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

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

  1. AbortRetryFail

    All too familiar

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

    "Ok, which web browser are you running?"

    "..."

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

    "Um..."

    "Ok. Go to the internet..."

    "Ah! Ok!"

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

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

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

    "..."

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

    etc.

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: All too familiar

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

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

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

      Carry on.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: All too familiar

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

      2. 4ecks
        Pint

        Re: All too familiar

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

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: All too familiar

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

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: All too familiar

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

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

          2. goldcd

            Have you looked at their pricing

            for the moment you use it for commercial purposes?

            1. Aggrajag

              Re: Have you looked at their pricing

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

    2. Fatman Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: All too familiar

      I solved this problem a long time ago.

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

  2. Anomalous Cowturd
    Windows

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

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

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

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

    Support call received at stupid O'clock one night.

    Shoot them all.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

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

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

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

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

      Users eh?

      1. Darryl

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

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

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

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

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

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

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

        2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
          Megaphone

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

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

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Coffee/keyboard

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

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

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Flame

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

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

            1. cordwainer 1
              Flame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

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

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

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

                Kids, lawn, etc.

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

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

                1. cordwainer 1
                  FAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                  1. NotWorkAdmin

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

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

                2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

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

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

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

      2. teebie

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

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

        "find out what's going wrong"

        [...]

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

        "What happens when he tries?"

        [...]

        "Yeah, he had forgotten his password"

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

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

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

  3. Alister Silver badge
    Thumb Up

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

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

    “Ah, there we go. Cheers!”

    Classic, absolutely spot on.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Trollface

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

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Joke

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

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

        "What error did it say it had?"

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

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

        (Not sure if Joke icon or Real life icon)

      2. Alistair Dabbs

        >> while it was switched off

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

      3. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        Classic

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

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

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

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

    2. TheOtherHobbes

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

      1. Andrew Moore

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

      2. zedenne

        Indeed: 1st Rule Of Computing...

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

        1. Alister Silver badge
          Headmaster

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

          "Thought shalt turn it off."

          Cool, a thought controlled computer.

          Can I have one?

    3. veti Silver badge

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

    4. Martin Budden Bronze badge

      “The computer web isn’t working.”

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

      “The computer web isn’t working.”

      rather than

      “The computer web isn’t working.”

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Good practice

      It's a long story.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

        Re: It's a long story.

        AKA another article?

        1. Steven Raith

          Re: It's a long story.

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

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

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

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

      3. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: Good practice

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

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

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

        Or

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

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

    Still nowt.

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

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

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

    1. Seanie Ryan

      Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

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

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

      made our day!!

      1. Ragarath

        Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

        Also having no mechanical eject was also a bit silly.

        You cannot really blame the user for this one.

        1. Darryl

          Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: The summer heat brings them out...

            Plus ca change

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

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

            Cue wavy lines....

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

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

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

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

      2. NogginTheNog

        Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

        1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

          Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

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

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

          1. Darryl

            Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

      <her> "blagfgghhderefdgggglll

      <me> "what?"

      <her> "gerbbnnnggggglnff"

      It took another 45 minutes for words to happen.

    3. Cpt Blue Bear

      Re: The summer heat brings them out...

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

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

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

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

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But these are actually intelligent people ....

    When I studied Computer Science O level, back in 1980, I discovered a phenomenon I have since seen all around me. I'm not sure what it's called (it must have a name) but it manifests itself by rational, intelligent people checking their brains at the door, simply because they have told themselves in advance something is difficult.

    For some reason it's primarily a technological thing, although I have seen it in other areas[1]. Cars and computers for starters. If you had to describe to an intelligent person how a perfume atomiser works, you'd probably get it across. Call it a carburettor, and you get a blank look.

    It seems to start with people telling themselves in advance they can't understand something. Then - surprise, surprise - they can't understand it.

    [1]Foreign languages are good too.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

      It does happen with cars, to an extent, but it seems with computers and similar tech, like a smart TV, some people are even worse - they're far more likely to start with an utterly useless generic complaint like "it's broken" and expect you to play twenty questions to try and find out exactly what it is that's gone wrong.

      With a car, they don't generally restrict themselves to "it's broken down" in my experience; they usually manage to add at least a little clue, like "there was a bang from under the bonnet" or "it won't go into gear" or "there's smoke coming from the engine.

      Supporting people with computers would be much easier if they could even manage that first little leap beyond "it doesn't work"

      1. rhydian

        Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

        The best/worst one I had was with a laptop. I asked the owner "what's wrong with it"?

        The answer I got was "your the computer expert, you tell me..."

        1. rh587 Silver badge

          Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

          The best/worst one I had was with a laptop. I asked the owner "what's wrong with it"?

          The answer I got was "your the computer expert, you tell me..."

          I shoot target rifle in my spare time, and do a spot of coaching. I have a carefully crafted look for individuals who come off the range, put a target in front of me that looks like it's been peppered with a shotgun rather than carefully shot at with a rifle and ask

          "So what happened there then?".

          To which the simple reply is

          "You didn't point the rifle at the middle when you squeezed the trigger".

          The simplicity of this entirely accurate statement is not usually appreciated. However, since these are usually the same people who you can spend three hours coaching, and then forget it all by next week, I just smile, turn away and go coach someone who wants to learn.

      2. DJV Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

        At one place I worked we (the programmers) instigated the use of fault sheets where other members of staff could report problems with the programs we were writing. The fault sheets contained boxes to specify which program it was, which screen/page of that program and a large box to describe what the fault was. I remember one coming in with neither of the first 2 filled in and, in the third large box, was written "Funny on screen" - magic!

    2. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

      Re: [1]Foreign languages are good too.

      But it happens mostly, in my experience, with maths.

    3. flayman

      Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

      I believe the technical term is "learned helplessness". Mother-in-laws are great at it.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

        "Mother-in-laws are great at it."

        Add sisters-in-law as well. I've got two, finally managed to get both on to Mac OS as it's somewhat more non-techie friendly, still get really dumb questions. Pointed remarks along the lines of "I've never used Mac OS", "Google is your friend" and "first hit on Google tells you exactly what you need" get treated as so much background noise.

      2. Tannin

        Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

        Learned helplessness, yes indeed. It can apply to almost any skill, not least language. Would it be too much of a stretch to diagnose it in the case of someone with apparently decent skills who suddenly writes "mother-in-laws" meaning mothers-in-law?

        OK, fine. Sorry I asked.

