Aaron is a twat.
FFS, what a thing to boast about.
Welcome again to On-Call, our weekly column in which we recount readers' tales of jobs gone wrong, often at times or for reasons that are just plain wrong. This week, meet “Aaron”, who once worked for a construction company he says “didn't need in-house IT but had delusions of grandeur and so employed me.” The company had …
So, Aaron didn't even bother to listen to the user and didn't even bother to take a look at the PC. Because he was really busy looking after 30 machines? Because he wanted to sit and read The Register all day?
If Aaron had looked at the machine first, established there was no problem and then left it on the shelf that might have been different.
Unfortunately as a sysadmin and developer for 30 years, I've been on the receiving end of the Aarons of this world when I have needed them to fix a problem on a PC or a Mac and they won't even listen. Mostly I can fix my own problems, but occasionally I've worked at places where it's been locked down and I don't have local admin.
Probably the user was a twat too by the sound of it. You are all twats. And so am I (from the number of thumbs down). :-P Now get back to work.
Yes, we're all twats. We've all had the whiny, loud, obnoxious, know-it-all user who's a pain the backside. I think Aaron handled this very well. I've done the same thing but usually will fire up the machine in the lab before sticking it on the shelf. Others, I just take it back to the lab and take it back in a day or so.
Which reminds of one user who insisted that when there was any problem, that the computer or printer obviously needed to be turned off for a day or two to "rest".... I think they (the user) needed a rest.. maybe a long weekend with alcohol...
The other choices left in dealing with these types (reference BOFH) are not socially or legally acceptable in real life.
1) presuming he knows better about the best tool for a job than the person actually doing the job.
2) Wasting time and hurting someone elses productivity.
3) Lording it up and being a roadblock instead of helping support/enable the guy to use tech to do the actual business of the company more effectively so earn the company more money (i.e. what IT are in most cases ACTUALLY paid to do).
Aaron sounds like the dictionary definition of a twat to me. Also coincidentally perfectly fits the "little Hitler" stereotype that you find in so many companies IT departments. Its only sad that he quit before they could rightfully fire his ass for massive incompetence.
Sometimes the little Hitler is a prick, but most of the time he or she is just trying to keep a lid on things so they can actually do their job.
Supporting 30 machines is a doddle, if those machines are all the same model, running a standard environment, with relatively standard software which is still within support from the vendor.
When, as is more common, those machines are bought on the cheap from down the shops from 10 different vendors running 3 different OS versions, two of which are out of support, with each one slightly different depending on which bloatware the manufacturer installed and they're hooked into a domain controller from before the dawn of time it's much much harder.
If you want to get by on a shoestring IT budget you absolutely have to say no to anything your users don't absolutely need.
That doesn't mean Aaron wasn't a prat, but the reason your IT guy says no is because every time you ask for something special it makes his or her job significantly harder and if it isn't going to substantially increase the profitability of the business it's probably not worth it.
I have known "users" (a very loose term for some) that refused to take any computer security seriously even after having a serious malware infection. So having an idiot complain that something is not working when it is obviously working is very annoying. Sometimes the best solution is to sit tight and do nothing because nothing is broken.
Okay, if I was a user and someone told me "we've had this machine serviced" and it was still as loud as ever I'd be:
1) Grateful for the time and investment in sending off to be serviced
2) Lie and say the problem has been fixed so as to make the investment seem worth it
He deemed further complaining not worth the Aaron's time.
Nope, I have to agree with the title. Aaron may have been right in this case, but he's doing what we all hate when the users do it - ignoring what he's told because he thinks he knows best.
If he'd looked at it, decided it was fine, and left it on the shelf so the idiot thinks it is being looked after, then all well and good, but by not bothering to check the device out first, he's potentially wasting everybody's time.
Let's be realistic, Aaron is a big part of why the company went bust. Hired to facilitate growth he proceeded to spend his day having a wank and spoofing the other employees.
He had a chance to help a company go big and he wanked it away.
Heavens help me if I ever hire an Aaron.
