back to article That awful moment when what you thought was a number 1 turned out to be a number 2

Well done! You've made it to Friday! As a reward, treat yourself to another cup of tea and an extra slice of toast, and enjoy a morning story of panicking users and level-headed IT pros in today's On Call. In a similar vein to last week's adventure of the Captain, our tale today concerns user bafflement with another of …

  1. MatthewSt Bronze badge

    That's the problem with all these systems trying to make life easier, they stop people thinking about the abstractions that would help them solve this themselves (although I appreciate the main problem is people not being able to solve their way out of a paper bag)

    1. Killfalcon

      Stress can screw with problem solving skills, too, IME.

      I've seen very smart, capable people flumoxed by minor problems when they've got imminent (or expired) deadlines and an arsehole manager.

      That's exactly when people need things to Just Work. Mind racing ahead to deal with the problems they know they'll have, looming spectre of the PHB in the background, folks can just hit their limit on the most trivial problems, things that normally they'd blink twice and fix for themselves.

      Which is great, because it keeps us employed. ;)

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Holmes

        My example: A university professor who had a report that needed submitting "this week". 4PM on the Friday the computer wouldn't switch on. Cue panicked phone call; he was too stressed to even attempt talking through and insisted that I drive over there (15 minutes). I proceeded to flick the switch on the mains socket and turn the computer on.

        Bless him, he acknowledged that it was just the stress/panic and he didn't hesitate to pay our call-out fee.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          I had a real problem of that sort, with a deadline.

          A Russian student, daughter of a bank director, who was a good customer of the company where I worked. Our company lent her a PC to write her dissertation on and, on the last day, when she had to print it and hand it in, the hard drive "failed"!

          Queue panic, ringing daddy, who rang the CEO who stomped on the IT manager who sprang up and down... We ended up couriering the PC from Cambridge to Basingstoke, where I was let lose on it.

          The hard drive still worked, but was corrupted. I managed to recover her dissertation, although it was well junked up. A few hours in WordPerfect going through it word-by-word and correcting the corruption, sorting out the formatting. Then printing and binding, before sending the finished work by courier back up to Cambridge, it got there an hour before the deadline!

          1. GlenP Silver badge

            Not quite the same but we had a French placement student who'd spent all day typing a Word document (when it was DOS based) without saving it. She then closed Word and ignored the warning message.

            Fortunately in those days some judicious use of Norton tools enabled me to retrieve the temp file so it just needed tidying up.

            1. big_D Silver badge

              I can go one better. 2014, a new Word user creates a document, types a couple of pages, saves, prints, removes all the text, types another couple of pages, saves, prints, removes all the text, types another couple of pages, saves, prints... Can't find the original "document".

              I had to explain that, although she had religiously saved the document, removing all the text from the document and saving it with new text overwrote the old text... At least she had the printouts!

              1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

                At least in 2014 there was reasonable OCR software to help in the reconstruction.

                1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

                  Yup but with certain fonts OCR can get 1L and I mixed up.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    There's a set of checks I regularly receive that the ATM frequently can't read. The handwritten checks work just fine, but the computer-printed ones often either have the wrong amount, or are rejected outright.

                    OCR has come a LONG way, but still has a ways to go.

                    1. Trygve Henriksen

                      Checks?

                      Oh, I remember those!

                      No, actually, I don't. Never used one.

                      1. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

                        Even as a techie, I still find this modern "psying cheques by taking a photo in an app" thing surprisingly futuristic.

                        1. wjake
                          Joke

                          Weird English...

                          I'm still trying to figure out what "psying" is...

                          I mean come on people, it even gives you the red squiggly lines!

                          1. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

                            Re: Weird English...

                            A terrible autocorrect of paying - but I like the idea of "psying“.

                            Mea culpa.

                          2. ricardian

                            Re: Weird English...

                            It was several years before I became aware that MS Word underlined in red or green. To me, a red/green colour blind chap, it was just an underline!

                      2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

                        My Grandmother still uses cheques, get a cheque every birthday and christmas.

                      3. HammerOn1024

                        Go away kid...

                        Go away kid... you bother us.

                    2. The Axe

                      It's cheque. #EnglishIsTheLanguage /You'reWelcome /Sarc

                      1. oiseau Silver badge
                        Pint

                        Quite so.

                        +1

                        Have a beer --->

                        O.

                      2. Anonymous Coward
                        Anonymous Coward

                        "It's cheque. #EnglishIsTheLanguage /You'reWelcome /Sarc"

                        On this side (west) of the pond, it's "check". Check Webster's. #Don'tBeAGit

                        1. Anonymous Coward
                          Anonymous Coward

                          What is the language called again? Oh that's right....English. 8Þ

                          1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Bronze badge

                            Simplified English.

                            1. The Dark Side Of The Mind (TDSOTM)

                              Re: Simplified English

                              Engrish

                          2. Weiss_von_Nichts

                            Cheque

                            Is it? I would have thought "cheque" was, uh, French?

                        2. Andy A

                          So you have to PAY your dictionary to give a definition which agrees with you?

                          1. Imhotep Silver badge

                            I would happily pay for the novel experience of someone agreeing with me.

                            1. Wellyboot Silver badge

                              Stump up enough cash and someone will almost certainly agree with you.

                            2. the Jim bloke Silver badge
                              Windows

                              When people start agreeing with me - its time to go back and check what I have said as it must be wrong..

                        3. Moonrunner

                          In Canada, it's still 'cheque'... So only one English-speaking country, that I know of, uses the word 'check'

                          1. Anonymous Coward
                            Anonymous Coward

                            "In Canada, it's still 'cheque'... So only one English-speaking country, that I know of, uses the word 'check'"

                            May well be true, but 2/3 of the people who speak English as their first language (360 million) are from the USA (231 million), putting the USA usage in the clear majority. Neither usage is wrong, just different.

                            (Note: 231 million is estimate of USA with English as first language. Source of both stats:

                            https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/how-many-people-speak-english-and-where-is-it-spoken

                            )

                            1. cdrcat

                              125 million Indians speak English

                              The Oxford Indian Dictionary will replace the OED.

                              Soon to be heard from your local chav:

                              My daughter is convent-educated

                              My teacher is sitting on my head

                              My friend is eating my brain

                              https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/ten-surprising-expressions-indian-english

                              1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

                                Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                "My daughter is convent-educated" is a polite way of saying "My daughter is an alcoholic nymphomaniac". All those years of repressed nuns telling them that boys and booze are bad have a thoroughly predictable effect.

                                1. Anonymous Coward
                                  Anonymous Coward

                                  Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                  "My daughter is convent-educated" is a polite way of saying "My daughter is an alcoholic nymphomaniac". All those years of repressed nuns telling them that boys and booze are bad have a thoroughly predictable effect.

                                  You just need to watch Anime shows set in convent schools. Boys never enter their interests.

                                  1. Anonymous Coward
                                    Anonymous Coward

                                    Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                    Don't need boys if you have a plentiful supply of tentacles, I suppose.

                                2. Rich 11 Silver badge

                                  Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                  Please tell me where I can find these convent-educated women.

                                  (And don't say 'in a convent'.)

                              2. Criggie

                                Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                ....do the needful...

                                1. Unicornpiss Silver badge
                                  Coat

                                  Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                  When someone on our India-based helpdesk says "Do the needful", my brain begins playing a version of the old disco song "Do the Hustle!" with 'needful' subbed in.

                                2. Anonymous Coward
                                  Anonymous Coward

                                  Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                  ....do the needful...

                                  ...and revert back to me.

                              3. WereWoof

                                Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                Don`t forget "My postillion has been struck by lightning" . . .

                                1. ricardian

                                  Re: 125 million Indians speak English

                                  Or "my hovercraft is full of eels"

                            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                              "May well be true, but 2/3 of the people who speak English as their first language (360 million) are from the USA (231 million), putting the USA usage in the clear majority."

                              Just because a majority are wrong doesn't make it right :-p

                              1. veti Silver badge

                                Actually, when you're talking about language - as opposed to a question that can be resolved with scientific investigation - it kinda does.

                                The purpose of language is communication. The most effective communication is the one that's most widely understood. If the measure of success is "effectiveness", then that's case closed.

                                If you have some other measure you'd prefer to use, then please share.

                                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                                  I could of shared with you but that might make me a rouge element, so walla! I give up. I'm off to play my Voila :-p

                            3. RegGuy1 Silver badge

                              Yes, but how many of those can speak another language as well?

                              Of course the attitude of the knob-heads here is, why would you want to.

                              Hey ho.

                            4. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

                              I still find it amusing that the Americans actually changed the way they spelled many English words, in a national fervour, simply to give American English its own distinctive appearance.

                              https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/spelling-suggestions-that-didnt-stick/masheen-instead-of-machine

                              1. Anonymous Coward
                                Anonymous Coward

                                Just like UTC which everyone knows is just GMT with a tin of Coors Light sellotaped to it.

                              2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                                Thanks for that link. What ir most obviously demonstrates is that trying to get phonetic spelling adopted will always case a backlash because most people speak with local accents different to the proposer and the phonetics simply don't work. Unless the plan is to do away with local or regional accents. To see how that turns out, just ask people who lived through the banning of Welsh in Welsh schools. (yes, I know that's a language, not an accent, but it's the same point)

                                1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                                  It's worse than that. As anyone who's had to explain to a Londoner that that the only rs in the bath are the speaker's, can attest.

                                  That being said. Phonics in reading is a major red herring fostered by resurgent Behaviourist educationalists.

                                  All the investigations of how we actually process text demonstrate that we don't scan letters consecutively. We dot around the text area, we take visual and phonetic cues and process them cognitively - using our knowledge of language to anticipate words in context. And our brain's ability to recreate a meaningful and apparently coherent perception. The way we do with all visual processing.

                                  We use phonics when we're stuck ( as with a name or a word we've never met before in our usage, such as technical language).

                                  Spelling, similarly, only uses phonics when we don't have a clue ( such as a related word). Mostly we don't spell words at all, using muscle memory and visual imaging. It's why if we misspell a word we see the discrepancy and can often focus in on the location of the error, or even write words to find out how to spell them. Also it's why we can find words in word searches etc.,

                        4. Hoe

                          English is English. American's speak US English which is a derivative but it's not the same language, in English Cheque is Cheque. Colour is Colour etc.

                          Also just because 100's millions type something wrong doesn't make it right, otherwise the correct way to write OH MY GOD in 2020 would be OMG!!!! Back would be BK and god know what else, eventually it probably will be but no for some time yet.

                          840m People speak English or a version of it, US are just a small slice of that, at least most the other countries get it right! ;)

                          https://k-international.com/blog/countries-with-the-most-english-speakers/

                          Anyway it's all irrelevant, we'll all be speaking Mandarin soon enough!

                          1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

                            Also just because 100's millions type something wrong doesn't make it right, otherwise the correct way to write OH MY GOD in 2020 would be OMG!!!!

                            The usage of "OMG" dates much further back than you'd think. And it comes from your side of the pond.

                          2. doublelayer Silver badge

                            "English is English. American's speak US English which is a derivative but it's not the same language"

                            It's the same language. When people from both countries (and there are some other anglophone countries you might want to include) get together, they can understand one another. And after a certain level of education around age seven, nobody will be confused if they read "What colour is the neighbor's house". They might complain, and with that sentence there are three groups* to complain about it, but we all know what it means. We've communicated without translation. We speak the same language. English speakers unite! Let us hold our hands together in solidarity! Then let us wash our hands because we're concerned about catching something. Then let us go back to attacking one another with competing dictionaries. Our health demands we continue to fight about pointless things!

                            *Three groups to complain about my example sentence:

                            1. Americans intent on American spelling for "colour".

                            2. Non-Americans intent on non-American spelling for "neighbor".

                            3. People who think that you should pick a spelling and stick to it.

                            I'm throwing a nearby dictionary at all of them.

                            1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
                              Paris Hilton

                              4. What about people who think that a question should end with a question-mark?

                              1. doublelayer Silver badge

                                The example was quoted, and while it could have been a whole sentence, it wasn't necessarily so. One is not obliged to only quote complete sentences. The sentence could originally have been "What colour is the neighbor's house now that their child has experimented with that paint, and how angry are their parents?", but I spared you the irrelevant portion. Still, such pedantry deserves an upvote given my previous proviso about our health.

                              2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                                And what about people who, against most English speaking convention, now make statements ending with a rising inflection such that they sound as if they are asking a question or are very unsure of the facts of their statement?

                            2. Anonymous Coward
                              Anonymous Coward

                              4. People who think a question should end with ?

                        5. Spanners Silver badge
                          Facepalm

                          On this side (west) of the pond, it's "check".

                          On your side of the pond, the misspelling "check" is acceptable. It's still wrong.

