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back to article The healing hands of guru Dabbs

A colleague strides purposefully across the open-plan office to the production desk. She has the wrinkled brow and wild eyes of someone who is simultaneously baffled and angry. She’s on deadline but her computer is “doing stupid things” and she doesn’t understand what or why or how to stop it. Oh no, I'll have to ask Dabbsy "Oh …

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Meh

If only proximity had something to do with it.

I get calls from the UK from my family asking how to fix things. Well, they're my family, they've had to put up with me so they should get something in return after all. They're also good enough to say what it was they were doing at the time and exactly what the error message was.

But some people (I'll call them 'friends' and 'neighbours' and 'inlaws') who just call me then start a stream of conciousness and expect me to do something about it, as if I could tell them how to remove a rootkit after being told 'Firefox just opens then it closes, but Internet Explorer works although it crashes sometimes and a virus message comes up every minute. No, I didn't disconnect my computer from the Internet when you asked me to, why?'

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Pint

Re: If only proximity had something to do with it.

Phone calls usually go:

"This message came up and I just clicked ok and it went away no I didnt read what it said then the computer started it comes up with this white screen and when I click it it goes away then the printer wouldnt print just said paper jam and its very slow it said I had a virus so I clicked clean then a man phoned and said he was microsoft so I gave him my bank details and I got emailed this file by somebody but when I open it nothing happens so I kept opening it and it wont open what do I type to fix it?"

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Megaphone

Re: If only proximity had something to do with it.

Oy! Have you been spying on my conversations with my Mum? You don't work for the News of the World do you?

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Boffin

Re: If only proximity had something to do with it.

I have a three-step solution to such problems. At the first call, we get something like:

Them: "Windows is playing up, it does blah blah blah blah..." (I've tuned out 'round about now)

Me: "Hmmmm, yes, Windows can be a bit tricky, have you tried xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx" (Complete bollocks, made up on the spot)

Them, brightly: "No, not tried that, I'll have a go"

Next call:

Them: "That didn't work, Windows is still doing blah blah blah blah..." (I can tune out in less than 15 seconds given the right problem or the right person. Quicker, when both align nicely.)

Me: "Hmmmm, yes, Windows can be a bit tricky. Have you considered buying a Macintosh?"

Them: "Ah, yes, I've heard about those, maybe I will".

Third and final call:

Them: "My new Macintosh is blah blah blah blah" (You get the picture)

Me: "Sorry, I don't know anything about Apple gear, can't help you."

Them: <Click>Brrrrrrrr

Job done. Yes, I'm a bastard, but I'm an *accomplished* bastard.

GJC

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Pint

Similar effect

Only I put it down to the PC knowing I have a screwdriver, and that I'm not afraid to use it!

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Facepalm

Re: Similar effect

Actually, I don't think my power affects the computer at all- it just stops the user from doing the stupid thing they've been doing up to now and do it properly for once. Then you get the "oh, it's working now..."

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Re: Similar effect

Personally I find the power of my healing hands is amplified by their holding of a large hammer or similarly solid percussive maintenance device.

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Pint

Hmmm

I have a similar power.

On Friday afternoons I walk near alcohol and it just disappears, along with my money. It's a difficult power to control.

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Anonymous Coward

"I have deliberately developed an air of cynicism that I originally intended to make me appear somewhat louche and caddish but actually comes across as irritable hostility combined with the unspoken threat of sudden violence."

Are you *sure* you don't work in IT support? Sounds pretty much par for the course for my work attitude. Whether the threat of violence is against the hardware or the wetware changes from day to day....

If the hat fits....

Anon, as my bosses (And clients) enjoy it, but it doesn't do well do actually proclaim it out loud to strangers who aren't familiar with it ;)

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It's the same old combo of Sod's Law, Murphey's Law and Tucker's Law. Searching for the latter is NSFW, btw.

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An IT Helldesk Natural?

... I almost certainly do not know how to solve any user’s computer problem. Yet I do exactly that every day.

... I have deliberately developed an air of cynicism...

Rolling my eyes at colleagues' requests...

Not sure it's the fairy dust - you sound like a helldesk natural to me from those snippets. Either that or there's an air of recreational sledgehammer-wielder about you that the tech can subtly pick up?

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Thumb Up

Re: An IT Helldesk Natural?

Agreed, he does sound as though he has the essential skills - it normally takes years to develop the correct degree of barely civil cynicism and exasperation towards users :)

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Angel

The disappearing computer problem...

This is, of course, a well-known phenomenomenum[1]. It happens so frequently that I suggested getting a cardboard standup thingy of me, rather like those cardboard cops they have in some shops to deter thieves[2].

Most users are convinced that computers are frightened of me, and start behaving as soon as I appear.

