back to article User had no webcam or mic, complained vid conference didn’t work

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register’s weekly reader-contributed tales of facepalm-worthy failures in the field of tech support. This week, meet “Pete”, who shared three stories from his time working at the European Commission (EC). His first tale concerned a scientific advisor to one of the EC’s general directorates, a …

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Facepalm

Your Network is broken!

Long ago, we had a consultant come, he sat down at a PC logged in with a guest account, inserted his floppy with his presentations etc... He stormed into our office complaining that out network is broken and really sucked. Dumb looks all around! He said his floppy wasn't being read correctly, that our PC wouldn't open his files. But it worked at home! I returned to the PC with the consultant in tow. There were dozens of dialog boxes searching for the files, remember win 98 and the little flashlight? I closed all of them, and went into the 3.5" drive and saw a dozen icons for files. All 1kb! He couldn't understand that he created shortcuts to the files on his computer and that it wouldn't work on our computer...

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Re: Your Network is broken!

I've had two emails from one user this week, both informing me that the network was broken. Both emails also told me that email was still working though.

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Re: Your Network is broken!

I’ve seen similar situations where users have archived documents by dragging them all into a Word document to use that as a container. A surprisingly common occurence - but not a very clever idea. Depending on the file type it will be ‘stored’ in the Word document:

a) identically to the original (in my experience, PDF is handled like this)

b) compressed with loss of information (in my experience, video, sound and images suffer lossy compression)

c) as a link to the original document with, at best, a short preview of the content.

If users are habitually going to abuse their software like this, I can’t help thinking that ever easier to use systems are only going to make the problem worse. I long for a return to the utopian days of the 8bit Micro, with an OS like CP/M, MSX-DOS or ProDOS. I never had to help people out of a hole they’d dug using too little knowledge and an OS that gave them a false sense of security.

Sigh.

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Re: Your Network is broken!

"He couldn't understand that he created shortcuts to the files on his computer and that it wouldn't work on our computer..."

A variation of that was the large corporate where each division had their own Q: drive for shared documents, including Word templates.

It was fine for documents attached to email coming from within a division, but cross division stuff was often broken.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Your Network is broken!

"He couldn't understand that he created shortcuts to the files on his computer and that it wouldn't work on our computer..."

That was not uncommon in those days. Windows often seemed to generate a short-cut when you had expected it to copy the file. I am not sure that short-cuts have always been identified by the modified version of the original file type icon.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Your Network is broken!

"A variation of that was the large corporate where each division had their own Q: drive for shared documents, including Word templates."

Before issuing software to users we used to install it on a PC that had been reprimed with a standard image. That caught the situations where there was an unexpected dependency on a file left over from a previous installation.

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Facepalm

Re: Your Network is broken!

"A variation of that was the large corporate where each division had their own Q: drive for shared documents, including Word templates."

Had one user one lunchtime who wanted to email a file to someone else in their department. I got a message saying that it wasn't working and could I please come up and take a look. I made the trek and found a woman sitting at her desk annoyed. She said that an error message popped up every time she tried sending it and I must be able to fix it. After being shown the file I realised what the problem was and email was not the solution. The file in question was a wmv file and around 400 MB so I asked where it had come from. "Oh off this disk" and she held up a CDR which she had apparently received in the post from another firm.

After a quick reminder of the rules regarding IT security and email attachment size I virus checked the disk and her PC. Both clean I asked why she didn't use the department shared 'S' drive to share the video? After confessing that she hadn't thought of that she said she didn't want anyone else seeing it yet. Did you consider just giving the disk to your colleague? "Oh I hadn't thought of that either."

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Re: Your Network is broken!

We recently had a "creative spark" decide to source, order and even attempted to install a wireless printer....

despite not involving the IT dept up until he had problems, we dutifully obliged in attending the chaps desk to see how we could help...

we were met with a tirade of angry expletives describing how rubbish the printer was and that IT need to get this working NOW as there were lots of important creative things that needed to be created by this creative man, who was being dragged down by un-necessary tech problems..

we saw the problem instantly, it was not plugged in to any power source, or indeed a network/USB connection to receive any printing data.

our creative "dude"'s reply "well why should it need any cables, it is meant to be wireless!?"

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Re: Your Network is broken!

My favourite one (and a familiar one to many) is the phone call from a user asking if "the system is down". This is of course for a company spread across the globe with probably neck end of a thousand different systems here and there...

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Re: Your Network is broken!

"He couldn't understand that he created shortcuts to the files on his computer and that it wouldn't work on our computer..."

Back in the day somebody managed to load our dept web site into MSFT Frontpage and convert all the hyperlinks to file links to the shared drive.

Of course it must be our fault because it worked on their machine.

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Re: Your Network is broken!

And, of course, the old standby: "I've deleted the internet!".

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Re: Your Network is broken!

"I've deleted the internet!"

To which the only possible reply is "Good. It was getting far too big."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Your Network is broken!

"He couldn't understand that he created shortcuts to the files on his computer and that it wouldn't work on our computer..."

