After trying to fix things myself, I gave up and called HP tech support. $108 and several hours later, I wasn't much better off than I was before. The final solution the HP tech had was "format your hard drive and re-install everything". I was NOT about to do that and poked at my machine a bit more and finally got it working and connected to the internet again -- I'm posting this entry using it now. No formatting and re-installing was needed, just a bit of creativity in working with system restore, safe mode and selective start-up until I could persuade Scandisk to work. (I hadn't been able to get into the system well enough to invoke it before -- same for Norton Systemworks Utilities for WinXP. The programs wouldn't open in safe mode OR in selective startup -- very smart of Norton, no?? Just like all the history for Norton's GoBack has to be wiped completely if you disable it, which you need to do so you can get into safe mode or into the BIOS to check on the hardware. I felt truly joyous when I discovered that bit of inanity on Symantec's part in designing the program.) The only data I ended up losing in the end was the History for my Netscape browser -- my trail of visited websites had been wiped clean. Big deal. (Now hackers and the FBI can't find out how often I visit the Eisbrecher and Megaherz fan forums -- they'll be sooooooo upset . . . ) The $108 I spent I can't get back, unfortunately, but I can call HP and get tech support for the next year without having to pay any more money, so that is some consolation.
What I find irritating though is that the HP tech didn't even try to help me restore my system without wiping it completely, beyond telling me to use System Restore, which I'd already done without it solving the issue at hand. He took the easy way out -- just dump everything and start from scratch. Yes that works -- kind of, but at a huge cost in terms of lost data and time spent dealing with backups and re-installation of literally hundreds of programs. (I periodically backup key portions of my laptop HD, but in this case that was the day before yesterday and I would have lost some valuable information from this morning potentially.) If I'd listened to him, I'd have had a huge headache instead of what I have now, which is a functioning laptop.
I've run into this problem before with off-shored tech support, and I'm really rather tired of it. The quality of off-shored support, even for things as relatively trivial as banking, leaves much to be desired in my opinion. Plus it costs jobs here in the US, for no greater competency in technicians (more often less so!) and a more frustrating experience for consumers, who are left with a bad taste in their mouth and ill-will towards the companies that provide such shoddy and/or incompetent customer service.
Off-shoring contributes to the "race to the bottom" for wages for skilled workers. I have no desire to try to live on the wages that are paid to Indian knowledge workers, which is where today's tech support worker was from -- Calcutta, to be exact, since we chatted while my computer kept on rebooting during the diagnostic process. I've been to India and there those are handsome wages, but not here in the US, with our higher cost of living. HERE it is barely enough to keep one above the poverty line.
If the off-shoring produced better quality for consumers, it wouldn't be quite so bad, but the incompetence and poor quality of the service just throws salt on the economic wounds inflicted by the practice.