back to article Consultant misreads advice, ends up on a 200km journey to the Exchange expert

Another Monday has landed with a thud – no doubt even more so for those of you in the States coming down from a weekend of Thanksgiving revelry. But it also means it's time for the latest instalment of Who, Me?, where Reg readers write in with their confessions of tech disasters to cheer you up. This week, we have a lesson in …

Anonymous Coward

Never burn your bridges. It may commit you to a battle you would have preferred not to fight.

You can never step in the same river twice. No matter how familiar a problem appears - there are possibly several root causes that can give the same apparent symptom.

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Anonymous Coward

Anecdotally, I burn any bridge that I never intend to set foot on ever again, and never want anyone else to, and which I'm totally in a position to do that without negative consequence.

For example, if leaving a job that you so desperately detest because of serious issues with the way they deal with people... burn the bridge. You will never want to work for / with those people ever again, no matter where they may appear in your life.

"He might be the interviewer on a future job"? Good. Then the second we see each other (or each other's name), we can nope the hell out of there and save both our time, effort and money on anything further.

Merely don't burn your bridges WITHOUT CHECKING FIRST. The same way that you wouldn't delete a backup, or pop out a hard drive from a machine, or power off a server, before checking that you had, in fact, got the right on.

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Headmaster

Exam question.

1. Read everything before doing anything.

2. Put your name on the upper right hand corner of this paper.

3. Circle the word "name" in sentence two.

4. Draw five small squares in the upper left-hand corner of this paper.

5. Put an "x" In each square.

6. Put a circle around each square.

7. Sign your name under the title.

8. After the title write "yes, yes, yes".

9. Put a circle around each word In sentence no. 7.

10. Put an "x" in the lower left hand corner of this paper.

11. Draw a triangle around the "x" you just put down.

12. On the reverse side of this paper multiply 703 by 9805.

13. Draw a rectangle around the word "paper" in sentence number 4.

14. Call out your first name when you get to this point in your paper.

15. If you think you have followed directions up to this point In the test, call out "I have".

16. On the reverse side of the paper add 8950 and 9850.

17. Put a circle around your answer.

18. Count out loud In normal speaking voice backwards from ten to one.

19. Now that you have finished reading, do only steps one and two.

http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?t=24333

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Re: Exam question.

That's why I always read exams to the end and solve them from end to beginning, no matter what the subject is. ^_^

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Facepalm

Re: Exam question.

You beat me to it!!

I had exactly the same paper on a course many years ago when I were a lad and new to IT/Training/Support.

Hate to say it but I was the only person in the class of about 10 or so who did actually read it all the way through.

The other fun exercise we did was trying to tell someone how to strike a match from a closed box on a table between us with the person striking the match only doing exactly what you told them. And of course the instructor on the course had ensured that every box was upside down!!

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Re: Exam question.

I was given a test with 100 questions on it, where the last one said, all you needed to do was fill in your name and hand it straight back. Many people were still working through it an hour later...The tutor thought the whole process was hilarious.

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Re: Exam question.

I know a secondary school science teacher who has literally encountered dozens of pupils who have no idea how a match works or how to light them and are shocked that it's actually a real flame that burns their fingers.

In one way, I see that as progress (kids aren't exposed to people smoking), in another way, it is quite worrying that they don't understand how something quite basic works.

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Re: Exam question.

I had a test like this. l naturally I didn't read all the way through. When the teacher asked why we had done all the questions, I said that I had read them all through, then done them in order. She didn't have an answer for that.

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Re: Exam question.

Many years ago, in the last-but-three decade of the last century, a colleague told me of a Systems Analysis course he had attended at ICL.

Everyone sat around a big table. The presenter dumped a huge box of mixed bolts on the table and said "sort that out".

After an hour or so, when the bolts were sorted in order, he said "Well done". Then he picked up the single four-inch carriage bolt sitting on it's lonesome at one end of the collection. "But I only wanted this one".

The lesson being that the course was going to be all about discovering the right questions to ask when given a user request.

I believe the Systems Analyst job position has largely died out. A shame. Many of the issues we read of here at El Reg have to do with not asking the right questions.

Scope creep is a whole 'nother issue and has bee with us since Gak Eisenberg demonstrated his perfectly fit-for-purpose hammerstone to the tribal elder and was asked if he could add an antler handle to it and maybe use a more glittery rock.

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Re: Exam question.