                          The word "check" means to ensure that something is free from error/fault.

                          A pilot will do checks before he starts the aeroplane. Men will check that their flies are done up before leaving the toilet. If my dog wants to run across the road, I will check her by holding the lead tight.

                          1. Glen 1 Silver badge

                            Not to confused with what left pondians call a check mark (check for short) - which is a tick - like this ✔

                          2. Imhotep Silver badge

                            I can assure you that in the US the acceptable spelling is "check".

                            The only other spelling we have is Czech, but we're not allowed to send those through the mail. Well, maybe mail order brides.

                            1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

                              A fat cheque for a fat Czech.

                              Apologies to Private Eye

                            2. Weiss_von_Nichts

                              "The only other spelling we have is Czech,"

                              That's only because you can't pronounce "ch" right. Doesn't really count.

                        6. Anonymous Coward
                          Anonymous Coward

                          Incorrect, It's only "check" in the US of A. Every other English-speaking country spells it "cheque". This includes UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and any smaller ones I've forgotten.

                          Hillariously, this whole thing is Webster's fault because he dicided to change the spelling of certain words in his dictionary and the US market decided to standardize those changes.

                          If you're going to be that level of nit-picky, you have to be right.

                          1. Hero Protagonist
                            Trollface

                            I hate to break it to you all, but I did a few minutes of research on the etymology and found that apparently the “cheque” spelling only dates to 1828...you know, 50ish years AFTER we threw you lot off. Before that it was spelled “check”. So don’t blame us or Mr. Webster if you decided to invent a new spelling and we ignored it.

                            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                              Yes and no. Check and cheque both seem to have a shared commonality within Old French word (escheque) meaning to hold something off ( from Chess). But by the mid 1700s with the word "eschequer" referring to a checked cloth ( think Chess board pattern) on which money was counted came "exchequer" -with the "ex" bit added on in place of the the French es out of English pretension- as one who controlled the cash. From that comes the word cheque - as far as I can work it out.

                              The American version - check- seems to be attributed to checking the sum, the verb form, by the various on-line dictionaries as an origin, but frankly doesn't ring well and may be a post-hoc explanation. Both ran in parallel according to context. "Check" being the form used for everything other than financial instruments which remained wedded to "eschequer" outside the American colonies.

                              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                                "cheque/check" and "chess" btw come from the Old Persion word for King ( cf Shah which btw I think would be pronounced with a guttural ending "Shakh"). Check mate is "chaque mat" i.e. The King is dead.

                          2. Anonymous Coward
                            Anonymous Coward

                            Labour/Labor

                            Here in Oz, we normally use proper English spelling of words like colour, labour, etc apart from the Labor party of Australia. Never quite worked that one out.

                            Also found it very confusing as a child when I first read about Pearl Harbor. I knew what a harbour was, but didn't know that our US cousins spelt things differently at the time.

                            1. TSM

                              Re: Labour/Labor

                              I remember when the (Australian) Labor Party was indeed the Labour Party, and like you I could never understand why they changed it to the less common spelling.

                        7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                          "Check Webster's."

                          Quite so. "Check" is what you do with a dictionary.

                        8. DiViDeD Silver badge

                          On this side (west) of the pond, it's "check"

                          In this far flung corner of the lower pacific ocean, it's called "What? Like a piece of paper and you write the amount on? And it takes how long to clear? Fsck that for a game of soldiers - don't they have paywave?"

                        9. keith_w Bronze badge

                          Actually only in the south-west side of the pond. In the north-west side of the pond it is properly spelt "cheque". A check is a thing you do to make sure every thing is OK or Not OK.

                    3. Manolo
                      Trollface

                      People still use cheques in the 21st century?

                      1. The First Dave Silver badge

                        They do, a cheque is still the best way of sending money through the post.

                        And Webster knows nothing.

                        1. eionmac

                          I have an odd name and cheques are signed with it. For some purposes, especially if you want 'data' advisable in court, send a cheque and photocopy it. Send by registered post.

                          Computer print outs of transfers can not be / are unable to be given by bank to next of kin!

                        2. Anonymous Coward
                          Anonymous Coward

                          People still use postal mail in the 21st century?

                          1. Fluffy Cactus

                            Old people, i.e. those from age 70 to age 105, still use checks (cheques) and like stuff mailed to them, because, they missed the computer age, but are still alive. They don't have e-mail, don't have a computer, they don't do texting, they pay bills by check (cheque).

                            Apart from that, if you sent a payment to the Inland Revenue electronically, the way they prefer, and they somehow lost track of where the money went, and did not credit your tax account, then good luck with proving to them that you paid your taxes. If you used a cheque (check in US) and you kept a copy of the cashed check, which your bank will provide if they are reasonable, then you could prove it to them, in court, if need be.

                            Many IT computer people don't seem to appreciate how much damage they did to the ability to prove stuff in court. I hope it happens to all of you, who are joking about cheque users, that your "funny, smart, electronic money" just disappears. Then you would start thinking differently.

                            Do you remember the 2008 mortgage crisis in the USA. Because of incomplete computerized chains of proof, some big banks could not even prove that they owned a property, because some non-thinking

                            computerization experts could not understand the idea of scanning in and attaching a PDF file to a transaction. That's how dumb some computer experts are. And they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

                            Likewise, computerization impoverishes history, knowledge, science, because so much data that simply is not online, thus no longer exists for practical purposes. This is an obvious bad side effect, and while the lot of you are smart in one way, you are ignorant in other ways, often costing big companies lots of money, simply because it is a "failure of your imagination" if you don't understand what is required.

                            That is, you "think you know", but you "don't really know".

                            I use computers all the time, pay bills via internet, but for really important things I use cheques (checks) and so should you. And keep a copy.

                            Meanwhile:

                            How much wood would a woodchuck chuck

                            if a wood chuck could chuck wood.

                            How many czech cheques would a wood tick check

                            if a wood tick could check czech cheques.

                            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                              We still use some cheques. Sometimes. because when,for example, we get money back for my wife's out-of-pocket guides assn. expenses it comes as a cheque. Ad so some "subs" payments from some parents who don't get transferring directly. And so on. Not many, not often. But some.

                            2. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

                              You are quite correct in pretty much all of your comments. However, you may be simplifying your statement:

                              "Do you remember the 2008 mortgage crisis in the USA. Because of incomplete computerized chains of proof, some big banks could not even prove that they owned a property, because some non-thinking computerization experts could not understand the idea of scanning in and attaching a PDF file to a transaction".

                              That's vaguely what happened yes. But if I recall correctly, it was far more complicated. The banks decided it was too complicated to sell 5000+ mortgages manually in one batch, so they replaced the ownership paperwork with a database of ownership. After passing through 30-50 bulk sales/resales to pension funds, it became largely impossible to tell where the original paperwork was kept. At which point, they forged ownership documents in hindsight "based on best guess ownership from the database entry". With the key ironic factor, that legally, if you don't file the USA ownership docs within 90 days, it wasn't a legal transaction at all.

                              So you now have a homeowner, with no clear direction who to pay the debt too. The original case mainly pissed off the judge, because they bank could not provide any evidence of ownership, had to inform the tenant they'd been overpaying the interest rate for 12 years and added a bunch of incorrect fees, that were certainly not in the original terms.

                              Delicious, delicious, irony then, when the judges stopped banks from foreclosing the properties and gave them to the tenants, cancelling the debt.

                            3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                              Old people, i.e. those from age 70 to age 105, still use checks (cheques) and like stuff mailed to them, because, they missed the computer age, but are still alive. They don't have e-mail, don't have a computer, they don't do texting, they pay bills by check (cheque).

                              My mother is nearly 80 and doesn't use cheques but on-line banking. So does her husband (not my father), who is a couple of years senior to her. And my late father used on-line banking when he passed away at the age of 79. One other small detail: banks don't use or issue cheques anymore here in the Netherlands. As for keeping proof of payment, the banks will supply an overview of transactions in any given period as well as the resulting balance totals and that is acceptable in the court of law.

                              Do you remember the 2008 mortgage crisis in the USA. Because of incomplete computerized chains of proof, some big banks could not even prove that they owned a property, because some non-thinking computerization experts could not understand the idea of scanning in and attaching a PDF file to a transaction. That's how dumb some computer experts are. And they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

                              That was an American problem with world wide fall out, but European banks had complete proof of everything including attached PDFs where necessary, so I am afraid it tells more about American banks and as far as I am concerned their reputation is way below mud!

                            4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                              "Old people, i.e. those from age 70 to age 105, still use checks (cheques) and like stuff mailed to them, because, they missed the computer age, but are still alive. They don't have e-mail, don't have a computer, they don't do texting, they pay bills by check (cheque)."

                              Let's take that apart.

                              "Old people, i.e. those from age 70 to age 105,"

                              Yes, I fall into that category.

                              "missed the computer age"

                              I learned FORTRAN about 1969 or 70. Were you even alive then?

                              The first 8-bit micro appeared in 1974. I remember reading about it then but didn't actually get to use a Z80 S100 system for real production work in a lab until about 1977. Had you made it into this world by then?

                              By the early/mid 1980s I was into Unix and RDBMS. Do you remember those days?

                              Whatever you may think the computer age didn't start with my son's generation with their Spectrums and Amigos. It didn't even start with my generation. It was the generation before that that got things going.

                              Admittedly it's a good while since I had to write a cheque but SWMBO needs to do so about once a month because the community centre fron which she rents a room to run a course in prefers to be paid that way. And before I retired I was quite pleased to receive cheques and somewhat more reluctant to send them because that's how my business was paid and also paid its taxes. That business was a consultancy. An IT consultancy - or a computer cuonsultancy if you prefer the term. Not bad for an oldster who missed the computer age.

                              Kids today! Totally innumerate|

                            5. Glenturret Single Malt

                              I am the treasurer of a small voluntary organisation with a reasonably sized accumulated reserve in the bank. In order to pay our bills I send a cheque but, for security, the bank requires one of two other named office-bearers to countersign it. How does this work with internet banking?

                            6. DiViDeD Silver badge

                              Project much?

                              those from age 70 to age 105, still use checks (cheques) and like stuff mailed to them, because, they missed the computer age, but are still alive

                              Those between 70 and 105 didn't miss the computer age, they bloody created it, designed and built the very algorithms and switching circuits that make computers go.

                              Just because people could swipe right before they could read doesn't mean they have the faintest idea of what complex processes have to take place between them tapping their card against their phone and a pizza arriving at their front door.

                              Monkey see, monkey do is no substitute for discovering how to do what no monkey did before.

                              And get off my bloody lawn!

                          2. heyrick Silver badge

                            We did until COVID. Now, out in the sticks, you're lucky to get post once a week.

                      2. Mike Henderson

                        Here at the bottom of the world, the first of the larger banks - the government-owned KiwiBank - has just said "no more cheques, as from the end of February"

                        Most people expect that the other large banks - all Australian-owned - will see how this goes, and follow suit within a year unless the pensioners riot in the streets or change banks from KiwiBank.

                        I reckon that apart from economies with backward retail banking systems (and I gather the American system is firmly rooted in the Victorian era) cheques will be a matter of historical curiosity within a decade.

                        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

                          cheques will be a matter of historical curiosity within a decade.

                          People have been making that claim for at least the three decades that I've had a chequebook.

                          1. DiViDeD Silver badge

                            Cheques

                            ... making that claim for at least the three decades that I've had a chequebook.

                            Funnily enough, it must be about that long since I actually had a chequebook.

                            Yes, early 90s sometime. Bank used to send me a chequebook every 3 months, so I'd cut up and dispose of the previous unused one in the kitchen drawer and replace it with a new one. Rinse and repeat for a couple of years until they finally stopped sending them out.

                      3. Cardinal

                        People still use cheques in the 21st century?

                        Of course - viz 'cheques and balances'.

                        1. Unicornpiss Silver badge
                          Meh

                          Re: People still use cheques in the 21st century?

                          I write maybe 2 chec(que)(k)s a year. One to pay my backwards city's annual tax and one for whatever random thing pops up that must be paid by mail, such as to an institution that either doesn't accept credit cards or charges a large fee, such as the BMV or if I buy something at an estate sale.

                          About a year ago I was actually running low on blanks so I ordered more from an online company. No issues with their product, but now they spam me every few days with their discount offers wanting me to order more. The amount I purchased should last me until about 2030 at the rate I use them.

                          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                            Re: People still use cheques in the 21st century?

                            "No issues with their product, but now they spam me every few days with their discount offers wanting me to order more. The amount I purchased should last me until about 2030 at the rate I use them."

                            Somehow I can't get rid of the idea that marketing and HR squabble over the same set of potential recruits.

