back to article User asked help desk to debug a Post-it Note that survived a reboot

Welcome again to On-Call, in which The Register christens each new Friday with a reader-contributed tale of being asked to fix the unthinkable. This week, meet “William” who told us about “a call I had whilst working on the IT Service Desk at my local Hospital.” “A lady called me up to say she had been to lunch and when she …

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  1. jake Silver badge

    PBKAC

    It's not Support's issue if the user can't communicate properly.

    Most people would say "I just got back from lunch and found a PostIt on my monitor with an Error message on it." followed by either "Do you know anything about it? Can I use my computer?" or "HELP!!!!!", depending on the user's technical fortitude.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: PBKAC

      Most people, maybe... Printer indicates "no paper". User who sits next to that printer phones me to let me know that she can't print. That moment, more than 20 years ago, I gave up hope on users. And soon became one myself. With the occasional twist of knowing more than the IT support guy - that was before Windows 10/Office 2016 though. Now we're all back to stupid. And probably not long before I myself will try to click away a post-it note stuck to the screen. When that happens, someone please shoot me.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: PBKAC

        @Evil Auditor

        "Most people, maybe... Printer indicates "no paper". User who sits next to that printer phones me to let me know that she can't print."

        Had one of these - can't print, flashing light on printer. User called Servicedesk, who logged the call with sod all details, raised ticket - than rang me to escalate it.

        Forunately I JetAdmin - can see straight away that it had no paper, even the LCD screen on the front of the printer said Load paper.

        No one could be bothered to check. Once I call it the helpdesk, only for the lazy git to inform me that a helpdesk only logs calls. A service desk resolves them - yeah right

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: PBKAC

          "Once I call it the helpdesk, only for the lazy git to inform me that a helpdesk only logs calls. A service desk resolves them - yeah right"

          Easy one to deal with - for you. Raise a ticket about sod all details on helpdesk ticket.

        2. TomPhan

          Re: PBKAC

          Had something similar - could see remotely that the printer needed paper, so called the user and told them that. He told me he was far too busy to put paper into a printer and an engineer should be sent to fill it, and it needed to be done straight away because without these reports he couldn't do anything...

        3. Loud Speaker

          Re: PBKAC

          What kind of paper is "Load paper"? and where can I buy some?

          We only have Isal Medicated TTY paper - every sheet says "Now please wash your brain"!

          1. Kiwi Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: PBKAC

            What kind of paper is "Load paper"? and where can I buy some?

            That'd be the tissue paper that comes in approx 3" wide strips, on rolls, often found installed on special dispensers in lavatories (not to be confused with laboratories, unless you want to upset a few people!).

            You can buy "Load Paper" at our local supermarket. I suggest a soft 3-ply version myself.

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: PBKAC

          "Once I call it the helpdesk, only for the lazy git to inform me that a helpdesk only logs calls. A service desk resolves them - yeah right"

          You should've pointed out that loading paper is not a service call, but explaining to the user how to load paper is giving help.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: PBKAC

            "Once I call it the helpdesk, only for the lazy git to inform me that a helpdesk only logs calls. A service desk resolves them - yeah right"

            You should've pointed out that loading paper is not a service call, but explaining to the user how to load paper is giving help.

            I do try to explain and have shown users how to clear paper jams etc.

            In this particular case, speaking to the user resolved it as they knew how to load the paper, but couldn't be arsed to check in the first place.

      2. el_oscuro

        Re: PBKAC

        Back in 2008, working a new project, I encountered Office 2007 for the first time. I wanted to print the database upgrade plan and I couldn't figure out to do it with the stupid ribbon thing. So I asked the system admin how to print. He admitted he didn't know either, but the old DOS shortcut (control/P) still worked. So I used it, and continue to use it today. Those old DOS shortcuts still work in almost every program, regardless of OS or platform, so I can safely ignore shitty new UI's even today!

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: PBKAC

      Unfortunately it's a support issue if a user calls for support. Because it's only after the intervention that you know it wasn't really a support issue. And you don't want to deter real support calls by being too difficult. It's all part of life.

      As for the turning the monitor on and off, we all know that litany of "The email isn't working " (BSOD)/"The computer won't go on" (Screen is on, but not the box or vice versa).. And my favourite, though I've only had this a couple of times, "I can't find my work" ( They'd saved to a memory stick, a different memory stick!)

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: PBKAC

        I forgot to add the most recent one. A user at the library where I volunteer called me over to the computer she was using to complain that her email wasn't there. Some polite questioning and I found she didn't know she needed to log in to her email (web) account. I didn't venture to explore further- like how she normally got her email; the "don't go there" alarm was ringing too loudly.

