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Be a Good User: Tell Me What's Wrong With Your Computer!

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All Posts by Danny Davids

Simple TECHxplanations

By Danny Davids(13,468) Danny Davids
About Danny Davids(13,468) Danny Davids

Be a Good User: Tell Me What's Wrong With Your Computer!

Posted Friday, April 18, 2008 (44 days 16 hours ago.)

I've been providing computer support for over 25 years now.  Doing anything for a quarter of a century usually gives one a good perspective on how a job should be done.  It also provides some practice in determining whether a computer user is "good" or not.

I'm not talking about somebody who is whiz-bang at Excel, or can make Adobe Photoshop do things that professional print shops can't even duplicate.  I'm looking at this from the tech's viewpoint.  To me, a "good" user is one who knows how to communicate effectively when a problem arises with her computer.  She can tell me what's wrong in plain English, helping me to quickly identify what the potential problem is, and enabling me to come up with a resolution in a timely manner.  It doesn't require a degree in computer science on the user's part, or years of experience in solving computer issues.  It DOES require a willingness to pay attention to detail and being able to convey that detail appropriately and honestly.

Let me give you some classic real-life examples of how "bad" users convey their computer issues to the tech support staff.  And pardon me if I get a little gruff in my responses.
My computer stopped working!  Really?  Did it completely power off?  Is it trying to boot up and failing to let you log into the network?  Did the program you're working in suddenly do something that you're not used to seeing it do?  "Stopped working" can mean anything.  Be specific.  Let your tech know that everything was working normally until you opened Microsoft Word and then the screen went blank.
This problem has been going on for over two weeks!  So maybe you'd like to explain why you waited until you had an important document due this afternoon before you called for assistance?  It still amazes me that people think "if I just ignore the problem it'll go away."  And then when it doesn't it's the tech's fault.  Wrong!  When a problem occurs more than once, it's time to call for support.
I was doing this and this and this and this and this and this and then it just blew up!  Comments like this tell me the user was doing too much too fast.  Maybe he was running multiple programs simultaneously and got confused about what button to click in what window.  Or maybe he was on the phone while trying to generate the big monthly report.  My guess is between the second and third "this" is when he mis-clicked or mis-keyed or mis-read.  If you find yourself saying this frequently when dealing with your support personnel, s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.  You can save yourself a lot of grief when you're not accidentally opening a window and clicking "Yes" to erase all the files on your hard drive!
I didn't touch a thing!  Variants on this one include "Nothing has changed on the computer" and "Everything's the same as it was last Friday."  Come on, people.  I'm not stupid, and neither is your support person.  Unless a hardware failure or software upgrade is involved, computers don't just randomly start doing things differently.  So, did you add a new piece of hardware to your computer?  Or did you install that cool utility you found on the Internet?  "Oh, I didn't think that would cause a problem."  Yeah, I know...this is why they pay us to fix the computers that you break.  So 'fess up and let your tech know that yes, you DID install a new game on the system last Friday afternoon, and right after that you started having problems with your accounting package.  The game will have to come off, but better to let your tech know up front than have him confront your boss about it later.

You can probably fix that by _(insert computer-tech-sounding process here)_!  If that option was available, and you knew about it, wouldn't you already have tried it and saved yourself the phone call?  Face it.  You don't know what caused the problem, so you most likely don't know the solution.  And after years of hearing this one, I can tell when a user is trying to impress me with his computer knowledge, or when he's BSing me (and believe me, the latter one happens a lot).  Report the details of the issue and then step back and let the tech do his job.  Unless you want to do it for him--in which case, here's an application, and there's HR.

And finally, my personal favorite:

I don't have this problem on my computer at home!  I'm sure you don't.  After all, you're only running a modem, cable modem, or DSL line and possibly a router to share the connection among a few computers and a printer.  You're NOT running file servers, e-mail servers, DHCP servers, DNS, WINS, firewalls, or VPN connections.  You're also not running programs that run on minicomputers or mainframes and using emulation packages to let the different computer systems talk to each other and transfer data effectively.  Comparing your home setup to the corporate setup is like comparing amoebas to apes.  So don't even think that a fix for home and a fix for work will automatically be the same.

If after seeing these examples you still don't understand why your computer guy frequently walks around the office mumbling angrily to himself, then maybe you need to stop using a computer and go back to paper and pencil (see my blog entry on the Big Chief brigade).  And if you approach me requesting help and use one of these examples to let me know what's gone wrong (or how to make it right), I'll get back to you, oh, sometime next month...!