        1. flayman

          Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

          I was wondering whether someone would point that out. :p I know the correct grammar is mothers-in-law and I considered writing that. But I'm a Yank, and mother-in-laws just sounds better to me, especially when I'm trying to be hip.

    4. DamienP

      Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

      The Bastard Operator From Hell (I encourage all to read the stories again on this very site :) ) calls this the "dummy mode". Perhaps not-so-scientific terminology, but oh-so-true!

      Jargon always does this, whether technical, marketing or, well poetry :)

    5. keithpeter
      Windows

      Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

      "It seems to start with people telling themselves in advance they can't understand something. Then - surprise, surprise - they can't understand it."

      I teach maths to adults. This is my world. I have various strategies. Not sure they transfer to IT very well but it can be done. Have patience.

    6. Guus Leeuw

      Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

      Probably because carburretor doesn't exist as a word...

      Oh well ;)

      Good point though!

      A.D. made a good point too: call things by their name, and be very consistent about that... Then all of a sudden one word has a limited number of meanings, and it will be easy to grasp for everybody...

    7. zedenne

      Re: But these are actually intelligent people ....

      There also seems to be a perverse pleasure some otherwise smart people take in not knowing things.

      Have had this with my elder sister for years. She seems to pride herself on not knowing how computers work, i think because it ranks alongside knowing how plumbing works and that's the sort of thing lesser people have to worry about. Needless to say a number of years ago I told her to buy macs and call apple not me.

  7. Tom 38 Silver badge

    My favourite was the PA whose monitor was "broken"

    She'd turned the brightness down to zero.

    1. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: My favourite was the PA whose monitor was "broken"

      I had a similar call back in the day when I did support. The PA told me her screen needed a new bulb.

      Same PA: "I'm moving my mouse side to side but the little arrow's going up and down"

      Me: gently grips mouse and turns it 90 degrees

      1. G7mzh

        Re: My favourite was the PA whose monitor was "broken"

        The PA told me her screen needed a new bulb.

        At least she didn't say it was the picture valve.

  8. Missing Semicolon
    Happy

    VPN.

    If you have someone clueless that you need to help on a regular basis, ensure that their router supports some reasonable VPN. And then install VNC on any machines (I use ultraVNC).

    Then you can see what clueless thing they are doing - or even type stuff in yourself.

    Ultimately, it saves massive amounts of time (and petrol).

    1. rhydian

      Re: VPN.

      Teamviewer is a better option, as it doesn't rely on the user setting anything up other than a shortcut.

      VPNs are fine when your in control of the kit though.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: VPN.

        Teamviewer is a better option, as it doesn't rely on the user setting anything up other than a shortcut.

        And for Windows, Remote Assistance doesn't even need that. It does require them to be capable of sending an email and reading a password out correctly though :)

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: @AndrueC

          Alas - fixing broken email clients is often the reason for the call :(

    2. Arachnoid
      Facepalm

      Re: VPN.

      Yep but it still needs "the big box under your screen" turning on

      1. JJKing Silver badge

        Re: VPN.

        You mean the Hard Drive or the CPU? :rolleyes: My users don't call it a Modem. :-)))

    3. Shady

      Re: Ultimately, it saves massive amounts of time (and petrol).

      Now come on, that's a bit harsh. I know some fuckwits are completely unbearable but burning them alive isn't really acceptable, surely?

    4. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: VPN.

      If they're using Chrome, and you can connect to google hangouts, then you can do screen sharing with them without having to install anything else.

      Even if you hate google and all their works, knowing this might save you a long drive and a lot of annoyance.

  9. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    My 85-year old father suffers from this.

    Although he can cheerfully dual boot into either Windows or Linux, he still has problems differentiating between programs and the data they create. After a fruitless afternoon in which I discovered he was - amazingly - unable to read epubs with a music player, I discovered TeamViewer and got the link on his bookmarks.

    My life is much quieter now.

  10. auburnman

    I got my mum a tablet a few months back thinking it'd be pretty foolproof and I'd get some peace from this sort of thing. Within a month she'd lost the wifi login, installed about 50 different copies of Mahjong and put the tablet into Safe Mode - even I don't know how she managed the last one.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      "and put the tablet into Safe Mode - even I don't know how she managed the last one."

      Within 1 minute of my baby girl getting her hands on a phone or tablet it is guaranteed that she will have found/activated a function that I did not even know existed

    2. Ian Yates

      While it doesn't solve every issue, this is why I recommend the latest Kindle tablets to non-techies. The Mayday feature is a rediculously good time-saver (for me)

    3. VinceH

      "I got my mum a tablet a few months back thinking it'd be pretty foolproof and I'd get some peace from this sort of thing. Within a month she'd lost the wifi login, installed about 50 different copies of Mahjong and put the tablet into Safe Mode - even I don't know how she managed the last one."

      You too, huh?

      I've since looked it up. With the Samsung Galaxy Tab (which is what my mum has) it's done by holding the volume control while switching on.

      I keep telling her there's no need to fully power it down - and if she didn't do that, she wouldn't be accidentally putting it in safe mode when switching on - but she continues to do so.

      1. auburnman

        I feel your pain. But conversely, when they have put it in Safe Mode and "all my little pictures have gone" they suddenly lose the ability to turn it all the way off when you ask her to switch it off and on again.

    4. Tim99 Silver badge
      Gimp

      @auburnman

      ...also James and Vincent.

      I am retired now and volunteer to help teach older people computing. A truth, that we might not want to acknowledge, is that it takes less than half the time to teach a pupil to use an iPad compared to an Android tablet. The Samsung may be the techie person's favorite, but it seems to be even harder to teach than most of the other Android devices we have seen. Perhaps the mixture of vanilla Android, Google's apps and Samsung's own stuff causes our pupils the most confusion - Having an apparently different e-mail program appearing, when you are not expecting it seems to be a particular problem.

      We have a policy of trying to have the device looking similar to how it was delivered, so that if one of us drops dead, the pupil can at least go to somebody else who can take over.

      Experience has shown that one-on-one lessons can get somebody started within a couple of hours, and they can usually look after themselves after about 3 sessions. The main things that people want to know are "The Internet" (usually they mean Google), e-mail, "photographs", YouTube, and books.

      1. keithpeter
        Pint

        Re: @auburnman

        "We have a policy of trying to have the device looking similar to how it was delivered, so that if one of us drops dead, the pupil can at least go to somebody else who can take over."

        Start from known state sounds fine to me. Not sure about why you got downvoted but good on your for helping.

