Thursday, 22 September 2011

Google by proxy...

Working on a corporate support desk I mostly deal with questions specific to our in-house applications, network or VoIP setup. Occasionally, however, someone puts in a ticket asking for help with MS Office or some other incidental application that we use, but with which I am not wholly familiar.

When I run into this kind of program at home I follow a simple set of troubleshooting steps: 1) Poke around the menus and try various options to see if they do whatever it is I am looking for. 2) Use Google to search for an answer.

I suppose that my customers have simply replaced step 2 with Something along the lines of 'consult resident computer geek.' In some cases I think this method works well for them because I do actually know the answer, but for the more obscure questions I turn to the encyclopedia mundi. I put my question before the concentrated intellect on the Internet and wait. Digging through unhelpful opinions, ignorant rants, pointless trolling and bad grammar I glean the answer from those that have gone before. Dragging the meat of the answer back to my customer and presenting it like a trophy kill from a hunting trip.

An interesting metaphor for which is nothing more, really, than doing the dirty work for somebody else. They get to sit back and relax while I hunt their answers for them. I am the servant typing in their search term and reading the results back to them. It's Google by proxy

There's something about that phrase that sound really cool. I wonder if I could make it into a t-shirt...

Friday, 16 September 2011

Looks like I'm the guinea pig

Some of the executives in my company have opted to carry an iPad instead of a laptop. Not a bad way to travel considering the differences in weight, but similar capabilities. The unfortunate down-side is that an iPad is a target for theft such that you are not even safe leaving it in view on your car seat while you pop in for a bite to eat.

As a new iPad owner it has fallen to me to troubleshoot some of the problems these executives run into and then try to explain why, in Apple's infinite wisdom, they aren't allowed to do certain things. On occasion, however, I get to test a new gadget or application, all in the name of work.

For example, I am currently typing up this blog on a Bluetooth keyboard I was given to test. While not personally to my taste I'm sure some executive will enjoy adding it to his luggage. That is until they plug in the charging cable and find that the charge port has no support other than its contacts which snap like threads when put under the slightest pressure. In other words, I broke the Bluetooth keyboard when I moved it while it was plugged in to charge.

Oddly enough they haven't given me any more gadgets to test since...


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Phenomenal cosmic power...

...itty bitty Living space.

Since the iPad arrived I've spent very little time on my desktop computers. As I thought about that this morning I realized that this little pad probably has more power than half of my towers and it's about the same size as my first computer, a Sinclair ZX80.



I've been doing everything I would normally do downstairs in my office, on my iPad upsatirs instead. I even remote into work through VMware View which connects me to a virtual desktop on our servers.

I'll stop before I start sounding more like an ad for Apple. Let's just say it's cool and I love it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Recycling the old can be fun, but...

New stuff is pretty damned good too.

Previously I've written about grabbing old tech as it heads out the door to be recycled. My most recent project involved taking the CPU from one box with a dead motherboard and installing it in another old box that was being put out to pasture. At the end of the day I am proud to say I had a working machine to play games on again and all I spent was $10 for thermal grease. Recycling old tech is rewarding in it's way.

Flash forward to this morning when, during a landmark birthday, I was presented with a new, still-in-the-box iPad. I've been absolutely floored by this. Not just by the new toy, but by the organization and contributions from all those involved in bringing it to be. As I sit and play with it (I am typing this blog on it as a matter of fact) I find myself thinking that, while old tech can still be fun to play with, new tech rocks!

Thank you one and all for your parts in making this happen. I am deeply touched. Now I'm going to go play some more.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The secret...

Some people may think that, by telling everyone that a reboot will solve their problems most of the time, I am giving up a trade secret. Let me answer that in the form of a question:

Your computer is having problems printing and is telling you the printer is not available. The printer is question is a large network printer that you are connected to through a print server. Which do you reboot, your computer, the printer or the server?

Ah! There's the rub. The secret is not so much knowing when to reboot, but knowing what to reboot.

Or at least taking a lucky guess.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

We have the techology

I work in a small building which has been divided in half. One half houses our company's IT department while the other half is a separate company altogether. The two halves are joined through a small hallway leading to, of all places, the washrooms.