"English really needs such a word...." Well, at a place I worked a few years back, the IT Helldesk chaps called it a "Ford". At the time, certain Thames Valley Ford dealerships had got in trouble with Trading Standards for a series of customer complaints. What had happened was, when a customer came in with what the mechanics considered a nonsense complaint, e,g.; "My gearbox is too noisy", but the item was inside warranty and actually working fine, they would swap the problem item with the one from another customer's car and claim they had put in a new unit under warranty. They were caught when a suspicious customer called the Ford factory to ask about the warranty extension on his "new" engine. Much tickled by that, the IT team would take two "problem" laptops or desktops, mark them as "Ford" jobs, switch some components between the laptops, and then give them back to their owners as "repaired".
"Used in situations where the bloody thing just works after having a rest on the well-lit working bench, so the fault is never seen."
It is not unknown for a user to report a genuine fault - but when the device is returned to me it works perfectly even on extended testing. The fault does not recur when the user gets it back either. My explanation to the user: "It just wanted a ride in a car".
Back in the early days of PC's in the work place (IBM PC era) there was three acceptable ways of fixing faults
1) Promise the PC an extra 10 volts
2) Promise the PC a date with te fax machine/copiers
3) Slip the cleaners £5 to accidentally to push of off the desk/down the stair well.
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"In which case, take them past the nearest WEEE facility and a couple of waste disposal sites, and make sure they get a long, hard look."
I've had occasion to suggest to users that the next time it fails, just pretend to make the call to support but make sure it's in "earshot" of the affected device. Then it will start behaving itself knowing I might be on my way a big screwdriver!
I have occasional problems with cablers who insist their cable run is fine, even though it is obviously not, sometimes just telling them you are going to reconfigure some switch ports, tell them give it a couple of minutes and then ask them to call you back once the device lights up is enough for them to save face and hurriedly rush of to re-terminate the ends. MW
The number of computers I've sent out (after making sure they were working), only to have them mysteriously fail (the most recent one they even tried plugging it into a different PSU to check if that was the problem). So they get sent back to me (after I've scrambled to send out a replacement), only to have the 'broken' machine fire straight up on my workbench.
Occasionally people wonder why those of us who work in IT assume that users are idiots. This is one of those reasons.
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"So Del whacks it and up it comes..."
You may laugh, but the old ceramic 286s used to get so hot(*) that they'd cause thermal problems with their sockets. They'd power up and work for a couple of minutes, then lockup. A whack would reseat the CPU socket fingers and off it would go until switched off and let cool.
The advice given was (obvoiusly) "Don't turn it off"
(*) Hot enough that touching one resulted in a sizzling sound and a blackend fingerprint left behind. I sported a huge fingertip blister for 10 days.(**) Very few of them were ever fitted with heatsinks despite the obvious benefits.
(**) The only other time this occured is when I inadvisedly made contact with a 1980s vintage photocopier fuser in the days when they weren't adequately protected against such things. Even old valve amps didn't get that hot.
At one time the local jokster could produce a "humorous" image of his buttcheeks by sitting on the office copier. But then came the day when the full sized copier was replaced by a desktop sized unit. Jokster did not realize that the glass plate on the copier was now much closer to the (very hot) high intensity lamp. Ah, the scream of pain accompanied by the smell of burning flesh! The explanation submitted to the corporate nurse would have been...interesting...
"You may laugh, but the old ceramic 286s used to get so hot(*) that they'd cause thermal problems with their sockets."
Yep, thermal creep. Incredibly common when RAM was up to 36 DiL chips in sockets. Many, many call outs simply involved clicking the RAM chips back into their sockets. Metal legs into metal spring loaded sockets with wild temrepture variations between hot daytime running and night time powered off and no building heating. Post Xmas was always the worst because everything was off for at at least few days, including the heating.
I went to one where it was so dusty inside I could barely see the components on the mother board. Tipped it on it's side to start blowing/brushing out some of the dust and half the RAM chips just fell off the board. The user described symptom? "It crashes 3 or 4 times per day. I was surprised it was even booting up at all considering what was the cause!
