Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Bug It's funny.  Laugh. IT

Tales From the Support Crypt 855

An anonymous reader writes "Talking viruses, infected physical devices, and lights that go out are some of the 'problems' Panda Security's tech support service has had to face. Many of them were not a result of computer viruses, but of confused users. This proves once again, that antivirus manufacturers must make a special effort to increase user knowledge regarding computer security and malware effects." For anyone who's been on the receiving end of such questions, now's a good time to tell your cathartic tale.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Tales From the Support Crypt

Comments Filter:
  • Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:26PM (#26269707) Journal
    To the people who....

    1) Send me screenshots inside a word document
    2) Ask what FTP is when they're supposed to be a server admin
    3) Can't run a select statement but are supposed to be the DBA.
    4) insist the network is up even though we don't see any packets through an *inline* appliance
    5) say the problem is super urgent, but then refuse to try anything you say.

    ... I will be rich when I invent a device to stab someone in the face over the internet.
  • Har har har (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SlashDotDotDot ( 1356809 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:36PM (#26269811) Journal

    Maybe I'm just getting old and losing my sense of humor, but it seems like these "ha ha users are dumb" stories get less and less funny. As the audience for personal computing continues to grow, the number of senile, mentally ill or simply ignorant users will also grow. Mocking them leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Re:Har har har (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BSAtHome ( 455370 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:40PM (#26269869)

    Relax, it is normal to become a Grumpy Old Sysadmin. It hits us all after some time.

  • Re:thoughts (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JCSoRocks ( 1142053 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:52PM (#26270027)
    The only thing worse than using AOL has gotta be supporting the kind of people that use it.

    I remember in school when were just starting to be allowed to cite online sources in our papers. I got in an argument with the librarian about how exactly the citations should work. She swore up and down that we had to include a "last updated" date as part of the citation. I laughed myself silly and tried to explain to her that 99% of pages at that time didn't provide that sort of information. She refused to back down or admit that I knew more about it than she did... I bet she was an AOL user. (As an aside, I was vindicated years later when the Little Brown Handbook including information for citing websites. It required that you include the date you visited it, not the "last update" date.)
  • Talking virus? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rnddev ( 1187731 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:54PM (#26270043)
    From the article:
    As if in a terror movie, some of our users claim the viruses that reach their computers talk to them in a mysterious way. Many users send us their conversations hoping our technicians can interpret them.

    Seriously? I know that people get confused and that some have difficulty correctly attributing problems, but if the support staff is dismissing something like this then they should seriously re-evaluate their current occupations. I've seen several instances of VNC and other remote access programs installed that would match the claim posted by the user that a notepad application started and "it told me that it wasn't a virus, but that it is in my computer". I guess dismissing it as a "stupid user problem" is preferred over admitting that the AV software doesn't prevent things like this or that the support technician would rather burn through their call queue saying "Doesn't sound like a virus. Call Microsoft if you keep having issues. Thank you for calling."
  • by tcopeland ( 32225 ) <tom@thomaslee[ ] ['cop' in gap]> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @02:54PM (#26270045) Homepage

    > the power cable had fallen out of the adapter.

    A good way to overcome this is to say "sometimes some junk gets in the plugs... unplug your adapter and then plug it in again." That way if the adapter is indeed unplugged, the person doesn't have to admit it - they can just plug it in and save face by saying "oh yes, it must have gotten loose or dirty or something". Seems like a good strategy.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Feanturi ( 99866 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:05PM (#26270153)
    Or you could just put the screenshots in a .zip file or something... And that would be handier and easier how exactly? How do the screenshots become individual files without pasting them into something first, such as Paint? That method sucks if you have several to collect. Open Word. Flip to what you need to snap. Hit Alt-PrintScreen. Flip to Word. Paste. Repeat as necessary. Save. You're not going to beat that with Paint, saving each individual shot into a specially prepared folder somewhere, then zipping that up. Work smarter not harder. What I really don't understand is how that classifies someone as an idiot.
  • by greenbird ( 859670 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:06PM (#26270159)

    That's very generous but I'm having a hard time blaming that one on you ...