        1. CustardGannet
          Facepalm

          Re: PBKAC

          True confession time :

          A few years ago I was issued with a works laptop, to be able to do on-call at home. After a while this became my primary home computer .

          As time went on, I found that the volume on any videos or music was getting lower and lower, to the point of inaudibility. Checked the Windows control-panel: volume set to max. Checked the volume on Youtube, or the media-player (as appropriate) : also set to max. Searched online for other possibilities. No obvious other problem. Eventually concluded that the in-built speakers must be on their way out.

          Mentioned the problem to one of my friends (occupation : phone monkey for a large bank). He took 10 seconds to locate and turn up the physical volume dial, on the right-hand side of the laptop, next to where my mouse hand normally did its mouse-wiggling-stuff.

          I’d been gradually knocking the volume down over several months – but as I had always had a desktop til then, I never realised some laptops had an actual volume dial.

          1. W4YBO

            Re: PBKAC

            "I never realised some laptops had an actual volume dial."

            Watch out for those WiFi slide switches, too.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: PBKAC

              ""I never realised some laptops had an actual volume dial."

              Watch out for those WiFi slide switches, too."

              Yes, multiple times I did investigate hours, forgetting those fucking laptops have a wifi on/off button !

            2. Robert Moore
              Coat

              Re: PBKAC

              "I never realised some laptops had an actual volume dial."

              Watch out for those WiFi slide switches, too.

              When I bought my first laptop, I spent about 10 minutes looking for the WiFi switch. I couldn't find it, and I am deeply ashamed to have to admit I looked in the manual. (Don't judge me!)

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Don't judge me!

                Oh Jeez, Robert. Sorry, but we're going to have to do just that. Checking the manual? Are you trying to put the Help Desk folks all out of work?

              2. Ilsa Loving

                Re: PBKAC

                Way back when a manager was complaining he couldn't log into his laptop. It just wouldn't accept his password. After spending more time than I care to admit checking the caps lock, watching him type, etc, I discovered that he had somehow managed to hit the num lock function, which turned half his qwerty keyboard into a ersatz number pad. After figuring out how to disable it again (as I had never in my life used it once), he was able to log in again.

          2. Kiwi Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: PBKAC

            I’d been gradually knocking the volume down over several months – but as I had always had a desktop til then, I never realised some laptops had an actual volume dial.

            Good ol' Toshiba laptops (haven't seen such a dial on others). Has given me many very happy customers where I've been able to show them that and send them away with an instantly "fixed" machine at no charge (I'll get them next time ;) )

            Few laptops have a physical control, and until you know it's there it's easily missed.

          3. Updraft102 Silver badge

            Re: PBKAC

            "I never realised some laptops had an actual volume dial."

            Was it a Fujitsu?

      2. ricardian

        Re: PBKAC

        My first Open University course "PM951 Computers & Computing" in 1977. I was living in a remote village in Sutherland and submitted all my handwritten programs (OU Basic!) to the OU via snail mail (the alternative was to book a session on an unreliable 75 baud link at Thurso tech college, a 2 hour drive away). After a few successful sessions (whereby the OU would type in my program and run it on their mainframe then send me the results, regardless of whether or not the program ran successfully or not) I received an irate, hand-written note saying that they could not find my data. As the data had been created and used on several previous occasions this was rather worrying. After I contacted my tutor it was discovered that the OU had two mainframe centres but the data was not shared.

        I did manage a respectable Grade 2 for that first OU course

        1. Daedalus Silver badge

          Re: PBKAC

          My first Open University course "PM951 Computers & Computing" in 1977. I was living in a remote village in Sutherland and submitted all my handwritten programs (OU Basic!) to the OU via snail mail (the alternative was to book a session on an unreliable 75 baud link at Thurso tech college, a 2 hour drive away).

          You think you had problems. I started a fellowship in '77 at the OU, on site in Milton Keynes, and the "computer centre", such as it was, was located in makeshift huts (the infamous "temporary until we get things built") stuck at the back of the campus. Can't let the visiting VIPs see that the work gets done in shacks... If we wanted to do real computing we had to log in to Cambridge or Oxford, I forget which.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: PBKAC

        "Screen is on, but not the box or vice versa"

        Once upon a time the monitor was usually powered from a take-off point on the back of the box. Couple that with an out-of-the-way placement of the monitor switch and a real mains switch conspicuously placed on the front of the box and either both were on or both were off.