Speaking about thermal creep, I was still in college and we went to a ski camp. Of course we took the computer with us, it was Apple ][+ at that time. After many hours on the road, including a couple going up the snow covered valley, we plugged in the machines and the floppy disks would spin too fast.
That was quite unexpected as we thought that cold grease would be more sticky and have them spin too slow. After a good night in the dormitories, the floppies were back to their normal behaviour.
You may remember the old BBC computers, where one had to take off the cover and push all the chips down into their sockets periodically - constant on/off switching caused the chips to work loose. I never had the problem, since I didn’t ever switch mine off, except for maintenance, or installing a Solidisk board.
There's an old story of an engineer being called out to fix a machine, might have been a computer or some other machine, and after rthe machine was working again, the manager in the department which ran the machine came in spluttering and shouted "You charged us 339 quid, when all you did was to hit it with a hammer!" "Ah." was the reply: "30 pounds is me standard call out fee. The 300 pounds is for knowing exactly when , how and where to hit it."
I can seee my own way out - I've been calleed away to look at an Altair 8.
"As it sounds, just swap out their "faulty" unit for a new one, and then put it back on the shelf for the next time."
Went live with a new comms front end processor. Then we noticed one line unit was not synchronising. Senior engineer did a board change on the fly without powering the rack down - while saying "I'd rap the knuckles of any junior engineer who tried this". New board worked ok. Looked at the old one. It had a repair shop tag attached to it with the tla "NFF".***
***"No Fault Found"
But I am suddenly remembering one of the directors at a firm I worked at suddenly demanding the latest multimedia desktop PC, big monitor, separate speakers etc. No BOFH to fend this one off at the time.
I never did see it used...for anything other than regular email etc...
this was in the 90's as they were the new "thing" and was fantastically expensive compared to the regular, not to bad, machines normally deployed (think it was about 4x cost)
We had a guy that DESPERATELY needed Dragon Dictate (this was the 90s). Before it would even install his PC needed a new soundcard (and a set of quality speakers) and a microphone, lots more memory and an extra big HD -- then it installed but wouldn't run so he needed new PC. Then he "didn't have time" to train it. So he went back to dictating stuff onto tape and getting his secretary to type it.
He also needed one of those desks where the monitor (90s - the monitor was the size of a minibus) sits underneath a glass section of the desktop. Then a bigger monitor because it was now too far away to read, then he still couldn't see it because his desk was covered in paper...
He also needed one of those desks where the monitor (90s - the monitor was the size of a minibus) sits underneath a glass section of the desktop.
That reminds me of a computing area of some uni library that we were called out to once. It had similar desks with the monitors mounted under glass and the PCs mounted in these little cubby-holes. Due to certain physical realities the PCs were mounted in such a way that the floppy drives were upside down. Guess why they called us.
After pulling one of the drives out and popping it open we found not one, not two but three 3.5" disks in the drive. The first one had been forced in upside down (or right side up, depending on perspective) and become hopelessly jammed. The second had slid in above the first and the third had split the second in half and had gone in between the two halfs.
I would have thought the force required to get the last disk and even the second would have set off alarm bells in the users heads.
"I would have thought the force required to get the last disk and even the second would have set off alarm bells in the users heads."
As a first time field engineer, one of the very first jobs I was sent to was a to repair or replay a faulty floppy drive. Yes, kids, even within living memory, it was worth trying to fix a floppy drive. Anyway, I remove the drive, open it up and remove three paper clips two 1p coins and a 2p coin. Put it back together, run the diags and all is fine. Turns out they'd just had a "bring your child to work" day.
"But I am suddenly remembering one of the directors at a firm I worked at suddenly demanding the latest multimedia desktop PC, big monitor, separate speakers etc."
The bit where this guy wanted it after seeing it on TV struck a not-quite-the-same-but-jogged-my-memory-anyway type chord with me.