Now, the numbers involved are a little rough, but based on the relative sizes of the two halves and the number of employees working on our side, I would estimate the total number of people working in this building at around 40. The men's washroom has one stall and one urinal, the women's, I assume has two stalls and at times I don't feel that is enough. Unfortuantely, those times are usually after a bran muffin and a couple glasses of iced tea, times when you don't want to stand in line.

My days are usually pretty busy and I don't want to waste time standing around in a tiny bathroom waiting for the guy(s) in front of me to finish. Instead I head back to my desk and continue working, getting up on occasion to check if the coast is clear. Some days this means several trips. That's when I started thinking of alternatives:

#1: Now serving...
We post a number dispenser outside the bathroom and several of the 'Now serving' LED signs at key locations. The previous individual is responsible for advancing the number once they have finished washing their hands and exited the room. Each person would then be resonsible for keeping a watch out for their number.

#2: Virtual queue
Utilizing one of our servers we create a small application which allows those of us in need of the facilities to add our name to a virutal queue. We then take one of the old laptops that is destined for the eco-centre  and attach it to the wall outside the washroom. As above, the previous individual is responsbile for clicking on a button which triggers the application notifying the next person in the lineup. Notifications could be sent through email or possibly...

#3: Instant messaging
We already have an instant message application installed on all our computers, so why not use it? Somebody creates a chat room called "Waiting for the bathroom" or something much more clever. Everyone who needs to can log into the chat and see who, if anyone is on line for the throne. Again, the laptop mounted outside the washroom would allow instant notification that the seat is free instead of having to wait for the person to get back to their desk.

#4: Unnecessarily complex
Similar to #2, this option would require an application on a server which keeps track of people that have requested to use the facilities. To make sure each individual gets there fair shake we install an electronic lock on the stall door with a code that is generated randomly each time a person leaves. The next person in line is then emailed the new code ensuring that they and only they will be able to access the stall. If the proper code is not input within a reasonable amoung of time the program assumes that the individual has given up and/or found an alternative and emails the next person in line.

Now that I think about it, we could probably cut the computers out and just use the phone system. Imagine getting a phone call giving you permission to go to the washroom.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Damned postmaster keeps blocking my email...

I was talking with one of my co-workers the other day, swapping tales of strange issues we have had to deal with. We got onto the subject of email and how people never read the error to find out that they spelled the email address wrong, but instead need an IT tech to come point it out. And then he admitted that he had something similar when he was first introduced to computers.

It seems that when he was new to email he had sent a message to a misspelled email address. The message of course bounced back with the error that the user did not exist. After trading messages back and forth with who he thought was an actual person, he finally asked the local IT guy, "Who is this postmaster guy?"

It just goes to show, we were all once newbies making simple mistakes and assumptions.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Next time...aim higher

About a year ago my team had a ticket from a manager of our company that wanted to add a motivational phrase to his email signature. Lots of the managers were doing it and needed to be walked through the process, so this was not a surprise. What was surprising was the choice of phrase: "Today we aim higher."

While I can appreciate the sentiment behind this choice and the ultimate goal of having his team continually improve, the phrase itself just did not inspire anything in me. It struck me as the kind of wimpy phrase you'd use with a little league team, usually followed with "it doesn't matter who wins, let's just have fun out there." If anything, it seems to motivate a person to do the bare minimum to make this day better than the last. That may eventually get you to where you want to go, but it's not in the same league as the 'shoot for the moon' type inspirational phrases you see in other places.

Well, I say it didn't inspire me to do anything, but that is not accurate. It inspired me to make fun of it, no offense intended to the author (in case he one day finds his way to this blog).

Using the Motivator website I came up with the posters found to the right. Most are tame enough for general consumption, but the last may be crass enough to offend some people (as you may expect from a motivational poster featuring a urinal).

Click on the image to see a larger version.






Monday, 9 May 2011

Played the game and won...

My wireless network has been acting up recently, ever since my previous router died and I had to switch to the cheap piece of garbage my ISP provided. I tried eveything I could think of, even mounting it on a wall so it could be as close to the center of the house as possible.  Nothing helped. Even two feet away from it our iPhones and laptops were having problems staying connected. And that's when the fun began...