        Then we got ATX so that the box could be sort-of-but-not-really shut down from S/W. Another improvement that wasn't.

        1. leexgx

          Re: PBKAC

          passthrough PSUs are very much discouraged as 1 fuse 2 appliances (in the UK any way) more a safety thing

          1. Kiwi Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Re: PBKAC

            passthrough PSUs are very much discouraged as 1 fuse 2 appliances (in the UK any way) more a safety thing

            Just out of interest, how so? In all the cases I saw the PSU was rated at 10a max supply (not sure what size fuse inside). Same for the cutouts on the plug boxes - 10a and the whole lot fails.

            If your plug fuse is rated appropriately there shouldn't be any issue.

            1. Mark #255
              Boffin

              Re: passthrough PSUs

              The dearth of passthrough sockets on PC PSUs is actually down to the combination of:

              • Limits on earth leakage currents (so that RCDs can reliably operate)
              • EMC filters on everything (including monitors) which have line-to-earth capacitors, contributing to the overall earth leakage current

              If your PC has a passthrough socket for the monitor, there's additional earth leakage current for the system, but no change in the limit.

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge
                Boffin

                Re: passthrough PSUs

                If your PC has a passthrough socket for the monitor, there's additional earth leakage current for the system, but no change in the limit.

                That RCD is somewhere in the central fuse box, monitoring the entire circuit that it's wired into. So unless you have your monitor and PC on separate circuits, having the monitor on a pass-through socket from the PC, or just plugged into adjacent sockets (or an extension strip) will make sod-all difference.

              2. Kiwi Silver badge
                WTF?

                Re: passthrough PSUs

                The dearth of passthrough sockets on PC PSUs is actually down to the combination of:

                Limits on earth leakage currents (so that RCDs can reliably operate)

                RCD's for household computers are very very rare here in NZ (never seen one myself, though a rare few breakers use them (mostly garages). But even then, I can't think of why you'd have the computer on one RCD and the monitor on another? Wouldn't they both be on a plug box or double power point, along with the stereo/speakers/amp, printer/scanner. perhaps modem and any other electronics in the same room? How's this any different from the PSU having a passthrough socket?

                How does this apply to AIO machines where the monitor and computer are all in one box?

                I also have a couple of monitors that have power bricks that do not have an earth, and they're not rare models.

                Somehow, it does not compute that stuff around the earth is the reason we lost the passthrough sockets.

                If your PC has a passthrough socket for the monitor, there's additional earth leakage current for the system, but no change in the limit.

                I've only ever seen fuses/cutouts/breakers on the phase line (except in a couple of badly wired devices), never on the earth. And unless there is a fault, earth should NOT be getting anything anyway. It's called EARTH, not LIVE. Earth leakage is a fault condition.

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: passthrough PSUs

                  "Somehow, it does not compute that stuff around the earth is the reason we lost the passthrough sockets."

                  Me neither. I bet it's primarily cost cutting. Some Chinese factory pumping out millions of units a year can make significant savings buy cutting a pennies here and there per unit. And then there's the trend for smaller boxes and hence smaller PSUs and hence lack of space to put the pass through connector.

    3. chivo243 Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: PBKAC

      Ah, yes, PEBKAC... The computer beeps when I turn it on, but then it shuts down. I can't see anything on the screen. Roll in, immediately see the monitor is not powered up. I push one button and leave with out a word.

      1. sandman

        Re: PBKAC

        Ah yes, the monitor problem. In the distant past I've had users explode with rage when I've asked them if they'd turned the computer on. Then asked them if they'd turned the monitor (the large TV thing) on - more "Do you think I'm stupid?" The final question, "Is it plugged in and turned on at the mains?" usually resulted in a sheepish silence.

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: PBKAC

          I once spent an hour trying to work out why a PC wasn't working, until I noticed the contrast wheel on the CRT was at 0, making the entire screen jet black..

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: PBKAC

            Yes, but hopefully you learnt from it?

            Years ago I was struggling with "faulty" keyboards that when you press the "a" key, "q" is displayed. (Down to a visiting French man borrowing various computers.

            Now, when I ever I get a similar fault - that's the first thing I look at!

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: PBKAC

          Ah, my second favourite (most stupid caller) is at this point, but the user indignately refused to go under the desk to check, as it was too dark in their office with the lights off.

          The user was very politiely asked if they could turn the lights on, and replied that they couldn't, because there was a power cut.

          I have very little faith left in humanity.

          1. Trilkhai

            Re: PBKAC

            I think that my faith in humanity's intelligence evaporated when an ER doctor asked me, “have you had your congenital birth defects your entire life?”

