining a pathetic illusion of privacy by facing his corner away from his quadmates: Bethany, Josh and Sklar. Bethany collects ceramic figurines of large-eyed dogs and cats in adorable poses, purchased from the ads in the back of Family Circle. Sklar speaks limited English, but enough to make it known that he's sweating because of the space heater, which makes the cubicle smell like the waiting room of a national automotive oil-change chain. Josh is a day trader, so he's constantly online checking the market, and, consequently, sending his own Microsoft error reports to Dirk's station.

So here we have Dirk, sitting in front of his computer screen, waiting for error reports from Josh and me with about as much anticipation as one waits for a panic attack. He's sipping his tepid cup of Sanka -- which I think is all they serve in the basement of Microsoft, along with cheddar-and-peanut-butter crackers with expired sell-by dates. Suddenly, his computer screen flickers, and he hears an annoying repetitive tone indicating "incoming!" He punches a few keys to pull up on his screen the apparently detailed error report I filed just moments ago.

"It's another error report from Janet's World," he sighs.

"Let's see," he announces. "Looks like it happened when she tried to e-mail this photo of her in her new hat to her sister while she was listening to iTunes, calculating her taxes on Excel and typing an allegedly humorous column.

"Hey -- have a look at this, Bethany -- this Janet should seriously stay away from hats!"

"I wouldn't wear that to a dog fight," she says.

"Unbelievable!" shouts Josh. "I just earned my down payment on a vacation home in Cancun!"

Even Sklar has a comment. "Hot, very hot," he says. Naturally, everyone wrongly assumes he is complaining about the cubicle temperature.

So, my erroneous attempt at high fashion has been noted by the error-reporting department at Microsoft.

I'm distrustful of the error report for precisely this reason: I have a vivid imagination. Also, I am suspicious. I don't know about you, but this is just about the easiest report I have ever created and delivered. It requires no composing, editing, organizing or fact-checking.

I have, in my brief business career, created reports. Once, I created a report that instructed a computer to reveal the salaries of all the executives at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. headquarters in New York. Talk about an error report! But my point is that all of my previous reports have involved some sort of effort on my part. In this case, all I have to do is click "yes" and a report is filed under my name.

So what precisely does this error report contain? I ask you, Bill Gates, what is its purpose?

And when will you give Dirk a raise, so he can get himself some decent wool socks and lose the space heater?

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