    I'm guessing you haven't had the joy of supporting users much. It was the first thing I thought of.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:06PM (#26270167)

    To the people who.... 1) Send me screenshots inside a word document 2) Ask what FTP is when they're supposed to be a server admin 3) Can't run a select statement but are supposed to be the DBA. 4) insist the network is up even though we don't see any packets through an *inline* appliance 5) say the problem is super urgent, but then refuse to try anything you say. ... I will be rich when I invent a device to stab someone in the face over the internet.

    I'll never understand what it is about computers that brings out so much of what must be latent stupidity. In your list, number five really captures it. I can't tell you how common that one is although it sounds like you know from experience.

    It seems like no other specialists have that problem on such a routine basis. When someone's doctor says "you have X disease" they generally don't look at him and say "no I don't." When an electrician says that something needs to be rewired, they might get a second opinion but they don't usually argue with the guy. Same deal with mechanics. With almost any other specialist it's understood that if you come to them, it's because you recognize that they know a lot more about medicine, electricity, or auto repair than you do.

    What do techies get? They get uncooperative users who come to you for help and when you give it, they argue with you and bicker and drag their feet every step of the way, insisting that such-and-such can't possibly work, until it does work, at which time they complain about how long it took or they give you some bullshit about how they just tried that and it didn't work for them. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the norm and I can't understand why this applies so much more to computing. What I am talking about has nothing to do with the user's technical expertise or anything like that. It's the simple principle that if you know more about computing or networking than I do, there is no point in seeking my help. No technical expertise is required to understand this simple principle.

    Anyway, for the non-technically inclined who think that we're a bunch of arrogant elitists, this is an example of why we say users are stupid. It's not because we expect them to become experts or even technically knowledgable, it's because we constantly see users complicate simple things, drop all basic standards of common sense and mutual respect, and otherwise engage in behavior that is in no one's interests, particularly theirs.

  • How incredibly stupid must the programmer have been not to use the Trim function that is built into every language I've ever seen that handles strings?

  • Hello? McFly? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:25PM (#26270365) Homepage Journal

    This article reeks of being written by low-level tech support who think they know more about computers than they actually do.

    Obviously antivirus software isn't going to blow an electrical fuse. Obviously the user who thought he'd found a virus in a specific chip on his motherboard was a bit off. A DVD-ROM drive with infected firmware seems unlikely but is certainly within the realm of possibility. The rest are all perfectly plausible.

    Someone with a rootkit popping open notepad remotely and typing a message? Viruses that change system sounds? How are those symptoms at all a reason to immediately dismiss the reports?

    If there's one thing that grates on my nerves, it's people who work in tech support and therefore think they know everything about computers.

    I'd hate to see how the people who wrote this article would respond to a report of the symptoms of a trojan horse/rootkit that I saw firsthand this last weekend. It intercepted all communication with Google (and Yahoo Search) and replaced the first page of results with spam/malware site links. In any browser used on the system, not just IE. MalwareBytes and Avast detected nothing - I had to boot off of a CD and manually move the files somewhere else before Avast detected some (but not all) of them as part of a rootkit.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quanticle ( 843097 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:26PM (#26270375) Homepage

    There's also the fact that tech. support is usually free. If they were paying for the services (i.e. taking it to Geek Squad) they'd be much less likely to complain about your fixes.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rawler ( 1005089 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:30PM (#26270425)

    I bet I could send all of those screenshots to /dev/null (digital shredder, kindof), even faster. Doesn't mean it's a useful method.

    Whenever you do something FOR someone else (such as sending them screenshots, or any kind of image), you should always try to make it easy for _them_, not for yourself. Especially if it's a support-case and you want help fast.

    For me, being the reciever of the image, say I have to upload it to some ticket-system, it takes me a LOT of extra steps extracting them from the Word-document, compared to recieving it in a zip, where many OS:es can even consider it a regular foler and let me upload straight away.

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:39PM (#26270521)

    That's very generous but I'm having a hard time blaming that one on you ...

    I'm guessing you haven't had the joy of supporting users much. It was the first thing I thought of.