            1. Updraft102 Silver badge

              Re: PBKAC

              I once sat in to provide moral support for a friend (at her request) when she saw a psychiatrist for depression. One of the first questions the doctor asked was if she had committed suicide.

              1. Kiwi Silver badge
                Coat

                Re: PBKAC

                I once sat in to provide moral support for a friend (at her request) when she saw a psychiatrist for depression. One of the first questions the doctor asked was if she had committed suicide.

                "No but this session might help make my mind up".

                Are you sure it was a psychiatrist and not a psychologist? Stupidity like that is more fitting with the latter...

                (I'd say depression is no laughing matter, but sometimes when you're waaay down there you need all the laughter you can get (and FTR I have been there)

          2. Syn3rg

            Re: PBKAC

            I hope you asked them if they still had the box in which the computer came.

          3. Jamie Jones Silver badge

            Re: PBKAC

            "Ah, my second favourite (most stupid caller) is at this point, but the user indignately refused to go under the desk to check, as it was too dark in their office with the lights off.

            The user was very politiely asked if they could turn the lights on, and replied that they couldn't, because there was a power cut.

            I have very little faith left in humanity."

            So then you married her, right? http://web.archive.org/web/19970209064552/http://www.progress.demon.co.uk/Fun/Trouble-with.html

        3. sandman

          Re: PBKAC

          Of course, users can always try this well-known fix: http://newsthump.com/2013/01/28/major-technological-breakthrough-as-man-fixes-computer-by-shouting-at-it/

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: PBKAC

          The way round that problem is to ask them which power port its plugged in, and to ask them to change it. I used to ask if it if was in the left hand socket or the right hand socket. 99/100 there is only one socket but it means they have to check with out asking them questions like "Is it turned on".

          Amazing how many people would suddenly say they changed the socket and it fixed it :)

          1. Paddy

            Re: PBKAC

            | I used to ask if it if was in the left hand socket or the right hand socket

            Pure headology, as Pratchett would have wrote.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: PBKAC

          We discovered a fan heater in the server room that someone had obviously plugged in because they were cold. We never discovered the culprit (had a few ideas though) but sent round an email to the entire company stressing that people should not plug anything especially heaters into "IT power sockets". A few days later I picked up a call from a very timid sounding lady I'll call "Jane" who worked at a branch office. She'd recently reorganised her office to get her out of the stream of cold air coming in from the leaky window. Apparently Jane had moved her desk from one side of her room to the other. She wanted to know how we found out that she'd plugged her heater into the socket the computer was previously in. Jane also wanted to know if she could actually use her heater again as the radiator in her room still didn't work and it was very cold.

          After determining that this wasn't a wind up I asked what had happened. Jane told me that she'd finished moving her desk and then plugging her computer equipment back in. Having checked that everything worked she'd plugged in the fan heater and then gone to get a coffee. When she got back there was an email sent to everyone not to plug heaters into IT sockets. Genuinely worried that we had some super spy capability about the power use she'd unplugged her heater immediately. Jane had then spent the next few days in a very cold office with her coat on because she was scared of a telling off by IT.

          I explained that she'd been a victim of an unfortunate coincidence and so long as the heater wasn't:

          a) Pointing at the computer

          and

          b) Plugged into an extension strip

          Then we didn't care what she did to heat her room in the offices.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: PBKAC

            Some years ago at another firm I slaved for I had two computers (each on a separate network) and two monitors. One of the machines is using both monitors and the other is using just one. to make this possible and to allow me to have just one keyboard and mouse I had a KVM switch. One day I was at a trade exhibition in the morning and my boss decided that he would have a stab at something using the software on one of my PC's. Only switches one of the screens on when he sits down and then tries the mouse which doesn't work. So he tries the keyboard which doesn't work either so he gave up and sat back down at his own desk. I get in later on and switch on the other monitor to be greeted with the sight of the word document I'd been working on now punctuated with "Why isn't this fucking keyboard working" several times. I laughed it off but he insisted on apologising for that. The KVM switch was under the monitors but he'd missed the thing in his haste.

        6. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: PBKAC

          we've started to use AIO's so the monitor is the computer! The users really can't get their heads around it!

          1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

            Re: PBKAC

            Let me tell you a story...

