Mon 3/5/12 My Favorite Tech Support Story

When I was a Mac Genius, and the Genius Bar was new, a red phone with a direct line to Cupertino used to sit behind the bar. The phone didn’t call anyone important, but it did get you AppleCare Tier 2 support if you got stumped by a customer’s question or needed to ask a inquiry of your own. I never picked up the red phone to ask a technical question, that’s what the internet is for, but I did use it a couple of times to ask procedural questions on pending repairs. Most of these questions could have been answered by email, but when a customer visits the store because their mail-in repair is missing, or they were offered a deal by executive relations1 the quickest answer is sometimes the phone behind you.

On this occasion I didn’t need to use the red phone at all, it was the customer who was making the phone calls. An elderly couple had sat down at the end of the bar with the tangerine iBook they used for connecting to the internet over AOL dial-up. When I asked them what was the problem he told me in a dry British accent that his computer was “swearing at him and saying the filthiest things.”

I asked him if this was before or after he had gotten online, thinking the root of the problem was an inappropriate homepage or some sort of unseen audio pop-up. He said that he could never get online anymore and that when he tried his computer would swear at him several times over the speaker. I didn’t know if I truly believed him, but I went about trying to reproduce the issue anyway.

At first I tried connecting the iBook to the store’s front-of-house ethernet network. Everything worked fine, no swearing. Next I brought out a phone cable and connected to special dial-up server Apple provides for treoubleshooting purposes. Once again the modem worked fine, and the iBook was able to connect to the internet without profanity.

Finally with the phone line still connected I tried using the default ISP phone number AOL had listed and that is when the obscenity began. The phone rang a couple of times over the iBook’s speakers, but instead of being picked up by a computer at the other end a man’s voice answered. He was immediately greeted by the iBook’s computerized hissing, humming, and beeping, and before long lost his patience shouting a long list of profanities into the phone before hanging up.

The iBook’s speaker volume was loud enough that this was heard across the store, and as soon as the lesson in four-letter-words had ended the old gentleman turned to me with a stiff British lip and said “are we doing something wrong?”

I had to hold back my laughter because I immediately knew what was happening. His tangerine iBook was calling a unsuspecting neighbor in the same area code as his AOL ISP. Each time he tried to get online his iBook would call the same man and only answer with the kind of noises a dial-up modem uses to connect to a host server. The recipient had clearly lost his patience after numerous dial-up attempts and resorted to cursing several times before hanging up the phone.

I corrected the default dialing code with a proper AOL dial-up server and sent the couple on their way. It always feels good to help a concerned customer with their computer problems while aiding an unknown neighbor with his phone issue at the same time. To hear more stories like this one tune into The Bro Show episode 97 where Stephen Hackett and I share what it is like to be a Mac Genius.


  1. Executive Relations is the team that answers emails and inquires directed at Apple’s CEO. Sometimes they might escalate a repair under unexpected circumstances. 

Newton