I knew the first phone call to my ISP would not get me a replacement despite the long list of troubleshooting I had done and the fact that these routers were known to be junk. The agent and I went through the call scripts and I ignored all the dog-dumb suggestions he made ("I notice you're not broadcasting your SSID, you really should"). This is my business, I know how the game is played and if the roles were reversed I wouldn't want to replace equipment on the first phone call either. I looked at this call as laying the groundwork for a second, and hopefully final, call.

A couple days later I braved the long hold-time to make that call and was again stonewalled. I thought we had exhausted the call scripts and their troubleshooting for dummies approach, but that was apparently only volume one. Thankfully the call ended when the agent accidentally hung up on me. I called back, thinking 'third time lucky' and was absolutely astounded when this agent actually had a suggestion for something I hadn't tried.

You see, I figured the router would be intelligent enough to choose the best broadcast channel based on success rate of returned packets, or some similar measure of connectivity. I obviously forgot that it was a piece of junk. Instead, we set the channel manually and I gave it a few days to see if that would improve things. It did not.

Finally, on the fourth call (although the third call was techincally a continuation of the second) I was finally transferred to a tier 2 agent to set up an order for a replacement router. It was like finishing a grand quest, getting past the dragon and absconding with some of its treasure. Treasure which took 3-5 business days to arrive.

In the middle of the day I received a text message from my wife, "the router has arrived." I rushed home from work and spent the next couple hours setting up and conguring things on both the router and the 7 devices that woule be accessing it wirelessly. I even found a USB port on the router so I could connect an external hard drive!

The next day I received a text message from my wife, "the router has arrived." Wait...what? Did she somehow resend a message from the day before or did the Matrix just glitch big? "No," she said, " another router was just delivered." Well, they say you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, expecially when there's order tracking involved. My ISP may still want the extra modem back.

If not, then I guess I won twice.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

We've come a long way, baby

I was a teenager in the eighties, going to school, hanging out with friends and visiting arcades. Recently I have found the arcade hits of my teenage years are available on my home computer. Not versions that have been ported to Windows or one of the consoles, the actual ROM images themselves. There are even companies that will sell you an arcade-style cabinet which can play thousands of the old arcade games all running on a home computer.

It was a bit surprising to learn, at first, although I don't know why it should be. After all, computer technology has come a long way in a short time. For example, consider the 305 Ramac hard drive; 5MB of storage in a 1 ton enclosure. That's roughly the same storage space as 2 double-density floppies! I won't even talk about the amount of storage I carry around in a few flash drives the size of my thumb.

I thought I had come to grips with these changes, enough so to appreciate the scale of them without being flabbergasted. That changed last night when I found a small application for my iPhone - Dragon's Lair.

For those that don't know, Dragon's Lair was one of the first LaserDisc-based arcade games. They were revolutionary, using actual film clips for graphics instead of sprites generated by a computer. They also cost an arm and a leg to play, which is why I was never any good at them. And now I can play them on my iPhone!

Unfortunately, I'm still not very good at it and trying to use a virtual joystick which requires me to cover part of the screen with my thumb doesn't help. Maybe I'll just go back to Fruit Ninja and leave the past where it came from.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Sorry I poisoned you, but I just happen to sell the antidote...

As I sit here for another fun-filled night of disinfecting computers in our London branches I find myself wondering about the thought process behind computer viruses.

I'm sure at one point they may have been nothing more than practical jokes or
geeks who had watched WarGames too many times and figured if Matthew Broderick could start a nuclear war on a 1200 baud modem  they could rule the world with their 56K. Some may have been written by sociopaths just wanting to stir up trouble or maybe some were from hackers testing themselves, as if the ability to erase your neighbors vacation pictures is a survival skill. Whatever the beginnings, I believe they have been co-opted, like most things eventually are, as another tool of advertising.

Think about it. What did the last virus you had on your computer actually do? Mine locked down my system so that the only thing I could run was my Internet browser and then it hijacked it so that every page eventually lead me to a website where I could buy antivirus software. As if! Isn't that like attacking somebody with a butcher knife and then selling them an adhesive bandage? And if you agree with that analogy, it's not that big a leap in logic to think that the computer equivalents of Johnson & Johnson may be buying stock in Ginsu.