At a company I was involved with in the 1990s, a registered charity running a number of care homes, I suggested getting online - I figured some of the communications (particularly forms etc) between head office and the various homes could be improved, and made more efficient. The idea was dismissed...
...until less than a year later when the chief executive heard about the benefits of getting online at some conference or other1, and we were online very shortly after that.
1. I remember the meeting in the office after the event well. Apparently, getting online could improve the communications between head office and the various homes, and make them more efficient.
"...until less than a year later when the chief executive heard about the benefits of getting online at some conference or other [...]"
Two human factors at play there.
One is that ideas/products are only considered worthwhile if the business decision maker pays an outside supplier for them - even if the techies have already devised, and are using, a better in-house one.
The second is that the decision maker has to believe that they had the original idea. You learn to let them take the credit as a way to get something done.
"The second is that the decision maker has to believe that they had the original idea. You learn to let them take the credit as a way to get something done."
There's also the issue of how much the advice costs. Suggestion by line-worker, volunteer or whatever, much less than manager receiving it is paid so it can't be worth very much. Same advice relayed from same source via consultant or from an expensive conference, clearly very valuable. Yes, the manager clearly knows the price of everything and the value of nothing but in such cases adding to the price effectively adds to the value.
Can be galling when that happens but I have learnt that the strategy at this point is to say, "ah, yes, didn't you have an idea like that a while back?" which is really code for "we understand each other now don't we. I'll play along with it being your idea and in return we'll implement this idea according to my standards. But try and screw me over with the budget and you will have a expensive failure on your hands that I will gently point out I told you about a year ago"
It invariably works with a certain type of manager, and can be useful to get a direct line to the seat of power. You make them look good and you get to make sure the ideas are properly vetted and implemented such that they come to trust your judgment. Career advancement all around.
One of the senior staff at a catalogue mail order company I used to work for had an expensive tv, video recorder, and satellite system built in to a huge cabinet in his office, ostensibly to monitor the companies adverts being shown in other European countries.
We went and checked up one night.
Red Hot Dutch subscription, and he was taping it all night long to take home later.
"We went and checked up one night."
The IT director at a certain australiasian clothing catalogue company was caught doing something similar. He didn't even make it to the end of the day (management _really_ frowned on that kind of thing)
He showed up as director of the motor vehicle registry not long afterwards, insisting on trying to _email_ 200Mb files between offices overnight (in the days of 14k4 modems and mail systems defaulting to 10Mb maximum) and blaming all the ISPs along the chain for it not working.
My main experience with this issue isn't doing such things for the users, but rather doing it for major suppliers such as Dell/HP. You have a machine with a hardware fault. You know full well it has a fault - even if the magical diagnostics are not reporting the issue, but tech support insists it's a Windows issue and won't budge. I had one machine a few years back displaying graphical corruption in the BIOS screen, and still the guy on the phone insisted that a reinstall of Windows would fix it.
Rather than wasting half an hour arguing, these days I often find it's easiest to say "OK, I'll try that", hang up, go and do something else productive for an hour, then phone them back: "Yep, re-installed Windows, problem is still there". At which point they often cave in and arrange for a replacement motherboard. And surprise, surprise, the issue goes away after that.
HP - had 20x laptops that we reimaged with Ghost. One fails - their solution reinstall the original Windows software - despite the fact that the other 19 worked fine. Have to admit, did what you did - in other words, nothing and then fib about it!
PS - Seen that corrupted BIOS screen before, reseated the RAM and it went away
when they ask for power and status light checks i always say they've been completed and all is up and running our side, without bothering to check. If i admit its not been done they park the ticket until its been checked and then start the clock again. When you have a 2 or 3 hour sla, getting the fault raised and looked into by the SP before having onsite check saves a huge amount of time. from teh carriers perspective a long sla gives the service a chance to fix itself or for openreach to fix it without the SP having to incur the expense of sending out an engineer.
Before BT automated their fault reporting the "help" line would first want you to check it wasn't your extension wiring causing the problem. So - before reporting a fault I would isolate to just the master socket and try a couple of phones in it.
