On Call Welcome to another entry in The Register's series of stories extracted from those lucky individuals that find themselves On Call.
Our tale this fine Friday comes from a person the Reg-onymiser has elected to call "Ajmal".
Ajmal's story takes place back in the late 1990s, when dial-up was de rigueur and wobbly broadband for the masses was a mere glint in a bearded businessman's eye.
Modestly describing himself as "the computer geek in my circle", Ajmal was often called upon to assist friends and family through various IT issues. He had yet to learn the true code of the computer geek: always, always profess ignorance.
More helpful than your hardworking vulture, Ajmal took a call from a friend who had managed to pick up a Packard Bell desktop, the lucky fellow.
Packard Bell was noted, back in the day, for producing all manner of computer gear, including desktops, laptops and monitors. Not to be confused with the radio maker of old, the manufacturer was briefly one of the largest PC makers (in terms of shipments) in the US during the 1990s before the inevitable fall from grace.
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This particular example of the breed lacked a built-in modem (not unusual for the era) but Ajmal's friend had thought of this and picked up one of the devices. However, he didn't know what to do with it or its mighty 9,600-baud capability.
"Being the cheap bastard that he was," muttered Ajmal, "it was an internal modem, the kind that had to plugged into ISA slot."
While the idea of an internal modem might seem the height of luxury to some (including this hack, who remembers fiddling with acoustic couplers only a few short years before the events of this story), getting an ISA card to work could sometimes be a trying task.
"I walked him through opening the case and looking at the slots and see where the modem would fit," remembered Ajmal.
After Ajmal explained what went where, his friend put the phone down but left the line open, allowing our hero to both hear and guess at what happened next.
"I heard, in the background some grunting, some swear words... and then what sounded like an unmistakable voice of a manual saw grinding against something."
What exactly was Ajmal's friend doing to what was, back then, a pricey bit of kit? He strained to hear more, but all that was audible was the sound of a saw... sawing something.
A few mins later Ajmal heard: "It's in! I got it in!"
"What was that a sawing noise I heard?!"
"Yeah, it wasn't fitting, so I had to saw a little bit off."
Ajmal was lost for words. His friend cheerfully carried on: "OK then. I'm going to hang up and try it out. I'll call if it still doesn't work!"
Miraculously, AOL had a new customer within minutes.
Ever been called out to deal with some customer fettling? Or wielded the implements of destruction yourself when that square peg just wouldn't fit? Share you story with all via an email to On Call. ®