        Idea: Kiosk linux preconfigured with the basics you mention. Big fat icons.

      2. VinceH

        Re: @auburnman

        ...also James and Vincent.

        Who's Vincent? :(

        A truth, that we might not want to acknowledge, is that it takes less than half the time to teach a pupil to use an iPad compared to an Android tablet.

        Well my mum had no real problem learning to use the Samsung - she manages quite well, really, apart from two things. Firstly, the unnecessary powering down I've already mentioned and, secondly, that she doesn't really 'get' the idea of lightly tapping icons, rather than pressing hard with her finger.

        Other than that, she's fine with Android.

        1. Tim99 Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: @auburnman

          Sorry VinceH, the autocorrect on the iPad I was using is a bit over enthusiastic.

          Have a beer and an up-vote as a poor consolation.

          1. VinceH

            Re: @auburnman

            Ta very much - though I'll make it a cider. ;)

    5. Jamie Jones Silver badge
      Happy

      Ha ha, I got my mum a tablet too (she was always using the excuse that she was scared she'd break a big computer)

      If she can't get something to work (whatever it is), she calls me and says that her 'google is down'

      Then there was the time she proudly told me she'd changed the curtains... It took a bit of puzzled questioning to discover she meant the wallpaper!

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Windows wallpaper curtains desktop

        It's all furniture and stuff. Is it that surprising if people mix 'em up sometimes?

  11. Alistair Dabbs

    My mum's TV

    Actually I'm on my way up to Leeds to sort out my mum's TV. She says she can't get Sky any more, even though a Sky engineer set it up for her this week. When I asked if her TV was working OK, she said she'd pulled all the power cables out the back. I suppose that's why she can't get Sky.

  12. ukgnome
    Facepalm

    My Dad - that is all

  13. wolfetone

    My boss came to me not so long ago saying she had been downstairs.

    Boss: "I've been with X and they showed me this website on their internet"

    Me: "Their Internet?"

    Boss: "Yes, their Internet. It's much quicker than my Internet up here."

    The office has one internet connection that we all use. And for the record, it was a basic website, no CSS at all. So you can imagine how much quicker that would be compared to, lets say, the BBC website.

  14. Joe Drunk
    Pint

    No, Bill, no..

    "You caught me at a bad time...I'm at at the pub having a good time helping a friend install a new sound system in his car, I'll have to call you back." "No, Bill, no, I can't help you right now I'm very busy I'll call you back as soon as I'm free." Hang up, ignore subsequent calls from Bill for the next few hours. Call Bill back hours later, "Hi Bill, so what's the problem? Oh, never mind, you figured out what the problem was, fix it yourself/called someone else and the fixed it for you? That's great, glad everything worked out for you."

    Happens about 95% of the time.

    Beer icon because I do get a lot of these types of calls when I'm at the pub trying to enjoy myself.

    1. GregC

      Re: No, Bill, no..

      Yep. We had a field engineer a while back who this happened with a lot. It got to the point where if he rang one of us we'd ignore the call, let him leave a message and give it 45 minutes before ringing him back. Invariably he'd say 'thanks for calling back, but I've sorted it now'.

      Eventually he got the hint and did the basic troubleshooting before calling us....

  15. Rob Quinn

    All it takes it a little education, my nan (now 81) can quite happily use most features of her tablet and home PC after nothing more than 30 minutes of training, although she does trip up on the terminology sometimes.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Glad it worked for you but no, it doesn't work at all for some folks, no matter what and how many times you try to explain to them, from now to the end of times. When IT is involved, words just pass them by, the amount of information entering their brains is ZERO, they simply shut all of it out. It's the exact "this thing?" / mouse problem described in the article, applied to anything you might attempt to explain.

      1. rhydian

        Also, its not an "age" thing. Some users are simply not interested in engaging their brain when using an electronic device.

        Case in point: SatNav berks.

        1. H H

          This is really not an IT problem. It's a people problem. Just watch a regular user fill in a simple date column in an Excel spreadsheet. Over time, they'll manage to hit just about every date format ever invented. It'll be 'Monday', '06.12.2014', 'Week 27', '06/12' and on it goes.

          Those are the people who can't remember instructions even for ten minutes or who, suddenly, after two days of vacation can hardly remember their username when coming back to work.

          Simply not wired for structure.

          1. Cpt Blue Bear

            I can deal with the goldfish - you know what you are getting with them.

            Its the woman who's done a process one way for eight years, a way that is more convoluted and error prone than it needs to be, a way that has been obsolete for years, and who suddenly decides one morning to do it a different way.

            A way that doesn't now, and never has, worked.

            And who insists that "this is how she's always done it".

            No, Carol, that's not how you used to do it. How do I know? Because that way doesn't work and you've done this successfully every morning since about the mid Pleistocene.

            The only upside was that I got her to use the new, quick, foolproof (and none of the fools there had managed to screw it up) process. Which of coarse led to: "That's a much simpler way of doing it! Why didn't you show me that before?"

            I'm so glad I've got beyond that level of the industry.

  16. Peter Storm

    A couple of months ago I had a call from someone in our upstairs offices. "My computer won't come back to life. I've tried moving the mouse and pressing keys but the screen just stays blank".

    Once I turned his monitor back on it was just fine.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Email

    Our IT has just sort of happened (calling it a system would be an insult to hacked-together, bodged-up assemblages of equipment). So at one office they still run a (woefully underpowered) Exchange server, back from the days when they were a separate company, even though this now plugs into our IMAP server.

    The only purpose this seems to achieve is to bounce "oversized" emails (where "oversized" is determined by the limits chosen [and evidently set in stone] several years ago).

    It's been proposed that this "solution" is rolled out to the other offices. How we laughed.

  18. Julian Taylor Silver badge
    IT Angle

    And where's the stamp?

    "My email did not send, can you come over and see why not?"

    "Is your computer switched on?"

    "Yes, of course it is, don't be facetious."

    "Can you connect to the internet?"

    "Yes, its just the email is not sending."

    "Have you tried shutting down your email programme and re-opening it?"

    "Yes, still no joy."

    "Err, did you actually click the 'send mail' button?"

    "Ah, you didn't say I have to so that. One other quick question - do I have to pay postage on emails?"

    < sound of phone being put down>

  19. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    When people have a sudden urge to do cooking they somehow manage to discover that things are called "saucepan", "spoon", "boil", "fry"; with the urge to do some carpentry it occurs to them to work out "hammer", "nails", "screwdriver"; but why the hell when somebody gets the urge to "play" with a computer do they sit down and stubbornly refuse to even think about what the damn things are called?