Unfortunately, for the service industry, I'm not the only person that has reached this or a similar conclusion. During the debut of the MSblast worm I was working at a local computer store where customer after customer were bringing their computers to be diagnosed for $70 and disinfected for another $70. More than one person accused us of releasing the virus ourselves. Rather a narrow view of the issue, I thought.

Speaking for myself: I do not write viruses, nor do I kick back any of my salary to those that do. I find viruses to be just as annoying as you do. No. Probably even more so because I get to watch the same semi-computer-literate people reinfect their computers time and again and then blame me for it. And for that little bit of frustration I will cash in the overtime, thank you very much.

In the end I have learned two things that go a long way to preventing your computer from being infected:

1) Don't click on anything in a pop-up window. Just click the X to close it.

2) Buy a Mac. There has been one major virus that attacked the MacOS in the last 5 years.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

One person's junk...

For the last few years I have acted as an alternative recycling depot for old and/or defective computer equipment. Even the oldest machines have some parts that can be re-used somehow, even if it is just the coin-cell battery. As I collect these bits and pieces my office has started to look as though a computer exploded and left shrapnel all over the place. At last count I had 7 computer towers in various states and enough parts to set up the majority of them as complete workstations. The weird thing is, I don't know why I do it. A computer for me and another for the kids would probably be enough with my wife having her own laptop, yet I keep collecting parts.

To make matters worse, I've recently expanded my horizons to include iPhone and Blackberry. It started innocently enough, we started geocaching and since most smartphones have some sort of GPS device in them I picked up an old Blackberry to use. At the same time I had been watching for someone getting rid of an old iPhone which I could use as an iPod Touch. A friend recently upgraded to the iPhone 4 and offered me his old first generation since it would otherwise sit in a drawer gathering dust. I have spent the last week playing with jailbreaking the phone so I can use it as a Touch, changing boot logos and experimenting with free apps. I even found a free VoIP softphone that allows me to use it as the phone that it is.

Unfortunately, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and now my son is very excited to get an iPhone. He's only 7 years old! I've bought myself some time by making him one out of cardboard, but who knows how long that is going to last? In the meantime I am keeping my eyes open for another person that may have recently upgraded their iPhone and are looking to dispose of their old one. So far I have only been able to find people that are asking ridiculous amounts of money for used devices running technology 3 years old.

If anyone knows of an iPhone that is being replaced or is otherwise headed for the dump, let me know. Drop me an email at reboot@telus.net.

Friday, 1 April 2011

April Fools' Pranks

Today you will be bombarded by April Fools pranks from every quarter. Your local newspaper, TV or radio station will run a bogus headline, your favorite website will post something bizarre of some sort (check out Think Geek for their annual too-good-to-be-true April Fools product), your coworkers and/or family will drive you mad with pranks. So, why not fight fire with fire?

A computer is a wonderful canvas to practice retaliatory or even preemptive pranking. Here's a few relatively safe pranks for Windows (sorry Mac users I dropped out after OS9.1):

Dude, where's my icons?
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

Built into Windows is the ability to hide all the icons on the desktop, leaving a nice clean unobstructed view of your desktop wallpaper.

Instructions:
XP:
Vista, Win7:

  1. Right-click the desktop and go to Arrange Icons By.
  2. Click on Show Desktop Icons to remove the checkmark next to it.

  1. Right-click the desktop and go to View.
  2. Click on Show Desktop Icons to remove the checkmark next to it.


Dude, where's my taskbar?
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

This prank has two stages:
  1. Moving the taskbar to a different edge of the screen and ...
  2. Hiding it from view.
Instructions:
XP:
Vista, Win7:

  1. Right-click the taskbar and make sure Lock the Taskbar is not checked.
  2. Now left-click an empty area of the taskbar and drag it to the left, right or top edge of the screen and release.
  3. Move the cursor to the top edge of the taskbar until the double-ended arrow appears. Left-click and drag downward to reduce the taskbar to
    nothing.
Alternatively, or in addition, you could
  1. Right-click the taskbar and choose properties.
  2. Click the checkbox next to Auto-hide the taskbar and click OK to exit

Vista and Windows 7 will not allow you to minimize the taskbar, you can only move it and auto-hide it.
  1. Right-click the taskbar and make sure Lock the Taskbar is not checked.
  2. Now left-click an empty area of the taskbar and drag it to the left, right or top edge of the screen and release.
  3. Right-click the taskbar and choose properties.
  4. Click the checkbox next to Auto-hide the taskbar.