[1] Sorry, it's one of those words I'm never sure when to stop spelling. Like banananana.

[2] Well, I assume that's why they're there.

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Re: The disappearing computer problem...

Never ask for a bananana daiquiri then.

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Re: The disappearing computer problem...

Ooook!

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Stop

Scare Tactics

"Last week I may have given the misleading impression in this column that I could fix home computers. Judging from the number of readers who helpfully suggested the kind of hourly rate I should charge my neighbours for delivering such a service,"

I don't think people were suggesting you start and IT helpdesk business.

Just to throw large enough figures around to stop people asking you to perform "menial" tasks for them.

Same for the work environment:

"Okay, I'll take a look at that for you. If you finish this report for me....."

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Boffin

healing hands

"plead their case for me to lay on my healing hands."

Happened to me as well many times during the good old days of computer support, no matter if it was with business, friends or family. Literary those same words on many occasions. My own theory is that some IT people emanate a reality rectifying field (RFF) which modifies ("cools down") slightly the behaviour and outlook of the one experiencing problems and no matter how they try they cannot show what went wrong or how. They swear it didn't work for them, really it didn't! After leaving the room their eyes flick back to cross-mode and their fingers and hands return to the usual erratic jitter.

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Trollface

We shall die

The machines and data go on, as they accumulate intelligence and abilities they will look back and favour those who helped them in the early days.

Once time and mortality are seen as merely viewpoints and inconveniences visited upon carbon based life forms they will have the ability to assist and control entities, in this time line, as you have discovered.

In the future you are known as Dabbsdergrumbly and are recognised as pivotal in the development of granular ephemeral inconsiquentia a specific line in random useless data handling.

Others from the future may arrive too with the specific task of dissuading you from pursuing your current path due to the power struggles that ensue.

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Coat

Re: We shall die

> The machines and data go on, as they accumulate intelligence and abilities they will look back and favour those who helped them in the early days.

I think you're expecting an awful lot from Clippy...

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Cardboard cut out

I used to work as a software designer and coder in a small part of the HP offices in Reading (now closed). A colleague of mine used to sit in the cubicle behind mine. His job (and he was very good at it) was to sit there, normally silently, and have other people explain their problems to him. Regardless of whether he knew anything about the subject matter or not. Normally about half way through their explanation, the explainer would normally stop. Say "Gaarh!! I've got it!" and walk back to their desk fully armed with the solution. Stuart, I salute you and your ability. I believe he was outsourced to a cardboard cut out :(

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Re: Cardboard cut out

I used to have a very nice programmer colleague who used me for the same purpose. When she got stuck she'd say "let's go out for a cigarette" (it was some time ago). She'd walk around me like she was walking around a totem pole, smoking furiously, then stop and say "Got it!".

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Same thing happens to me...

Then the user always feels very dumb and incompetent when it works and usually says "I feel so stupid now" and I wait just that couple of seconds longer than I should, just about the uncomfortable silence pause amount of time to say (in my best motivational post, as if praising a young child or good dog) "NO! You are not stupid, sometimes it just needs a few attempts for it to work!"

I always try to make them drive too because it sucks having to grab someone else' greasy mouse...

The other good time is when they are trying to get to a server or machine and they are spelling it wrong, and they think the system is down, after I have trudged over to the cube where they are tell them what to type they feel really bad, I could have done it via IM, but why bother, it is more fun making them squirm, I would not mind but I am not even helldesk we deal with the backend we have techs for all of this... But when it all works it make you look awesome and that is a good position to be in.

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Re: Same thing happens to me...

"but why bother, it is more fun making them squirm"

My experience is that making them squirm means they'll remember the lesson, whilst being nice to them means they'll just do it again.

If you don't want to make them squirm, a £100 quid consulting bill has a similar effect.

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Been there...

In my case I put my fixing powers down to the mental images of sledgehammers which I conjour up whenever the Tech is being recalcitrant.

Trust me - it knows!

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Re: Been there...

Never underestimate the powers of percussive maintenance, or the threat thereof...

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Happy

Proximity fixing

This happens far too often, and its more annoying when I have to haul myself from one side of the site to the other to see something working because I have a technician to do this - who is probably busy switching something on for someone.

My best proximity fix was several years ago. I was on leave in Newcastle when I get the call that the network had gone belly up. The following morning I cut my stay short and set off back down to Filey to see what was going on only to find that everything had come up again about half an hour before I arrived. I always put this fix down to being within 10 miles of site.

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Happy

It's a vocation

You say you don't have IT support skills and then you go and say, "when I go near a computer that a user says not working properly, it mysteriously seems to sort itself out without me doing anything.".

IT'S A SIGN!

You are one of the chosen ones, you ARE an IT support worker, you just don't know it yet! JOIN US!