    1. Custard Fridge

      When you can't hold it in your hand, or worse you have to right click on it

      Time and time again I work with skilled engineers who can (and do) rebuild jet engines, steam engines etc. they are by far the most frustrated by computer work. My conclusion is that they cannot get their hands dirty in order to fix the problem. Likewise, people cannot pick up, hold and test out computer tools. It all has to be done in the mind, and in my experience most people cannot get their head around this lack of touch / needing to visualise the problem, layer by layer.

      For the record, my 84 year old mother is very good with her PC and email (especially once I got her off Outlook Express) but every time there has been a right click on the mouse, the question comes back 'left click now dear?' - I have replied with all the polite versions of 'it's left click unless I say right click' for 12 years now without effect.

      1. BlueGreen

        Re: When you can't hold it in your hand, or worse you have to right click on it

        These engineers can see the parts moving, can see how they fit together, can take the fairing off a sub-part and dig at the insides, again seeing the subcomponents moving and fitting, and where there are burns, leaks, wear marks away etc.

        Computers don't have the physicality of this, even though they've got a strong hierarchical construction, virtually speaking, there's little to no visibility of this hierarchy without specialised tools, and not all that much with the tools. So it is harder in a way, and also takes a different kind of engineer to be interested in it; us lot.

        And most people aren't engineers of any sort.

        Aside: A certain someone I know is a lifelong scientist and wrote a book. Treated MS Word as a typewriter despite my explaining repeatedly about styles. Could not abstract away from 'make text italic+courier+12pt' to 'make text a style which can be italic+courier+12pt, or anything you want, and if you do it that way you just change it once to bold+arial+11pt and it changes throughout the whole document'. Never got it. Was putting page breaks in manually. Was going to go through and put the page numbers in manually...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: When you can't hold it in your hand, or worse you have to right click on it

          A friend of mine is an English teacher, and likes to plays guitar in his spare time. He was getting song lyrics off the internet and entering them into (iirc) Word. He also had problems conceptualising styles, but they were the least of his issues as he hadn't grasped the concept of cut and paste either - cue a lot of typing...

      2. keithpeter
        Coat

        Re: When you can't hold it in your hand, or worse you have to right click on it

        "Time and time again I work with skilled engineers who can (and do) rebuild jet engines, steam engines etc. they are by far the most frustrated by computer work. My conclusion is that they cannot get their hands dirty in order to fix the problem. Likewise, people cannot pick up, hold and test out computer tools. It all has to be done in the mind, and in my experience most people cannot get their head around this lack of touch / needing to visualise the problem, layer by layer."

        @ Custard Fridge

        You have a point here eloquently made.

        Reading The Hand by Frank Wilson (role of tool use and dexterity in the development of the brain) and wondering on the possible misapplication of Piaget's ideas by Alan Kay and the rest of the Xerox gang.

        As Dabbs said in his article, I have noticed some people have problems differentiating the window from one application from the general mess on the screen. It is as if they do not 'see' the current window-with-focus as something distinct. Bringing me round to Gnome Shell.

        Coat Icon: I'm out of here before the downvotes start

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: When you can't hold it in your hand, or worse you have to right click on it

          Reading The Hand by Frank Wilson (role of tool use and dexterity in the development of the brain) and wondering on the possible misapplication of Piaget's ideas by Alan Kay and the rest of the Xerox gang.

          Oh, yes. And more-recent neurological research (e.g. by the Damasios and their team) supports this, too. You can't simply strip away the somatic aspects of tool use and expect visual metaphors to play the same role.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You'd be surprised how many people don't have the faintest idea what most home tools or cooking implements are called. Like IT support you have to be able to draw pictures with words for them - as well as anticipating in advance "not the one with...".

      In all specialisations - if you know a few names then it is often wrongly assumed that you know all the others and their nuances. If someone uses a name - it doesn't mean they associate it with the correct object. It's always wise to do a synchronisation check.

      The medical profession finds "antibiotic" is used as a lay shorthand for "magic pill". The difference between bacteria, viruses, and fungi are often not appreciated by the lay public.

      A friend gave me her car key fob the other day and told me to lock her car. While I was looking at the various buttons she said "the top one". When the car lights flashed "open" - she corrected herself "as you are holding it upside-down - the bottom one".

    3. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Visual cues of 3d objects versus 2d/vocal/linguistic objects.

      Computers are, by their nature "language" either as logic circuits forming abstract ideas, or as actual programming languages used to display images.

      I have this problem, but thankfully learnt how to work around it back when I was a kid. Being dyslexic (correct spelling first time! Whoa!) I can form logical concepts, work with 3d objects and spaces, work with language and communication... but reading? Nope, it's a real struggle.

      It's not just "reading" though, it's my brains ability to connect random strings of symbols (letters that make words, or numbers that reference barcodes/shopping etc) with physical objects or practical concepts.

      It's usually only through constant use, brute force and other things, like muscle memory that I can build such connections.

      I wonder if the same happens here. At least for those who cannot grasp what an "icon" or a "hyperlink" is. But when they have difficulty with "mouse" and "screen"... I'm not so sure... :(

  20. IT Hack

    Things that make me weep

    From a supplier, one of their "technical" guys -

    "We need a public key for us to log into to set up sending the file"

    The really annoying part is that I have to be polite.

    1. Joe Harrison

      Re: Things that make me weep

      I have been there though :(

      Tech Guy A, not stupid, but there are some things nobody has told him about so obviously he doesn't know. Such as their in-house SSH key management procedures. He goes and asks Tech Guy B who gives him the correct answer. Tech Guy A does a heroic job of understanding a completely new concept then phones you with a request that makes 60% sense. What can you do.

  21. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Oh this is so like my tech support calls with my Dad. It's a lot better now that I can use Windows Remote Assistance but he still refers to his email as 'Firefox' and if something changes his homepage he calls me to tell me that he's lost Google.

    And I really wish he'd stop confusing 'operating system' with 'program'. He was at ICL back in the 60s working on George V so I'd have thought he knew the difference. Then again he was mostly a tape engineer so perhaps that's unfair.

    I wonder if I'll be like that when I'm in my 80s? It almost makes me want to have kids just so that I can piss them off with inane questions and leave them frustrated because they love me too much to vent their feelings.

    Bless :)

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      ...they love me too much to vent their feelings.