On one occasion the operator enquired if I had extension phones in the house. I explained that the extension circuit had been physically disconnected from the master socket and the fault still manifested itself.. She still insisted that I bring every extension phone to the master socket to prove they weren't causing any problem. Only then would she log a fault.
The fault was subtle and intermittent. Often no dial tone - at other times if you did 1471 to get the "last caller" info there was an echo giving a different time and number.
Eventually the engineers dug up the street and announced that a junction box was flooded due to a neighbour's leaking pipe. Fixed!
Except it wasn't. Luckily I had a recording of the 1471 effect. Next day they rang me to say there had been a leaky cross-connection in the exchange.
Had something like that with out Verizon landline. Whenever it would rain, the phone line would go out. Would drive into town and call customer service from the cell phone (no signal at the house). By the time someone showed up (1 or 2 days later) the problem would have cleared up (once it stopped raining). Since the line worked, they never bothered looking further. *Finally* got one of the older techs (who was accustomed to actually *diagnosing* problems) who gave me his direct number. Next time it went out, called his number, and he managed to make it there while it was still raining.
Turned out where the line crossed the road (a few houses down from me) a tree branch had been rubbing against the wire about mid-way across. It had rubbed the insulation off our particular wire pair, and the rain would short out the connection. He did a temp fix and logged it in for a permanent replacement (probably cut back the branch as well) and no more wet outages (until we switched over to VOIP with Crapcast.
Very similar. About 35 years ago, annoying telephone inconsistency. Followed the repairman all around. We got outside the house to where two wires had been spliced and covered up with electrician's tape (could it possibly have been a telco repair man? or an earlier building owner?). Water, oxidation. Fixing that did the trick.
... going to the beach would be the fast route to hypothermia.
Some sort of coat might seem to be in order, then?
I much prefer beaches in thin grey drizzle to when they're blisteringly hot and heaving with slowly reddening bodies and reeking of sunburn lotion ... though it can be difficult to find anywhere open to buy an ice-cream when it's wet!
I must confess, I've also engaged in the IT Slight of Hand Placebo solution. One of the loudest complainers, with no real IT issues calls one day, with the classic it doesn't work, FIX IT! Bring the tower to the work room, hook it up, run a continuous ping on a couple cmd windows, let the user see you're "busy" return the box and problem delayed until they can't/don't/won't do the job their supposed to be doing...
Do without doing,
Act without action.
Savor the flavorless.
Treat the small as large,
the few as many.
Such is the Way of Tao.
Word of caution: this non-doing does not mean that one should always sit around doing nothing. It's about respect. Respect for things being as they are, moving in their due course. Respect for the forces of nature. One should not meddle with things that are already going in the right direction.
SOP, staff ask for something expensive and obviously in reaction to an event that occurred in the last 24 hours. "OK, sounds like a good idea, I am a little busy this week, you know how it is, lets meet and talk about it, how is next friday afternoon, around 5pm?, ok great" Wait a week and find out they have gone home early. Perfect!
"Do you have a similar story about exercising minimal effort to satisfy a user?"
Sure. One of my projects in the past was an office block, national HQ for a 4-letter discounter. The ventilation system for the whole building is regulated by a computer in the ventilation centre. Each and every individual office has a little plastic box on the wall next to the door, sporting a control dial, with a cable leading from the box into the suspended ceiling and not any further. Not a single complaint about the ventilation system so far.
The illusion of something doing something is more important than it actually working.
I went for a look around Quantel some years ago. They showed me their processing lumps - complete with LED chasers along the edge of the cards.