            Not so long ago, I had to hire a long wheel base transit van. Now, I've been a driver for a few decades now, and I've driven a van or two before. I was handed the keys, hopped in and spent a weekend driving the van around happily. On the return trip I had to fuel it up, as per the hire agreement, so I stopped in a petrol station about a thousand yards from the hire shop and filled the van with diesel. Job done, I hopped back in and turned the ignition. Nothing. I turned it again. Still nothing. Again, with the clutch down (as some vans I've experienced need that to start sometimes.). Nope. Not a flicker. Then the van alarm sounded as I got out to check things like fuel cap being closed etc. Now I couldn't get back into the van. Played with the keys a bit and alarm stopped. Finally got back into van, still couldn't start it. Queue of people behind me waiting the fuel pump are starting to get annoyed... it was a commercial petrol station, so its experienced lorry and van drivers behind me too. So, I called the hire place and explained. The guy on the phone *laughed* at me whilst explaining that I'd clearly activated the anti-theft alarm somehow and thus, obviously, I had to hold down the clutch AND the brake whilst turning the ignition key the opposite way from starting. Success. I pulled away. To the applause of the grizzled van driver behind me. What a noob I was eh?!

            No. fuck them all. I used the van the way I had always used a van and was not privy to the specialist knowledge that the experts clearly thought I should obviously know. Arseholes.

            That day, I understood the users plight.

            Let me ask you a question, fellow techs; where is the ON button on your TV? Your microwave? Your kitchen appliances? They're on the front, right? They're not on some other box connected to the device by a cable, are they? In fact, can you think of anything other than a PC that works that way? Even your multi-component stereo has a single on button that switches all the components on, yes?

            Food for thought, and perhaps understanding the users a bit?

            1. smudge Silver badge

              Re: PBKAC

              Even your multi-component stereo has a single on button that switches all the components on, yes?

              No. Because they are completely separate devices that each has its own power supply and can be used with other devices.

              As can a PC box, a monitor, a printer...

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: PBKAC

                Same: My CD player alone has 4 power buttons...

            2. Sparkypatrick

              Re: PBKAC

              Try turning on your DVD player by pressing the power button on your TV.

            3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

              Re: On switch location

              TV: By the plug socket. Microwave: combination of setting the timer and closing the door. Kettle: on the back. Toaster: on the side. Fridge & freezer: by sockets behind the appliances. Cooker & central heating: anonymous switches on the wall to one side.

              The most obvious devices with separate power switches are: VCR+TV and DVD player+TV. VCRs date back to late 70's. PCs (DOS) did not reach PHBs until the early 80s, so there was some hope that people could understand a display device and the device that creates the picture can have separate power switches. At the time it was widely believed that adults were too stupid to program a VCR* and they had to ask a five year old child to do it for them. Perhaps it was hoped that five year olds would grow up and dinosaurs would become extinct leading to the happy situation where everyone would have enough brains to program a VCR with a separate power switch to the TV.

              *Note to millennials: A VCR is a stone age alternative to BBC iPlayer and youtube. Programming involved reading a magazine to find the channel, start and end times of the required show. People had to get off the sofa, walk to the TV, switch it on, and press a button to select the VCR channel. Next the VCR power state had to be set to on, input select to antenna, output select to TV then the frequency knob had to be twiddled to get to the right channel. At this point, the TV becomes superfluous and can be turned off. Press the eject button and remove the cassette (stone age USB memory stick) and put it away. Refer to your notebook (a device made from multiple sheets of compressed pulped dead trees) and pick a page where the last entry is a for a TV show no-one wants to watch again. Cross out the last entry on the page and write in the name of the show you want to record. Look at the number on the top of the page and select the cassette with the same number written on a sticky label on the back. Insert the cassette into the holder and press the holder back into the VCR. Press the rewind button.

              Now things get tricky. Look around for the home's most reliable time source. Probably a battery powered clock. Check the second hand is moving and the time vaguely corresponds to the position of the brightest visible star. Compare this to the time display on the VCR and if necessary set the time selector "Time ADJ" and press the hour and minute buttons so the VCR displays the approximate time. Next select "Timer Set" and press the hour and minute buttons to about five minutes before the advertised start of the required TV show (Stone age technology did not include network time servers so all clocks were off by a few minutes, also broadcasters occasionally started a show a little early to annoy VCR owners). Advanced VCRs had a stop time. If present it had to be set at least half an hour after the scheduled end of the TV show. Failure to do this caused an extended news report that delayed all subsequent programming for the day. Almost there: when the tape has finished rewinding, press "stop", set the power selector to "Timer" and press "Play" and "Record" at the same time (the buttons should lock into place.)

              40 years ago, five year olds were able to do all this. The engineers who came up with separate on switches for computer did not anticipate that a decade later the brains of over half of those five year olds would rot down to the level required to elect Amber Rudd.

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