      Friendly advice - I wouldn't count on that if I were you. Instead, contemplate the humiliating prospect of repeatedly having to go ask for help someone you know is getting exasperated by your inability to grasp even the most basic concepts - the feeling of having no choice but to depend on someone who'd rather be anywhere else (and you both know it). Now go ahead, downvote away...

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        contemplate the humiliating prospect

        Now you're making me ashamed and that deserves an upvote. Anyway I'm spending this weekend with him so it's all good. We get on well most of the time it's just the computing stuff that can be a bit frustrating.

        1. keithpeter
          Windows

          "Anyway I'm spending this weekend with him so it's all good."

          Cherish those weekends.

          That is all.

  22. PerlyKing Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Windows

    A lady of my acquaintance is addicted to Word for Windows (accept no substitutes) but increasingly outraged at how unstable her Windows 7 PC is ("Why do I need to reboot it? It's only been a week since the last reboot!"). I have fantasies of unleashing her on Microsoft :-)

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Windows

      Does Word 2.0a run on Win7?

      I must see, if the "gold" CD I transferred the floppies on to still works.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    I like this!!

  24. Dan 55 Silver badge

    My father in law

    Everything starts with Google, so if I want him to run TeamViewer I have to get him to search for TeamViewer (not go to teamviewer.com), click on TeamViewer's website, download it, run it, and set it up to open instead of install.

    The fact that TeamViewer's already installed and in the Start Menu, on the desktop, and on the icon bar, just confuses matters.

    Hey ho...

    1. Andrew Jones 2

      Re: My father in law

      I know far too many people like this,

      want to shop online at ASDA - they will Google ASDA

      What about Chrome - where the search bar is already there - nope - the first thing they do when they are presented with Chrome is type Google into it. I have explained countless times they can type exactly what they are looking for into the bar without having to go Google first, but it falls on deaf ears.

      Unfortunately we really must try harder, scammers know this behaviour all too well, and that's why try try really hard to get fake pages near the top of Google. Because logging in to Facebook, requires a trip to Google first in order to find Facebook, and whatever is near the top of the results - must be Facebook.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: want to shop online at ASDA - they will Google ASDA

        nevertheless, in its favour, this is a strategy that will help avoid ending up at typosquatting sites by mistake.

        1. Spanners Silver badge

          Re: want to shop online at ASDA - they will Google ASDA

          There was a situation a couple of years ago where the first page Google brought up on a search for FaceBook was a picture of the login page.

          Cue thousands of calls saying FB login page is broken...

  25. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Pint

    Telephone calls

    I'd just finished a long (3hrs) remote session removing a whole load of 'lets try this, it might fix the problem' changes to a Windows Server setup in India when the phone rang.

    "This is The Computer Support department of Microsoft" said an Indian Voice.

    My rant down the phone that lasted more than a minute made me feel a lot better.

    The sad thing was that the caller was still on line. As soon as I'd finished, the poor man said,

    "We have identified a problem on your windows computer"

    Early beer o'clock for me today.

    1. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge

      Re: Telephone calls

      "This is The Computer Support department of Microsoft" said an Indian Voice."

      That poor guy spent 10 mins. trying to "fix" my Linux laptop before I told him to feck off.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: Telephone calls

        Last time I had one of those, I got bored with stringing them along after about 15 minutes, and pointed out we didn't have a Windows box in the house. At which point he accused me of wasting his time!

        1. Cpt Blue Bear

          Re: Telephone calls

          "At which point he accused me of wasting his time!"

          To which the correct response is, "why yes, yes I have been wasting your time, and if you ring back I'll be quite happy to waste as much more of it as I can. Please have a nice day."

          I once got back to my office to find the bloke I share with on the phone:

          "Nah, I'm just tugging your chain." Pause. "Stringing you along, pulling your leg, wasting your time". Pause. "Why? Because ever second you waste talking to me you aren't making a sale. Now I've got actual work to do so piss off and don't call back." Hangs up. "I love cold calls"

    2. G7mzh

      Re: Telephone calls

      You should have let them talk to each other.

      I love those "Indian Microsoft" calls - they're so keen to get you you send them money it takes them a very long time (at international rates!) to realise you're taking the mickey. One guy simply couldn't understand there was any other OS than Windows (I told him I was using Gem!).

      They usually hang up, often with a burst of abuse, when I start chatting them up!

  26. Wokstation

    Elderly neighbour asked me...

    ...asked me why her internet wasn't working. Popped over, asked where her router was. Didn't know. Asked her where the box BT sent her was. "Oh the hob!" (not a typo) "i put it away in the attic, I didn't need it" Why not? "because the internet was all set up".

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Elderly neighbour asked me...

      Dear god! I had a client exactly like that once!

      No joke.

  27. D@v3

    a lesson learned some time ago

    There are certain people that i deal with, and the first question i ask (after 5 mins of listening to their problem) is.

    "What exactly can you see on the screen?"

    Does piss some of them off, as they feel like they're being talked down to, but can cut half an hour off the job.

    1. tfewster Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: a lesson learned some time ago

      You may need to be more precise :-)

      Me: "What exactly can you see on the screen?"

      Them "Nothing"

      <together> Check monitor power, brightness, connections, reboot. No change.

      I go on site take a look at the screen, which _isn't_ blank. It has an error message, that diagnoses the problem and tells you exactly what to do, i.e. plug the keyboard in.

      Me: "I thought you said there was nothing on the screen?"

      Them: "There isn't. There should be a login box"

      Fair enough, I can understand how "Nothing useful to me" == "Nothing"

  28. StevieB

    Old Iron

    Back in the early '80s on a banking system using 3270s, the original steel ones with the apparently cast iron keyboard. Screen said "Press PA1 to return". After 15 minutes of 'phone-in futility I realised I was hearing "clank, clank clank" instead of "clunk" when they keyed the response.

  29. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Eyes first

    "OK" I say to my staff when they call me. "Look at the computer*. What can you see?"

    .......................

    "OK. Are there any lights on the front of the screen?"

    ..........................................................................

    "Can you see a button, or something to press?"

    ........................................................

    And so on.

    Remember, the user faced with a computer not doing what it has always done, at 2:45 on Friday with a report due in by close of day is in a a state of panic and confusion. For them logically looking at the machine and working through the problem themselves is not an option. So basic, almost unconcious or subliminal problem solving checks that we ( and even they ) can do without a moment's thought, have got to be run through overtly with them.