To some extent, that's true. Still, there are situations where you can't get people to tell you why you're doing something. It's entirely logical, if told to sort a box of bolts, to do so. After all, if the person telling you to do that just wanted the biggest one, they could either have taken it out at the beginning or asked you to find one with the required specifications.

Sometimes, you want someone to just do what you ask of them rather than to believe they can do it better if only they know everything there is to know about what you're doing. For example, if I ask someone to find the most cost-efficient machine with a set of specifications, I only want them to look at the options, eliminate those that have worse specifications, and choose the one that has the lowest cost (perhaps taking into account other things that they can definitely ask me to elucidate). I do not need them to question me as to whether I want more power because they found one that's only a little more expensive, nor do I need them to suggest that we'd probably be fine if we bought machines with less memory. I set forth the specifications and gave them a task. If they're going to change the task instead of just doing it, perhaps they should be doing my job.

The same is true of software jobs. I cannot deal with every part of a project team thinking they can and should be designing a better system for every component. Their system for some of it may in fact be better than the one we're using, but if it doesn't integrate and won't without doing a lot of work first, it can still be worse. And if each team or team member comes up with their own version that doesn't interact, we spend forever getting things back together. That's why abstraction is so key; figure out the best way to do your job, not the best way for someone else to do theirs or even for you to do someone else's job. If you have some improvements to suggest, go ahead, but don't neglect what you're supposed to be doing just because you don't like someone else's work.

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Caution

I agree with the comments here although I have worked with fellow techies take things way to far in the caution direction leading to nothing getting done and being stuck in a perpetual risk / change loop. While things should be planned, risk is not the reason to not do something.

If you don't do something, you end up with systems that are 10-15 years old because they just run and you run out of support. Then you have major upgrade issues as most of the time you have to step upgrade to versions that also aren't supported.

In my mind it is all about balance.

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Re: Caution

"If you don't do something, you end up with systems that are 10-15 years old because they just run and you run out of support."

The roles of managers are to keep the stuff created in-house up to date and to keep the out-of-house stuff within bounds of support. If managers aren't doing that, you are in a problem organisation. Companies can run ancient systems for years -- as long as they are properly managed.

It is unlikely that any of your positive actions -- at sys admin level -- will change organisational direction unless a manager is on your side. But they might be the right things to do.

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Cut the red wire

but not before you've cut the blue wire.

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Re: Cut the red wire

...and not before you've evacuated the building rather than your bowels.

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Re: Cut the red wire

Like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcaWQZlPXgQ

Bruce

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Reminds me of a recipe...

... that helpfully mentioned at the very end that you should add two tablespoons of chopped thyme halfway through cooking...

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Re: Reminds me of a recipe...

Exactly, that annoys me too. Especially the ones that say in the middle "Leave overnight in the refrigerator."

It seems to be the root cause analysis here is a badly worded document. It should start "This only applies if you have a single Exchange server. Other requirements before proceeding are..."

I used to tell our PHB that I could NOT write training manuals because I knew how the software worked. Technical authors are really needed.

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Re: Reminds me of a recipe...

Whenever I write process docs I get people who don't know what I do to check them.

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" I get people who don't know what I do to check my documentation."

Interesting. What do you do? Although I think you want to impress us with what you know. ;-)

If people don't know what you do, won't your documentation tell them what you do? Or is that what you're trying to confirm?

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Re: " I get people who don't know what I do to check my documentation."

I find starting with a list of prerequisites can work well.

And even who the document is aimed at, so people can judge if it is something they might want to escalate rather than attempt themselves.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Reminds me of a recipe...

I used to tell our PHB that I could NOT write training manuals because I knew how the software worked.

If I had £1 for all the managers who didn't listen when I told them that I could not test this piece of code because I was the one who wrote it, I'd be able to employ someone full time just to empty the ashtray in my other Lamborghini.

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If...Then...Else

My documentation explained that an automated process would clean up some artefacts from the installation process within 15 minutes. The artefacts were harmless but annoying. Users didn't see them. I was cleaning up because I am conscientious. And you have other things to do on the PC which take more than 15 minutes.

My documentation explained that IF the process didn't clean up (2% failure rate), THEN the next run would do it. Or the one after that. ELSE that fails too or you are in a hurry, in which case you can delete the files manually.

So why are you on the phone after 16 minutes asking what to do?

