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 …

  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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!)

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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..

  7. 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.

  8. 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?”

  9. 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/

  10. 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 :)

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. W4YBO

    Re: PBKAC

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

    Watch out for those WiFi slide switches, too.

  16. DagD

    Re: PBKAC

    "Ma'am, I believe we have found the problem. Please place the computer back in it's original box and return it to the store".

    Is it that serious?

    "Yes ma'am, you are too stupid to own a computer".

  17. 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 !

  18. 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?

  19. 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

  20. 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!

  21. 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

  22. 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...

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. Syn3rg

    Re: PBKAC

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

  26. Sparkypatrick

    Re: PBKAC

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

  27. 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!)

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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?

  32. 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...

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: PBKAC

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

  34. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Re: PBKAC

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

    Once upon a time, the company I worked for had PC's with a power port for the monitor. Turn on the computer, the monitor powered up. The first tech refresh came through and suddenly, no one's monitor turned on via the computer. The monitor had a plug in on the power strip. Old habits die hard and it took quite a bit of time to get that change through some of the user's heads.

  35. Loud Speaker Bronze badge

    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"!

  36. Cat Sitting

    Re: PBKAC

    Back in the eighties our standard question was "what colour is the light at the bottom of the television bit". That tended to get us an honest answer.

  37. 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.

  38. 10forcash

    Re: PBKAC

    Bullshit

    The transit dash display would state 'press clutch and brake to start'

    not a common error, but common not to 'see' visual clues to the error

  39. leexgx

    Re: PBKAC

    Bernard M. Orwell

    Note Hidden anti-theft device (never heard of that before) your taking things out of context

    any way if you read most posts its about extremely simple things, like sticky note on the screen, its not plugged in,failing to restart the computer and they turn the screen off and on (i known people to be fired for stupid stuff like that) the best one that has me chuckling right now is the power is out post lol (cant turn the computer on if your in a power cut)

    the issue is some people who work at offices actually don't know how to use a computer (or appliances in general) but have to use a computer in there Narrow mind set to work (not actually sure how people like that get employed if they don't have basic understanding of how electricity works)

    the problems MS made in the past with windows Vista when they removed word "start" off the start menu was super perplexing for most lol (why most office computers have there stuff on the desktop)

  40. leexgx

    Re: PBKAC

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

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. Kiwi Silver badge

    Re: PBKAC

    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?

    While I understand and even agree with your post,

    1) The TV is separate to the satellite decoder, which is connected by a cable and has it's own power button. A friend has 2 decoders in his house, and one has to be on for the other to work (LNB power issue, neither decoder can work out that if there is power already for the LNB then don't provide it)

    2) The stereo has a button that does the amp and tuner. The tape, record and CD players are all independently switched. I also had a stereo that had a set of power sockets on the rear for the other components, and had a barely noticeable power switch for that bank (I used to power the components off a plug box till someone showed me...)

    3) Where I'm writing this now, there's a complex set of signals bouncing around a number of disparate devices giving me the media I'm watching on the screen. The elderly gent who lives in the place handles it quite well, even though he confused the ABS and check engine lights on his car because they're both amber and "must mean the same thing". He even uses VNC on his Linux computer to control the media computer (both running Mint/KDE)

    I have to wonder about some users - how do they manage to figure out that they have to lock the door to their house and unlock their car in the morning with DIFFERENT keys!

    But that said, the unfamiliar is sometimes difficult.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Re: PBKAC

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

    No. Each component has it's own on/off button. The integrated , all-in-one stereo only has one on/off button, but that's because it's a single unit. My cable box and BluRay play also have separate on/off switch which are in turn septate from the TV which also has it's own on/off switch. It's not rocket science.

    I wonder if the Sky and VirginMedia support desks have the problem of users not knowing the difference between the STB and TV and operating the wrong switch when asked to power off the box?

  48. 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.

  49. 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!

  50. Lilolefrostback

    Re: PBKAC

    Correct answer: No I don't think you're stupid.

    What you're thinking: You're a human being, so, by default, I KNOW you're stupid.

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