In the 1955 Merrie Melodies short, “One Froggy Evening,” a construction worker discovers a frog inside a cardboard box. The frog then sings and dances for the man. As soon as the man tries to show the amazing creature to anybody else, it sits still, uttering nothing more than a typical “ribbit.” It’s a famous story, and one not unlike scenarios I encounter from time to time, in my line of work.
(Note: The entire short isn’t available to stream via official sources, but it is on iTunes for 99 cents.)
I get calls to repair and resolve all sorts of issues including computers and other tech gadgets. Most of the time, I can come in, see the issue, and either fix it then and there, or strategize next steps with the client. In these scenarios, everybody pretty much leaves satisfied that whatever was wrong has been put right, or will be soon. And then there are the other scenarios: the “Dancing Frog” scenarios.
I recently restored a discarded, malfunctioning flat-screen television to working order, and then I gifted it to my girlfriend. Everything seemed to be fine while I was setting it up with her at her home, and so I left it in her eager hands. And then the frog started singing. She couldn’t get a picture, and whatever images she could coax out of the screen would only come when she repeatedly smacked the bottom of the set with the palm of her hand. It’s a move we in the industry dub, “percussive maintenance.”
I hurried back to resolve the TV issues, only to find everything in working order–and without her smacking it. You’d think my girlfriend would be happy it was working again, but that’s the trouble with the “frog:” as frustrating as it is when the device acts up, it’s twice as frustrating when it suddenly fixes itself just as the repairman shows up. Ribbit.
It’s a phenomenon also familiar to doctors and auto mechanics, and I know I’m not the only computer/gadget tech to experience this. Why do some devices spontaneously fix themselves when I show up? No idea. I sometimes joke that the devices just “know to behave” when I’m around. This has led some clients to joke, in return, that I can’t leave. Ever. I’ve been offered couches, guest rooms, even guest houses (and honestly, I’m not sure how many of those were jokes).
But then there is the opposite phenomenon, the “kiss of death” scenario. Luckily, I’ve found this one to be much less common. It’s when I go in to fix one issue, only to have other, unrelated issues emerge. For example, I was on a job last week where the goal was to resolve slow internet connections related to an overworked wireless router. I turned on one of the workstations just to test its speed, only to discover it was riddled with malware. Apparently this was the first time anyone had noticed any issues with this machine. I was lucky enough to catch the infections before anything got any worse, but I couldn’t help hearing the nagging voice in the back of my head: “it was fine before you worked on it!” Sure, we all know I didn’t cause the additional problems—only uncovered them—but if it’s new to the client, well, there’s a Latin phrase: “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.” It’s a logical fallacy that spells out to, “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.” To wit: the “healthy” computer got “sick” after I examined it; therefore, it got “sick” because I examined it.
Aaron Sorkin, via President Bartlet, puts it so much better than I could. (Source: The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 2: “Post Hoc, Ergo Proper Hoc.” Available to stream on Netflix, and to purchase elsewhere, including iTunes and Amazon.)
Most of my clients are savvy enough not to blame me for coincidences; just as most don’t actually believe that their TVs will only work when I’m around. But man, some times…
If I had my way, I’d only have jobs where I could solve the original complaint in an efficient and timely manner; no further issues would arise; and the issue would remain resolved after I left. But then, I suppose if everything went the way we always wanted it to, I wouldn’t be in business in the first place. And I need this job; nobody wants to pay to see my frog. ◼︎