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Cell Phone Evolution: I Can't Hear You Now, I'm Using All These New Features!

Posted Friday, April 11, 2008 (51 days 22 hours ago.)

It's time for a new cell phone.  My contract with my current provider is nearly up, and cell phone technology has changed enough in two years that I'm having problems with my existing phone.  So I've started looking at my options.  There are a lot of them, and that's just with my provider.  But I do have a question.


Remember, I'm a tech geek.  I like innovation.  I like the new toys.  But after looking in-store and on-line at my options, I'm finding I'm viewing not phones with extras, but multimedia devices that happen to have a phone as an option.  Which would be okay, if I didn't already own devices that do all those other things.  (Remember, I LIKE TOYS!)  We've gone from discussing long-distance rates and rollover minutes to memory size and texting included.  Seriously, watch any provider's commercials and see what they are promoting!

What are some of the features I can get (but don't want or need) in the latest cell phones?

E-mail.  If I was a businessman continally on the go, I could see the logic behind being able to access my e-mail anywhere from my phone.  That's why phones like the Blackberry, Blackjack, and Pearl are so popular.  But this is for my own personal use.  If I have to access personal e-mail 24/7, I need to start getting out more.  Oh, and by the way, these phones aren't cheap.  Maybe that's why the manufacturers push them so hard, ya think?

Internet access.  You're kidding, right?  What can I see on the Internet that's going to fit on that low-quality display?  "Oh, but I can get the latest weather report and know what the score is for my favorite sports team while the game is going on!"  So can I, and on a device where I can actually see the data without having to scroll through myriad screens of two and three words of text at a time.  It's called a television.  It's cool.  You should check it out sometime.

Digital camera.  I can choose between a VGA (abyssimal quality) or 1.3 megapixel (low quality) version.  Since I already own a 3 megapixel digital camera, the quality of pictures I can take beats out any cell phone on the market.  Manufacturers claim that you can snap a picture and immediately send it to anyone with a display on their phone.  Why?  I can take a photo on my digital camera, take it home, connect it to my computer, and send the photo via e-mail.  And golly gee whiz, you'll even be able to identify the items in the picture!

MP3 player.  I already own two of these.  Why would I want to spend money on a third?  Vendors tout the ability to download the latest songs from the Internet and play them immediately.  What if you already have the song at home?  You're going to pay to get it again?  And you're going to hear that music using the same speakers the phone uses.  Yeah, that's going to be great quality, either with or without headphones, and a big drain on the phone's battery, reducing its lifetime.

Texting.  Unless you've got a device with a full QWERTY keyboard, this is time-consuming, even with the abbreviations.  Using it to send a quick message to somebody who's busy, or in a meeting, or in class is one thing.  Having an entire conversation?  It'd be faster and more efficient to make the phone call.

Bluetooth capability.  Okay, this is the one feature I actually DO want and am willing to pay for.  Having those headsets so you can talk hands-free is a godsend in the car.  And thanks to modern technology, I can use a device that plugs into my computer and lets me transfer my wallpapers and ring tones directly to the phone.  In fact, I've already written a blog entry about it.

All of these features and abilities point out that we have become a generation of "now", of immediate gratification.  I can send you a grainy, fuzzy picture NOW, or I can wait and give you one that'll last longer than the battery life of your phone.  I can download a low-quality MP3 song and play it NOW, or I can wait and buy the album, or download a high-quality version that'll play on a device that has real sound.  I can send you a cryptic two-line message that you might not understand NOW, or I can wait and have a real conversation face-to-face where we can avoid confusion and interact.  And of course, the phone manufacturers drool all over themselves adding these features and bumping up the prices on their products, which fluff-headed consumers are only too happy to pay.

As for me, all I want is a phone.  I want to make phone calls.  I might send the occasional text message, but I'm not taking pictures and I'm not listening to music and I'm not accessing the Internet.  I want to talk to somebody, not give them a multimedia presentation.

I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a friend of mine, right after the iPAQ came out with a phone option.  I predicted that we'd end up with an all-in-one device that played music, took photographs, maintained our data, and let us take phone calls.  I was thinking in terms of starting with a PDA as a base, but the industry has decided to work with the cell phone instead.  As a result, an item that I use as a convenience now has substandard features that I don't want for an exhorbitant price that I'm not willing to pay--and I will like it!  On the other hand, we now have a great visual aid to describe for future generations exactly what government looks like...!

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