                        2. DiViDeD Silver badge

                          Re: 'cheques and balances'

                          or indeed, 'chequemate'

                      4. Anonymous Coward
                        Anonymous Coward

                        My pay scale is from the previous century, too

                      5. heyrick Silver badge

                        Cheques are frequently used in France, usually by older people. It's like they don't trust the new fangled bits of plastic. But they trust enough to sign the cheque before it is printed by the checkout girl.

                  2. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    The joys of OCR! I do warn users that the spell check may pick up most errors, they will need to check.

                    A couple of examples I use are "cl" can turn into a "d" - so you get sentences like "double dick on the mouse button". And "rn" becomes "m" and so you get "patient has a large bum"

                    Passes the spell checker!

                    1. Imhotep Silver badge

                      That is "spell cheque".

                    2. Martin
                      FAIL

                      It astounds me that some modern e-books are apparently created using OCR. Given that they are presumably originally submitted to the publisher via a computer file, why would you then print the book then OCR it to make an e-book??

                      The worst recent example I saw of that was the Kindle version of a book about the collapse of Bear Stearns - about 50% of the time, the text referred to "Bear Steams" !

                      1. prouton

                        the text referred to "Bear Steams"

                        That would be what comes out the Bear's, um, "stern".

                      2. Phil Endecott Silver badge

                        I experimented with an ”AI” thing that was supposed to extract meaningful content from PDFs.

                        It managed to change £ and € to L and E respectively, indicating that it was rasterising the PDF and then OCRing it. FAIL!

                        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                          OCR Fail

                          For real fun, add some Polish words like "złoty", "pojawił", "półgrosz" and "Bilans obrotów bieżących" ;)

                          1. keith_w Bronze badge

                            Re: OCR Fail

                            Google translate returned "zloty", "appeared", "half-penny" and "Current account balance"

                            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                              Re: OCR Fail

                              Correct, but that wasn't the point, those Polish special characters play havoc with OCR. For real fun you can also add tiếng Việt (Vietnamese) to the mix.

                      3. Shooter

                        I don't see this so much in modern (i.e., recently written books), but I notice it a lot in e-book versions of older titles. It's very obvious that someone simply scanned a paper version of the original work.

                        It would be nice if Amazon would correct these errors and update the edition I purchased automatically. I don't see a technical hurdle to doing this, as all of the e-books live on an Amazon server somewhere, and occasionally get removed from my local storage (every so often I'll go to re-read a book, and even though I know that I read the book on *that* specific device, it still needs to be downloaded again).

                        It's not like I'm going to purchase a new copy of the book just because of a few typos, so no financial incentive to *not* do this.

                        I know, there's no financial incentive for them to update already purchased books, either. Just saying that it would be a nice gesture to paying customers to do so. And I'm assuming that they correct errors when they are made aware of them. I'm probably wrong in that regard also.

                      4. RegGuy1 Silver badge

                        Why the fuck would you buy an ebook? You own nothing, especially if it has DRM on it.

                        There have been instances where people have lost 'their' books because Amazon has decided they shouldn't have them any more.

                        For me, if someone wants to sell me a book it has to be made of paper. I will touch nothing with DRM.

                        1. Anonymous Coward
                          Anonymous Coward

                          With 1984, ironically enough.

                        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

                          Agree-except the ones I get free from my library. Most (UK) library services have a contract with an e-library or two. I read some magazines the same way.

                    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

                      I used to be able to touch type until the 80s when I used so many custom keyboards I got the oiks. The misses can and is very useful for document recovery. Trying to get the kids to learn while we are all in isolation but they really dont seem to see the point. I look forward to them poking their phones for their dissertations!

                    4. Giles C Bronze badge

                      There is a van belonging to a company that lives nearby.

                      The company website is ornametal but the font for their website used means that unless you are within an Osman of the van it reads omametal. Doesn’t help they used grey lettering on a silver truck either....

                  3. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Bronze badge

                    You mean like I,l and | ? The latter is the pipe, and looks exactly the same as I and l in way too many fonts. I would LOVE to go back in the past to smack the one who made the first font like that.

            2. Willy Ekerslike
              Happy

              Wordperfect 5.1

              Many years ago, when consulting and helping a company more formally structure and document their management system, I shared an office with the CEO's secretary (this in the days when the boss' secretary was gatekeeper to the CEO). One morning she was in a panic - she'd used the previous month's board minutes as a template for the latest one and saved without making a copy. Wordperfect automatically created a backup of the previous file version before the current save operation. However, it was a function you could tun off and save the drive space taken up by always having the previous version of every document - and she'd done that. I asked if she'd let me onto her PC to try something - Wordperfect programmers were smart enough to know that users don't always think their actions through and, despite turning off the automatic backup option, it still kept the file - but hidden and available to be overwritten by DOS. It took just a minute to find the hidden file, restore it to view and rename it. Disaster averted and, from then on, I had immediate access to the CEO whenever I needed it.

          2. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

            When I used to do home computer repairs, I once got a call from a student who had been saving her dissertation on a USB flash drive. And only that. "It's broken" she cried. I asked why she hadn't saved it on the computer. "because the USB drive is a backup drive, so it's better" came the response. I asked how it was broken and she told me it was broken in half by accident while it was plugged in.

            Anyway she asked if I would repair it for free, as it's her dissertation. I was confused. I said what I could do is try and put it together and solder the contacts. It would cost £25. If it worked, I would spend more time copying it to another USB stick which would take it to £50, including the stick.

            "Oh no, I wanted it done for free. Never mind, I'll just write it again"

            FFS!

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              It's funny how the importance of the work lost is inversely proportional to the cost of recovery.

            2. Muscleguy Silver badge

              Can’t have been a very long dissertation then. The term covers a multitude of sins all the way down to a slightly longer than usual essay.

              Some of the modern PhD theses I’ve seen (Biomed) have just three experiments in them. The idea is to get them through as fast as possible because PhD students are cheap research labour. How employable they might afterwards is not the university’s problem.

              Mine is a monster and I sweated blood writing it. Took months. I broke new ground in the printing. Double sided was now allowed. I tried it on the text but it didn’t leave enough pages in the chapters to put the figures in between. So I just double sided the references. In the Registry basement was a brand new huge colour laser printer and copier which could do thousands of greyscales as well. I was allowed to try it and got it to scan and print my letraset labelled B&W electron microscope figures on and it printed it just fine. So I saved a packet on A4 photo paper (not a cheap size) since I didn’t need any. I still have the originals with labelled photos stuck on paper. Just in case.

              All that also made my monster thesis not quite so thick.

              I wrote it in WriteNow instead of Word because Word was too unwieldy with those nested menus to do the simplest thing.

              All this was back in the beginning of ’93.

      2. PM from Hell
        Facepalm

        Technical management tips

        I've been managing technical teams for nearly 30 years and have lost count of the number of times a hughly skilled engineer has come to me panicking because they have ';irretrievably' broken something.#

        My technical skills are out of the ark so these people know far more than I do about the technologies they manage.

        First thing is always calm down, then describe the problem, and then work back through how we got there. In almost every case by the time they have had to go into the level of detail needed to help me understand the problem they have also worked out what the solution was, although in one case this did end up with myself and the IBM Sysprog having to re-catalogue all the VTOC's for our production database at 10 PM at night, we had it finished and triple checked by about 1 AM but were both in extra early the following morning to be sure it loaded OK

        1. ColinPa

          Re: Technical management tips

          The best manager I had had some rules for a crisis.

          1) Leave the technical people to it

          2) Do not stand over them because that will make it worse

          3) The manager would come in every half hour for a status update - bringing in tea/coffee biscuits. It gives the technical folk a break from the work face, and make sure they were working on the right problem by talking it through.

          4) If the technical people want something - the manager organises it (pickup kids from school was one example)

          5) The manager takes all of the calls from irate executives etc

          1. shedied

            Re: Technical management tips

            I had just started out coding, when I was lucky enough to have been assigned to join up with the application development staff of an affiliate bank. Their managers were incredible as "buffer zones" and ensured that none of the flak, politics, and non-technical issues ever reached the coders. We always got the job done.

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Technical management tips

              A decent manager holds back the pressure from above. And applies just enough to below.

              A bad manager channels the pressure from above and adds it to the pressure below.

              1. FuzzyWuzzys

                Re: Technical management tips

                "A decent manager holds back the pressure from above. And applies just enough to below."

                So true, I'm so fortunate to have one of those.

          2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

            Re: Technical management tips

            Whereas the worst manager stands over you going

            "fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it is it fixed yet fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it if it aint fixed in 5 mins you're sacked fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it fix it oh why have I got a spamnner inserted sideways in my mouth and howdo I remove a robot gripper thats been anally inserted?"

            Thank gawd for isolation and that I'm out of that madhouse for 2 weeks :D

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Gimp

              Re: Technical management tips

              Ah, the lovely field of improvised applied teledildonics.

              "Honest magistrate, the robot really did fancy him, and it did give him a fun new hobby."

            2. Giles C Bronze badge

              Re: Technical management tips

              That type of manager is a seagull manager, having one of those would make me start looking for a new job immediately.

              My preferred manager type asks me to do something, let’s me get on and if there are any issues I let them know.

              If all he’ll breaks loose they deal with the managers and let me fix the problems.

              1. DiViDeD Silver badge

                Re: Technical management tips

                My preferred manager type asks me to do something, let’s me get on and if there are any issues I let them know.

                That kind of management style can bite you in the arse sometimes. At a previous team, I was used to telling people what we needed and when, and then only being consulted if they needed clarification, had encountered a problem, or needed someone outside the team to have an anally attached rocket lit.

                When we were assigned to a newly acquired subsidiary to drag their systems out of the Victorian Era, I found myself, when the deadline for a particular set of works arrived being treated to variations on "well, you didn't ask me about it so I assumed it wasn't important"!

                It seems some people need reminding 20 times a day just what it is they're supposed to be doing!

                Although I guess it explains how they got bought up by a rival so easily.

                1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                  Re: Technical management tips

                  Although I guess it explains how they got bought up by a rival so easily.

                  People become what you expect them to be, or hire them to be.

                  If you grind any initiative out of your teams and make them risk averse, by micromanaging, for example, then no one can complain if they are lacking initiative and risk averse so that they need to be micromanaged. No one, except that is, the poor bugger who comes in from elsewhere to try and get results out of them.

          3. MartinBZM
            Thumb Up

            Re: Technical management tips

            6) The Manager blocks the door so no-one can get in to upset the troubleshooters. Enforcing it with a blunt instrument of 'I told you so' when needed.

          4. Soruk

            Re: Technical management tips

            My manager did very similar during a major outage scenario. I was getting stressed while trying to bring back all the servers and services, while loads of people were demanding their particular service brought back first, to the point he sent a company-wide email requesting ALL requests for our team were to go via him. Then he asked us if we wanted some coffee. We all said Definitely! or similar, simultaneously. "Well, go on then!" was his reply. Took us a moment or two to realise what he was suggesting, but by getting us to get our own coffee gave us a much-needed break from the screen, even for a few minutes, that got the stress levels down, and arguably we got the systems back quicker than had we not stopped for five minutes.

            Great manager, it really is a pleasure to work for him.

          5. DiViDeD Silver badge

            Re: Technical management tips, best manager

            Some years ago, I worked under a similar manager, who also held to a couple of additional tenets:

            a) At mismanagement meetings, he would take the blame for any shortcomings, missed deadlines or mistakes, unlike most of his peers who would regularly throw an underling onto the sword they themselves should have fallen on. Don't get me wrong - he would tear a new one for the poor sod who'd put him in that position, but that was a team thing - not to be shared with executives.

            b) Money saved on projects was put into an entertainment pool, which would be periodically spent on hiring a hotel in a picturesque area overnight where the entire team would get treated to what we used to call, in those days, a slap up meal before getting royally pissed (this was the late 80s & early 90s - that's what people did back then) as a reward for cumulative effort.

        2. The Axe

          Re: Technical management tips

          You're a cardboard engineer!

          1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

            Re: Technical management tips

            Long ago and far away a fellow programmer had made himself a plywood engineer. Worked for him.

        3. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

          Re: Technical management tips

          My Father taught me a similar technique when I announce I would follow in his footsteps and become an engineer.

          'When it all goes wrong, and it will, get a sheet of A4 paper and explain to it in detail every step you have taken to get to the mess you now have. Before completing the sequence you will realise which step you missed out/messed up.'

          1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

            Re: Technical management tips

            In programming that's known as Rubber Duck Debugging.

            Explain it to a (optionally fictional) rubber duck. In explaining you will reveal the problem.

          2. Criggie

            Re: Technical management tips

            Also known as PSBE - problem solving by explanation. There's almost always a "what about LIGHTBULB" moment somewhere in the sequence.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "arsehole manager"

        That implies there are other types of managers ...