    I most certainly have had this "joy". It means I do everything I can do for them (often in spite of them) but it doesn't mean I am responsible for every act of gross negligence or lack of due diligence. It's not like the proper orientation of a mouse is some kind of rare obscure knowledge that only the technically inclined could hope to understand. The GP suspected a virus before he suspected an upside-down mouse because he was giving some benefit of doubt; now you know why benefit of doubt is so rare (I say this with a smile).

    Now, I've made enough stupid mistakes of my own that I would be not only foolish but also hypocritical if I disparaged or insulted the man for the upside-down mouse. But recognizing this fact is a matter of character and does not elevate the event into something greater than what it is. It's a dumb mistake, we all make them sometimes (if not computing then elsewhere), and it's okay to call it what it is. None of that is the GP's fault, so his willingness to take responsibility for it anyway was generous indeed.

    I think I'm writing this because I'm a little weary of this culture of always having to sugar-coat everything. It's okay to see a spade and call it a spade. If someone gets upset over that, they are choosing to do it and it's okay to remain calm instead of joining them. You can make a blunder like that and view it in all its ugly embarassing makes-you-feel-stupid glory and still laugh at it. I greatly prefer that and the character that this attitude cultivates to the artifically sanitized, artifically uniform experience in which no one ever has a chance to get their feelings hurt.

  • Re:Har har har (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WTF Chuck ( 1369665 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:45PM (#26270621) Journal

    I've had a customer like this as well. He was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He would often times have problems getting his documents to print, claiming the printer drivers were the problem. Every time I saw his machine, he had at least a dozen identical drivers installed for his printer. I typed up the instructions for what I did to his machine each time I saw it for him. That reduced the number of visits to the shop for his printer problems.

    He was great fun to talk with about the old times. He was an engineer that worked on designing some of the first punch card readers. Tragic the way that knowledge can be taken away from someone like that.

    If I recall correctly, we only charged him on his first visit, before realizing what the true nature of his problem was.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jammindice ( 786569 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:47PM (#26270643) Homepage
    I am in complete agreement on this one.

    If people exibited as much common sense doing other things as they do when they use their computer (not to mention when they call for help) then there would be many more issues with everyday things.

    You would have people putting refrigerators in their house upside down and wonder why the ice maker doesn't work.
    Try to cook something in a stove when the power is out at their house.
    Drive on the left side of the road (in the US) because their driver seat is on the left and that makes sense.
    i'm sure there are 1000+ more examples.

    what has amazed me from the beginning of my support career is the fact that so many "smart" people just lose all common sense in front of a computer. I told a user to right-click on the desktop once, after a few minutes of frustrating conversation i figured out he had written "click" on a piece of paper on his desktop and that's why he was so infuriated with me. I've had other users who thought i could see their screen when i'm helping them setup a dial-up connection because i had done it 1000 times and i knew what the screens all looked like.

    It's not that you're always fighting with users but they all have a similar lack of common sense when using a computer, i would never drive anywhere if everyone exibited the same lack of common sense on the road.
  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by synthesizerpatel ( 1210598 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:48PM (#26270651)

    Let me preface this by saying, I agree. People can be dumb. However, I have found a way to look past it and truly love my IT job. Here's a couple tenets I suggest you consider:

    1) If it wasn't for people doing stupid things, IT/helpdesk people wouldn't have jobs. Granted, it can be like babysitting sometimes, but I have come to appreciate the ignorance that some people have simply because they know that they can come to me and I can fix it. That makes me a valuable resource.

    2) Smart people don't know easy things about computers. I work for a company that does very low level computer science stuff, we have many PhD types who know their niche of computers inside and out, but if you stray them 10 feet from the path they know they're completely lost. Those guys need me because even though I don't know how to design a microchip or synthesize FPGA code, I do know how to fix their terminal when they've hit Control-Q. (Not to say I'm not a technical guy, but this is the type of stuff that you gotta fix for them sometimes.)

    3) Everyone says or does stupid things every day of their life. It's unavoidable. By treating customers/users with respect (even if at the moment you don't feel like they deserve it) it endears you to them. You don't know what's going on in their lives that might have them distracted from the technical aspects of their job.