A picture's worth a good laugh
Difficulty:  ModerateWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  MSPaint or similarRisk: Low-medium

A blank desktop is so boring, why not give your victim something to look at...and click on...repeatedly...with no response from their computer. The risk here is that they will assume their computer is frozen and reboot, potentially losing unsaved work.

Instructions:
XP, Vista, Win7:

  1. Press the Print Screen key in the top right area of the keyboard.
  2. Open MSPaint or other similar program.
  3. Paste the screen shot into the program and save as a BMP or JPG file.
  4. Set the image you just made as the desktop wallpaper (there are several ways of doing this, pick your favorite).
  5. Follow the steps above to hide the desktop icons and taskbar.


Slow and steady
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  MSPaint or similarRisk: Low-medium

I discovered this one while helping a high school computer instructor troubleshoot a computer that would allow him to type his login, but then the keyboard appeared to stop working. Three known-good keyboards and 20 minutes later...

Instructions:
XP:
Vista, Win7:

  1. Open the Accessibility Options control panel.
  2. On the Keyboard tab, click the Settings button under the FilterKeys section.
  3. Make sure the Ignore quick keystrokes... radio button is enabled and click the Settings button next to it.
  4. Use the drop-down under SlowKeys to set how long a key must be held down before the computer will register it. The time ranges from 0 to 20 seconds.
  5. Click OK to save your changes.

  1. Open the Ease of Access Center and click on Make the keyboard easier to use.
  2. Click on Set up Filter Keys
  3. Click the check box to Turn on Filter Keys
  4. Click on Set up Repeat Keys and Slow Keys.
  5. Use the drop-down under Avoid accidental keystrokes to set how long a key must be held down to register. The time ranges from 0 to 20 seconds.
  6. Click OK to save your changes.


I know something you do not...
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

...I am not left handed. Even not many southpaws know about this setting, so it is perfect for pranking. A simple checkbox will trade the left and right-click buttons of any mouse.

Note: Some mice will have programmable buttons or other options which provide other opportunities for mischief.

Instructions:
XP, Vista, Win7:

  1. Open the Mouse control panel
  2. Click the checkbox to Switch primary and secondary buttons.
  3. Click OK to save your changes.

Like a record, baby
Difficulty:  ModerateWorks On:  Depends on graphics card
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

There are monitors that can be rotated 90-degrees into 'portrait' mode, perfect for reading documents a page at a time or for playing Pac-Man the way it was meant to be played. Because they exist, graphics card manufacturers include a 'rotate' function in their settings usually with the ability to add a hot-key combination. Only Intel enables these hot-keys by default. Which brings us to the...

Instructions:
Intel on-board graphics:
Others:

For a while Dell was exclusively using Intel motherboards with on-board Intel graphics. HP has also used Intel at various points.

Note: The computer has to be unlocked with a user logged in.
  1. Hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys at the same time and press one of the arrow keys. The arrow points to the side of the monitor you want to be the new top.
  2. Ctrl+Alt+Up arrow returns to 0-degree rotation.

You will need to explore the options of the graphics card to see if rotation is possible, assign hot-keys, etc. Look for ATI's CATALYST Control Center, NVIDIA Settings application or...
  1. Right-click a blank area of the desktop and choose Properties.
  2. Click on the Settings tab.
  3. Click the Advanced button and explore.


¡Uno momento! ¡Yo hablo EspaƱol!
Difficulty:  Easy-ModerateWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low-moderate

There is a vast range of languages to choose from for this prank. For a subtle change try using a French Canadian keyboard layout to change a few keys. If, however, you belong to the 'Go big or go home' school of thought, change the input language to Russian.