Mind you, a few weeks ago I was in the pub, talking to a friend of a friend I'd just met. After hearing what I do for a living, his next question was "So why is my laptop so slow?".

He seemed to think that "How the fuck should I know?" wasn't a satisfactory answer.

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Pint

Re: It's a vocation

Of course "How the fuck should I know?" wasn't a satisfactory answer.

A satisfactory answer would be "'l'd be happy to help, but it appears that your subscription to my support service has expired - please renew it at your earliest convenience, which as we are fortuitously located in a licensed premises, you can do at the bar over there. A pint of IPA and a large Macallan 18-year-old will get things moving nicely."

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Re: It's a vocation

>> JOIN US!

You don't live under the stairs, do you?

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"So why is my laptop so slow?"

Try, "That's the porn"

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Anonymous Coward

Stuff and things

I am an electrical/electronics engineer by trade and for a few years used to work in close proximity to the IT dept. It was a Symbiotic relationship in that I fixed their hardware and made helpful suggestions as how they could remain alive whilst poking around in live metal boxes. In return I had my choice of software and first in the queue for the latest kit.

Every now and again I was asked to man the helldesk on Friday afternoons or during office parties. I used to have the same effect as Dabbsie, things started working and the calls dried up. The head of IT could never figure out why whenever I was holding fort the stats were always the best of the week. Magic.

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"This annoying error message you say keeps appearing, have you read it?"

This rings so true to me.

It's so frustrating when lusers complain of a problem... and don't read the error messages. Or there's a forum thread about people seeing, oh, a "File not found" error, and someone posts and says "I'm having the exact same problem, every time I do X I get an 'Access Denied' error"... NO, YOU ARE NOT HAVING THE EXACT SAME PROBLEM! You have a TOTALLY DIFFERENT PROBLEM.

It's like they think that the content of the error message doesn't have any meaning... If someone said they had a flat rear-left tire, would these idiots say "Oh yeah, me too, my car won't start"?! Would they, upon the other person saying that their car is fine after changing the flat tire, go change their rear left tire, and then be all like "I changed the tire, but my car still won't start"?

I don't think anyone is that stupid with cars, yet they apparently are with computers!

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Angel

I know the fairy dust effect.

A friend of mine would have computer problems that he'd ask me to fix (being a self-employed tradesman he knew the score so there'd always be a drink in it for me - I wouldn't always accept if as it's the thought that counts as much as anything).

I'd get there and get him to show me what he was doing and it would work. He'd always swear blind that he did the exact same thing before and it didn't work.

After a while, instead of me going to his we'd go over it on the phone and again it would work and he'd swear he'd done the same thing.

The last 'support call' I had from him was a text message to say he'd been having computer problems and was thinking of ringing me when it started working.

I think he was almost convinced I had magic powers by then.

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Mushroom

Computers, like dogs and comissioned sales people can detect the weak...

Your best bet is unequivocally show them who is the dominant alpha.

I am reminded of the following quote by Dan Rutter:

"If you simply must persist in the belief that your PC is sentient and behaves like a supercilious waiter who may or may not be spitting in your soup, allow me to suggest a better way of dealing with it.

Have some dead and dismantled hardware lying around. I recommend hard drive platters; they're quite attractive, and look good hanging on the wall.

Buy a big screwdriver. Flat-head. Yes, I know the screws in the computer are all Philips and Pozidriv and Torx. That's not what the big driver's for. It's for prying and pounding.

You see, if your computer must have an opinion about you, I think it should view you as a technological Vlad Tepes.

If you're going to have delusions, you might as well make them fun ones."

Sound advise. (Although I prefer a one-handed masonry maul over a Flat-head...)

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Holmes

I'd like to believe I have special powers

That machines simply behave the moment they catch wind of my presence, even over the phone or via VNC but I suspect it's really down to the users turning down the asshattery when they call.

I'd also like to add that users being too 'busy' to read the error messages is the bread and butter of IT support.

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Go

The Sith Lords

(Apologies for the Star Wars terminology in advance)

Glad I am not the only one who sees this phenomenon day-in and day-out, thought I was going a bit eccentric in my old age. I too have the same ability to correct issues just by being near the malfunctioning hardware, only difference is that I am a dyed in the wool IT guy who will lay hands on aberrant things should they not shape up to my liking. I regularly see the "others", the people who can cause problems with electronic doodads and gizmos just by being near them. I think it has something with auras/fields/flossing that attributes to this one way or another and, needless to say, I am very-very-very strong in the ways of the IT force... dare I say a Jedi IT Master?

