back to article You 'posted' a 'letter' with Outlook... No, NO, that's the MONITOR

“Sorry to bother you. Are you busy?” Instinctively, I look at my watch. Here we go. Bet you he’s going to ask me to fix something trivial. “Don’t worry, Bill,” I reply. “What’s up?” “The computer web isn’t working.” Ah bless, the guy’s long past retirement age but still hangs in there. In fact, he’s a bit of an …

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  1. AbortRetryFail

    All too familiar

    Reminds me of a phone conversation I had with my dad recently.

    "Ok, which web browser are you running?"

    "..."

    "Ok, it'll be Internet Explorer then. So open it up for me..."

    "Um..."

    "Ok. Go to the internet..."

    "Ah! Ok!"

    "Right. So I need you to tell me which version you're running so hold down the alt key and..."

    "Oh I recently changed it. It's Windows 8.1"

    "No, dad. That's your Operating System. I'm trying to determine which version of Internet Explorer you have. So hold down the alt key..."

    "..."

    "The key to the left of your space bar that says ALT"

    etc.

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: All too familiar

      "Oh I recently changed it. It's Windows 8.1"

      "No, dad. That's your Operating System. I'm trying to determine which version of Internet Explorer you have. So hold down the alt key..."

      A more clever person could have deduced the IE version from the "Windows 8.1" clue.

      Carry on.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: All too familiar

        The mistake is assuming it IS Internet Explorer then... though yes, your correct. :P

      2. 4ecks
        Pint

        Re: All too familiar

        Been through this too, last time I spent 10min talking them through installing TeamViewer, and 2-3hrs scanning for & cleaning all the malware toolbars and other crap off their system. The good part is I'll be in their country soon and collecting on the promised beer.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: All too familiar

          You did the right thing. I install Team Viewer on all relatives' or friend's machines. No more silly conversations, now being able to not only see what's on their screen but also to be able to set things right again, even from my mobile. I really wonder why this nifty tool is not widespread.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: All too familiar

            "You did the right thing. I install Team Viewer on all relatives' or friend's machines. No more silly conversations, now being able to not only see what's on their screen but also to be able to set things right again, even from my mobile. I really wonder why this nifty tool is not widespread."

            Worse thing I ever did!!! Now they expect me to resolve their issues at all hours of the day and for free as I have not had to leave the desk.

          2. goldcd

            Have you looked at their pricing

            for the moment you use it for commercial purposes?

            1. Aggrajag

              Re: Have you looked at their pricing

              TeamViewer is entirely free for Personal and/or Commercial usage for up to 10 PCs.

    2. Fatman
      WTF?

      Re: All too familiar

      I solved this problem a long time ago.

      As the maid says: "I DON'T DO WINDOWS!!!!", so don't call me up looking for help with that malware magnet of an operating system!

  2. Anomalous Cowturd
    Windows

    Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

    > I've done that, it still looks exactly the same. (They powered off the monitor...)

    Ok, look for a large beige box under your desk. Press the big button marked POWER. Now press it again.

    > Oh! It's starting up now. Thanks. Bye. <Click>

    Support call received at stupid O'clock one night.

    Shoot them all.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

      standard interview scenario for our last technician post. "teacher has no sound, sound was working for them last lesson".

      You get all sorts of remedies ranging from reinstalling drivers, checking cable continuity, swapping donor sound card. The person who got the job started that scenario question with "check the speakers are plugged in to the socket, powered on and plugged into the PC". The rest of his answers were along the same lines as someone who has dealt with people who consider PCs a nuisance to their way of working.

      Invariably "email isn't working" could be anything from "forgotton password so I cant log in" to their monitor is on fire. Internet is down can generally be an obscure blog page that they happened to have as their home page (he was a bee keeper) that is now taken offline.

      Users eh?

      1. Darryl

        Re: Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

        It doesn't matter how computer literate they are either. If they actually sort of know how to use the thing, then they'll inevitably call me and say their computer popped up an error.

        What did the error message say? "I don't know, I just closed it."