Instructions:
XP:
Vista, Win7:

  1. Open the Regional and Language Options control panel.
  2. Click the Language tab and then the Details button.
  3. Click the Add button to begin.
  4. Use the Input language drop-down to select a different language. Some input languages will have a name in parentheses, these languages usually have special characters which will be used when typing (eg. the backwards letters of Cyrillic languages).
  5. Use the Keyboard Layout drop-down to changes where certain keys are located.
  6. Click OK to add your selection to the list.
  7. Use the drop-down under Default Input Language to select your prank. This will ensure that the next time they open a program it will change to the new default.
  8. Having multiple languages installed will enable the Language Bar which docks on the taskbar down by the clock by default. You can...
  9. Right-click on it and choose Settings to go in and disable it or just hide the taskbar as above.

  1. Open the Regional and Language control panel.
  2. Click on the Keyboard and Languages tab and then the Change Keyboards... button
  3. Click Add to begin.
  4. Expand a Language, then the Keyboard listing and click the checkbox next to your chosen input language.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Use the drop-down under Default Input Language to select your prank. This will ensure that the next time they open a program it will change to the new default.
  7. Having multiple languages installed will enable the Language Bar which docks on the taskbar down by the clock by default. You can...
  8. Right-click on it and choose Settings to go in and hide it or just hide the taskbar as above.


Additional ideas:

Put a piece of Scotch tape over the optics of an optical mouse.
Physically swap keys on the keyboard. Be warned, some keyboard keys will not come off easily.

Download Intellimouse and use it to calibrate the mouse incorrectly. The program tells you to move the mouse up, but who does it think it is! Move the mouse in any direction you want.

Download the Sysinternals BSOD screensaver by Mark Russinovich. Unfortunately this has not been updated with Windows 7 load screens.
Use remote access tools to create a ghost in the machine by moving the victims mouse or typing when they type. Takes a fair amount of pre-planning.

DISCLAIMER: Computers are ultimately fickle devices which may or may not take kindly to being the instrument of your amusement. Keep this in mind and choose your victims wisely and with a thought to the consequences of a disaster. Practice responsible pranking and if you do try any of the tricks listed above and they get you in trouble, don't mention my name.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Who are they talking to?


There are occasions when even the tech-savvy have to call a technical support line. You would think that we would have an advantage, speaking the same language and what not, but that depends on what type of person answers the phone. Speaking to other support lines I have discovered them staffed by basically two different types of people: Techs and Agents. There are, of course, other words that can used to describe them, but I'm trying to keep this blog rated PG.

Technicians, or Techs, are knowledgeable individuals who are experienced in their field of support. They are able to interact with the customer by listening to a description of the issue, ask pertinent questions and guide the customer to actions which either resolve the problem or provide information on what will. Techs know their subject or know where to go to fill in the gap (usually Google), so it is tough to throw them off their game. The best techs will exude an air of confidence even when they are completely stymied by an issue. A conversation with a tech may be frustrating, but in the end they have done their best to resolve your problem by bringing to bear all their knowledge and experience.

An Agent, on the other hand, could be replaced by a voice recognition system and some BASIC programming. They start the call by reading a script. Once you have presented your problem they take a moment to look up another script which guides them through various questions and procedures to try in an effort to resolve your issue. Deviation from the script puts them into a tail spin from which there may be no recovery until they give you some pointless task to get you off their phone and/or escalate to a next-level technician. In a way it's like calling a telemarketer and about as fun.

As you can imagine, an IT tech calling another IT tech is usually a quick, painless call that leaves both parties satisfied. An IT tech calling an Agent is a special little hell somewhat akin to having dental surgery without anesthetic while they pump Yoko Ono to you through headphones with no foam ear covers.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Who are you talking to?

The idea that you can profile your callers as one of several different archetypes is not, by any means, an original one. This list started when a co-worker told me he had just completed one of the longest 'Columbo calls' of his life. The concept was so fitting that I started looking for more common customer types. The six I have decided on so far:

The Columbo - Named after Peter Falk's Lieutenant Columbo character whose interrogation style always ended with "just one more thing." Likewise, a Columbo customer starts with a single issue, but once that issue has been resolved and the call is about to end, they always seem to come up with "just one more thing." This is not to be confused with a Bob Wiley that keeps you on the phone for companionship.