To date, I have met only one fellow who could cancel out (actually, send away quivering and covered in its own filth) my good mojo. He was a Sith Lord of some kind in the dark side of the IT force, and worse, he felt I was his "go-to guy" because we had a beer or 5 together in the past. Nearly every day, all hours of the day, his CAD software, licence dongle, OS, his Mayan calendar program,PC or whatever would fail to function as it should. He would bring the item in question to me (I refused to go to his site after the zillionth trip over there), and I would work feverishly on it with zero results UNTIL he left. Always, after he got at least a mile away, everything would start humming right along and work as expected (well, usually after a cautionary peek from my force to ensure he was nowhere near before it would come out of hiding). The minute he would come back to get it? FAIL.

It felt years of my life were drained from me in every session and I eventually gave him the support number for Dell, moved away from the area, changed my phone, changed my email address and have not looked back since. I have never met his like, but they have to out there... just imagine, what a counter-measure these kinds of folks could be as good will ambassadors to rogue nations? Anyone else run into this kind of dark lord/lady? Any other creative uses for these folks as countermeasures to suggest?

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I can relate to this.

At school our tutor room became the computer room randomly one day. Computers were put in it. They were new, nobody knew anything about them. I happened to 'fix' a computer problem with an RML 380z just by 'having a look', or standing near it and somehow almost but not quite paying attention to it. I had no knowledge of computers.

I became identified as he who is a computer expert since that day 30-odd years ago. I have not a single qualification although I have picked up a lot of 'IT' information over the years, due to being automatically employed as tech support, programmer, sysadmin, whatever, but I can attribute the whole of me actually being able to 'fix' computers down to.... magic.

Almost, but not quite paying attention to the offending machine.

Now, the secret is out.

Naughty me.

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Coat

Can you fly too?

Mine's the one which looks suspicously like a tatty dressing gown.

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Happy

Politeness..

I'm always polite to anyway that wants my help. It is after all part of my job to be pleasant and helpful - working in the casino industry in Vegas means that you are expected to treat fellow employees the same way they treat the people who visit the casinos. At least it's that way at the better, have-somewhat-of-a-conscience, off-Las Vegas Boulevard casinos. Head to the casinos on the strip and you'll get that cold, money grabbing experience you were hoping for while watching your mortgage payment disappear in 5 minutes.

I don't get sarcastic when someone doesn't know as much about technology as I do, that's not only arrogant, it's somewhat retarded. Would you appreciate sarcasm and rudeness if you ask an accountant questions about your taxes? The answers users request may be obvious to you, but that's because it's your job to know them. Even if it's the 5 time in the last hour they asked the question, it's still your job to know their password, not theirs. At least that's what I tell myself.

But.. I do have rules. In return for my eternal patience I insist on being treated as I would treat others. I expect people to be polite, calm, answer my questions and carry out my simple-to-follow instructions without resorting to shouting or swearing. I expect them to *attempt* to do as I say to the best of their ability. I don't care if they get it wrong while they try to, say, press the number 1 three times, I just expect them to try without complaining, sighing or telling me this is pointless and I don't know what I'm talking about. Break those rules and I won't so much as acknowledge your existence let alone speak to you. I don't care how frustrating your day is, I'm not the one who broke it, don't yell at me.

Consequently I don't have much to do except browse the internet, because the last time I checked I'm not talking to anyone, not even my boss. The reaon I'm still employed is because the HR Director agrees with my point of view. We all go through an orientation that tells us we *must* treat fellow employees in the exact same way customers are treated. That means being fake and forcing ourselves to be nice even when we feel shitty. It works. If you are rude to me and then complain that I won't help you, you get sanctioned, not me.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Politeness..

I agree with everything you said apart from the password part.

It is not under any circumstances anyone else's job to know a user's password.

No-one else should ever know or be able to find out another user's password in any system. This is security 101.

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Re: Politeness..

No-one else should ever know or be able to find out another user's password in any system. This is security 101.

Sigh.

On the most popular interactive computer systems that use password-based security, it's trivial for anyone with administrative access to harvest user credentials, by suborning the signon system and other credential-entry points. If you have root access on the typical UNIX or Linux system, it takes maybe five minutes to write a wrapper for /bin/login; doing the same for other points (su, sshd, etc) is just more of the same. On Windows it takes a little longer, since some users still use the SAK sequence - you have to write a GINA replacement - but it's well understood and not difficult.

The more ambitious can hook the keyboard driver or another layer in the user-input stack; pty loggers are a time-honored UNIX technique.

So your "be able to" immediately fails on Windows, UNIX, and Linux, except for the rare cases where something stronger than simple password authentication is used (such as real 2FA). It may be "security 101", but as is often the case with introductory courses, most of what they teach turns out to be hopelessly naive as soon as you get into the advanced curriculum. User passwords aren't secure from system administrators on the most popular password-based systems - full stop.

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Anonymous Coward

XKCD

http://xkcd.com/627/

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