        1. jonathan keith Silver badge

          Re: "arsehole manager"

          They are a very rare breed but they do exist.

          One common factor seems to be the lack of an MBA.

      4. Imhotep Silver badge

        Yes, and when stress takes over users will frantically keep doing the same thing over and over hoping the next time it will work.

        But I never did that.

      5. IceC0ld Silver badge

        Stress can screw with problem solving skills, too, IME.

        .

        .

        .

        .

        .

        .

        Which is great, because it keeps us employed. ;)

        great tale, build up the suspense and then let fly with that last sentence, you absolute BOfH you

        congratulations, there is nothing more we can teach you

        indeed, it is now your turn to grab the urn by the forearms, spin around fall into the snow, and move on to your next destination, if you choose to take it ?

    2. SW10
      WTF?

      He may even have asked questions during his “training” - I can picture the kind of patronizing smart-arse who would fob him off with: “Yeah, for your job, you only need to remember to click the 1...”

      One of those dicks who thinks knowledge is a power that should be reserved only for them

    3. Krassi

      "That's the problem with all these systems trying to make life easier,"

      Upvote x 1000.

      Recently opened files and default file locations are all well and good, but if your workflow deviates from the concept Microsoft had, then these become obstacles not aids. Many people find a work-round , but I've sympathy with that User believing that the software was there to help him.

      BTW - having a two onedrive accounts, or is that one onedrive account and one sharepoint account. Confuses the Office applications and me both.

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        but I've sympathy with that User believing that the software was there to help him.

        The User had my sympathy up until the point where, upon being offered help so as to avoid the problem ever happening again, they said No dont need it. A "Sorry, but I need to get this done, can you explain it to me another time (or send me an email with the instructions)", would have been fine, but a flat out refusal to accept the help. Boom your on the naughty list.

        I probably would have contacted the users boss and "suggested" that they being given proper training since they obviously dont know what they're doing.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

      Before computers put versatile devices into user hands, most devices worked with fixed sequences of operations, and usually there were only one to perform a given task. Users got used to memorize them.

      I've found it when I had to train elder people - every time I tried to show them the "abstraction" (say "what is a file and ways to open it") they asked for a "repeatable sequence" (as "in put a sheet into a typewriter and turn the knob") - and it was hard to make them understand any "repeatable sequence" could stop working (as in the article case) because the system was not so "closed" and things could change depending on previous actions and other factors. So I'm not surprised at all about the user behaviour.

      1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge
        Pint

        Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

        Nice perspective. It's Friday (obviously since the article was On Call), so have this -->

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

          "It's Friday (obviously since the article was On Call)"

          Good to have these reminders. The days are all starting to look alike in these locked down times.

          1. Lilolefrostback

            Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

            I've been calling these things "magical incantations" for several decades (crap). I hate them. They inevitably break and the users have no understanding of how things actually work. I've seen some cases where the users don't even understand what the dratted things actually accomplish. "I do this every Friday afternoon because it's part of my job. I don't know what it accomplishes."

            Sorry. Actually encountered this today at work. TGIF.

            1. Black Betty

              Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

              My experience has all to often been, "This is how you do it. No you don't need to know why. You're just a temp called in to take up some slack. Just do it the way I showed you."

              And then one day after the company suffered a 'temporary embarrassment' and restructured, I was called back as the sole full timer, the three previous full timers having moved on. The boss and I built a batch of machines 'the way it had always been done', but this time I was allowed to ask questions and take notes. We then built a couple of dummies minus the expensive special order parts, (one of each model) which I then took apart, measuring every wire and hose as I went.

              Next I hung every spool of wire on a length of gal pipe, taped a length of broken measuring tape down to the work bench and made a few other changes to the workshop layout, so that I was able to do a lot of advance preparation before assembly began.

              Previously, four of us had turned out 22 machines in a calendar month. After my changes, I plus a half time electrician built 20 in 4 weeks. All because I now knew what I was doing and why I was doing it.

              1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

                My mantra is laziness is the mother of invention. 10 hours work that seems totally unproductive to a boss will save 100s of hours in the long run is the hardest thing to get approved which is why pandemics can be very useful.

                1. MarthaFarqhar

                  Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

                  My first boss at a real job used the mantra "If you want to find the easiest way to do a job, find the laziest man to do it."

                  He was also of the opinion that if you mess up and hide it, that's sackable. Mess up, fess up, that's learning.

                  God I miss him and his ilk

                  1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                    Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

                    Laziness is a positive trait for programmers, automate recurring stuff and go for "First Time Right".

                    1. DiViDeD Silver badge

                      Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

                      ... go for "First Time Right Didn't actually break anything major"

                      There, FTFY

                      You're welcome

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: In pre-computer days people were used to memorize sequences....

                  "My mantra is laziness is the mother of invention."

                  I used to say this but I had a manager tell me off for that, she said "No! You're completely wrong. It's not 'laziness', it's efficiency and it's a very valuable skill to have. Treasure it and use it!"

                  I'm now a full time system's automation bod, tuning and looking for sections in the company systems where automation can cut timings and reduce errors.

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "They stop people thinking about the abstractions"

      The problem may well have been more basic than that. If the user has only ever been told click "this, click this, go there, type that, click here and here" then there are no abstractions to think about.

    6. juice Silver badge

      To be fair

      "Muscle memory" also plays a part - it's all too easy to get confused or break things if something changes.

      F'instance, I occasionally get mildly frustrated when tapping at the virtual keyboard on my mobile, for the simple reason that /sometimes/, the keyboard switches to "domain name" mode, in which it shortens the space bar to make room for a "www." button. Which rather handily puts the full-stop button just where my thumb normally hits the space bar.

      Sadly, this behavior doesn't seem to be configurable, so I quite often find my browser search terms turning into "how.to do.something"...

      Equally, I booked a hire car last year when tootling around Barcelona. So not only was I driving on the wrong side of the road, but I was also sitting on the wrong side of the car.

      It's amazing how much muscle-memory plays a part in driving - I'd indicate to turn and then drop my left-hand to change gears, only to have to stop the movement and use my right hand to reach out to the gearstick.

      It didn't take too long to adjust, and it helped I was driving around early on a Sunday morning, but there was certainly a bit of cognitive dissonance the first couple of times!

      1. mtp
        Facepalm

        Re: To be fair

        I forgot a important password recently. After a few days of panic I decided to ignore it and wait for my fingers to type it in all by themselves and it actually worked. Luckily I was watching my fingers as they did the magic.

        Sometimes just let your lizard brain take care of the problem.

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: To be fair

          I had a lot of welding done on my car last year so needed radio code.

          I could not find it, nor remember it then suddely about 1 hour later a number burst into my mind.

          I entered it and got the radio.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: To be fair

        As I've said elsewhere in this section I used to be able to touch type - taught myself on an old mechanical typewriter one summer while in the 6th form. I used Teletypes for my first programming which require some effort but I could hammer out stuff at a reasonable pace. Then I went on to design chips on various exotic machines some with odd number pads and random function keys. While I could still wizz along on my desktop VT100 I found the muscle memory for punctuation broke and slowed things down a lot. Then I got what is called in golf the oiks - which is where you overthink a simple thing like gently swinging a putter and end up with that 6 foot version. I've never managed to get back to the 70wpm though and weirdly I cant even type in my password when its dim!

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Passwords

          I've taken to creating passwords containing "words" of 5 random letters e.g. abcde fghij klmno pqrst O. (not in that order)

          "O" is not a random letter and is typed with the full stop. It's designed so I should be able to type it smoothly.

          The problem then is to remember which "word" belongs in which password and where. Tricky.

          Not the only problem. Lousy password security rules of various systems include rejecting a password with a letter repeated e.g. Ipsissimus, so avoid that; requiring a numeral (drop O. and use numeral 0 only); demanding punctuation and . does not count (use !). And now remember which password uses which twiddle.

          And type it without any mistakes. Has anyone invented a password system where 90 percent similar is good enough to get you in... oh no that's fingerprints and facial photograph recognition.

          1. KSM-AZ
            Pint

            Re: Passwords

            The problem with passwords is the checkers should look for entropy, not symbols or mixing case, or doubling characters. My favorite is a vendor site that requires, 1 upper, 1 lower, and one special character at least 12 long. So fuggit keepassXC is my friend and I'm storing , gen somethIng atrocious, cut paste save ... Sorry special chars can only be one of ..... You've got to be kidding me.... I have another will some of the same sillyness, so I gen my standard 16 char gook, . . . Sorry passwords can be no more than 12 chars. . . You can't make this stuff up. 'We are so stupid we can't hash a long string'.

            Our S2 Netbox badge system, requires at least 1 number no more than 10 chars, no doublets, will not take special chars, and they've written code such that you cannot use paste in the fields on the login page. I currently store >100 passwords in my Keepass file, that I unfotunately actually need all of over the course of a month. Need to send those guys another beer.

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Passwords

              I have a complex p/w that I change from time to time. And is used exclusively for an encrypted file kept in Onenote, which is shared across my devices but also has another p/w for general access. In the encrypted file are a set of files with such things as p/w lists. Which are not too obviously related to the thing they unlock to add a third level (obscurity).

          2. FuzzyWuzzys
            Happy

            Re: Passwords

            The classic XKCD cartoon is superb here, search "correct horse battery staple".

            It's especially good fun to come up with 35 character passwords if you regularly shop on LoveHoney!

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Passwords

            "Has anyone invented a password system where 90 percent similar is good enough to get you in..."

            I seriously considered writing a "right except for one character, so close enough" password checker for an old MUD. Unfortunately, that's not practical for any system that's more critical, as it requires storing the password in either plaintext or decryptable fashion. (As opposed to "encrypt what they just typed in the same non-reversible fashion as the stored one was, and compare the results", which is much better in the long run.)

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Passwords

              "Unfortunately, that's not practical for any system that's more critical, as it requires storing the password in either plaintext or decryptable fashion."

              Not quite true. The alternative is to generate all the off-by-one character passwords and store the hashes of those but it's an expensive way of enlarging your attack surface. I suspect a similar approach is taken for systems which ask you to type in letters 2,5 and 8 of your password.

      3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: To be fair

        Equally, I booked a hire car last year when tootling around Barcelona. So not only was I driving on the wrong right side of the road,

        FTFY ;)

      4. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: To be fair

        Try driving a Left hand drive car (US import to NZ) with a column change. As a teenager I spent part of a summer working for a panelbeater and his vehicle was a big ute (US truck) and I got to drive it about.

        I’m quite adaptable to driving in the left hand seat and on the right side of the road though. But then I’m ambidextrous and regularly swap hands for stuff either because its easier than changing position etc or just because.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: To be fair

          The ambidextrous thing is useful. But I do find that I automatically do certain things with specific hands unless there's a good reason not too. As a general rule, strength with left, dexterity with right. Though that doesn't always work.

      5. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: To be fair

        "Muscle memory" also plays a part

        Muscle memory played a big part in a serendipitous job I got with Lloyds Bank shortly after they got taken over by Royal Bank of Scotland. It turned out that the RBS form for opening a new account needed exactly the same information as the old Lloyds one, but with all the fields in a different order.

        I happened to be opening a new business account at the time, and I was watching as the poor girl entering the data backtracked and reinput almost every field.

        One simple overlay later and they were back to "salutation <tab> firstname <tab> lastname <tab> <tab> and so on, just as they'd been doing for the past 10 years.

    7. swm Silver badge

      "That's the problem with all these systems trying to make life easier, they stop people thinking about the abstractions that would help them solve this themselves"

      I think Apple started this with their manuals that told you how to do something but never told you the abstractions underneath.

    8. Marshalltown

      Ah - yes

      This wasn't Microsoft's problem. It was a Wordperfect file. My Boss called me in because his WP document was giving him trouble. It was "too slow." This baffled since he had the biggest, baddest machine in the house, even if he never came close to using its real muscle for anythin but viewing pr0n. Anyway, I chased him out of his office and waited for his chair to cool down. Then I opened the file. Yep, it was opening very slowly, scrolling slowly and closed slowly. This seemed like a real problem because it was only five pages long. Hmmm ... open the file again, and use Reveal Code to look at the formatting codes. Holy Cats!!!! There was a novel's worth of formatting that did nothing. So, clean up the document removing all nonfunctional formatting codes. Save it, close it, open it. Brisk as can be, no slow scrolling. So, I called the boss back in and told him it was all taken care of, and returned to a monumental dBASE II database the was really pushing the limits of my underpowered 640K PC. A terrified scream interrupted a doze as I waited while dBASE II conducted a filtering job.

      The boss had notice the change in file size and was certain I had deleted critical things. So, very slowly, I took him through the issues of not cleaning out nonfunctioning formatting, and the problems of files that were 30 times or more the size they should be. It turned out he had created a "template" for these business letters and simply saved a new letter over the template occasionally and simply edited visible text and occasionally "fixed" formatting.