The Bob Wiley - Named after Bill Murray's character in What About Bob, this caller will make small talk to fill the little silences while you work on their issue, which at face value doesn't seem that bad. It is afterward that the Bob Wiley's show their true colors. They crave human contact and now that they have got you on the line, they won't let go. Most support lines dictate that the customer has to end the call, if that describes your company, kick back and enjoy your chat with Bob.

The Jehovah's Witness - This type of customer is not calling to have you figure out what they need to resolve their issue. They already know the answers and just need you to come around to their way of thinking. This type of caller will not take 'no' for an answer, but instead will keep pushing for the resolution they feel is correct. Unfortunately, they usually only become evident when policy is in direct conflict with their desired result. Like their namesakes they have no qualms about escalating to a higher power. By the end you just want to tell them to get off your porch.

The Grandpa Simpson - To quote Abe Simpson- "I'm old. Gimme, gimme, gimme." This type of customer feels that for some reason, be it age, brand loyalty or just delusions of gandeur, they deserve more from you and/or the company you represent. Oftentimes their expectations are ridiculously out of proportion to their actual contributions. For example, a customer that wants a free upgrade to a more powerful computer because they spent $1000 on your company's products last year.

The Scrooge - A Scrooge customer is one that does everything with a view to saving money. They may trim down computer specs to ludicrous amounts just to save a buck and/or argue about every single line item in an invoice. They have been known to become confused and frustrated when they cannot install software because they ordered a computer without a DVD-ROM. And it's your fault, somehow.

The Cliff Clavin - Know nothing know-it-all. The kind of customer that claims they know what they're doing and will become upset if you ask them to repeat steps they claim to have completed or 'talk down' to them in laymans' terms. They typically have some certification and/or years of experience that will tempt you into treating them as a peer, but when push comes to shove they will need to be hand-held through basic procedures. Example: An A+ certified tech that doesn't know how to force a hard-shutdown.

The list is subject to change as I come up with better examples/names or new archetypes become apparent.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

It's like spelunking, but with less echoes...

Occasionally I come across an item being used for IT support that has been borrowed from other disciplines or places that you wouldn't expect.

This past weekend I was working on one of my computers, a task which is made up of crawling into the dark area under my desk to dis- and later reconnect the tower. The disconnect part is easy, but getting the color-coded audio cables into the right jacks is not something that can be done by feel.

At one point I found myself reaching for a flashlight that I could hold in my teeth so I had both hands free. Unfortunately, the first one I found was a 3 D-cell Maglite, a little too heavy to try holding that way. The next one was the right size, a little 9-LED model, but the aluminum case starts to irritate after a few moments. I decided I needed to find an alternative method of holding a flashlight.

Lee Valley sells a clamp for the little LED flashlight, but I don't have a metallic surface under my desk to stick it to, other than my computer. I'm not sure I should mix rare-earth magnets with hard drives. How about somehow sticking the flashlight to the under-side of the desk? Oh, the on/off button is at the back of the flashlight, so pressing it upward into a blob of poster-tac or old chewing gum would just turn it off. Maybe I could hold the Maglite between my head and shoulder like a phone. That lasted until I relaxed my grip and the flashlight fell in my...um...lap, causing me to jump and hit my head on the underside of my desk. Not fun.

Crawling around in the cave under my desk and wishing for some form of protection for my head, in case something else dropped into my...um...lap, I found myself envisioning a miner's helmet. That is when I remembered. Not two feet away was my head lamp, originally purchased for camping so I could set up the tent in all degrees of gloom, but just as handy for a little home-office spelunking. With that on my head there was no longer any danger to my...lap and I was able to quickly reconnect the myriad of cables it seems my computer requires to run.
Best of all, the back of my head is protected by the battery pack, so I don't have to worry about any sudden, unplanned, upward movements of my head.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

What do you feed a tiny electric horse?

I realize that there are a number of non-tech-savvy individuals out there that can use their computers, but don't really understand how they work. To listen to some of them you would think the computer is some magical device that they expect to work all the time, like a genie they have trapped in a plastic case. That would explain why they're so ticked off when the damned thing stops granting their wishes.

I try to keep this in mind and provide a sympathetic ear when they contact the support desk to complain about everything from their screen resolution to the number of seconds it took their computer to open Facebook. Most of the time I think I even succeed.