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

          " If they actually sort of know how to use the thing"

          Ah, the most dangerous kind of user. Before they call support they've "tried" everything already. Everything, that is, except the right thing. And now it's going to take ages to fix all the additional problems they just caused.

        2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
          Megaphone

          Re: Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

          @Darryl: Have an upvote. I've been telling some people for years that they need to tell me the error message, but it hasn't sunk in. How can I say a simple, eight-word sentence and not be understood? Am I mute, and only I hear myself, in the privacy of my mind?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Coffee/keyboard

            Re: Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

            Even worse, they just clicked on the 'close' button even though you are in 'only type/click when/where I tell you to mode' and now, to get the error message, you have to have have them start over, from the beginning, again...

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Flame

            Re: Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

            I don't have to deal with lusers anymore, but when I did (briefly, and only indirectly as I needed to fix whatever the helldesk punted upwards), I wished for error messages that a) filled the entire screen, b) could not be closed, except by entering an unique code, given out by the problem tracking tool, that depended on the error message being read out correctly, verbatim, and not FOLDED, SPINDLED AND MUTILATED INTO OBLIVION by vague and incorrect recalling by the luser, then loosely transcribed by the helldesk.

            1. cordwainer 1
              Flame

              Re: Noting error messages....Let's be fair here...

              Some error messages DON'T stay on screen indefinitely, so are long gone before the user can read them to tech support.

              OK, so you remind users over and over to "tell" you the error message...er, yes, but how do you suggest they do this? It's unbelievable that most tech support people I've worked with either complain the user "didn't remember" it (didn't instantly memorize a multi-character error code and the surrounding technical jargon?), or - worse - complain the user didn't "write it down."

              I'm sorry....what century is this again?

              First, if you're having to repeat things over and over, maybe the problem is you're not repeating anything useful. Maybe you should consider making a practical suggestion as to how a non-technical person go about reporting what is often a very, very technical error, accurately, and EASILY.

              Everyone I support knows how to take a screenshot of an error message and e-mail it to me - including my 82-year-old father, who is by no means a technical genius. I make it as easy as possible by installing one of a couple of simple, free, screenshot programs that make the process a breeze - accessible via a keyboard shortcut or an icon in the System Tray.

              Too many people would forget the Windows command..but once an icon was available, they remembered to do the screenshot every single time.

              What if the computer is completely frozen? Well, that's less usual, considering most errors I hear about aren't the ones that take down the OS completely.

              But on those occasions, if their only option is to write the error message down, NOW they actually DO. Once reporting error messages was made dead simple, they learned it was to their benefit, and so now they WANT to do it.

              And one lovely man took a picture of the error on his frozen computer... with his cell phone camera. He then texted the pic to me before he called to ask for help...which I hated, of course because I didn't think of it first. Of course, I stole the idea and now suggest that as an alternative where possible.

              Oh, by the way, 75% of my home clients are over the age of 65, and frankly, they are much better students than the younger professionals I deal with at work.

              But then, all my clients (and most of my work users) get a little cheat sheet of basic terminology. I go over it with them, to make certain they know which thingamabob is which, what button does what, that they're oriented with regard to standard toolbars, menus, control panels, and crucial keyboard shortcuts. And yes, it includes a few warnings as to what they should NEVER do.

              This can be accomplished without making people feel like idiots. I've found even folks who claim they already know everything are happy to take the cheat sheet to "pass along" to someone who "really" needs it. (This rarely happens, interestingly. Most of the sheets end up posted somewhere near the computer...although several clients HAVE claimed it's only there because their spouse needs it...ahem.)

              It's sad that the computer industry and tech support professionals alike have largely failed users, especially over the past decade, by acting as if the basics are somehow acquired via osmosis.

              They've failed their clients and customers through arrogance and condescension, instead of being the vanguard for education of the new users coming into the market daily.

              If WE won't help teach them, who will?

              (Oh, and in closing: though normally I'm a big proponent of professionalism and good manners, it's nonetheless my opinion anyone who uses the word "intuitive" with regard to any aspect of computing should be taken out and slapped. Thank you.)