    9. Jakester

      But Worse When Excel Changes Extension To Something Invalid...

      Just this last week, I had a user not able to find one of her Excel XLSX files, because Excel 2013 changed the extension to LSX. Even though she knew where the file was, she could not get it open because of the change of the extension. I just had to rename the file from a command prompt and she was back in business.

  2. PublicSectorNumpty

    This still happens with me, we have a package that every dot release is treated by "recent files" as a new program, so after each update we get calls along the lines of "my map has gone".

    We know now to ask first how they open them

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    PD?

    I guess professional development wasn't a thing back then...

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: PD?

      Since when as professional development (or even basic MS office training) even been a thing for low level office types?

    2. Trygve Henriksen

      Re: PD?

      Unfortunately, back then 'Professional development' meant something like 'we pay our programmers enough that they don't have to dumpster dive'....

      About the same as what it means today, really...

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    You solved the problem, goodbye

    Stress and panic may explain why the guy didn't find his spreadsheet, but that does not explain why he didn't try and learn from the situation.

    When you find yourself in a bind and someone comes along to dig you out, you're supposed to gain experience and learn how not to get yourself in such a situation again.

    I guess that, since apparently he didn't call back the next day, he at least learned to pay attention to the recent file list, but most probably he just went back to his habit of clicking on the first thing in the list. Oh well, maybe after a decade he finally learned how files work.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

      "...but that does not explain why he didn't try and learn from the situation...."

      My cousin, a well educated school teacher, has convinced himself that computers are too complicated for him to understand. Much like the user in today's article, he knows what he needs to do to get his job done, send emails and surf the net, but can't/won't understand anything beyond that. The first time he lost loads of stuff on his home PC I recovered as much as I could and set him up with a backup disc and instructions for regular backups. The second time he lost loads of stuff I sat down and tried to explain the basics of a file system and backup to him. I couldn't get as far as the equivalence between a physical filing cabinet and the file system - he simply refused to accept that anything on the computer could be related to anything in the physical world; "they're just too complicated and I'll never understand them". So I gave up. Every Christmas, when we go to his place I just sort his laptop out and get him up to date with backups and updates. It's hard to understand cos apart from this he's a normal, very bright bloke.

      1. not.known@this.address Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

        If he refuses to learn about Backups, tell him he needs to have the backup disc up and running all the time and set the laptop to do a full backup every time he starts it up... Not a perfect solution* but it means there should be *something* there next time...

        *hopefully it slows the laptop appreciably and he asks you to make it go faster. Then you can tell him if he runs the backup manually like you suggested, it might clear the memory storage dump out a bit quicker... I know there's no "memory storage dump", hopefully you know there's no "memory storage dump", but he is unlikely to - and once you're happy he's doing what you suggested, you can stop the backup-at-startup malarkey!

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

          That relies on his frequently starting up the machine. Users sometimes decide never to do this, or even close anything. There was one person whose machine I used temporarily to write a small Word document. When Word creates temporary blank documents, it automatically increments a number if the previous blank document got saved, document-1, document-2, etc. The one I used was document-259. I don't know how long it took that user to get to that many blank documents opened or saved, but I bet that machine's uptime was quite ridiculous as personal laptops go.

      2. WanderingHaggis

        Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

        Different minds work in different way -- I did support for the lady who tutored my daughter in maths she once told me she remembered a persons phone number because it was <dummy mode>the reciprocal prime of a </dummy mode> I don't know what. An other was a expansion of ... sheer genius way beyond me and she could explain maths to kids who were really struggling and succeed. But she couldn't find her way around a computer and a gui no matter how many times I showed her -- she'd drive me crazy but she was a wonderful person.

        1. Emir Al Weeq

          Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

          >Different minds

          So true, SWMBO is a lawyer who simply doesn't get computers beyond using them for documents and email. I have a lot of tolerance for this because I see her read and understand the kind of document that makes EULAs look like a learning-to-read book yet, for me, when I try to read them they induce a kind of dyslexia that, after one paragraph, turns the rest of the text into meaningless jumble of letters.

          My brother, a mechanic, also takes the attitude that if your car doesn't work then you take it to him to fix. He does not expect you to learn the fix or even care how he did it: he recognises that once he's done, you just want to turn the key and drive it. So when his computer doesn't work, he just wants it fixed so that he can metaphorically turn the key and drive it.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

            And this sums up the interesting thing. Computers as appliances.

            If an appliance goes wrong we expect the repair man/woman to come along and just fix it.

            BUT- we still are or should be expected to know how to set a thermometer, defrost the freezer, check the fuses, descale the kettle and put the clocks forward an hour.

            And yes, I expect the car to be fixed, service ready to go. But it's still my job to check tyre pressure, water, oil and add fuel as required. Even if I do take it to Halfords for bulb and wiper fitting these days ( a mixture of laziness and that fact that bulb housings are just grim to get your hand into).

            1. KSM-AZ
              Coffee/keyboard

              Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

              I don't move my clock. I live in a very strange place where people who want to get up earlier, move their alarms (or leave the blinds open a crack), instead of making everyone move their clocks. I'm debating 'moving' them all to 24 hors UTC. YMMV

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

            "I see her read and understand the kind of document that makes EULAs look like a learning-to-read book yet,"

            Wow. So well put. Even I can understand that comparison.

        2. Strebortrebor

          Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

          When I got my first mobile phone, I was offered a short list of available numbers from which to choose. I chose the one that ends in 2048, because it's 2**11. This shortened the string of new digits to memorise. (2716 would have worked the same for me).

          I've pointed this out this property to other geeky people to whom I've given my number. It usually doesn't register with them.

    2. Paul Shirley

      Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

      If he was literally only told to click on entry 2 there aren't many clues about files, recent lists or why that even worked!

    3. Snapper

      Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

      THIS drives me mad.

      I can understand if someone has a deadline to hit and simply, really doesn't have time, but the attitude from users that 'alright, you've fixed it, now why are you still here' is becoming more, not less prevalent.

    4. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

      When you find yourself in a bind and someone comes along to dig you out, you're supposed to gain experience and learn how not to get yourself in such a situation again.

      It may be what he learned was that if he called the number and talked to this individual, his problem would be solved. Besides, you seem to be asking a lot of someone whose job description seems to have been "Open this spreadsheet".

    5. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: You solved the problem, goodbye

      Some people just want the information, they actively do not want to understand.

      Like the difference in demonstrating Physiology labs between Medical and Science students. The medics just wanted to know because they have a LOT of stuff to learn and HAVE to pass the exams.

      The science ones wanted to understand and had the luxury of being able to.

      Understanding the difference was key to being a good demonstrator. Don’t make the medics think!

      Though these days as medicine is trying to actually turn itself into a science they are trying to scientifically educate the students and get them to think scientifically. For a while now to get to be a Consultant you need a PhD not an MD and so high powered medics in labs doing PhD’s is now a thing and not a bad one.

  5. LeoP

    This might explain ...

    ... the performance of the Banks when things got a bit rough.

    Mix 1 part moronity with 2 parts of greed and you get a tasty taxpayer-bailout cocktail.

  6. Andy Non Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Problem with learning parrot fashion

    I know several people (the wife included) who for whatever reason are either unable or unwilling to understand what they are doing on computers, smart phones, recording programs on the TV etc, so rely on doing it exactly the same way, parrot fashion, time after time. Some even have notes listing all the steps in order. This only works until something breaks that sequence, as in this article and they are left floundering. Maybe it is down to poor training, or poor aptitude for the task or just an unwillingness to learn and understand the underlying aspects of what they are doing.

    I always try to explain to people what is happening behind the scenes of their button pushing / mouse clicking sequences but am sometimes met with bafflement, resistance or sometimes plain hostility - "I just want it to work, OK!" You just can't help some people.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

      Learning how to do it is one level; Understanding how to do it is a much deeper level.

      1. Notas Badoff

        Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

        ^^ this just went into my quotes file. Thank you

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

      It's part of a wider problem of people not wanting to bother with the what and how of the stuff they use. It's a kind of snobbery. Knowing stuff is beneath them.

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

        > It's a kind of snobbery. Knowing stuff is beneath them.

        Ah, how I love this kind of people... A few times I managed to handle that was by saying "I do this ONE more time for you and I'll explain things, you better listen.". Some listened, others not. May not be possible in your professional role, though.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

        Like company wide emails from the CEO or board members "sent on behalf of..." by a minion. Yeah, looking at out own C-Suite here.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

        "It's part of a wider problem of people not wanting to bother with the what and how of the stuff they use. It's a kind of snobbery."

        There are two separate issues here. Not needing to know something beyond what you need to know to use it is one thing. Promoting not knowing and not being able to known into being some kind of virtue is the snobbery.

        I know what keys to press on my TV remote to get it to do what I want. I've never needed to delve into what IR codes it transmits so I haven't done that. The fact that someone else knows those codes does not make them morally inferior.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

          There's a difference between not knowing what happens in the details under the bonnet and not knowing how the thing works in a more general sense.

    3. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

      Quite often techie people are like this too.

      Even programmers, including me a bit.

      You get so used to telling computers what to do that if the vendor of the computer completely changes the way it works* you are out on a limb asking any available teenagers why it don't work.

      * Yes usual suspect going from a nice clear OS to a glorified phone UI.

      Oh and how much goes it cost to taser a Firefox descision maker. You know the Australis group, the remove the easy UI change group, them lot. They could raise a klot of money with this.

      Telephone, I just hand it to a kid to sort, life is too short to have to learn stuff for a short time before it changes again.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

        "the vendor of the computer completely changes the way it works"

        This is a clear indication that marketing has taken over system design.

    4. Rol Silver badge

      Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

      I think Excel is a perfect example where many users have just enough knowledge to bang away at it until it gets "upgraded" and then it all goes to pot.

      Management just don't grasp the concept that Excel 2016 is not the same as 2003, and baulk at the suggestion that some training would be in order.

      I'd love to throw them the keys to a car and answer their cries when they discover it's a model T, to "Stop complaining. It's a car. And you all know how to drive a car don't you?"

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

        That's been my experience of car hire, on the few times I've had to use one.

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

        Did the Model T have "keys"? :-) Initially coming without a driver's door or a roof. Never mind, give 'em keys and let them wonder.

        1. Criggie

          Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

          The model T was more of a tractor than a car - sure the wheel turns left and right the same, but there's a 2 speed gearbox controlled by pedals, and the brake is the rightmost pedal.. You also have to manually control the spark retard, and crank it to start. The model T had a 20 horsepower engine, and a fuel tank under the driver's seat.

          But yes - they had an ignition key that looks like this in the earlier 1914-1919 era - sometimes called a coil switch.

          https://images2.minutemediacdn.com/image/upload/c_fill,g_auto,h_1248,w_2220/f_auto,q_auto,w_1100/v1555340366/shape/mentalfloss/image_23.jpg (from https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/77352/show-tell-ford-model-t-ignition-key )

          Later ones had a more conventional looking brass key.

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Problem with learning parrot fashion

      "This only works until something breaks that sequence"

      Things like unavoidable Windows10 updates.

  7. Juan Inamillion

    Trying to teach...

    "I haven't got time!"

    "Just make it work!"

    Either or both....

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Trying to teach...

      Or, failing to teach, so many companies ake on minions, show them how to carry out one operation and leave them to it.

      Often it will be the fault ofa low level supervisor who is both lazy and doesn't want anyone to know enough to challenge their position. Overall, situations like this are failures on the part of proper management.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Trying to teach...

        "Often it will be the fault ofa low level supervisor who is both lazy and doesn't want anyone to know enough to challenge their position."

        Or doesn't know themselves. Repeat up the scale until you get to one senior enough to have a PA who actually knows stuff.

        1. Emir Al Weeq

          Re: Trying to teach...

          Or just new staff being badly taught by their equally badly-taught colleagues.

          Child: Mummy, why do you always cut the ends of the the roast before putting it in the oven?

          Mum: I don't really know: my mum told me to do it.

          Child: Granny, why do you always cut the ends of the the roast before putting it in the oven?

          Granny: I don't really know: my mum always did that.

          Child: Great-gran, why did you cut the ends of the the roast before putting it in the oven?

          Great-gran: Goodness! I hardly remember that. My oven used to be too small to take the whole roast.

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Trying to teach...

      Nobody should be made to feel bad because of their ignorance. However, when people take their ignorance and put it on a pedestal as something to be proud of and refuse to learn, well then they should be ashamed.

      In WW2, pigeons were taught to guide bombs by pecking one way or the other. They were taught this by rote. When people refuse to learn anything beyond doing it by rote, then they are reducing themselves to the level of pigeons. TBH, in some cases, the pigeons may be brighter.