There is one comment, however, that always confuses me:

"My Internet is down and I can't get to any web sites.
Oh yeah, my email isn't working either."

How do they think their email gets to their computers if not by the Internet? Do they not realize that the 'e' stands for electronic. Maybe these are the same people that called their ISP in the middle of hurricane Katrina to complain that they couldn't get online to check the weather reports or that call their computer's manufacturer to troubleshoot their inability to power on their desktop computer during a blackout. No matter how often I hear it (which is lots) I cannot wrap my head around it. I do, however, have a theory:

Tiny Pony Express riders

Riding the power lines of the world like the dusty trails of centuries ago. Trading stories and singing songs around a virtual campfire in a routing hub, dodging roving gangs of malware, risking their miniature lives to deliver you friend requests and ads for Viagra. I bet the little buggers even stop off at porn sites, their own tiny brothels. No wonder some email takes so long to be delivered.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

One reason to get cable...

I haven't had cable for years and not really regretted it. Whenever I start to feel that I'm missing out and should sign up for one of the deals that Shaw or Telus are advertising, another reality TV show is released and the feeling passes.

Unfortunately that means not having easy access to The IT Crowd. A co-worker sent me this earlier today, further proof of the power and universality of Reboot.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Reboot is life!

I don't know where it started. The first time I encountered it was a Dilbert comic. Now, I throw it out half jokingly when people are asking for suggestions on how to solve a problem. I've worked with people that abused it; used it as an excuse to get the customer off their phone. I've even heard self-proclaimed computer illiterates shout it out from the other room, "Have you tried rebooting?"

When I wrote down the suggestion for a Tech Talk segment (which films this Friday) I had a chuckle over the choice of phrase. "The Power of the Reboot" sounds like the title to an evangelical sermon (and provided inspiration for naming this blog), but the more I've thought about it over the past couple of weeks, the more convinced I've become that a simple reboot is one of the most powerful tools we can use.

Think of it as the snake oil of IT support. Step right up and get your Reboot! You won't believe the wondrous, the fantastical, the near miraculous workings of this simple task. Have a problem sending email? Reboot! Is your printer not printing? Reboot! Internet not connecting? Reboot!

In fact, why stop with computers and other electronics? Reboot everything! My oven sometimes makes a high-pitched whine when I first turn it on. You know how I stop it? I turn off the oven, wait a few seconds and turn it back on. I actually reboot my oven!

What else can we turn off and back on? Cars! Next time your car is acting funny try this: Shutdown your car, wait 30 seconds to a minute for the parts to stop moving and then start it back up again. Just make sure you're not in traffic at the time.

Now that I think about it, it doesn't even have to be something that can be power-cycled. Rebooting has already made it into popular culture. We reboot entire movie and TV series now! Granted, that has more to do with running out of new ideas then recovering from an issue. Or maybe lack of material is the issue...

Joking aside for a moment, rebooting makes sense for a computer that is being left running 24/7/365. System resources are used and not completely released, so a reboot provides a clean starting point. Now that sounds familiar... Think about it. Every night your body enters a sleep state, during which time your brain uses dreams to process old data and thus reclaim resources and provide you with a clean starting point in the morning. So, you could say that, in a way, Reboot Is Life!

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go reboot.

Monday, 7 March 2011

In the Beginning...

First, you should know that this is not an attempt to marry religion to technical support.

I have been looking for a blog-worthy topic now for some time, but have never felt the driving need to publish my thoughts on anything. There simply has not been anything that has put a fire in my belly, as it were, until now.

The company I work for has created a 'TV' show that is streamed to all our branches across the country. Recently my boss has decided to throw IT's hat into the ring and host a monthly segment called Behind the Wires. As a former drama student I was tagged to host a portion of this show called Tech Talk. While writing down ideas for the next show I inadvertently struck gold.

The simple phrase 'the power of reboot' at first caused a chuckle and visions of a gospel preacher-like tirade on the next Tech Talk. Since then the idea has blossomed into something I think I can blog about - my observations of computers and their users from my perspective on an IT helpdesk.

I'm still fuzzy on the exact shape this blog will take, but I have at least taken the first big step in its creation.

Stay tuned...