    More than once I've felt 'Aww come on, you should know this!' only to find out that the user has some terrible event going on in their life and they couldn't care less about researching the problem or extending their computer knowledge -- they don't want to be in the office but they have to be, they're up against a deadline, they just want it to work now and they send up a signal flare for the IT guys to come and make everything better.

    Enjoy those moments, if you're a typical shy nerd like me it's one of the brighter moments you'll get in your professional life to be the hero to someone whos at their wits end.

  • Re:Har har har (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FiloEleven ( 602040 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:48PM (#26270657)

    It sounds to me like you did the right thing. When dealing with someone living in an alternate reality, especially someone who seems otherwise capable of caring for himself (which is the impression I got from your description), it is often best to work with his delusions instead of trying to push through them. Your contact info certainly satisfied him more than any amount of explaining to him why he is wrong, and the respect you showed by not ridiculing him is highly commendable.

    We are given neither the time nor the resources to make great improvements in all the lives of those we meet. You did what you could with what you had, and that is more than many people care to do.

  • by deraj123 ( 1225722 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:50PM (#26270683)
    A user entered password is not generally something that you want to modify - at all.
  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Acer500 ( 846698 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:53PM (#26270719) Journal

    It seems like no other specialists have that problem on such a routine basis. When someone's doctor says "you have X disease" they generally don't look at him and say "no I don't." When an electrician says that something needs to be rewired, they might get a second opinion but they don't usually argue with the guy. Same deal with mechanics. With almost any other specialist it's understood that if you come to them, it's because you recognize that they know a lot more about medicine, electricity, or auto repair than you do.

    To be fair, after the Internet, I now question other experts MUCH more often than I used to.

    Ok, so I'll probably respect an electricians'/doctors'/mechanics' opinion a lot more, just because they have a lot more practical experience, but I've found bad diagnoses made by good doctors, mechanics usually want to stuff you with used parts, and electricians might make questionable decisions (usually aesthetic or with cabling).

    Of the three, I think doctors might be the more similar because they encounter a wider variety of problems, and just like in IT, I like a second opinion when dealing with doctors.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:53PM (#26270725)

    I disagree with your doctor analogy. You bet doctors have to deal with the same sort of issues we deal with. Yes, even outright denial. Afterall, a doctor is just a technician. He just works with a different type of machine.

    The real issue here isnt about IT its that IT is a test. It tests your problem solving skills and your learning skills. It turns out that most people have horrible skills thus all the horror stories.

    In my career Ive found that people who do well with technology or have patience tend to be good people in other parts of their lives. Those who are impatient and bad with technology tend to be mouth-breathing dolts everywhere else in their lives too. Ignoring novices, its rare to meet someone who is just "bad at computers." They're usually pretty bad at everything.

  • Re:We're so smart (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RpiMatty ( 834853 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:58PM (#26270789)

    Why the hell would you want to change a user's password from what they entered?

    So I'm the Luser and type "pink ponies " for my new password.
    Your software silently changes it to "pink ponies"
    Tomorrow I get to call the help desk because my new password doesn't work.
    Now your calling me a luser since I can't remember a password for 24hrs.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:00PM (#26270805)

    Perhaps it's because user are more likely to run into incompetent tech support/server admin who just reads off scripted response than, say, incompetent doctor or electrician. This stems from the fact that doctors/electrician/etc are licensed, whereas tech support guys/server admins are not, and thus their competency can vary greatly (i.e. server admin who doesn't know ftp and DBA who can't run select statements).

    I am not saying that I'd prefer the IT professions to be licensed... just saying that the reverse is true that user run into incompetent IT than professionals of other specialty, and hence their distrust for techies.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:03PM (#26270843) Homepage Journal

    I'll never understand what it is about computers that brings out so much of what must be latent stupidity.

    Well, it's like people believe that computers run on magic and that the normal rules of physics don't apply to them. Example questions:

    • "Why did you just tell my son he had to be online before he could check his mail?" (In the days of dialup ISPs)
    • "You should have told me I needed a computer before I signed up!" (I swear to God, hand on a stack of Bibles, that a woman told me this.)
    • "I'm paying $20 a month and I demand you let me online now!" (From a caller in a small town experiencing a power outage.)