      1. shedied

        Re: Trying to teach...

        And I was just about to watch this clip on YouTube about a seagull that ate pigeons. After this, and your post, I am not quite sure why I passed it by, in favor of ball pythons feeding on rats. I must have been thinking about management, but that's another story, for another Friday

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Trying to teach...

          Why not this Friday? Got anything better to do with this lock down stuff going on?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Trying to teach...

            "Why not this Friday? Got anything better to do with this lock down stuff going on?"

            Yes. Dribble out the goodness, make it last. Use all the good material in one day and three's less left for when the cabin fever sets in.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: Trying to teach...

              Good point, but I still recommend it be written down (or typed up as the case may be) already for later posting. Hurry when you have time, so you will have time when you are in a hurry.

      2. Rol Silver badge

        Re: Trying to teach...

        To be fair, being able to do something well by rote is still an hard learnt achievement, and it is no wonder that people get a bit miffed when that skill is so easily dismissed.

        Where I work, we are constantly having to adapt to change, and the job is quite complex. Long before we have gotten comfortable with the new procedure, it gets changed, and then changed again.

        It is so disorientating and frustrating to find yourself having to constantly concentrate on a task that only last week you were doing splendidly with your eyes closed.

        True, the staff still left, are very adaptable, but we have lost some very hard working people who couldn't cope with the chaos. (Ideal candidates for the job were most often somewhere on the Asperger's scale, now however, put someone with even the mildest of that condition in our environment and they go to pieces, and I include myself on that score)

    3. Snapper

      Re: Trying to teach...

      Graduate (UK) Manchester - Marketing

      Spreadsheet

      Enters column of figures, about 80.

      Gets calculator out to add up column of figures.

      WTF!

      How?

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Trying to teach...

        I might do that

        .

        .

        .

        as a verification of having entered all figures correctly, making the same mistake twice is unlikely.

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Trying to teach...

        I do some work occasionally, in my retirement, that is paid by a mixture of hours and sessions. The claim form was created on a spreadsheet, to be printed and filled out by hand.

        No formulae. (Until I set them up for myself and gave it to anyone who wanted). It was just a matrix for a printed form. And this is in a secondary school! What a waste of time. And effort. For me, though, no effort. Counts the number of full sessions (tick in the cell), multiply that by the number of hours in the session, which is standard. Counts the extra hours. Adds them together.

        I save and email to the manager.

        There are people who spend time printing the form, writing in the sessions, multiplying by the length of session, adding...... etc etc.

        1. John 48

          Re: Trying to teach...

          I had a similar experience with a mate of mine, bright bloke in theory - economics graduate - had built a number of international advertising agency businesses in his time. I watched (by remote control) him use Excel as a "grid typewriter" for doing some invoices... working the sums out with a calculator and typing them in. I suggested that I add some formulae to the sheet to do all that for him automatically.

          He protested that he would not trust it, and by doing it his way "at least he knew it was right!" Then I pointed out that just from the casual inspection, I could see at least two arithmetical errors in his invoice, and he had so far diddled himself out of five hours of billable time! Even then he was not convinced. You can't help some people.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Trying to teach...

            And being fair, that's probably not too unusual.

            A spreadsheet does have a degree of magic about it. A hidden formula that gives you totals, magically, but you don't know how they arrived there. It might be making them up.

            1. find users who cut cat tail

              Re: Trying to teach...

              > It might be making them up.

              It might be as well. Most likely the spreadsheet was created by a monkey, is mislabelled and generally confusing, has errors in formulae, requires manual steps and workarounds – and probably subtracts dates from telephone numbers too.

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: Trying to teach...

                My own use, and I think probably most users, is relatively simple. Long and repeated simple calculations.

                But I do share the suspicion when I come across massive spreadsheet based systems. An obvious example, PFI charging. If a school or a hospital requests a new table from the PFI company the cost goes into a spreadsheet. (Say £100) which then calculates a service charge for making the provision, and another for ordering, and another for cleaning and another for admin and another for maintenance and however many others that have been hidden in the contract small print. And the school is given a bill for £350 and an annual charge of £100 p/a there after. And no one has any way to know whether that's right or not.

        2. Strebortrebor

          Re: Trying to teach...

          I went through this in the '80s, when I worked for a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company. I created a spreadsheet (Supercalc on CP/M) to do my expense reports and print them out on a Decwriter. Every word and every field was present, in the same relative positions on the page.

          The beancounters said that they couldn't accept it in this form, because it was not on the official stationery. I still used the spreadsheet to enter and cross-foot the data, transcribing the output onto the official 3-part NCR form at the end.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Trying to teach...

            That DecWriter was an impact printer, you should have loaded that official stationary form in the printer before printing your expense reports. That would have driven those beancounters out of their (tiny) minds.

            1. DiViDeD Silver badge

              Re: Trying to teach...

              Did that for a concrete company in South Wales many moons ago. Had an invoice page in the workbook microadjusted to fit their preprinted, non standard size, 3 part invoice/Delivery note.

              The office people loaded the orders into an Excel form and confirmed as the orders were loaded (in the concrete business al lot of orders get cancelled or adjusted depending on weather, Eric digging the hole too deep/shallow, Brian not being fully trained on the art of the measuring tape, etc) and the driver picked up his printed documents on the way out of the yard. Big improvement on typing all the orders onto the 3 part forms and giving them to the guy on the gate, then him having to rip em up and collect replacements when things changed.

              It could even handle drivers yelling out "Can we have an extra half tonne?" while they were loading.

              EDIT: Almost forgot. It also added any confirmed orders to the daily export sheet that was loaded nightly into Sage Financial. That's how long ago it was!

      3. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: Gets calculator out to add up column of figures.

        More common than you'd think. showing a senior sales director at $$major merchant bank$$ how the Sum function works in Excel was a major revelation to her. To her, Excel was simply an electronic scratchpad for storing her numbers.

    4. mdubash

      Re: Trying to teach...

      Many's the time I've watched users painfully mouse their way around the screen (using crappy laptops left in the default Windows configuration, which doesn't help it must be said) to select a menu option or minimise a window, when one or two keyboard shortcuts would do it in a fraction of the time. I gave up suggesting Ctrl-O or Ctrl-S and Alt-F4 (let along Alt-Space-N or Alt-Space-R) after being being told for the third time that they don't have time to learn that.

      So painful! Now every time they waste 30 seconds or more finding the right menu option whne a half-second prod of the keyboard would do it, I have to look away...

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Trying to teach...

        I used to be able to drive a couple of programs on keystrokes. Then the mouse came along and also other programs with different concepts of keystroke commands. My use of keystroke commands diminished and died though I often wonder about reinvigorating it. For some things it could be quite useful but if the mouse is necessary for any operations then keystrokes are out as the move from mouse to keyboard requires a spacial reset on the keyboard which removes any time saving.

  8. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Basic knowledge

    I might have told this before, but WTH.

    I was doing the non-IT (main) part of my job, visiting a school SENCO to give advice on one of their kids.

    When I got to her office she made me wait outside, because- as she told me after- she was working on a confidential document and didn't want to lose it so had to finish and print it.

    She then said that she was always losing work like that, because of getting called away to handle emergencies etc. in the middle of typing confidential documents so she had to turn the computer off in case anyone went into her office while she was awy from her desk, but this one had taken her so long to do that she couldn't risk it. (My visit wasn't an emergency, that's true). So of course I expressed some puzzlement.

    It turned out she didn't know how to save files and had never asked anyone.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Basic knowledge

      "It turned out she didn't know how to save files and had never asked anyone."

      Didn't know how to or didn't know it was possible so didn't know she had a question to ask?

      I've met people in that situation where the "training" was so basic, the users didn't know what questions to ask.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Basic knowledge

        This was someone who, I had assumed with some assurance, had always hand written reports or used a manual typewriter until forced to switch, and never bothered to find out what made a PC different - beyond having a screen and some wires.

        I had a colleague who refused to work with a computer until his portable typewriter was prised from his grasp. But he at least then made the switch - successfully.

        This SENCo , however, was one of the most stubborn, useless and generally incompetent beings I'd had to work with in 30+ years.. She could have asked any of the other teaching staff in her school what to do. Or one of the 4 admins, or one of the support staff. She can not (dim as she was) have failed to work out that no one else was having that problem.

        Which is why I didn't don my IT support hat and offer to help her. She wasn't part of my team so I had no responsibility for her, and she usually ignored the advice I gave her about working with the kids ( which was my role with her) while demanding we gave the kids the initial lines of support that she was meant to be providing herself. I'd already wasted enough time with her trying to do my (substantive) job and get her to do hers.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Basic knowledge

          Thanks for the clarification on the circumstances. That completely changes my understanding of the situation and all I can is that in the same situation as you <AOL>Me too!</AOL>

  9. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    my first experience with Lotus 123

    I took over a friend's entry level position in the late 80's. One of the things he'd done was create a Lotus 123 spreadsheet to track "buy cards".

    The thing is, spreadsheets back then had a macro language that was somewhat primitive, and he'd never gone past the keystroke method.

    Me, being an efficient typist, would often "type ahead" so that I wouldn't have to wait for things.

    I did a "type ahead" one time in that spreadsheet, and the macro went NUTS and overwrote a whole BUNCH of data, including the MACRO ITSELF!

    The first time that happened, my friend was still there to fix it. Unfortunately "auto save" was part of that macro, as I recall, so "fixing ti" could be rather "involved".

    Needless to say after he left I accieentally killed it AGAIN, but having been so fragile I actually bothered to learn about protected cells, advanced spreadsheet formulas, and proper macro programming and fixed it properly. Then its need disappeared... so it was all just a waste of time after all!

    (later I used that position as a stepping stone to an IT career, by producing a weekly report that used to take an entire WEEK, in about 3 hours, automatically starting 2 hours before I arrived monday AM, so I could monitor the printout in case it jammed - after 2 hours of copying and distributing it, I had an additional 37 hours to do "whatever" which became actual programming and data analysis - all good!).

  10. David Robinson 1

    Excel hate?

    In the 25 years or so I've had to interact with Excel, it's never given me any grief. Word, hell yes. When using Word my reflex was to Ctrl-S every five minutes. Then there was Word 6 and 9x tendency to muff up the documents by saving older edits, which rendered the file unable to be opened. We found that the Word document could be opened in OpenOffice and saved back out. That stripped all the old crap out of the file and allowed it to be opened in Word once more. Added benefit was it reduced the file size.

    The only complaint I have about Excel is our customers using it to send us log files. "Let me get this straight. You had a perfectly serviceable text log file and you decided to paste it into an Excel spreadsheet before sending it to us?"

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Excel hate?

      Let me guess: Those customers are Japanese.

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Excel hate?

      I've had to go to extreme lengths to get around Excel's habit of translating anything that looks like a date or a number into internal format.

      0114200xxxx ? Ok, that's 1.14e9

      1/6 ? Ok, that's datedays(34646)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Excel hate?

        I have this trouble with serial numbers that begin with a zero, or any long ID numbers (containing no letters). Gotten in the habit of putting a ' in front of any "text" numbers.

        1. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: Excel hate?

          The Excel "Oh look, it's a date. I'll format that for you" issue becomes more of an issue when dealing with that stupid bloody US date format and an imported CSV. We get:

          1/11/2018 - Oh, that's easy. 11th Jan

          31/05/2018 - No idea. I'll just make it text

          You end up with a Date column where 2/3 of the dates are readable and correct but need converting back into proper numbers and 1/3 are rendered as dates, but the wrong bloody dates

          I wrote an import macro to capture and sort out that bollocks, which had me thinking - If I can build that in a couple of hours, why hasn't Microsoft done it in the last 30+ years?

          It doesn't help that their help files for handling dates tend to use 1/1/xxxx as their example for date formats!!

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Excel hate?

            Microsoft are amazingly bad at sorting out long standing, well known inadequacies.

            The one I usually refer to at such junctures is the recycling bin icon.

            For God knows how many Windows versions it's been possible to replace the recycle bin(s) with something more interesting. But you have to manually alter the registry entries to make them change automatically.

            The ,0 (below) has to be entered manually at the end of the path to the new icon or the icon won't change on empty/fill without a refresh ( which would be pointless).

            It's well documented on the various support websites.

            ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

            Key Name: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\CLSID\{645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}\DefaultIcon

            Class Name: <NO CLASS>

            Last Write Time: 30/03/2020 - 09:14

            Value 0

            Name: empty

            Type: REG_SZ

            Data: R:\Icons\domie.ico,0

            Value 1

            Name: full

            Type: REG_SZ

            Data: R:\Icons\coffee.ico,0

            Value 2

            Name: <NO NAME>

            Type: REG_SZ

            Data: R:\Icons\domie.ico,0

      2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        Re: Excel hate?