    You have to start with concrete observation. What they can actually see and hear. Not their assumptions ( or yours!) about what is happening. If they need deperately to email a file of data they will tell you the email isn't working. because at that moment, for that task, simply it isn't.

    *computer may mean the monitor, but feel able to adjust your perceptions accordingly.

  30. Sheep!

    This is a conversation I had with a user 2 days ago:

    Me: "Do you mind if I connect to your computer to help you resolve this?"

    User: "No please do"

    Me: I'm having trouble connecting to you, can I confirm your computer ID please? Ok thank you. Still can't connect and can't ping you either."

    *several seconds pass while I think about it*

    Me: "Your computer is switched on isn't it?"

    User: "No, would you like me to switch it on?"

    Me: "Launch the flying attack monkeys!"

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Me: "Do you mind if I connect to your computer to help you resolve this?"

      See above.

      Don't EVER make assumptions.

      Always start with the concrete observations.

      And always tell the user what it is you need to do.

      As in " I need to connect my computer to yours while it is having (this problem), so that I can.... etc."

      It won't rule out the total idiot factor, but will certainly cut out a fair number of agonised screams.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sex

    About 10 years ago I helped a neighbour with their first computer. Although I moved away from the area I still get invited for "lunch" about twice a year which means there is something wrong with their computer. Have to admit they are very nice and I try not to laugh at their technical knowledge (they are both in their mid 70s). Last time after a few drinks they told me this:

    They heard about all the sex on the internet and that you can not escape it but using the internet for a few years they never came across sex sites, apart from all the junk emails they receive and they know that they should not respond or open any link in the email. So they decided to look for it and typed "sex" into google. You can imagine the number of hits it came up with. They started to click on some of the links and one of them hijacked their homepage and kept opening new browser windows with different sex sites. They unplugged the computer quickly but after restarting it the same thing happened. They were too embarrassed to phone me or anybody else they knew. In the end they took the computer to a shop about 50km away to eliminate the chance of meeting anybody they knew. This has happened abut 5 years ago but they were too ashamed to talk about it until now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: sex

      That's a different matter. Anyone can be a bit naive.

      My own sister, sensible, computer savvy, has an MA, fell for the "We are from Microsoft, you have a virus" phone call.

      When she realised what she'd done she took her laptop to a local comp shop to have it cleaned rather than asking me.

      It cost her about as much as buying a new computer would have done.

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Re: sex

      awwww bless

    3. AbelSoul
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: sex

      They were too embarrassed to phone me or anybody else they knew. In the end they took the computer to a shop about 50km away to eliminate the chance of meeting anybody they knew. This has happened abut 5 years ago but they were too ashamed to talk about it until now.

      That is priceless.

  32. DaveCheckley
    FAIL

    No Connection means 'No Connection'

    I only see that message on a monitor when the VGA cable is unplugged - either at the PC or the monitor. A powered-off PC still makes enough of a connection that the monitor does not display the message.

    Still, it makes a nice story...

    Dave

    1. Lionel Baden

      Re: No Connection means 'No Connection'

      depends on the monitor.

      Two almost identical monitors from HP

      one displays no connection when off the other goes into standby

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Connection means 'No Connection'

      A powered-off PC still makes enough of a connection that the monitor does not display the message.

      No, no it doesn't. You obviously have far less experience at this than your post is attempting to insinuate. Ha, who looks like the idiot now?

      1. robmobz
        FAIL

        Re: No Connection means 'No Connection'

        Some monitors do, including the LG monitor I use.

  33. Hank Waggenburger III

    Imagineers

    yawn, you dull dull techies, always holding us creatives back with dumb insistence on "correct" terminology.

    "the internet" was supposed to set information free, not tie us down with grammar nazi arguments over the semantic difference between Off and On.

    --

    Hank Waggenburger III

    Connect to me on ButtPlugg!

  34. bed

    Ring-Ring "The Internet is down"

    ring-ring. "The internet is down". etc. etc. And that was with a dual-homed 100mbps connection(s) When I involved with this sort of nonsense for a living we operated a "dynamically relocatable resource allocation" system. One of the users has us perfectly sussed out and gifts would sometimes accompany requests which sort if indicated the the priority level that the user was experiencing. Meanwhile, I have just returned home from helping an 80-something family friend whose Windows 8.1 Dell laptop had inconveniently decided to forget it had a printer connected. Of course a reboot helps, but Windows 8 doesn't normally shutdown, it just goes to amnesia sleep.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Ring-Ring "The Internet is down"

      Ah yes, I got the accounts department at my last job well trained. They'd keep me well fed with doughnuts etc, and in return I'd prioritise their problems.

  35. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Alistair Dabbs, I'm one of your regular readers. But this is your first column that physically hurt me, it's so painfully true. It's more reality than I can handle on a Friday afternoon. I'm off.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      >> this is your first column that physically hurt me

      Physically? The monitor fell over while you were reading and hit you on the head?

      Oh pedantry...

  36. wowfood

    Parents

    are the bane of the computing world.

    I've actually printed this out

    https://xkcd.com/627/

    and given a copy to my mother. Sadly it was a long slow process getting her far enough to use that. I remember when we got our first PC, I was about... 8 or 9? Mum spent several days trying to use the PC with the manual etc, didn't get too far, within the first half hour I was using it to a higher competence than her.

    It took so long just to teach basic things.

    "Double click the icon"

    "I am, it isn't working!"

    "Are you double clicking quickly, or are you just going click... click"

    "Does it make a difference?"

    "... double click quickly"

    "Oh now it's working"

    It also took me a long time to convince her that turning it off at the plug socket wouldn't reformat the computer. She was actually afraid that if it was ever unplugged she'd lose all the data on the PC.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Parents

      I find that a lot of people have difficulty keeping the mouse still while double-clicking icons on a desktop. In effect, they are clicking, dragging and dropping by a few pixels, and clicking again. When the person under 60, I show them a keyboard shortcut (e.g. click once on the icon and tap the Return key) but for some reason older people enjoy the additional thrill of using the mouse two-handed: one hand to hold the mouse still and other other to do the double-click.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Parents

        Just wait. I have a friend (the same as above) who has rheumatoid arthritis (at 32) and consequently has major problems using a mouse. I was working on her computer last week and realized that part of her problem was her 'mouse pad' which was slick on both sides, which made it slide across her desk, meaning that she had to use one hand to hold the mouse pad and the other to move the mouse. Her second problem was that her mouse's innards were coated with gunk from her desktop. I decided that it was easier for me to give her my optical mouse and buy a new one for myself, and had her put the mouse pad (ha) in the recycle bin. Even with her physical problems and hardware issues, she'd still managed to create a 250Mb powerpoint...and was only halfway done...

