Anyone who is even moderately geeky soon becomes the Tech Support person for all their tech-challenged friends and family. My professional friends are all pretty tech-y and know this all too well. But I also have a foot in the autism world, anti-bullying and compassion-based advocacy, authors and writing, travel, crowdfunding, and a few other communities, many of which are populated by relatively normal people.
Note: If you were wondering “normal relative to what, exactly?” Don’t worry, I am too. I have yet to find a stable benchmark for that term.
Note2: If you are thinking “that’s a lot of feet” you’d be correct. I have a hell of a time buying shoes.
Between my activity in these communities and the usual allocation of non-technical friends and family, there are a lot of people who occasionally think of me when they need a technical question answered. Thanks to them I have risen to the top, the very pinnacle I tell you, of the very highly respected and yet very lowly paid position of “I know this nerdy guy who could probably help you with that.” So I’m never surprised to receive an email or private message asking for advice. Sometimes it’s the advice being asked for that is surprising. I predict that after posting this, applications for Tech Support jobs will skyrocket.
The exchange began innocently enough.
“Hi T., a mutual friend said you could answer this. I was wondering what kind of UPS I’d need for a toy. Do you go by ‘T’? Or T.Rob? Or what?”
If you aren’t familiar with the term as used in tech, UPS means Uninterruptible Power Supply. It is essentially a big battery capable of running your PC for a while when the power goes out. They also protect the PC from brownouts and power fluctuations that would otherwise damage it.
“It’s T.Rob. Long story. UPS units are ranked by how much power they need to provide and for how long. Think of it like having a gallon of water in reserve. It’ll last you a day unless you are an athlete and need a lot, then it lasts maybe half a day. A UPS can last an hour with a light load, or just minutes with a heavy load. Usually you use these for critical things that you do not want interrupted in case of a power outage. What kind of toy is this and how long do you need it to run? An hour, half an hour? Just a few minutes?”
“I guess a half an hour would do it. And there are several toys, actually. When they are all running at once sometimes it trips a breaker.”
“Oh, I see. A UPS won’t help with that. They do not relieve the load, only back it up if the breaker trips. You’ll need to spread the power over multiple circuits in the house.”
“Really? Because B. said the UPS idea would work. It’s kinda hard to explain. Can I call you?”
After a couple minutes on the phone I finally got her to give me the details of these toys. They entailed a Sybian, a variety of vibrators including a Hitachi Wand, some lighting, and several things with remotes that didn’t include the TV and stereo.
“Ummm, does B. know what you wanted to ask me about? Specifically?”
“Oh yeah. She said you do network security or something and that you are very discreet.”
Note to self. Need to have a talk with B.
“Well, that’s sort of true. Practically my whole career is built on blogging and telling stories. I have one entire hour-long presentation that is nothing but stories of really bad security stuff people have done. I just don’t reveal any names.”
“Oh.” Long pause. “Are you going to blog about this?”
“I think you know the answer to that.”
“Oh.” Long pause. “But you don’t tell names, right? That’s cool. So how big a UPS do I need? Are they expensive?”
“Hold on, hold on,” I stammered. “A UPS isn’t really for toys. It’s supposed t to give you time to shut down gracefully when the power goes out.”
“That’s pretty much what I want it for silly,” she giggled.
“Wait, what? Please tell me that’s not what this is about.” I’m not sure if she heard the facepalm that I involuntarily executed at this point.
“Of course that’s what this is about. The last time the breaker blew, it was really bad timing and we never finished.”
“Oh.” It was my turn for a long pause. “And you need it to keep running for half an hour?”
She giggled again. “Just to be safe,” she said.
I took a deep breath. This is just a tech support call, I reminded myself.
“First, plug a nightlight into every socket near your bedroom or dungeon or whatever. Next flip the breaker that gets tripped and look to see which nightlights are still on. These are on different circuits. Mark these outlets with a scarlet ‘A’ so you won’t forget them.”
“What’s a scar-la-tay?”
“Never mind, some of these jokes are purely for my own benefit. Just remember which sockets stay lit. Next, go get yourself a big fat extension cord. I don’t care what people say, size does matter, at least with extension cords. You want just enough length to reach from the second set of sockets into the, uh, room. Look for a cord that is 12 gauge or better.”
“Like a gun?”
“Like a gun. Sure. If that gun is a Super Soaker.”
“What? Super Soa…?”
“Never mind. These jokes are for me, remember? Anyway, Spread the electrical load across two circuits. If that isn’t enough…,” I completed the sentence saying “God help you” in my head before continuing, “…then spread the load over three circuits with a second extension. The only thing I’m worried about is the power draw on the Sybian. That’ll take a really big UPS.”
I talked her through finding the electrical label on the device. From the sound of it, that thing draws more power than a high-end Bosch router. It must be between 1/2 and a whole horsepower. Holy crap.
“I don’t think they make a UPS big enough for that thing. You’re gonna need a whole-house generator backup,” I joked.
“How much are those?” Either she was serious or the best deadpan comedian I’ve ever met.
“Upwards of $5,000. About $10,000 for a good one installed.”
“Where do you buy those?”
“What are you all doing for the next New Years Eve?”
“Never mind. These jokes are for me, remember? Anyway, I’ve seen displays at Home Depot, Lowe’s, even some of the big box warehouse stores. They look like a big refrigerator laying on its side.”
“Great, thanks! I’m headed down there now.”
“Bring your Sybian with you so the guy in the electrical department knows how big a unit you need.”
“Are we still talking about the generator,” she cooed coyly?
“No,” I replied. “But this time I’m doing the joke for the guy in the electrical department.”
I forgot to ask her where she lives and which store she was going to. If it had been close by I would have raced down there just to eavesdrop. As it is, Lowe’s or Home Depot, or whoever just lost an employee who is sure to be working a Tech Support call center position by mid-day tomorrow.