    I can understand ignorant questions, because a lot of the stuff we do is pretty complex and non-obvious. I just can't understand dumb questions, the ones that show a complete lack of critical thinking.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:06PM (#26270885)

    >Whatever problem we have, it is always an imposition on their precious time which never involves teaching us enough so that we won't be in their office in another 6 months

    Wow, bitter mcuh?

    My time is precious. I cant baby every single user. If I do something I cant spend 30 minutes explaining to you the nitty gritty details of what happened, our network infrastructure, etc.

    >leading the sainted admins to crack wise knowing inside jokes about the stupidity they manage to put up with (read: instill) in their users.

    So youre saying that if you knew the details youd be able to fix everything yourself. So lets say we are having some problems with one of lines and I need to quickly put in a static route on your desktop. Am I going to sit you down and explain to you what a route is and how the route command works. Heck, if I did that then I could expect a lot of random routes put in by "smart" guys like you.

    Hey, at the end of the day its a job. You took the job and you need to learn to live with how the business is run. If you want full admin rights and want to be able to get into the routers you are more than welcome to bring this up with your boss. We'd love to hear how all the "elitist" IT people are keeping you down and how your accounting degree from State U along with your WoW addiction makes you much better qualified to do everything.

    Perhaps you should just let us do our fucking jobs so we can go home at 5 just like you do. Thanks.

  • by SlashDotDotDot ( 1356809 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:06PM (#26270893) Journal

    While I am frustrated, I pose these as very serious questions: why don't more users take an interest in educating themselves about something that is going to be more plentiful vs less plentiful in the future? It'd be like being around in 1910 and writing off electricity as "too hard" and thus ignoring the next 20 years of electricity development. I don't get it -- but it is definitely the norm from what I observe.

    I'll take you at your word that your questions are serious, and try to give serious answers.

    The world is a big place, with lots of valuable things to learn. Time is scarce, intellects are imperfect, and interests vary. It's almost 2010, and all I know about electricity is how to plug stuff in and how to call an electrician. I know very little about accounting, tax law, or financial investment and have no plans to learn even though they would be useful. I expect to see more solar power, but don't plan to learn much about it, even if I buy a house that uses it.

    I make my living with computers because of the happy coincidence that I like them and I can get paid for it. The people you are railing against are your customers. Whether directly or indirectly, they are paying you money to know things so that they don't have to. Their time is apparently better spent being dentists or trapeeze artists. Aren't you glad you don't have to learn to do those things? Despite what you say, I think that auto-mechanics are a perfect analogy. Sometimes I ask my mechanic stupid questions, but he smiles and takes my money. We're both largely satisfied with the arrangement.

  • by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:08PM (#26270901)
    which never involves teaching us enough...

    Please explain why it is our job to teach users? Does the user not share responsibility here? It would be one thing if it was in the job description but it's usually not. Your assertion that this is part of the job reminds me that we have a misunderstanding about what IT admins do and don't do. Hint: teaching isn't usually covered.

    I ask because my biggest pet peeve is the helplessness users display with respect to computers. Not only is it dishonest in many cases, but it is lazy. Everyone just throws up their hands and waits for IT. Then what? IT is supposed to hold their hand through the solution and explain, step by step, what went wrong? Nonsense. We IT admins have been trying that for 10 years now. It doesn't work. Hell, we can't even get users to use Google and it's friggin' 2008.

    God forbid, sometime over the last 20+ years, users take an hour -maybe even 10hrs- to learn something about the subject. Take a course. Buy a book. Hire someone to teach you. Adult outreach. Libraries! I mean, it's only been 20 years for Windows.....surely anyone could find a moment in their somewhere to "better themselves".

    If users spent as much time learning on their own as they do bitching about IT, this problem would have long been solved and over.
  • Re:ID 10 T (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slackmaster2000 ( 820067 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:08PM (#26270915)

    In my experience, it would be even more likely for the user to say: "Do you want me to save it in Word?"

    It's amazing how many people use Microsoft Word for everything from file management to image editing. Some of these people never even see their "desktop" during the day. Word is their interface.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:08PM (#26270925)

    haha, except it's not the user's fault, who is not a professional computer person, unlike the programmer. the answer is much simpler: programmers are unable to communicate.

    have you ever the documentation they write? It's usually easier to just try everything in their program and see what happens. That's what I do, and that's what you do. You know it's true.