We recently started using *(&%*%* OneDrive for Business at work. Having used computers for 25+ years, programmed in a dozen languages, own+operate a private server, I've never had trouble attaching a file to an email. Until I attached a file from my "personal" OneDrive for Business folder, using Outlook. It returned a bounceback email saying "Your recipients couldn't be given access to the file _____". Huh. Apparently Outlook only included a LINK when I told it to create an ATTACHMENT... I wonder how long it will be before my co-workers start using their OneDrive accounts and having this issue...

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Re: Your Network is broken!

I have a default answer for this (and have since 2001 and wireless cards in laptops).

"Because Nikola Tesla was wrong."

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Re: Your Network is broken!

About 15 years ago when the company was moving into it's new head office building I received a call from a colleague asking for assistance because the clever little Microsoft boys sent from the UK (we are in Johannesburg) to fix the Exchange problems had informed him that the network was the cause of the email system's ills.

I rushed over and asked one of the M$ people how they were accessing the servers - via the network, of course!

After some harsh words and advising him to extract his digit and look for the actual problem and not blame the network that treated all traffic (more or less) equally the problem was fixed.

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Re: Your Network is broken!

One of my favourite support calls was "My MacBook won't connect to the school wifi, please will you remote in and connect it as I need it for this lesson?" The user in question was a physics teacher.

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Re: Your Network is broken!

"He couldn't understand that he created shortcuts to the files on his computer and that it wouldn't work on our computer..."

I am somewhat sympathetic to this. The whole shortcut thing is quite an advanced concept, and most people who are supposed to work with it are expected to just "pick it up" and have never received training about it.

Perhaps the real joke is on "us" (i.e., the IT industry). Why do we like to complicate things so much?

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Re: Your Network is broken!

Was that user's name "Captian Obvious"?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Your Network is broken!

My job on a good day is a problem solver. On a bad day, it's doing people's thinking for them.....

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This one, every time

*ring ring*

Me: "Hello, IT"

User: "A client has sent me a video as an attachment and I can't view it"

Me: "Ok, let me remote in... Right. Show me the email... OK, that's a link to a video on a sharing site, not an attachment. That site is blocked during working hours which is why you're getting the message when you click on it..."

User: "Can you unblock it temporarily? This is for an urgent matter"

Me: "Ok, let me know when you've finished watching it and I'll re-block the site"

User: "And I'll be able to print it, right?"

Me: "Sorry, can you run that by me again?"

User: "The video. I can print the video and put it on file"

Me: "Uhhh... You want to print every frame of the video? Or just some static bits when you pause it?"

User: "No, I want the entire video"

Me: "It's 10 minutes long. At 25 frames per second that's 15,000 frames"

User: "It fits on the one web page! Can't I print it to a single page?"

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Re: This one, every time

Not unusual at all, unfortunately. It's not as common as the "sending a screenshot by saving it inside a Word document" trick though.

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Re: This one, every time

You must be a wizard. Muggle pictures don't move

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Re: This one, every time

Even kids know you need a flick book to do animation on paper... ;)

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Re: This one, every time

"sending a screenshot by saving it inside a Word document"

I've seen someone doing that for a simple text message.

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Re: This one, every time

Probably the user intends to say they want to download/save the video, not actually physically print it to paper. For some old farts, putting something in the archive means taking a piece of paper, putting it in a manilla folder, walking to the archive desk and handing it over to a clerk who then hangs it in a drawer somewhere. Thus archiving means having a piece of paper, thus printing. The modern equivalent is storing the video file somewhere on the file system of the company/organisation. So I'm assuming by print he means save. Thus a simple question would resolve it: Do you mean you want to save the video file?

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Re: This one, every time

I even get Word documents containing megapixel photographs (not screenshots!) of terminal emulator windows. And it's usually TeraTerm that was being used, which has clipboard and buffer save options built in.

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Re: This one, every time

I'd certainly ask that (it support isn't my job, but "does something with computers" resolves to that in people's minds), but "print" is quite a specific word and it wouldn't be the craziest request ever. Often seems to come from not contemplating what the expected result might be.

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Re: This one, every time

Printing videos. Yeah, I had the same request from an art student 20-odd years ago. She'd even brought in some nice, shiny paper that was actually suitable for our CMYK wax colour printer. She looked so disappointed when I told her videos didn't work like that that I made the time to show her how to take screenshots and arrange them in Photoshop, and she was happy with that.

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Re: This one, every time

Nope, he wanted it printing. Every bit.

The subsequent conversation with his managers confirmed this was what he expected to happen. To have a copy of the video in the "Digital file" and a printed copy in a paper file for him.

We compromised on 4 important frames from the video being printed.

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Re: This one, every time

I'm amazed he did not even think of a "DVD/CD of the video" or even "can I put it in VHS". Wanting to *print* is still way over the cognitive steps I can even consider. Asking "Can I print this 4 words in the video" even if they don't know what "title screen" or "slideshow" or whatever means... Wow!

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Re: This one, every time

"sending a screenshot by saving it inside a Word document"

Worse than that is when they screenshot an error for us, paste it into an email, and then drag the corner anchors to resize it down.

We then receive a shrunken screenshot that is blurred and indecipherable if we try to enlarge it.