        How extreme? Put an apostrophe in front of anything and it will assume it's text and render it exactly as typed (excluding the apostrophe)

        I agree that it's annoying that entering 1/5 doesn't result in 0.2 and there should be a way to change the default leading character to = when it's a numbers, but I bet there are millions out there who enter more dates than numbers who'd disagree.

        1. Joe W Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: Excel hate?

          Yeah, right. If I type in something I want it to appear like I typed it in. And I also do not want Excel to make assumptions about the data that I just read in (oooh, that looks like I could print it as a scientific number, I'll mess up the format of it now and confuse the crap out of everybody) - assuming it reads in the file correctly: It refuses to correctly open comma separated value (csv) files (yeah, I know how to import the data, thankyouverymuch), because it wants the separator to be a semicolon.

          Excel was written for adding two columns, one called "credit" and one "debit". If the latter adds up to a higher number than the former you have a problem. It excels at that, and not much more. It used to use only the first 63 (and later 65535) entries to calculate certain things (like the standard deviation), not sure if that has been fixed. And I don't care.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Excel hate?

            It refuses to correctly open comma separated value (csv) files (yeah, I know how to import the data, thankyouverymuch), because it wants the separator to be a semicolon.

            Just make sure the first line (preceding the data) contains "sep=<desired separator>", like "sep=;" or "sep=,". I used to work in an environment where both were active on various PCs, depending on the background of the user (Dutch and Polish staff used almost exclusively ";", Japanese staff almost exclusively ",") and we had to make sure CSV-exports from the AS/400 were correctly opened on all PCs. Good luck until you find that small trick. I just wish there were a similar setting for decimals (and thousands).

            1. Emir Al Weeq

              Re: Excel hate?

              A.P. Veening, re sep=

              You've kept that from me all these years! how could you?

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: Excel hate?

                Very easy by counting on people not to read it. It is all over the internet, mostly in the NRA (Never Read Answers, the correct way to describe FAQ).

                1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                  Re: Excel hate?

                  However, the Never Read Answers are usually to go with the Never Asked Questions.

                  Or to be more succinct. FAQs usually spell out the obvious while omitting the useful. And are sometimes written before anyone has even used the product.

                  1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                    Re: Excel hate?

                    Ever met anybody who actually read the FAQ (and the accompanying answers)?

            2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Bronze badge

              Re: Excel hate?

              > Just make sure the first line (preceding the data) contains "sep=<desired separator>", like "sep=;" or "sep=,".

              You just taught me a good trick I did not know yet.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Excel hate?

                Same here, but considering that CSV means Comma Separated Values, the default behavior should be to assume that there is a comma separating the values. sep= should only be required if a non-comma separator is used.

                I understand that that can be an issue in the parts of the world that use a comma as a decimal separator, but that means those parts of the world should have been using SSV files, ie Semi-colon Separated Value files back when life was more simple. Nowadays, of course, there are so many more use cases, the sep= option does makes sense as long as other programmes use the same options to import CSV files. I certainly remember creating filters to get exported data from one programme to another because neither could operate with a common file format.

                1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                  Re: Excel hate?

                  You are technically absolutely correct. Unfortunately, real life has a tendency to intrude on perfection. And thanks to Excell taking the separator for CSVs from the Regional and Language settings, which change on a PC with changing users thanks to roaming profiles, there are nearly always problems.

                  Just to make life even more interesting, I don't know about all other programs reading CSVs, so that export function on the AS/400 made that sep=-line optional, but the default was to put it in (with a semi-colon as default separator).

                2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                  Re: Excel hate?

                  We take an agreed specification "CSV" file from a partner organisation.

                  "The"|"fields"|"in"|"the"|"file"|"are"|"delimited"|"like"|"this"

                  The target is Microsoft SQL Server so that's actually manageable.

                  I don't recall seeing ; as a separator, except in, "Charles the First walked and talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off.". A bit gruesome, sorry.

                  Querying SQL data to a grid resultset to paste into Excel, I put strings vulnerable to interpretation as '="' + value + "

                  which generates cell definition of ="value" and appears as: value

                  Copy-paste also doesn't like data containing tab character 0x09 or line break 0x0D0A, it treats those as column and row breaks, so I wrote a SQL function to replace with > and (b) or something like that if the data isn't clean. As a check against other surprises, I check that the rightmost column in Excel contains the data that it should. If this issue arises in a row, that fails the test.

            3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

              Re: Excel hate?

              "Just make sure the first line (preceding the data) contains "sep=<desired separator>", like "sep=;" or "sep=,""

              That just results in every other data manipulation program I use complain that the number of fields in the first line doesn't match the rest of the file, or make the title of column zero "sep=". It's a COMMA seperated file, the seperator is a COMMA.

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: Excel hate?

                This is a trick to force Excel to read it properly, if you are using some other program to read it, leave it out.

                And the real problem is that Excel takes the separator from Regional and language settings, it doesn't care the least about the name/technicality of "Comma Separated".

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Esme

      Re: Excel hate?

      In my last job, for a year or two (the memory is getting thankfully hazy) I suffered from Excel's inability to to read .csv files it had created itself, after a particular major update on a daily basis (No, don't ask me for the details, I cant recall why we were having to do this, other than it involved an extremely shonky method of transporting data between incompatible systems so that, ultimately, the beancounters got their daily fix of data and could bill people. I tried my damnedest to work out a better way, but by the time I was in this situation the lock-in to the current way of doing things was too great, and me too lowly to get anything done about it. Apparently my daily pain was cheaper than actually sorting out a sensible solution).

      First time it happened, I thought oh, it corrupted on the save, no problem, we'll just save out the xls file again as a .csv, problem sorted. And that time it was. But the problem kept recurring, seemingly randomly. Thinking it might be that non-printing characters might be being shoved into the data by the program that originally created it, I manually created a simple spreadsheet, saved out as .csv, then loaded it back into Excel. It was corrupt. Repeated several time - sometimes it worked fine, sometimes it did not. Never got to the bottom of what the heck was going on, but I had a colleague check on their version of Excel and it behaved the same for them, so it wasnt a PEBCAK problem either.

      Since then I have never trusted Excel, which is a shame as it was one of the few pieces of MS software I used to get on OK with. Thankfully, it's now been several years since I've had to deal with any MS products!

  11. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Windows

    I still have nightmares...

    The year is 2013, the package... Excel 2000. Connected to an SQL2008 r2 database... And an accounting database still using foxpro (complete with 1GB database limit).

    Add a smattering of VBA macros (I feigned ignorance that I knew VBA so I wouldn't have to deal with the eldritch horror) and you have a daily reports tool that takes 2 hours to compile for the director (I wrote an SQL stored procedure that did it in 10 minutes but it wasn't trusted because... Reasons).

    Non-Euclidean Geometry gives me less of a headache.

    Right, Its gone 11 and my beer cellar is calling.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: I still have nightmares...

      Nice to see someone else uses stored procedures. I often wonder if there was something illegal about them!

      On a non-stored procedure note a friend had an early db on the PC and the db file was well formatted and he asked me if I could speed up something that the db manager/interface took several hours to do - it was merely summing up some figures in one field so I wrote a bit of C to open the db file and just pull out those figures and add them up and print the value. It took longer for the floppy to spin up and provide the data than it did to add the figures so he was utterly convinced the program didnt do anything other than guess.

  12. Jonathan Richards 1
    Go

    Spreadsheets of yore

    > Excel, which by the 1990s was already well on its way to dominance

    I had a soft spot for Quattro Pro for a long time. As I recall it came on a stack of a dozen or so 1.38MB floppy disks, so installing it was, umm, tedious, but well worth the effort.

    "Quattro Pro - since sold to Corel and now part of WordPerfect Office - was a fabulous product, way ahead of its time. Certainly ahead of Microsoft's then-young Excel and Office.", quoth the Vulture [1]. Yep. What he said.

    [1] Why Borland trashed its spreadsheet

  13. Timo

    Been screwed by something similar

    There have been a few times where I've received a document by email (usually Excel), and have toiled away editing it, and saving it.

    But then if I go back to work on it, I have no idea where it got saved, was it in temp, or downloaded files, or yet another folder that isn't the one that I expected it to be in?

    In that case the "recent documents" list is about the only way I can find where that file went.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Been screwed by something similar

      "Save as....."

      Always use save as. Always. At least until you've saved a couple of times. And watch what you're doing.

      1. PerlyKing Silver badge

        Re: Been screwed by something similar

        I support a, er, user who still won't save Word files until they're finished. Although why Word doesn't still doesn't create a default file is beyond me.

        My default (in any editor) is to Ctrl+S (or equivalent) any time I pause during typing.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Been screwed by something similar

          Lots of kids seem to do exams on a laptop these days. And it's usually my job during exams to quietly remind them to save as they go. And in that, the key point of their student life, having grown up with computers, at least half of them need that reminder. From the start to the end.

  14. David Shaw

    squirrels

    Not a very exciting reminisence, but I was trying to call William in Paris from the research centre in Italy, to go on the common object reference broker architecture software course.

    I dialed his number 00 (int code) 33 (france) 1 (Paris) - number XXXXXX

    except I forgot to dial the 0 for the external line

    and I got through to 0 (outside line) 0 33 1 (local number) - number XXXXX

    and I said "bonjour, J'aimerais parlarerz avec William" etc in a vague French,

    the operator talked to me in French for a minute or two, and put me through to NATO C3 INTELLIGENCE, who had a William, who spoke french, who couldnt understand why I was asking him about the starting dates for a CORBA course. After vast amounts of confusion, how could I make a wrong number in a wrong language and actually get through to people that worked in that language, whilst in Italy, anyway they were very nice and didn't bomb me. Spooky...

    ...as it was when I finally got to Paris and I found the CORBA course was in fact filled with guys from.....[carrier loss]

  15. MiguelC Silver badge
    Facepalm

    We have a system where buttons have keyboard shortcuts assigned by their order of appearance on the screen (first button CTRL+1, second button CTRL+2... you get the idea)

    One day we implemented an update to a screen that added a button in the second spot, so the shortcuts for the next commands changed.

    All hell broke loose the day after deployment because, although our users all had been instructed on how to use it, they forgot to educate the outsourced team that ran day-to-day operations.

    Not one of them cared to read the button's text and mindlessly kept on pressing CTRL+3 that now, instead of sending the instruction to market for settlement, just sent an update to the client. It went on for an hour until clients started complaining about lots of useless updates but no advance in business. And we got the complaint though our users, not directly from the outsourced team, who were also seemingly unable to understand what the problem was.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      shortcuts

      "We have a system where buttons have keyboard shortcuts assigned by their order of appearance on the screen (first button CTRL+1, second button CTRL+2... you get the idea)"

      Windows 10 has that too: Windows Key + 1 executes the first shortcut on taskbar and so forth.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Not your fault, but this situation is exactly why I suggest that lots of shortcuts get created and none are ever changed. It's a little annoying when a feature changes its shortcut and I have to find it again, but it can be awful when a new feature has been assigned the old shortcut and now I not only have to find the shortcut for the thing I want but I also have to find the thing the old shortcut decided to do to my file, which might not be obvious.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Not your fault"

        Oh?

        The user interface was broken and it wasn't the fault of the people who broke it?

        Add the button to the end, not where something else is expected.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Not necessarily. If someone else mandated the keyboard shortcut model, the programmers could have been restricted from assigning mnemonics. And you don't always want to add new buttons at the end. Consider the following toolbar or menu order:

          Undo Cut Copy Paste Find Replace

          Now, we're going to add two features. We're going from an undo model where you can undo once and reverse it by clicking undo once again to a model where you can undo multiple times, adding a redo. And we're adding a convenience option to go to the next result from a find. Would you really want the menu to look like this?

          Undo Cut Copy Paste Find Replace Redo Find next

          Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to arrange it like this:

          Undo Redo Cut Copy Paste Find Find next Replace

          I think the problem was assigning shortcuts in numerical order instead of assigning specific ones to each function. The fault lies in whoever made that requirement. If that wasn't the same person who added a button, then I think it wasn't the fault of the person who added the button.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Slicing responsibility like that is a great way to spread the blame when things go wrong. It might be spread so thinly that everyone escapes blame. However it's a very effective means of ensuring that things go wrong. On the whole it's better to concentrate on avoiding blame by not having things go wrong in the first place.

  16. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Every replacement PC roll-out gets this.

    "All my files are gone!!!!!"

    Translation:

    "I haven't yet recently opened anything yet because this is a new mahine, so there's nothing listed in the 'recently opened files' list and I don't understand file systems and actually know where the actual file is".