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Re: If...Then...Else

Because that's the kind of instruction that never fails to confuse its audience. First they get "you don't need to" followed by "but you can if you want" and that invariably results in "now should I or should I not?" - I'm pretty sure the syndrome even has a name but I can't recall it. I do understand that this is technically not a fault in the instructions themselves which merely go to out of their way to fully describe all possible options and possibilities, but the fact remains their effect on the user is to cause confusion and paralysis unless said user is unusually adept at this sort of thing. Which is exactly what one should not and can not ever safely assume.

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Re: If...Then...Else

"Because that's the kind of instruction that never fails to confuse its audience. First they get "you don't need to" followed by "but you can if you want" and that invariably results in "now should I or should I not?"

IF

THEN

ELSE

IF my audience doesn't comprehend THEN my audience has failed computer logic, and we need a chat.

I don't like bossing people around.

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Trusting advice on the internet...

Anyone that trusts what the internet says blindly is, frankly, asking for trouble.

Even technical advice for problem solving, although often helpful, is often resolving a problem that is only "similar" and therefore the solution may either be ineffective or add to the problems you have.

I rarely find advice that directly matches the situation I encounter, or relates to the same combination of software versions I am running.

Unless what you read is close to, aha, I would have thought of that eventually, you may want to get a second opinion...

Outside the techie world there is a great deal of "advice" which is positively malicious too, and plays the gullible to brick their devices, and remove their data...

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Re: Trusting advice on the internet...

Anyone that trusts what the internet says blindly is, frankly, asking for trouble.

Some years ago my dad, approaching the end of his life, thought it would be a good idea to write down all he could remember about his side of the family, annotate old photographs, family collections, etc. I helped him draw up a family tree and organised a mostly-sufficient filing system for his notes. One day he read an article about genealogy software, so he called me and I bought a subscription to one of the more widely recommended services, installed the software on my laptop and took it along next time I went to stay with him. We spent a couple of days doing all the research we could, trying to clarify names and dates and places and match them up. All of a sudden it fitted together and we were able to slot in about six generations from the late 18th to early 20th century, about 80 years further back than the oldest surviving photo or letter. We were well chuffed with ourselves.

But something didn't feel right about two connections in the 1880s and 1890s. It took a while, but we eventually got to the bottom of it. One of my cousins had researched the family a few years before, and it turns out she'd made a mistake with those two connections, linking us to a family who just happened to live in the same area (but one census apart) and have two eldest children with the same comparatively uncommon first name as a great-aunt and great-uncle my dad could remember from his childhood (our surname is reasonably common in that area). The software had found my cousin's work in one of the databases it monitored and from then on effectively presented it as verified.

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Cleaning a laser printer

Early 1990s.

"Open lid, remove toner cartidge, remove charge transfer drum (see diagram)"

Ok... done that. Turns page.

"Under no circumstances do this in exposed light"

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Re: Cleaning a laser printer

Always read instructions top to bottom before starting step 1.

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I can't stand guides...

...where the engineer has "assumed" knowledge but not mentioned this. I understand sometimes you have to assume knowledge, but fing put that at the beginning. Don't skip steps that you "assume" a person that's never seen the guide before, for software they've never seen before, will "work it out".

That's why I like to do my guides as if you've never done it before. You know IT but you've never followed this guide before. I put every single annoying step.

The most false guides I've seen are in gaming when in the chat window. Back in the Vietcong days, if people had issues and asked in the chat. You'd get several knobs telling them to do "Alt F4. That will fix your issue".

Cocks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I can't stand guides...

Haynes car maintenance manuals were fond of a step "remove ...." - without the essential details of how the thing is held together.

The Haynes Series "A" Range Rover manual simply said "remove back seat cushion". After much struggling it was lifted out - with a now bent flange that required the cushion being slid outwards to disengage it first.

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Anonymous Coward

Warnings and prep at the top!

I write technical instructions as part of my job. I have a standard outline for all of them:

1. Safety permits, etc. needed

2. Notes on safety hazards and how to mitigate them.

3. Equipment and tools needed (aside from standard hand tools)

4. Actual procedure

The procedure section frequently starts with "Schedule work with affected department" or similar statements. Any important note about what NOT to do is on its own line, at the appropriate point in the procedure, with the word NOTE: (or occasionally something stronger) in front of it.

Write your procedures so that a brand new employee can follow them!

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Coat

Re: Warnings and prep at the top!

The document that got 2/3rds of the way through post image setup of a server, then presented a screenshot of "Continue..... " "Yes" "No", at the very bottom of the page then had 2.5 of blank pages before it resumed with " graphic of a stop sign & text saying STOP - Do Not Press Yes At This Time".