      2. Old Handle

        Re: Parents

        I helped out in a computer class for seniors some time ago, and double-clicking (or sometimes just plain clicking) was a challenge for them. Part of the problem was that when it didn't work the first time, their natural inclination was to try hitting the button harder, but of course that just made their precision even worse.

  37. chivo243 Silver badge
    Pint

    Even worse!

    I have users that can’t point to the problem, much less describe it, even though I am standing next to them. I would like to say they are older than dirt, but some are from the technology age and seem to handle their fondle slab just fine.... go figure!

    It’s Friday, it’s hot and have a cold one!

  38. Maty

    coffee is your friend

    Stop. Have a cup of coffee.

    When working through a tech problem one tends to get tied in knots - I want to do X to solve Y, but X isn't working, so we need W to fix X. So you start with someone who has an email problem, and midway through, the task has become teaching that someone to use the DOS prompt. That's the moment.

    Stop. Have a cup of coffee.

    It actually saves time, because while on the phone you are using half your mental energy to prevent yourself from crawling down the phone line and strangling the person on the other end. While in a state of caffine-induced calm you often come up with a new approach.

    Also, quite often the problem resolves itself over the coffee break. That's when the 'client' realizes he hasn't turned the monitor on, or is using the mouse from the computer beside his own. Or whatever process was hanging has finally finished or given up.

    In the same way, when something goes dramatically wrong with my own system, experience has shown that the best approach is a.gather information on the problem. b. coffee break c. attempt solutions.

  39. Zot

    Been there with my own Dad.

    He's doing fantastically for an 80 year old to be honest, but it is quite amazing how used to it I've got, and how alien the whole phraseology is to him.

    The difference between a popup menu and a window totally confused him when on the phone, I then realised that of course a popup menu looks exactly like a Window to him.

    I sometimes wonder if I'd been better off getting an Apple with it's kinder-garden graphics and single mouse button, but I don't think it would have made any difference really.

    [And no, I don't want to kick that particular hornets nest around the room, oh dear, too late! :D]

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Been there with my own Dad.

      The first question I got asked by someone who "was getting an Apple because it's better than Windows" was "So where is Microsoft Word/Excel and Outlook on this thing?"

      1. Zot

        Re: Been there with my own Dad.

        I got him to use OpenOffice and Thunderbird, so I think he would be OK on a Mac.

        Apart from when I tell him he'll need to spend three times the price for a Mac, as he got his reasonable 64 bit Windows 7 machine from Argos for 273 quid.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Been there with my own Dad.

          I tried this route with my Mother. Cheapo Windows laptop and I though all would be well.

          After countless support calls (and 200mile round trips) I hoisted the white flag and gave her my 2009 13in Mac Book. Malware and trojans seemed to get onto the macnie despite all the precaurtions I put in place. No she wasn't browsing Pron sites, she is 92 for heavens sake.

          Not had a problem call ever since. So what if the original price of the Macbook was more than the Windows Laptop. I really don't care. Mum is happy and that make me happy. That is priceless.

          The cheapo laptop now runs Centos and my DNS setup.

          1. Zot

            Re: Been there with my own Dad.

            That's interesting, where the hell did the virus/malware come from? I presume it arrived without her knowing the install password?

          2. fearnothing
            Pint

            Re: Been there with my own Dad.

            No she wasn't browsing Pron sites, she is 92 for heavens sake.

            I used to work for Apple tech support. Please believe me when I say that you should never assume this.

            Beer because I need more alcohol as a buffer between me and those memories.

          3. eldakka Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: Been there with my own Dad.

            "No she wasn't browsing Pron sites, she is 92 for heavens sake."

            What's age got to do with browsing porn? You saying a 92 year old doesn't get horny and want to have sex and/or beat off because can't find someone to have sex with?

            If you think that, then here's something that'll shock you to your core. Your parents had sex at least once (assuming you aren't a IVF child)

      2. gungho
        Happy

        Re: Been there with my own Dad.

        ....its here http://www.microsoft.com/uk/mac

    2. gungho

      Re: Been there with my own Dad.

      Quite honestly, bad UI design is to blame also. We have some apps developed by in-house engineers, and quite often there are buttons that are completely "FLAT", no indication to the user (& I've been coding for years) that its a clickable button, unless you put your mouse over it, otherwise it just looks like a word on the screen. Software/websites ought to be intuitive, a lot of new developers seem to look down their noses at people who dont "get" how their apps work.

  40. John Deeb
    Pirate

    it's really Dabbs's fault, not sweet Bill's

    Better to start troubleshooting with asking the exact error or description of whatever is visible on the screen during any attempts to open or close things. This will make sure there is actually something on the screen to work with. Dabby went into the whole thin a bit too impatient, solving without actually seeing what might be happening. It would also help using Teamview or similar products. That is to prevent exactly conversations like these! I guess I had too many of them in my helpdesk years and soon you start to understand and accept the reality of them, you stop judging the customer and start criticizing ones own line of questioning. And oh yeah, don't support people when not feeling comfortable when other customers are staring at you, wondering what you're doing. It doesn't help. That's also not Bill's fault by the way. The silliness is yet again Dabbs's....

  41. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Computers are not white goods

    From helping friends, and friends of friends, to sort out their malware-stuffed, incorrectly configured, out-of-date, unprotected machines I've come to inevitable conclusion that most people aren't capable of looking after a computer.

    There, I've said it.

    1. Zot

      Re: Computers are not white goods

      Tell them to stop installing dodgy software from the Internet, or just buy a Mac.

    2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Computers are not white goods

      Or a pet. Or a plant. Or children...

      (Answer applies for "are not able to look after" and "instead of a" computer)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Computers are not white goods

        Um....You can't buy children.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Um....You can't buy children

          And some can't look after them either... ;)

        2. eldakka Silver badge

          Re: Computers are not white goods

          "Um....You can't buy children."

          Want to make a bet?

          What do you thing a "sponsored adoption" is? Or a surrogate mother?

  42. Johnny Canuck

    Teamviewer isn't the answer to everything (though it helps). Yesterday I was installing a printer for a young lady over Teamviewer while talking to her over the phone. Ater installing the driver I noticed that the printer monitor showed the printer as offline. I asked her if the printer was turned on and the cable plugged in. She said yes, so I asked her to move the cable to another USB port and she promptly unplugged the network cable ending the Teamviewer session. After talking her through plugging the network cable back in (she had immediately forgotten where the network cable was plugged in), I asked her how many cables where coming out of the printer. She said there was just the power cable. So I had her hunt down a USB printer cable and plug it in. This story had been shortened considerably as I've left out all the "explaining" parts.

