Thursday, January 24, 2013


Forget Google – the real scourge of the Internet is the ubiquitously unhelpful Internet forum. 

Anyone who has googled any kind of technical problem knows what I mean: Everyone out there has an answer to your question. Almost. Because your question, despite the commonality of things like campers and video cards, appears to be unique. And what these experts suggest in these forums almost – but not quite – solves your little problem. 

They always want more information and when you provide it, they bring up something else that’s vital – but that they forgot to mention in the first place.

They always assume you know more than you do and when you reveal you don’t, they mock you. 

In short, they’re just like you or I: Morons.

A few years ago, I sought an easier way to empty the fresh water tank of my camper rather than running it through the system into the grey water tank. I didn’t want to have to haul the camper somewhere to dump the fresh water – but it had to go before winter. 

Making an appeal to the camper manual first was futile. Oh, it mentioned a freshwater drain – but merely in passing, on the assumption that I knew where it was. Not so. That is why I turned to the manual – to find out where the drain was. 

I’ll go to the Internet. Surely, someone else must own a model of this mass-manufactured camper and can tell me where the fresh water drain plug is. 

Now, I tend to be a lurker in these forums, based on the silly assumption that since I am not the first to ask such a question, there’s no need to ask it since the answer should already be there. 

So I google. 

And enter the world of camper forums, which like all forums, might as well bear the inscription that hangs above Dante’s version of Hell: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. 

Question posed (by someone else): I want to drain the fresh water from my [brand and model of camper exactly like mine] without running it through to the grey water tank. How can I do that? 

Answer: There’s a valve you can open up to drain the fresh water tank directly. 

Question: Great. Can you tell me where it is? 

Answer: It’s by the fresh water tank. 

Question: I’ve looked by the tank. I can’t find it. Can you tell me exactly where it is? 

Answer (by someone else): You don’t know where the valve is? How do you winterize your system without knowing? 

Question: I’ve been running the water through the system to the grey water tank. 

Answer (by another someone else): You don’t have to do that. There’s valve you can open up by the fresh water tank to drain it without running the water to the grey water tank. 

Question: I know that. But I can’t find it. 

Answer: Just open the valve and drain your tank. It’ll save you a lot of time. 

Question: I would, but I can’t find the valve. 

Answer: Well, on [brand and model of camper different from mine] it’s [specific location]. I can’t help you on [your brand of camper]. Look in your manual. But it’s usually by the fresh water tank. 

And so on. 

I may have exaggerated a bit here, but those of you familiar with any kind of forum are nodding your head. You’ve read these kinds of things before. No real helpful answers, but a lot of recrimination. 

I eventually found the drain valve after removing various panels in the camper near the fresh water tank until I spotted and opened the valve. And, in trolltastic fashion, I did not go back to the forums to offer up the exact location of the drain valve in my camper because I no longer needed to know the answer. 

Sometimes, however, people who figure things out do go back to the forum to enlighten the masses. This brings me to the world of technology forums. 

Example: Right now, I’m fighting a mini-battle with a new graphics card that is having a little problem integrating with my computer. I solved one problem on my own the other night, noting that one of the cords from the new power supply I bought to meet the specs of the sound card wasn’t plugged in correctly. Still, there are other issues that right now has the card sitting on my desk. I think I know the path forward, but I turn to the Internet for guidance. 

Problem is, no one seems to have the exact same problem I do – dual monitors blink on and off before Windows boots; I hear no beeps nor have an indication that the computer is doing anything but blinking. 

First come the spec hunters. They want to know details on every component ever attached to your computer. They want to help, of course – one item out of spec can cause big problems (but would not identify, however, a loose connection that allowed, in my case, my computer to function but the card to be starved of power). 

While the spec hunters are chewing on your numbers, in come the fearmongers: Your card might be dead out of the box. Your computer – despite being brand new – might be out of date. You’re using – shudder – Windows 8? 

They’re typically followed by the driver demons, who insist you haven’t installed the proper drivers even though you have – and even though your manufacturer offers you two different ways you can download two different versions of the same driver, identifying both as the latest and greatest. Nevermind that my problems from last night cropped up only after I tried to install the latest drivers. 

They both stir fear until the spec hunters come back and either give a thumbs up/thumbs down to your configuration, then either join the fear mongers or transform themselves into the tubby guru, insisting you try some obscure computer wonk trick to check settings, operate in “safe mode” or some other trick that you, bumbling computer user, have no idea how to tackle. And asking for help will get you a “google it” response which, of course, leads you into another forum where, like the hapless employees at call centers, the spec hunters there ask again for your numbers while the fear mongers lay in wait, hoping to pee in your electronic Cheerios. 

My problem is trust: I have no idea if these people are giving legitimate advice or if they’re purposely trolling the noobz for teh lulz. Given our current Internet culture, both – and everything that falls in between – are possible.

Then come my favorites: The gloriously victorious OPs, who solve their problem by either whacking their computer with a hammer or – and I literally read this one the other night – by pounding their heads on their computer desk until the vibrations magically made everything work just as expected. 

Hoping tonight I turn into one of those (if you’re reading this, it’s because I did eventually succeed. Or not.

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