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DJO
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Re: This one, every time

I get error reports consisting of a full screen grab, (2 x 16:9 1080 screens side by side) pasted into a email. Outlook trying to be helpful resizes the image to fit so the tiny error dialogue is an illegible blur.

Really helpful. I try to tell them to use Alt+Prnt Scrn but that seems a bit too complicated for some users.

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Re: This one, every time

I try to tell them to use Alt+Prnt Scrn but that seems a bit too complicated for some users.

This is even more complicated, but we try to get users to use the Snipping Tool. That way they can just send the error.

Many still take a photo with their phones...

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Re: This one, every time

Muggle pictures don't move

...but Apple ones do :-)

(at least, the "live" ones on my wife's iPhone 8 do...it's a bit unnerving)

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Re: This one, every time

"Printing videos. Yeah, I had the same request from an art student 20-odd years ago. She'd even brought in some nice, shiny paper that was actually suitable for our CMYK wax colour printer."...

But, but, but, in the Harry Potter books, they have paper that...

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Re: This one, every time

Got one of them ten minutes ago!

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Re: This one, every time

You should have uuencoded it and then printed that out. When he needs to restore it from his "archive" he just needs to type it all back in again.

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Re: This one, every time

In the early years of this century I worked in an organisation that still had a layer of senior management who were totally unengaged with the idea of using IT - and still had secretaries allocated to them (not PAs, not typists, not Executive Assistants, but secretaries). Although email had been introduced, a number of these still insisted on the secretary printing out all incoming emails and presenting them in a folder to be read each morning. Once digested, the secretary would be brought in to take shorthand dictation of the response which was then typed up (in draft) and represented for review and approval in the folder, before the secretary could press the send button on the draft...

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Re: This one, every time

Seriously if one of my custards requested this i would go straight to there manager and demand not only for them to be sacked for gross stupidity but would also call the local nuthouse to have them picked up at the front door and given a nice padded room to live in.

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Re: This one, every time

"To have a copy of the video in the "Digital file" and a printed copy in a paper file for him."

Remember, IT's ultimate revenge is to give the user exactly what they requested. Although in this case he might have complained about the lack of sound.

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Re: This one, every time

A lot of my users do that. By Darwin it f**ks me off.

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Re: This one, every time

"User: "It fits on the one web page! Can't I print it to a single page?"

And here, ladies and gentleman, is the problem that e-ink is looking for. Now we just need a printer that can print with e-ink onto e-paper :-)

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Re: This one, every time

"I've seen someone doing that for a simple text message."

We get those two or three times per week from HR and Marketing. And we're a channel distie full of techies! (except in those depts). We also get the attached file is a link to an internal network share. Great for office based staff, but the rest of us are usually reading them on the phone (if not just deleting anything from those departments as a matter of course)

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Re: This one, every time

SO what you are saying huw d is this guy is insane.

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Re: This one, every time

"Thus a simple question would resolve it: Do you mean ..."

Indeed, I often think IT support people are needlessly arrogant (or themselves a bit clueless) about users' ignorance. So they can be dumb clucks, and they often use incorrect terminology, but I guarantee there are fields *you* don't know about so give them a break. If you aren't patient and don't have people skills you shouldn't be in support.

Which is not to say some users shouldn't be allowed to touch computers. There are some irredeemably thick people out there, and it sometimes feels like I've met all of them... until, that is, I read these columns in El Reg.

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Re: This one, every time

No, just a special level of user ;)

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Dear IT staff --- count your blessings.

Its the idiots of the world of business / education etc that keep all of us in a job.

From CEO's all the way down to lowly paid secretaries - they are our bread & butter.

They screw their computers over --- so that we can keep being paid to have a laugh.

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Having a laugh is fine and dandy with me sitting here reading this on El Reg. I'm definitely, absolutely, positively sure laughing is not what I would have in mind if this sort of thing happened to me live, especially not if it kept happening regularly.

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Anonymous Coward

DropBear,

Welcome to the world of IT Support !!! :)

Do not underestimate the ability of un-trained users to ask for the impossible and then argue with you when you try to explain that it cannot be done !!!

Yes it is funny to read when you are not the person who deals with it day in day out.

It really highlights that a small amount of Basic Training is a 'Must have' to avoid the huge waste of time and energy solving the same 'Problems' over and over.

The user who today asks for the impossible is then tomorrows 'Boss' and without any appropriate training/skills then asks the same questions but with the added 'Bonus' of having 'Management Authority/Entitlement' to hit you with when you will not 'Deliver' what he/she wants.

Note the 'Will not' as it is always framed as your refusal to 'Deliver' NOT you cannot 'Deliver the impossible' !!!

Luckily, in the past I have had a 'Techie' Manager who was able to confirm that the impossible was being asked for.

You never get the apology for being accused of 'Refusing' to do your job ...... strange that !!!

All theses types of things are why people burnout providing IT support ..... there should be mandatory councelling available for long term workers in IT <joke .... but not a joke>

Yours,

Extremely 'Ex-IT Support' :)

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@Dropbear -- I've had this quote hanging on my wall for years.

"Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." Robert A. Heinlein

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