  43. Slap

    My mum is the antithesis of this

    A year ago I went back to England and visited my mum. She was complaining that she couldn't get WIFI for her iPad in her conservatory. A quick check showed that she'd need a WIFI extender of some description and I said that I'd sort one out before I went back home. Things conspired against us in this and I was unable to carry out my promise.

    One year later I arrived back at my mums place to find her happily using her iPad in the conservatory.

    I asked who installed the WIFI extender, to which she answered "I did"

    Looking at her quizzically I asked how. Given her reaction at this point I'd obviously got her back up and she replied "Do you think I'm thick? I read the manuals you cheeky bugger. It's not bloody rocket science, is it?".

    Que big hug and "I love you, Mum"

  44. Ivan Headache

    I've got my Page 2s all mixed up.

    Pardon?

    "I've got a lot of page 2s and I can't work out which ones goes with which page 1."

    Anyone?

    (Clue: older person, management consultant.)

  45. David Given

    Regarding the terminology problems...

    ...I do think that as a member of an industry which has things called 'floppy discs' which don't bend and are square, we do really have only ourselves to blame.

    1. tfewster Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

      You may be too young to remember 5.25" and 8" removable discs, which were flexible if not truly "floppy". We tried calling the 3.5" ones "stiffies", but it didn't go down too well and the users themselves called all removable disks "floppies".

      The ones who thought you had to take the stiff cover off before using it knew why they were called "discs" :-D

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

        Of course, the term "floppy disc" is an open invitation for you to flop it about vigorously to find out *how* floppy it is. At least, that was the case when I was at school. The very name compels you to test it out. Like "bulletproof glass".

    2. Alister Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

      ...I do think that as a member of an industry which has things called 'floppy discs' which don't bend and are square, we do really have only ourselves to blame.

      I rather think you are showing that you are a relative newcomer to the industry, if you don't know what the origin of the term is, or that removable disks were floppy, at one time...

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

        That's ok, now anything with a "memory" has a "Hard disk in it", even if it's chip or mechanical. :P

        1. eldakka Silver badge

          Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

          Even worse, when I'm researching a new phone or tablet and ask questions like "How much menory does it have?" I get answers like:"32GB of memory", "64GB of memory", "128GB of memory".

          No, if I wanted to know how much STORAGE or NAND or SSD or eMMC it had, that would be the correct answer. I want to know whether it has 1GB, 1.5GB, 2GB, 3GB etc of MEMORY.

      2. David Given

        Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

        Not hardly; I grew up in the 8-bit era with, yes, 5.25" floppy discs.

        Which were square.

        And stopped working if you bent them.

    3. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

      In the same vein, 'Hit "Enter" to exit' and 'To shutdown, click "Start"'.

      I think I'll get a set of keycaps marked "Any" for the next user that asks where the Any key is.

      1. harmjschoonhoven
        Joke

        @Allan George Dyer

        "I think I'll get a set of keycaps marked \"Any\" for the next user that asks where the Any key is."

        I always use the Ctrl key for that.

    4. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Regarding the terminology problems...

      Actually, 3.5" disks ARE floppy.

      It's the external casing of the disk that isn't floppy.

      Break the rigid external casing of the 3.5" disk, and inside is the component that actually stores the data and it is, well, a disk that is floppy.

      If you break the rigid external casing of a Hard Disk Drive, inside is the component that actually stores the data, and it is, well, a disk that is RIGID, non-floppy, i.e. HARD.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This stuff is scary?

    Several years ago, I was fixing a computer in a hostpital ward. Not a straight ward. It had loads of things to connect to patients to tell nurses how well their charges were.

    One nurse complimented me on my abilities and announced that she was scared of technology - in a room full of boxes with flashing lights bleeps and bings!

  47. ecofeco Silver badge
    Trollface

    I have to stop reading this series

    It hurts. It just hurts too much to read these all too familiar stories.

    It hurts to know how much we AREN'T being paid to for this. It hurts that manufactures insist on making their products more difficult for the end user that it needs to be. It hurts that people keep doing the same stupid things over and over.

    But what hurts even more is that the end user, who knows far else about these things than we do, wants to argue with us about it!

    Still, it beats digging ditches or robbing old people of their life savings.

  48. herman Silver badge

    Skype

    A smartphone with Skype helps a lot in these situations, except that you then need to support the smartphone too...

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PEE DEE EFFS

    I work for a large multinational DIY company that rhymes with E & KWOO.

    Often, price signs to print on the A4 printers come down in PDF format. Which would be fine, if the phrase "PDF" hadn't became internal shorthand for "anything involving an A4 price".

    Therefore whether the template that has been sent is on word, to print on a pre-printed blank, whether it is using powerpoint, or if someone needs a custom thing made for them it is "can you make me a PDF" or "can you find the PDF".

    Even the intranet had the link "A4 pricing PDF's" (with grocer's apostrophe) leading to a stack of .doc templates.

  50. Machine Epsilon

    Not Apocryphal

    So my father had managed to switch his video to a mode the monitor did not correctly support and all he could see was a torn screen.

    Took many minutes to determine that "Right click on the desktop with the mouse" is not the same as "Write CLICK on the top of the desk with the mouse".

  51. Andy Taylor

    "I don't do Windows"

    I told my mother that as an Apple employee I was contractually unable to provide Windows support. It took 6 years for her to finally buy a Mac and I made sure she got both AppleCare and One to One. Now I just tell her to ring AppleCare.

    The irony is that I recently changed jobs and have to do Windows support again.

  52. EssEll

    Dilbert. Of course.

    I have a Dilbert cartoon over my desk, the punchline of which is: "One person's inability to understand often looks like another person's inability to explain".

    It's funny 'cos it's true.

  53. gungho

    Yup, run into these idiots daily

    ..and they invariably seem to think I'M being difficult when I don't understand them. I ought to know when they say to me they are "having trouble with their box" exactly what the fault is immediately - when I'm really trying to understand what "box" they are talking about. I've got one regular user phoning me when he has problems with using the "Webview", it doesn't matter how many times I correct him with "website", he still keeps talking about the "webview". I'm convinced he's determined if he keeps it up, I'll come around to the way he talks.

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