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Only made worse by WIndows and some application programmes, especially those emitted by MS, putting all your files into My Pictures, My music etc by default with little to no sorting or structure.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Especially since the default locations are just pretend folders hidden away in <documents and settings> and not something that appears in a normal folder structure.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Binary notation of bodily functions.

    Assume unsigned char.

    #1 is bit 1, #2 is bit 2, #4 (Vom) is bit 3, #8 (sneezure fit) is bit 4.

    So if micturition and a deposition must be made simultaneously, you can say #3, because bit 1&2 are set, and the value of your register is 3.

    Woe betide if you get a #15...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Binary notation of bodily functions.

      That takes a screenshot.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Binary notation of bodily functions.

        Screenshart would be more apt-get install new-keyboard.

  18. Andy 68

    Shall we talk about Zoom?

    In the Current Climate™, Mrs 68 is teaching her fitness classes over the intarwebz, and everyone is getting to learn how zoom works.

    Apart from the cantankerous biddies who insist on

    - "I can't see you" (when everyone else can)

    - "I can't hear you" (when everyone else can)

    - Refusing to heed instructions as to how to remediate the first two

    - Refusing to be muted "in case"

    etc. etc.

    Technology eh.... who'd have it?

  19. picturethis
    Facepalm

    The $5000 serial port cable

    My best support story:

    Back in the late '90s the (East Coast) consulting company I was working for had been engaged by a (West Coast) ASIC manufacturer for creating a dev kit for their product. This involved several sequences of them sending us new hardware, we developed the SDK for it and shipped the software back to them to test/integrate with their solution.

    After a couple of cycles, I get a desperate call from the mid-level manager (we call him "Grendle") and Grendle was completely distraught that their developer couldn't debug the latest release we had sent. I asked repeatedly that I be able to talk with the Dev and Grendle let loose with a stream of expletives and denied my request. He demanded that I immediately fly out there in person and fix the problem. After getting a written request from him and confirmation from my manager, I booked the next flight out the following day.

    I arrived around 10AM (local), took a cab and arrived. I couldn't find Grendle when I arrived, so I just went and talked with the Developer. He showed me what was happening, I looked down at the hardware, plugged in the 2nd serial port cable (which was laying right next to the kit) and said please try again - and it worked, just as it always had in the past (yes the 2nd cable had always been required and in use). I asked the Dev if there were any other problems, he said no. About that time, Grendle showed up.... I explained what the problem was. He got very quiet and red-faced as I walked over to his Manager's office, explained to him why I was here and that I was now leaving. I caught the next flight home - running through the terminal and JUST as the flight attendant was closing the terminal door to the walkway...

    A couple of month's later, Grendle was no longer working for the company.. Twit..

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: The $5000 serial port cable

      A couple of month's later, Grendle was no longer working for the company.. Twit..

      Karma is a lovely bitch ;)

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: The $5000 serial port cable

        "Karma is a lovely bitch"

        Not really. Grendle was by then probably working for another company. And then for another. And....

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The $5000 serial port cable

      "A couple of month's later, Grendle was no longer working for the company.. Twit.."

      What about the dev who forgot to plug in the 2nd serial cable?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: The $5000 serial port cable

        That would depend on who did what and who knew what. Since we don't really know a lot of this, I'm just using a bunch of hypothetical examples to suggest some options.

        For example, imagine a situation where I don't have documentation on the hardware I've been given other than that the information comes over serial. This could happen if nobody wrote that documentation (I.E. the contractors had a mindset that people there already know this, we don't have to write it down again) or the manager didn't send the documentation to the dev leading to the dev thinking that there wasn't any. In that case, I would probably see the two serial ports and try a single cable on both of them trying to figure out which one sent the data. I wouldn't necessarily think to plug in two of them without knowing how the hardware worked and, in that case, I would almost certainly try to contact someone who built it to clear up the situation. I wouldn't make them come out, but it was stated that the manager talked to support and wouldn't connect them directly to the dev. If I didn't request the call out, I don't think there's much blame to go my way.

        Now, if there was some documentation and I should have read it, I have much more blame to go my way. Still, if I missed that point and it was expected that the contractors could provide support of that type, it's logical to try to call them. However, the manager doing that could have led to the situation where the person being called out just wanted to talk to the dev, the dev just wanted to talk to the support person, and the manager was at fault for making the support person come out physically.

        Now if the dev was supposed to know this and was informed by someone else and if they suggested the support person come out, then they are much more to blame. They probably didn't have any consequences because they were unlikely to admit this, but they weren't competent and cost their employer and contractor plenty of time and money. In that case, they definitely should have been disciplined if not fired.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: The $5000 serial port cable

          But from the way the story is written, it looks like that manager refused to let the dev and support communicate directly, something not unknown to happen when micromanaging nitwits become involved. And even if it was the dev who refused, that manager should have insisted, so that manager was to blame any which way.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: The $5000 serial port cable

            And likewise, this appears to have been multiple iterations of work done, sent to 3rd party for SDK work, returned for testing and next iteration. Would that really be a new dev with no idea of the device or s/w? The manager was a grade 1 plonker, and may have put a virgin dev onto the device,but is that likely?

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: The $5000 serial port cable

              "this appears to have been multiple iterations of work done, [...] Would that really be a new dev with no idea of the device or s/w? Is that likely?"

              Absolutely. You don't even need a bad manager to make that happen, but having one makes it even more likely. I think we've all been in situations where people don't really get much choice what they work on. There was a time when I got assigned a primary developer role on some core code I'd never seen before. I'd just joined that team, and the previous core developer got placed on another team (she didn't request that transfer, nothing was wrong with the team, someone just requested and got her). I was basically told "You're going to start getting all the feature requests and bug reports for that thing in a few weeks. We can have some of the devs who developed parts triage the ones they can handle at the beginning, but you're eventually going to do all of that. Talk to [name redacted] over there. You have a week of her time." It went fine for me because the project wasn't extremely critical and the previous developer was a genius. But sometimes that situation will happen and devs have to figure things out for themselves. When you add a bad manager into the mix, you increase the likelihood that the manager didn't provide required documentation or training or that the previous dev left the team or company to get away from the manager. And it could have been even more basic; the previous developer could have just gone on holiday at an inconvenient time so they weren't around to train the new one. The situation you describe is very believable and quite likely.

  20. Herby

    How to write directions...

    I am presently writing a set of instructions on how to do a task for my company. It is a LONG and tedious task, as I have to make SURE that the 1D10Ts who will be attempting to do the instructions will be able to do it. The whole thing includes MANY screen shots and paragraphs of explanations. Then after I write the thing, I force myself to "follow" the directions like a normal idiot user would. We live in such trying times, that it seems that I need to go over about 3 iterations of this to get it right. The sad part: God will invent further 1D10Ts that I haven't accounted for.

    Life goes on.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: How to write directions...

      Suggestions

      1) Flow chart - to make sure you've covered all the decision pathways

      2) Get someone else to try and follow the instructions.

      Because your head is full of assumptions, personal knowledge and other unconscious biases.

      Starting with the idea that anyone who gets it wrong is an idiot. If they get it wrong you weren't clear or specific.

      A particular trip point is sentence subject. The pronoun ( or even a generalisable noun) you use to refer back to object #1 may appear to refer to object #2. e.g. If you've been referring to button A for a paragraph or more, but briefly refer to button B a user may think that you are still working on the function of A when you aren't. Or alternatively, you may think you are clearly still referring to button A when the user assumes you've moved to button B.

      In instructions, nothing has been stated unless everything has been stated.

      Nothing is obvious until it is explicit.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: How to write directions...

        "Starting with the idea that anyone who gets it wrong is an idiot. If they get it wrong you weren't clear or specific."

        I don't think that's necessarily true. You can have a user get a process wrong because you didn't specify it clearly or they could get it wrong because they're an idiot. Sometimes, they get it wrong for both reasons at once. It's harmful to assign all the blame for failures to complete a task, either to the person who wrote the instructions or the person who carried them out, because as soon as you decide it all goes to one of them, the other one will prove you wrong. Never underestimate the idiot.

        1. ColinPa

          Re: How to write directions...

          We got some new graduates to install our software to connect this box and that box and produce a report. We gave them exactly what we give to our customers and the results were embarrassing.

          - They did not know there were installation instructions on the web. They just googled the product and followed someone's blog post

          - They did not know anything about TLS ( SSL) - they tried things at random until it worked. They did not know there was an error log reporting problems

          We made changes to help them get started. We tried it again with a new set of graduates - and they totally ignored our instructions again!

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: How to write directions...

            Some of this is because for the last 20 years or so people with new devices etc. have to try and guess how to use them. Instruction manuals are rare, oversimplified and either badly printed or in cluttered PDFs. And my biggest moan in this regard ( see FAQ post below) they only tell the user stuff that's already obvious. And -when they really do need it to explain something non-obvious - the instructions totally ignore that aspect. Often it's not even mentioned in the index.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: How to write directions...

        Let me add

        3) The person trying to follow the instructions is allowed to ask just one type of question - "Where does it tell me how to do..." and you're only allowed to point out where - or admit the absence of it. Taking over or telling them what's not in the instructions is strictly off limits.

  21. Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    Knowing stuff is beneath them

    "> It's a kind of snobbery. Knowing stuff is beneath them.

    Ah, how I love this kind of people... A few times I managed to handle that was by saying "I do this ONE more time for you and I'll explain things, you better listen.". Some listened, others not. May not be possible in your professional role, though."

    For some, it is *doing* stuff which is beneath them. An they will only learn if they are forced to.

    All names have been retained to shame the guilty. Long ago, my parents rented a house to an arrogant stuck-up prick by the name of Ivan Head or as I thought of him, "the ASP". Head was a good buddy and ex-classmate of Pierre Trudeau. This was back when Pierre was the PM. The ASP had a habit of yanking on the damper control of the fireplace and pulling the damper (a heavy slab of mild steel) out of position. The slab is only held in position by gravity, so the fix is just to lift it up, align it and drop into place.

    I should note that the ASP was bilingual, had 4 degrees, including an Ll.B. and Ph.D, and was a deputy minister rank in the civil service, and was President of the Canadian International Development Agency. He got his job through cronyism I am sure, because he was useless. Despite his education he professed to be unable to use a screwdriver or a hammer. One evening circa summer 1974, he was hosting a dinner party and Pierre Trudeau, his wife and other high eminences were to be guests.

    I arrived home and had to have a "strong verbal discussion" with an RCMP officer, after driving past the not-yet-fully-in-place road block, at an "excessive" rate according to said officer, in order to be allowed to enter my parents home, which was next door to the ASP's. And then the ASP called my mother and demanded that I attend to fix the fireplace "which had broken again". This was the third time in 3 months. I attended and found the ASP, all done up in a tuxedo, black tie. He exhibited his usual brusque and demanding persona. But this time, I was pissed that he had refused to learn not to yank on the damper control. And I was pissed at having to have an altercation with a cop, in order to be able to park my car and walk into the house. I wasn't supposed to park in "this driveway".

    So this time, I held the flashlight, and made him get down on his hands and knees and fix the 'damage' himself. He actually got *soot* on his hands and almost strained his back bending down to look up into the fireplace. Poor guy. Of course it only takes seconds to fix once you know how the damper is arranged.

    The next day he bitched to my mother, about how I had insulted him *by actually making him fix the damper in *her* house*. My mother responded with words to the effect of "you didn't know how to do it, you broke it, and now you are complaining about being taught how to fix it by someone who knows how to do it?"

    HE NEVER SPOKE TO ME AGAIN. It was so nice.

  22. nojobhopes
    Big Brother

    Regtastic Regomatic Randomiser 9000 might be jealous

    I am concerned that the Regtastic Regomatic Randomiser 9000 is becoming self-aware... and jealous.

    It seems to be obsessed with its competitors. ERNIE is of course the Premium Bonds quantum-powered random number generator - https://www.nsandi.com/ernie. Ernie is quite a beast. "Unlike previous versions which used thermal noise to produce random numbers, ERNIE 5 is powered by quantum technology"

    For a bonus point perhaps someone could explain the algorithm which the Government Actuary's Department uses to prove that Ernie is actually random. I had that as an interview question once.

  23. djvrs

    30 years on

    30 years on and I still receive those types of calls..........

  24. cam

    No Two Toolbars are the Same

    A PC user in my office used the MS Office Toolbar to open Word. Nothing else. One day it didn't load, and for some reason it had been disabled as a start-up task.

    I offered to create a shortcut on the main taskbar, next to 'Show Desktop' and one or two other shortcuts.

    "It's one click, with less stuff in the way, near your start button, so easy to find. It'll take up less resources than the Office Bar, so your machine might be a fraction faster, and best of all, it shouldn't disappear in future."

    "No, just give me the thing I had before. I just couldn't operate if I had to look somewhere else for Word."

    "Sigh"

    Some people get far too set in their ways.

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