Jean-François Champollion, the man who discovered the Rosetta Stone, which provided the clues to the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs, had an advantage: He didn’t have to call tech support or read software documentation to figure out the meaning of those carvings. And if you have seen that Rosetta Stone, the software sold in those chunky, yellow boxes that nobody at the airport seems to buy, I would say language is the easy part of the process.

Oh, the software does its job and I agree it’s about the best way to learn another language, short of living in another country. I would caution those who expect to travel in a few weeks to also utilize a phrase book to get to key words quickly. “The check please,” isn’t in Level I or II.

No, the lesson in my foray into Spanish on a disk stemmed not from a foreign language or the technology, but a lot of other issues that make software problems difficult  to grasp.

After spending way too much money on the Latin America box set, I expectantly sat at my computer waiting to have technology whisk me to a greater understanding of the language as spoken south of the border.

What I got was an error message: “Database is out of date,” which means I didn’t get to hear a single, “Sí” or “Hola.”

With live help for Rosetta Stone closed on the weekends, I sent out an e mail that was answered in a little more than the promised 24-hour turnaround.

You see, I had previously installed an earlier version of the software on my computer. To make things interesting, Rosetta’s new version won’t overwrite the old one during installation because in this world, V3 (the abbreviation everybody uses for Version) is a different database than version 3. That required removing the old version, part of which was in a hidden file.

Then, there was the need to activate the software, or you can’t use most of the product you just invest in. That required entering a dictionary’s worth of secret code into a set of dialog box that spanned the 19-inch screen.

No matter how carefully I typed the cipher, the system responded that the activation code did not match the product I had installed.

Now, I should have spotted the linguistic joker in the deck when one lesson spit out the pronunciation, “cothinar” for cocinar, which means to cook. That’s the Castillian version as opposed to “cosinar,” the Latin American pronunciation.

Upon examining the disks, I found most were labeled “Latin America,” but one important one said, “ Spain .’

You can bet that despite the ample supply of tape that warned that by opening the box, I had sold my soul to Rosetta Stone, that someone in the Barnes and Noble where I purchased this treasure, had swapped disks and resealed my package, as they keep these on shelves behind the register, not on the public displays.

So a lost week of practice and an eight-mile drive to the store later, the offending version was replaced with th-less Spanish and the installation went as it should. It worked.

The lesson: these problems had little to do with technology. These were very human issues of consistency, and probably doing the easy thing to swap out a disk at the store. They had nothing to do with poorly written code. This is why tech support is such a difficult job, because solving the problem requires understanding such non-software glitches.

And these are the kinds of everyday problems that drive people to unimagined levels of profanity in dealing with computers and software.


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