    Mod me down, bitches, you know it's true.

  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:09PM (#26270935)

    There was an older woman who had trouble understanding the mouse. She had to hold it steady with one hand while clicking the buttons on the mouse with her other hand.

    So I showed her how to play solitaire on the computer.

    A week later she had mastered the mouse.

    It's all about finding the right way for that particular person to learn.

  • Re:Oh goddammit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:09PM (#26270937) Homepage Journal

    Chad Birch isn't trolling, he's bitching. It's possibly offtopic, yeah, but it's not a troll.

    I happen to agree with him. Slashdot needs to get an exterminator to remove the "idle" infestation. The damned idles are like cockroaches, if you don't get rid of them they multiply. Soon you have beowolf cluster of idle cockroaches.

    It's odd that I haven't seen one non-anonymous comment that had anything whatever positive to say about idleising slashdot. Don't any of you guys LIKE unuseable and ugly?`

    Maybe it's a virus. Or somebody replaced their RAM with a goat.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nabsltd ( 1313397 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:13PM (#26270981)

    I use Outlook in "plain text only" mode, so this won't work for me, but:

    Create new e-mail. Flip to what you need to snap. Hit Alt-PrintScreen. Flip to Outlook. Paste. Repeat as necessary. Send.

    This is exactly the same amount of work, but results in an e-mail with attached BMP files.

  • Re:We're so smart (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:15PM (#26270997) Homepage Journal

    The real WTF is why the application didn't just trim the spaces off the password once it was entered.

    I utterly, wholly disagree. My company has a fairly complex web app that our customers use for data entry, and we chose a long time ago that we wouldn't guess at what a user means. For example, we have a fixed set of supported date formats they can submit, and anything else throws a syntax error. The reason for this is that it's much better for all involved to set standards for acceptable input and then stick by them than try to act on any weird bit of data sent our way.

    Frankly, I would treat a password field this way and assume that a user meant to send it exactly as you received it. Any other route leads to madness. For instance, should you also ignore case in their passwords? Helpfully convert punctuation to numbers and vice versa? Each of those would be convenient for users who occasionally mistype their passwords, but what a support (and security) nightmare! No, far better to take their input as face value and either accept or reject it as-is.

  • by w1cked5mile ( 963365 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:35PM (#26271287)
    Occam's Razor... Live it, learn it, love it.

    That and never underestimate the stupidity of your parents when faced with using a computer.
  • by D Ninja ( 825055 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:51PM (#26271517)

    The TV had a physical on/off switch, but the designers had decided to "hide" it between the speaker and display enclosures on the back of it.


    And invariably about half of them would complain that they already hung it on the wall and couldn't reach the bloody switch. Boo f*ing hoo - read the manual before assembling your unit.

    How is that the customer's fault? Yeah, it would have been good if they had read the instructions, but people miss instructions. And, seriously, a TV shouldn't really *require* instructions. It's a pretty simple device.

    It sounds to me that bad design was at fault here (as the first quote indicates). The fact that many people had to call and ask about it only demonstrate this.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:53PM (#26271561) Homepage
    There's a flip side to that, most admins I've run into presume you are a stupid user

    I've done tech support at a senior level. Now, if I need support, it's almost always because I need some very specific info, and can handle things myself once I have it. I always start off by telling the tech my experience level, that I know exactly what piece of information I need and that I neither need nor want to be baby-stepped. (Generally, I ask them to give me the same type of support they'd want to get themselves.) A good tech will respond, ask a few questions to make sure I've not overlooked anything and give me what I need. A bad tech will just try to run me through their cheat-sheet, without thinking. (How can I tell the difference? Well, the good tech will say, "Have you..." while the bad one says, "I need you to...") If I get a bad tech that can't think outside the box, I go to their supervisor, who generally handles things somewhat better. Sorry for rambling, but it seemed better to illustrate how I get support rather than just asserting it.