By which time it was too late & you had to reimage the new bank server at 12.30am all over again.

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NXM

Mini brakes

Fixing a leaky master cylinder I followed the instructions in the Haynes manual to remove it, then got to where it said "using a pair of circlip pliers....". Did I have a pair of circlip pliers? No, I did not.

I had to put it all back together, drive to the shops and buy some, go home and dismantle it all again. Bugger.

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TRT
Silver badge

Re: Mini brakes

And this is why we have the bits no-one ever reads:

System Requisites and Required Tools.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mini brakes

"circlip pliers"

IIRC which can come in two varieties depending on whether you need to expand or contract the circlip to fit it in place.

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Re: Mini brakes

"IIRC which can come in two varieties depending on whether you need to expand or contract the circlip to fit it in place."

In the application of a mini brake cylinder (not a master cylinder which is bolted to the bulkhead), a slave brake cylinder retainer clip clip should be removed by a blunt-ish screwdriver. Maybe by needle nose pliers. Not your decent screwdriver for obvious reasons.

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Re: Mini brakes

Haynes manuals were also notorious for the whole second half of the job being summarised in the last step: "assembly is the reverse of disassembly", no matter how complicated the first half was. Thanks a bunch!

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Facepalm

Re: Mini brakes

Those bits are in the templates I have to use for the most irritating and inefficient process ever - and you're the first person who's ever explained *why* they're there...

I really am an idiot sometimes.

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When I was about 12 my parents bought me a cheap tape recorder for my birthday (this was a couple of years before cassette recorders became ubiquitous, so it was a bit of a rarity). I bounced down to breakfast to find the gadget positioned beside my place at table, not wrapped or even in its box, but with the instruction booklet on top.

Wasting barely a moment on the Book of Words I pressed the "Play" button and my father's voice emerged from the small loudspeaker saying:

Read the Instructions FIRST!

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Mushroom

Steps out of order

Obviously, the article should have had the bit about "Only do this is you have only one Exchange server" at the beginning.

This reminds me of the old joke about the guys disarming a bomb with one guy reading the instructions to the other.

"Unscrew the cover!" "Okay, got it unscrewed."

"Cut the red wire!" "All right, I've cut the red wire. What next?"

"But first, cut the blue wire..."

------------------------------> See Icon

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Steps out of order

Post the joke.

But not before reading the thread to make sure it hasn't already been posted.

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Bah!

I recently pulled an Old Man Idiocy when using TOAD (an excellent tool, but like all tools very dangerous in the hands of the unknowlegeable, forgetful or just plain lazy - last one applies in this case).

Asked to move an Oracle package from a test database schema into our production schema I proceeded to pull up the package in TOAD, did a create script to the clipboard, pasted it into the editor window in the target database session, edited the code to change the schema name and ran said code in the production database that night as requested.

Next day no-one could access the package code. It seems some witless dolt had removed all the permission grants and synonyms from the package.

Turns out I had neglected to double check the check-boxes on tab in the create script pop-up that controls the generated code closely enough, and had neglected to notice that the generated code contained the dreaded "drop object" syntax.

Not only that, I had neglected to recognize that that had happened when I did the code edit for schema name change. I mean, it was only hiding in plain sight on bloody line one.

Unfortunately, I rather like all the people I work with now, so I was forced to do the Bonehead Dance and wear the Pointy Hat of Not Being Smart instead of shifting blame to the intern or new hire as per industry standard practice.

D'oh!

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Silver badge

Ah, american documentation

"And that I learned always read an article to the end before implementing the procedure."

Yup. ESPECIALLY if said documentation originates from the USA, where the important bits are almost always at the end.

EG: technical procedures for adjusting Harris 15kW shortwave transmitters. When you get to step 23 they tell you 5 steps you should have undertaken before step 1, 3 more before step 6 and helpfully inform you that if you haven't done these and taken 6 crucial measurements before step 3, you'll need a vector analyser to recover.

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Thumb Up

Learn from your most pedantic profs

The one thing I learned from my most pedantic, most arsehole, most annoying, most fucking terrifying profs was "READ TO THE END OF THE INSTRUCTIONS. DAMNIT!". There is a reason those fucking goatfucking twats write exams that start "read to the end" and end with "only do question 1, which is "write your name"". That's exactly to avoid situations like this. Those profs were attempting to impart a lifetime of knowledge in an all too short timeframe. As Stargate taught us, the young do not always do at they are told. Learn from this.

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