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Noting error messages....Let's be fair here...

                Everyone I support knows how to take a screenshot of an error message and e-mail it to me

                Bah. As far as I'm concerned, emailing a screenshot1 should be punished by an extra hour of being ignored. Unless it's from one of the many Windows dialogs that don't support copying text, of course, in which case the only proper response is to go to Redmond, find the developer responsible, and administer a brutal beating.

                Kids, lawn, etc.

                (I should note, though, that when I deal with other people's software issues, those people are all presumed IT professionals. I don't generally interact with end users. So when I get an emailed screenshot, it's from someone who ought to know better.)

                1MIME is the second-most aggravating innovation in the history of computing, right after the WIMP UI paradigm. A god-awful morass of inefficiency and waste that exists primarily to enable people who don't understand the system and refuse to learn.

                1. cordwainer 1
                  FAIL

                  Re: Noting error messages....Let's be fair here...

                  The point is: end users AREN'T computer experts. Maybe you're dealing with "professionals" all the time. I'm not.

                  Do you really expect the average end user to learn multiple procedures for reporting an error? Copy the text, UNLESS it's "one of the many" dialogs that don't support copying, then do something else...then do something else... Yeah right. Bugger that.

                  In other words: I realize my job is to make things easier for THEM, not the other way around.

                  I have no problem with them e-mailing me, as an attachment, the JPG that results from the screenshot programs I have them use. Never had a problem with any of them.

                  Plumbers don't sneer at customers who can't fix their own sinks. Surgeons don't sneer at patients who can't remove their own appendix.

                  Only in the tech world, seemingly, is it for some reason considered acceptable to be consistently rude, insulting, and unprofessional toward those asking for professional help. How depressing.

                  1. NotWorkAdmin

                    Re: Noting error messages....Let's be fair here...

                    @cordwainer 1 While I agree with the spirit of what you're saying, quite a lot of users do claim to be quite "good at computers" (a statement that all by itself proves the exact opposite is true). I can't remember ever suggesting to a surgeon, plumber or nuclear scientist that I had a "pretty good idea" of how to do what they do. On the other hand, when Virgin Media sent two "technicians" to install my broadband at home and they left saying they couldn't do it due to "technical issues" I was somewhat disappointed to have it running 2 minutes after they had left.

                2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

                  Re: Noting error messages....Let's be fair here...

                  "So when I get an emailed screenshot, it's from someone who ought to know better."

                  Nobody's perfect. I had an e-mail from a very sensible IT person, who had, for some unfathomable reasons, decided to wrap the screenshot inside the .docx file. Oh dear. It took a lot of willpower to overcome the urge for vengeance - like sending a handwritten reply in .djvu format.

      2. teebie

        Re: Turn off the computer, then turn it on again...

        "A user is complaining that he can't reconcile the figures"

        "find out what's going wrong"

        [...]

        "He's trying to get a report from our system, but he can't"

        "What happens when he tries?"

        [...]

        "Yeah, he had forgotten his password"

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Re: Turn off the what and do what again now?

      Oh, the beige box. So, what was it you were saying?

  3. Alister Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    “Well, it’s all black with a rectangle in the middle that’s moving up and down slowly, and it says in big letters ‘No connection found’.”

    Bill, do you see the big button at the front of the big box under your screen? Good. Press it.

    “Ah, there we go. Cheers!”

    Classic, absolutely spot on.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Trollface

      I thought the really clever bit was talking him through doing all the other stuff, including reentering the WiFi password, while it was switched off......

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Joke

        We've all had the "It was a box with Error in it" conversation!

        "The computer said it had an error, do you know what it is?"

        "What error did it say it had?"

        "It said 'Error, something something I did not read it then forgot' is that any help?"

        "Yes, that's perfect, it means the fault lies between the keyboard and chair..."

        (Not sure if Joke icon or Real life icon)

      2. Alistair Dabbs

        >> while it was switched off

        I had him try some of the other computers in the same room. Two of them were 'not connected' and three others were OK. We used the ones that were OK to fiddle around with the router. Of course, all this explanation is very boring to read so I didn't write it up in the column.

      3. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        Classic

        "I thought the really clever bit was talking him through doing all the other stuff, including reentering the WiFi password, while it was switched off......"

        Not sure how, but it may have involved an overcharged cattleprod. That, or we're being bullsh...at (?)

        Guiding a person through all the config options, from several hundred km away, while their computer was off the whole time is bordering on genius. Or bullshit. Either one.

        (edit) just saw Dabbsie's answer to the same... see up

    2. TheOtherHobbes

      But if he'd said 'Have you tried turning it off and on again?' none of this would have happened.

      1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

        It wouldn't have worked- he would have switched it on then switched it off

      2. zedenne

        Indeed: 1st Rule Of Computing...

        "Thought shalt turn it off. When it is off though shalt turn it on again"

        1. Alister Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Indeed: 1st Rule Of Computing...

          "Thought shalt turn it off."

          Cool, a thought controlled computer.

          Can I have one?

    3. veti Silver badge

      Surely, this whole story is a textbook illustration of why "just reboot" is the stock helpdesk answer for everything from lost websites to major earthquake damage. Granted, you'd have had to explain (again) what that meant and how to do it, but it would've got to the root of the problem a lot faster.

    4. Martin Budden

      “The computer web isn’t working.”

      Dabbsy's (unfortunate and entirely understandable) mistake was to misinterpret this initial information as

      “The computer web isn’t working.”

      rather than

      “The computer web isn’t working.”

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Good practice

      It's a long story.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Captain Hogwash

        Re: It's a long story.

        AKA another article?

        1. Steven Raith

          Re: It's a long story.

          Depending on the client, I can do this, and get them to battle for my attention.

          "Yeah, I might be in your office, but Janets offering me an irish coffee if I fix her email first. Up the ante, Dave. Up the ante. You have Magnum Classics in the freezer? That escalated quickly!"

          Obviously not for all of them - some customers just want stuff fixed. Others have a more...laid back approach!

          It's all part of the wonderful excuse of a job that is customer service.

      3. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: Good practice

        I'm assuming if A.G. (name hidden for legal reasons... ;) ) is with holding additional details, it's because "Bill" is:

        A) A friend who just does not get computers, we would all feel sorry and want to help

        B) Family, with power over things that we dare not risk!

        Or

        C) Just a customer, and sometimes it's just too hard to get rid of them. :P

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The summer heat brings them out...

    Had a fun one yesterday when a fileserver at a remote office went offline while their tech was offsite fixing another office's phone lines.

    It wouldn't power up at all, no lights or anything, so it was obviously a power issue of some kind. I talked a member of staff through swapping the cable from the UPS to another kettle lead hooked straight in to a mains socket.

    Still nowt.

    The office manager sauntered over, and got one of the ones helping to call back asking, in all seriousness, if "too much wifi" had overloaded the server and caused it to fail.

    It took every fibre of my being to stop myself from asking to speak to the manager and explain their own stupidity to them.

    Turns out it was just a blown PSU. The manager's problems will be harder to fix...

    1. Seanie Ryan

      Re: The summer heat brings them out...

      best one I ever had was the 40 minute argument I and 3 others in the office who had to come on the phone to confirm we were not joking or going to do some thing bad.

      Back in the days of floppy discs and Apple LC III, client rang saying there was no button on the computer to get the floppy out. Correct. (she used to use DOS)

      No matter what we said she would not drag the floppy to the Trash to eject it as "this would erase it"

      40 minutes of assurance, laughter, patience, frustration, argument by all 4 of us and she eventually said that she would do it but was going to sue us if it erased it.

      made our day!!

      1. Ragarath

        Re: The summer heat brings them out...

        To be fair Seanie Ryan, Apple were complete fuckwits back in the day.

        Whomever envisioned dragging icons to the bin/trash/whatever you want to call it needs a good shooting. If I asked you to get a knife out of the drawer by first chucking it in the bin (sorry really bad but it's Friday), you would think I was a right idiot and call the loony bin.

        Also having no mechanical eject was also a bit silly.

        You cannot really blame the user for this one.

        1. Darryl

          Re: The summer heat brings them out...

          I did tech support in a prepress department back in the days of the beige Macs. One day, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, one of the women who had worked there for a long time and was quite experienced with the Macs poking a straightened-out paper clip into the emergency floppy eject hole. I wandered over and said, "Disk stuck?" She answered, "No, everything's working fine."

          After some investigation, I found out that she had been using a paper clip to eject the floppies from Macs ever since she'd started, years before. I remember the wonder on her face when I demonstrated dragging the disk icon to the trash, and the disk popped out with the little motorized whine.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: The summer heat brings them out...

            Plus ca change

            For about 30 odd years I've had to scratch my head many a time wondering just why they designed something the way they did.

            Move the clock to 2010 ( or thereabouts) and the same breed of fuckwits are finalising designs for Windows 8.

            Cue wavy lines....

            " I Know, let's hide the controls as invisible icons on the edges of the screen so that they only appear when the user is trying to do something totally different".

            "And we can have one that makes the workspace disappear all together."

            "Ohh Yes yes yes!. And we can get rid of the start menu so that no one will be able to find their programmes unless they're on a big tile on the desktop"

            "A really big tile. And all the spaces will be taken up with the programmes we want them to see..."

      2. NogginTheNog

        Re: The summer heat brings them out...

        No matter what we said she would not drag the floppy to the Trash to eject it as "this would erase it"

        To be fair I'd suggest this was as much a fail on the MacOS interface design team (one which has been discussed elsewhere over the years) as to her understanding of how to operate the alien (to her) system.

        1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

          Re: The summer heat brings them out...

          "To be fair I'd suggest this was as much a fail on the MacOS interface design team "

          This was done for a very good reason: to stop users ejecting a disk while it's being written to!

          As for the "drag to the Trashcan icon": the Trashcan icon changes to an Eject icon when you start dragging. So I call bullshit there. Also, there's a perfectly obvious "Eject" command in the File menu, and an equally obvious keyboard shortcut too: CMD+E. (Or just press the "Eject" button right there on the bloody keyboard!)

          It seems there are so-called "experts" commenting right here on these very forums who feel a 40-minute 'group shout' at a hapless user is a perfectly valid way to convince them to eject a floppy disk. And yet it's the user who is considered the clueless idiot in that story? Hypocrites, much?

          1. Darryl

            Re: The summer heat brings them out...

            "the Trashcan icon changes to an Eject icon when you start dragging. So I call bullshit there."

            It does on OS-X, yes. It didn't on previous versions of Mac OS

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The summer heat brings them out...

      There was the time a friend with a non-specific anxiety disorder decided that the right time to install Windows 98 (first edition) on her crap Win 95 computer was the day she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. The woman took a few tranquilizers in her quest to remain calm which impaired both motor control and thinking. When the install didn't work she decided to open the case and start unplugging things. She unplugged rather a lot more than she intended and the install still failed (Amazing, I know). When the drugs wore off a bit, she managed to call me. The conversation went something like this:

      <her> "blagfgghhderefdgggglll

      <me> "what?"

      <her> "gerbbnnnggggglnff"

      It took another 45 minutes for words to happen.

    3. Cpt Blue Bear

      Re: The summer heat brings them out...

      "Turns out it was just a blown PSU. The manager's problems will be harder to fix..."

      Oh no, his problems are very easy to fix! Its the legal ramifications that get harder...

      "Whomever envisioned dragging icons to the bin/trash/whatever you want to call it needs a good shooting..."

      Many years ago I was involved in converting an advertising agency (look, it was much needed work during a recession and I charged them twice what I'd normally, OK?) from Macs to PCs. All the office staff thought that having a mechanical eject button for the floppy drive was just the cleverest thing they'd ever seen.

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