  • by orev ( 71566 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:54PM (#26271569)

    The lesson here is that you don't ask something stupid like, "is the printer on?" because it makes the person feel stupid. You should ask them to turn it off then on again, and at that point they will notice it was already off and then turn it on.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ihmhi ( 1206036 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:55PM (#26271589)

    Maybe the solution would be something like:

    "Warning! The raid system is failing! Please type in the first six letters of the alphabet to close this window. ______"

    If a message is important enough, you shouldn't be able to just click it away IMO.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:56PM (#26271611)

    That's actually not a rare incident. I don't even wonder how many readers nod their head to this statement because it's been an endless source to their own frustration.

    One wonders why. Why do people just click away all messages sent to them by the system? I actually remember an incident where I was called to fix "something with the server". Turned out to be a raid6 system that lost three drives and thus didn't work anymore. Now, I hear you say, how can a raid6 system fail? Raid6 can lose two drives and still work. Three drives dying, power surge maybe? No.

    One drive failed, but the hotspare took over. The server beeped, so the beeper was cut off. The server reported dutifully that a drive was blown, which was equally dutifully clicked away without reading it.

    Another drive failed, but it still somehow managed to keep going. No beep this time since even the best beepers fail to work when they are not connected. And finally the whole system failed to provide data, or they'd probably have continued 'til a rebuilt would have been impossible.

    But the real kicker was that I was being yelled at how we dare to sell a Raid6+spare as a system that prevents data loss. It does, when you don't do your best to ignore every information it gives you about an impending catastrophe.

    And this is hardly an isolated case of stupidity. People simply close every warning information they get because "I don't understand it anyway". Without reading it, how do you KNOW whether you understand it?

    I dare you to ask that question. It usually results in more yelling, but no really enlightening answers.

    I think there is an explanation for this, or at least a partial one.

    Microsoft makes a decent keyboard but other than that, I don't use anything Microsoft on my own machines and this has been the case for about ten or eleven years. I'll often go long periods of time without ever using Windows. If not for my friends who use it and ask me for help with problems from time to time, I might have lost the skillset. Because of that, when I do sit down at a Windows machine, I can easily see the contrast between the way things are done on it and the way things are done on other systems.

    One thing about Windows that I find to be a nuisance is that so many non-critical messages will trigger system-modal dialog boxes. The examples of this are too numerous for me to begin to enumerate them here, not to mention it would be a rather boring list, but if you have experience with multiple operating systems then you have probably noticed this too. The problem with this approach is that users quickly grow accustomed to the idea that these messages are not very important and can be safely ignored. It becomes something like the "boy who cried wolf" fable, in that it sets up a situation where the occasional important error message gets ignored. Using Windows XP makes me feel this way; I can only imagine how much more true this is for Vista's UAC system.

    I'm not saying that this fully explains your example involving RAID 6, only that it is a particularly egregious example of a much more general tendency.

  • You miss the point. You don't change the password from what the user entered
    I'll stop you right there with a *big* disagreement. You *ALWAYS* change the password from what the user entered before storage. Storage in plain text is a big no-no.
      You many reject the password if it doesn't meet some sort of criteria, but you don't change it from what the user remembers especially if they have to enter the password twice.
    Incorrect- you ALWAYS change the password from what the user remembers, using the same algorithm every time. The standard method is to push whatever the user enters through a one way encryption scheme, and store the one-way encryption in the database. Then when the user types in the password again, you once again push it through the one-way encryption scheme, and compare it to what is stored in the database. By definition, a one-way encryption scheme is a "lossy" encryption, that is, bits are removed. So why not just start your encryption scheme with a Trim? In fact, most password encryption schemes do exactly that.
    Anything less is an insecure system, because all one would have to do is look up the password in the database to probably crack several different systems the user has used that password on.

  • Re:Kill!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rawler ( 1005089 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @06:15PM (#26272835)

    First of all, I don't expect the sender to know anything about this. I've already got proof of the opposite, since they've evidently sent me the image in an inconvenient format. And no, the ticket system has nothing to do with it, it was just an example, but for almost ANY purpose, getting them embedded in a .doc means extra work from me.

    Regarding support-fees, you're wrong. I often get mails from co-workers with lower salaries then myself, and also from co-workers with higher salary, and sometimes my own direct or indirect bosses. It really doesn't matter.