These LEDs indicated - nothing whatsoever. They were merely there to attract visitors to the stand at trade shows. And their effectiveness was readily visible in the sales figures...
we used to have a user that was particularly annoying (his nickname was Lord Snooty so you can guess what he was like) he spoke so posh he would have made the queen sound common. Anyway he was moaning to our onsite sparky for weeks about the strip lights in his office being to harsh a light. Said Sparky went in to his office (he was there) took out bulbs, went outside office for 30 secs brought back in SAME bulbs, fitted them told Lord Snooty they were "new" bulbs, never had another complaint.
he had decent natural light in his office. He was sooooo posh and his mum was even posher. For some strange reason his mum phoned in sick for him once (he must have been about 55 at the time!) and left the posh'est answer phone message you'll ever here in your life, we though it was Princess Margaret on the phone it was that posh
"But this user had leverage and “the call came from above that he absolutely needed this and we were to order it in immediately.” So Aaron swapped it for his perfectly functional laptop and got on with other things."
So picture me confused: would I be right when I assume that Aaron did order the Transnote but then swapped it with his own laptop and gave that to the user? There's a description for that: swindling.
And it also makes me wonder if the user was really making user errors, or if things simply didn't work right because of the change in hardware.
Either way, Aaron is not fully without fault here.
The wording in the article is a bit vague and clumsy. I read it as when the transnote arrived, Aaron gave it to the user and took back the perfectly functional laptop that the user had been using.
In my book the only thing Aaron did wrong was not giving the transnote a once-over before shelving it.
My problem is Aaron did not look at the device so he had no idea if it was the unit or the user or the device. Make one tempt at educating the user as it is new tech. If the unit is working fine and the user dose not want education then treat him like a dumb ass. I could understand not even trying to educate the person if they have history of not trying to learn.
the most recent one they even tried plugging it into a different PSU to check if that was the problem
Had one of these type of problems when I first started in IT. Customer, who lived some 200 metres up the road, kept bringing his brand new 286 back to the shop because it was only booting intermittently. After much running on the bench not problem was found but it kept happening to him and he was getting really pissed off. A tech visited his house and guess what, the bloody thing would boot intermittently. A multimeter showed that the voltage was irregular. I mention he was just up the road but on the other side to where we were located so ended up being on a different substation. From memory we put a better PSU in it that wasn't so fussy with the voltage and it ran good after that.
It was just one of those many where the customer had a fault but the tech couldn't replicate it in the workshop. Whenever I got one like that later I would remember to see if the issue could be replicated where the customer was located and not in the workshop (assuming it wasn't fixed in the workshop).
Whilst working for the fruit company, we had a pro machine come in for a weird USB issue - customer complained that copying data from one drive to another would fail or run extremely slowly.
We tested extensively and could not find the issue, so he retrieved his machine only to return the following day complaining about the same fault. We tested again and still found nothing, but as the machine was in warranty, someone took the decision to swap some parts...
...following a replacement of all of the components that could possibly affect the USB bus, the customer was still experiencing the same issue. Until he discovered not using the USB keyboard extender cable he was leaving in his studio/office meant the problem did not occur.
I've had some odd and, at first glance, seemingly improbable faults come my way over the years - from the individual connected to a cross-bar exchange who complained that the first call they made each day would fail to connect*, to an optical add/drop multiplexer that would undergo an autonomous reboot of its controller card every six weeks, +/- a couple of days.**
It's always worth giving the customer a hearing - they know more about what they think is wrong than you do at the start.
* Grease on the flat select bar restore springs was causing the select bar to stick slightly, preventing their line from being selected and connected to a register within the timing limits, so they got disconnect tone rather than dial tone. Once the spring had been unstuck by the first call attempt it worked fine all day.
** A reference clock extraction and selection circuit in a card unrelated to the equipment controller was, in some way which I still don't fully understand, interfering with the controller card operation and causing the well timed reboots.
In the 1990s a colleague mentioned that the HD on his laptop had failed. The technician brought a new HD, turned the laptop (thus the old HD) over. The old HD booted and data was transferred to the new HD. Remembering that incident, I saved the day at a demonstration for a VP after the large PC to be used in the demonstration would not boot. I asked the presenter if would she try an unusual fix. We turned the PC upside down and it booted, thus saving her demonstration. Sometimes unorthodox works.
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