    The key here is education. While it's frustrating to recieve .doc:s for me, the sender will never know that, unless I politely point it out. I usually sit down, explain the issue, and in a couple of minutes show them how I would like to get the support-mails instead. So far, all I've got is appreciation for politely showing them a better workflow, rather than scoffing at them and insulting them behind their backs, like some of the BOFH:s I've seen do.

    However, I DON'T think that it is a viable alternative to just accept, like you suggest, that the sender should just send in whatever ill-formed request they want, and that it's the job of the support guy to sort it out, just because he has lower salary. Support is a two-way street, and I think decent mail-behavior is a skill everyone should learn in this century.

  • by rantingkitten ( 938138 ) <kitten@mirrors h a> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @07:26PM (#26273579) Homepage
    Finally, if you a)hand me a computer system with Office on it; b)announce that you don't provide user support/help for Office, then you have no right to expect that I will do anything but regard you with suspicion. Office is what users use - it is how they interact with the computer and you've just announced you're blowing them off

    A user's lack of knowledge is not a technical problem. It's a managerial one, really. Why did this person get hired if they lack the basic skills required to get the job done (like, using Office)? If a salesperson can't read, HR doesn't dispatch someone to teach them; that person gets fired for lacking the ability to do their job.

    Now if it's actually a technical problem, that's what support staff is for, but don't confuse "user ignorance" with "technical problem". I don't ask my mechanic to teach me how to drive, and hell, I'm paying him out of my own pocket!

    Truthfully, I'll let even user ignorance slide if I can tell they've made an honest attempt to find the answer themselves, no matter how far down the wrong track they may have been. The fact that they tried before asking is good enough for me. But when a user displays a constant pattern of:
    • Run into minor difficulty (usually caused by their own actions, mind you)
    • Immediately screech to a halt and scream for help without any further ado

    that's when I get annoyed. Or, as is frequently the case, when the user has an abusive attitude, like their incompetence is somehow IT's fault.

    I'm not suggesting IT departments are staffed by saints who can do no wrong. But I don't look for ways to circumvent the NDAs and NCs the legal department made me sign -- why are they looking for ways to circumvent the filters we put in place? I don't try to find clever ways of violating HR's sexual harassment policies without getting caught -- why are they trying to violate my "no torrents" policy?

  • by blhack ( 921171 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @07:33PM (#26273633)

    Finally, if you a)hand me a computer system with Office on it; b)announce that you don't provide user support/help for Office, then you have no right to expect that I will do anything but regard you with suspicion.

    You're an accountant, right? It is your damned job to know how to use office, not mine. I haven't got a clue how to write excel macros, but you also probably haven't got a clue how to code perl.

    I'm not an accountant, okay? I haven't got a damned clue how to use Mas90. If the server starts dropping me, if you want to know how to print an invoice, don't. It is your job to know these things.

  • Re:thoughts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dtmos ( 447842 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @10:54PM (#26275587)

    How can someone spend so much time so close to computers and not becoming almost an expert on them? In fact, how can an intelligent and curious mind, which professors are supposed to possess, even just use computers daily and still not figure them out much?

    I'll tell you how. I have a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering and a Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering. (I could be your professor, in fact.) The study of computing is much deeper than familiarity with the latest (or even the not-so-latest) programming or OS features. I, at least, figure that that stuff comes and goes, and don't really pay that much attention to it. A computer, to me, is a very abstract programming engine, limited by specific features of its architecture and programming structure; what one actually does with that engine is of little or no interest. Any time I spend (with my "intelligent and curious mind") reading up on the latest OS or programming fad (even if I were so inclined) would be time away from my work.

    So I ignore it.

    This thread reminds me of the debate some time back about why one never sends an electrical engineer to repair a TV set. The engineer may even have been a member of the ATSC, and know the details of the video communications protocol, but would be totally unfamiliar with, say, Sony's TV product line, and know nothing at all of what's in the box. He might be interested in listening to someone describe Sony's implementation of some feature, but he's not going to be knowledgeable on every (or perhaps any) television feature on the market. His interests are elsewhere.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun