back to article User read the manual, followed instructions, still couldn't make 'Excel' work

Fridays can often feel like purgatory to prepare for the heavenly weekend, which is why The Register marks the day with a new installment of On Call, our weekly reader-contributed tale of tech support torture. This week, meet a reader who asked to be Regomized as "Jeremy" and shared a story of his late 1990s role in "a fairly …

  1. wolfetone Silver badge

    I wish I worked in Jeremy's office.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Yeah, it sounds Excel-lent

      1. wolfetone Silver badge
      2. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

        You make a Power-ful Point

        1. Korev Silver badge

          I hope it's not too hard to Access

          1. adam 40 Silver badge

            I have made One Note of these puns.

            1. FIA Silver badge

              The puns are becoming a cellebrated formula round here. Either that or they're just spreading.

              Even the sheet ones.

            2. Sampler

              It's tales like this that make the world seem like it has a brighter Outlook..

              1. MAF

                This is the Sway!

  2. Rikki Tikki

    Always be polite to PAs ...

    Some time ago (!), I had a phone call after lunch one Friday from the executive director's PA, that the mouse on her newly-installed Unisys BTOS machine kept moving the cursor the wrong way.

    Not really my job at the time, but she was a genuinely nice person, and me being always ready to earn brownie points, I toddled down to her workstation to help.

    On arrival, found the mouse with the cable pointing *towards* me: so, turned the offending rodent around, everything worked fine. Much ensuing merriment, on the lines of "did you have a good lunch?"

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      I had the same issue during a PC intro course I was giving, one of the trainees thought of the cord as the little bugger's tail and had it under her wrist. After showing the correct way to use the device, no more problems. And that's the important part, that once taught, people shouldn't need to be schooled again on the same subject!

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        When they do that, how the hell do they press the buttons - or not scream out in pain as they do so?

      2. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

        One of the reasons it's called a "mouse"

        "one of the trainees thought of the cord as the little bugger's tail and had it under her wrist"

        She was unwittingly recapitulating the device's early history.

        Doug Englebart's original mouse was indeed designed to be held as she was doing. They called it a "mouse" in part because it resembled the rodent, nosing its way around the desk. [1]

        They quickly figured out that it made more ergonomic sense to run the cord out the far side, but the name stuck.

        [1] Another reason for the name is that the on-screen cursor was known as the CAT (no, I dunno either), and someone pictured it as chasing the mouse around.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: One of the reasons it's called a "mouse"

          "the on-screen cursor was known as the CAT (no, I dunno either)"

          The way I heard it (SAIL, early '70s(ish), pre-EST Englebart talk/lecture about TMoAD), it was a shortened form of "caret". His original name for it was "the bug". By this time, he preferred cursor or pointer.

          1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

            Re: One of the reasons it's called a "mouse"


        2. ITMA Silver badge

          Re: One of the reasons it's called a "mouse"

          While not exactly a PC device, I think an honourable mention must go to a ZX Spectrum peripheral for controlling "on screen movement":

          The Cheetah RAT (Remote Action Transmistter).

      3. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        I had to work with someone who decided that a mouse should be held sideways as that was how she could use her thumb and finger to press the buttons. She had decided that she hated using computers as a result but got very defensive when shown how a mouse should be held. Just trying to use a mouse in that way was really hard (and I tried it out, of course) but amazing what humans can get used to in if necessary.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          (Robert tries out the sideways method)

          It sort-of works - if you hold the mouse somewhere away to your right (if right handed) and not in front of you. But it may not catch on. And the main button is operated by the thumb, which feels very wrong. Of course, you can swap the button actions; tell the computer that you are left handed. (Not all left handed people choose to do this.)

          On a modern system, you also can connect more then one pointing device. You can use one mouse to move, and use the buttons on another one, to click.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      I might have been in the game too long but I wouldnt have needed a trip to her office to work that out, unless she was really pretty , or the canteen was en-route.

      1. John 110

        @Prst. V Jeltz

        It's always worthwhile making a personal visit to someone who can grease the wheel that usually grind your work to a halt. In my case it was the Prof's secretary. Nice woman, but couldn't save a document properly, but she knew which forms to fill in and ALWAYS got the Prof to sign them...

        PS Prst. I don't know if your post does anything towards counterpointing the surrealism of the underlying metaphor...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          and in the end it may end "in-cell"...

    3. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      Nice person ?

      Its arseholes like that who tax society for millions that make everyone waste even more time working to pay for them.

      1. FIA Silver badge

        Nice person ?

        Its arseholes like that who tax society for millions that make everyone waste even more time working to pay for them.

        (irony aside) I don't think I'd want to live in your version of society. It sounds bleak and uninviting.

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Read for comprehension. The executive director's PA is a nice person, and is not necessarily over-rewarded. The executive director may be a waste of space and money; we do not know that. It is the way to bet.

    4. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      My 93 year old father did the same thing with his Mac (wireless mouse, no buttons, symmetrical shape). Look at the Apple icon and turn it the right way around.

      1. matjaggard

        Unlike when you open the MacBook when you need the Apple the wrong way up.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          ISTR the early laptops had the logo the "right" way up, but once product placement deals were happening, the logos all got turned upside down so the TV/film audience could see the logo the right way up. At least that's how I heard it. I've also heard that Apple were the first to do because they wanted people using their laptops in public places, coffee shops etc and the logo being the "right" way up on an opened laptop advertised the brands to all and sundry passers-by :-)

          Whatever the original reason for the switch, clearly it's now used as brand advertising to everyone who is not the actual user. After all, the user already bought the brand, no need to advertise to them :-)

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            If Apple designers had any style, they'd make it rotate as the lid was opened and closed.

            (I'd say the same thing for, say, Dell, but we already know that "Dell" and "style" are incompatible. Just like "Dell" and "well-engineered" or "properly thought-out".)

            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              I'm imagining a clever if unnecessary pulley to turn the Apple apple 180 degrees, but perhaps you're thinking of something with a little motor. Or well placed weights. Or magnets!

              I'm looking at the back of a Dell LCD monitor now and I notice that the E is positioned squint. Apparently that is on purpose.

      2. 82412

        When my stepfather got his first computer he had the mouse the right way round, but it took him a couple of weeks to get out of the habit of pulling it towards him to try to make the arrow go up, and pushing it away to make the arrow go down.

        He was a mid turret gunner in a Lancaster during the war.

    5. FIA Silver badge

      Always be polite to PAs ...

      Always be polite... especially to 'prickly' people.

      I've worked with a few 'difficult' people over the years, more often than not simply being a little more polite and a little less dismissive makes one hell of a difference. One day, you'll need something they control and then your patience will be rewarded.

      At a previous job we had a software repository, controlled in another country. A dev needed something adding, I suggested they email and ask for it. They complained as that particular department never responded and always took ages.

      I fired off an email and had the software in the repo in about an hour.

      My colleague was genuinely shocked; the only thing I can put it down to is whenever I had to email this dept and they did something I would always take 10 seconds to hit 'Reply' and say thank you.

      Sometimes people forget, especially software people, that work is as much about programming the people as it is the machines.

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        I learned to do the same. Some interpret "Thank you!" or "Thx!" as "passive-aggressive", a difficult to spot difference in their communication. But if I spot I do it even more :D - and then I am actually "passive-aggressive".

      2. ITMA Silver badge

        That's all too true.

        And the wording of an email request also makes a tremendous difference.

        There are some who, while nice people talking face to face, come across as arrogant obnoxious self important twats when ever they communicate via email. Then they wonder why people don't respond.

      3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Once again, I form an incorrect mental picture, in which you pause before sending your e-mail and you say aloud "Thank you" to your computer screen first. It's something else to try!

        Although my first thought was that your unfortunate colleague actually had addressed all of his requests to . Spot my deliberate mistake!

    6. druck Silver badge

      The very first mouse I had did actually have the buttons on the front and the cable on the back coming out towards you, as it plugged in to the user port underneath the keyboard of the BBC Micro, rather than a case under the monitor as on all later machines.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Similar here. The first mouse I used was the AMX mouse on a BBC micro. The cable came out the side near the front end. I was working in a teaching environment at the time and pretty much saw all possible "wrong" attempts to use a mouse since no one had ever seen or used one before. Although I don;t recall anyone "doing a Scotty" and picking the mouse up and using it a microphone, since speech recognition was also pretty much unheard of by then :-)

    7. gnasher729 Silver badge


      The first Macs came with a game called “Alice” to teach people how to use a mouse. Very simple, you got points by clicking on things on a chessboard as quick as possible.

      Except there was a menu that let you change the mouse direction. You move the mouse to the right, the cursor moves to the left. And you can change up and down. At this point it’s hard. And then you turn on auto movement where the cursor moves by itself and it gets devilishly difficult.

    8. picturethis

      Old retread

      Posted by me years ago..

      - I was once at my dentist and we were scheduling my next appointment and I happened to look down at the keyboard the assistant was using and noticed that the space bar had a piece of paper with a printed message on it with transparent tape to keep it in place. The printed message said "any key". Later, I asked my dentist about and he said that one of the programs that his assistants occassionally run displays a message "press any key to continue" and it was confusing to them, so this was his solution. (this is not made up).

      1. G.Y.

        Re: Old retread

        I hear that, in Russia, putting "ANY" (in Latin characters) on the space-bar is standard practice.

        N.B. Russian has no definite article

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Old retread

          NB Chocolate is also pronounced Chocolate (but with a strong Russian accent) in Russia.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I did something similar yesterday preparing documentation. Tabbing between screenshots and documents, I had a moment where I thought my document editor had hung, only to realise a couple of seconds later I was on the snap-shot screen instead.

    That and sharepoint when it presents you with a document you can't edit, and you don't realise until after a few taps...

    1. Martin

      I literally did that half an hour ago. I'm installing a new wireless mesh at home, hence new network, so I took a photo of a list of all the old static leases to copy them to the new system. I was looking at the photo to check the data, and then when I'd finished, I clicked on the button (on the photo) labelled "Close"....

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "I took a photo of a list of all the old static leases to copy them to the new system"

        And who hasn't done something like this and then tried to copy and paste as text?

        1. JaimieV

          I dunno about other modern systems, but on Mac/iThings the friggin' copypaste actually works when you try selecting text out of a photo in the Photos app. Mostly. Usual caveats for OCR % accuracy, I had to correct one character in a 16ish char wifi password last week.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Yep, it's been like that for a few macOS releases now.

            So many years of training users not to expect that to work, and now it just does.

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

              ...and when you pause to actually think about it, computers have been more than powerful enough to do that for years now and it's a pretty obvious feature to add. So obvious it probably took a genius to actually think of it, while the rest us slapped or foreheads, said "Do'h, that is SO obvious, why didn't I think that!"

      2. mstreet

        I used to do this all the time in my MS days. Once I switched to a Unix shop, and got into the habit of 4+ terminal windows open at once, I became a wee bit more cognizant of what I was clicking on.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Will admit to clicking on a screenshot...more than once.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        I suspect we all have at some point. It's even more embarrassing when having just taken the screenshot, laughed about clicking on it, and then doing it again... :)

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        I think I only confuse my screenshot for the actual software about 10 percent of the time.

    3. J. Cook Silver badge

      Been there, Done That. will do that again...

      Or worse, when you are on character 11 of a 15+ character password that resemble line noise when you realize that the password field was not the focus. (even worse when you accidently dump that into the text entry field of one's IM program, and get to perform an emergency password change while your coworker is laughing their bum off...)

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

        This is one of the things I hate about every modern operating system: Any window or popup can steal the focus. You type something, hit return, wonder why the window is still there only to notice a few seconds later that you pressed the "restart now" which popped up a 1/100th of a second before you hit return - i.e. the popup may not even have been visible on the screen since it did not exist long enough. Of course it is the worst with MS-Windows, but the distance to Linux and Mac is not as big as it should be.

        1. DexterWard

          Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

          Not every modern OS. It’s one of the nice things about OSX on the Mac that it doesn’t do this. The app icon jumps up and down to let you know it wants attention, but it doesn’t pop up a cursed modal dialog. The Linux thing of moving focus with the mouse pointer is even worse, but at least you can turn it off.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

            "The Linux thing of moving focus with the mouse pointer is even worse, but at least you can turn it off."

            As a *BSD user, I love that it works like that and get frustrated using Windows and having to remember to actually CLICK on a window to give it focus. At which point I suddenly realise that click DOES SOMETHING and isn't just sucked up by the system as an "activate this window" click, but fully passed to the underlying window so I have to sometimes be very, very careful where I click to activate so as not to trigger some unwanted action.

            1. collinsl Bronze badge

              Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

              The number of times I've copied something and then clicked into PuTTy to paste, but have moved the mouse a fraction of a millimetre so it's decided to select some content and has replaced the contents of the paste buffer is maddening.

              The only solution I've ever found is to click on the window's task bar (top of the window where the title is) since that usually doesn't have any active components (office excepted these days)

          2. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

            Focus should follow the cursor, though that shouldn't necessarily bring that window to the front.

            It's vanishingly rare that you ever want to focus on something that isn't where your cursor is.

            1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

              Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

              I am on the other side: Focus follow is bad usability too. To move the mouse cursor out of the way to be able to read undisturbed, and then you enter text which ends up in another window just 'cause the cursor is one pixel outside of the "this program" zone.

              1. John Robson Silver badge

                Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

                How much of your document does the cursor cover?

                Heck, mine disappears when I start doing anything in the window, but even without that it's at most covering one character - maybe two, one on each of two consecutive lines.

                Whereas if you don't have focus follows cursor then you can't pop up a reference document and type into your actual work window whilst still having the reference doc open, because your working document just needs focus, and to "peek out" from below the reference doc, which is only going to be there for a few minutes.

                It's something you get used to very quickly, and it's much more natural - your focus is just where you (tell the computer you) are looking.

                focus doesn't require interaction, and it certainly doesn't require the *whole* window to take priority

                1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

                  Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

                  > How much of your document does the cursor cover?

                  Oh, it is not isn't the cursor. It is the constant popups which try to make "helpful suggestions" or "remind of a bookmark" and "this is a strange unknown word, so I have to search for it to find no results" and so on. And I am not only talking about MS-Office here, that disruptive-computing-behaviour pops up everywhere since it is the "current trend" to be "even worst than the fighting scene from Airplane". Not needed for Sumatra PDF and other normal behaving programs of course.

                  1. John Robson Silver badge

                    Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

                    Ah - yes the "shall I shut down now" popup that allows entry within 5 seconds of appearing, and allows one entry to be sufficient to cause said shutdown rather than two discrete entries.

                    Sucks to be able to touchtype and be doing so whilst reading a paper doc only to realise that you've just shut down the computer because some stupid popup stole focus... If I've focussed on something it's because I want to be focussed on it - feel free to put a modal box over the top, but leave the focus where it was thank you very much.

                    1. jake Silver badge

                      Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

                      "Sucks to be able to touchtype and be doing so whilst reading a paper doc only to realise that you've just shut down the computer because some stupid popup stole focus..."

                      I hang a so-called "dumb terminal" off a serial port and send it a login. Makes this kind of problem go away entirely.

                      It's also kinda handy when the GUI goes TITSUP[0], although that's rare today (outside the development boxen).

                      Just to make it more eccentric, I usually login as "write", which uses vi as my shell ...

                      [0] Total Inability To Show the Usual Pr0n^H^H^Hictures

          3. ibmalone

            Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

            Focus with mouse lets you put focus exactly where you want it, without having to teach through and, unlike any other design I know of, type in a window that's not the top one. Which is actually very useful. It predates Linux, back to older Unix window managers. These days it's mostly off by default and you have to go and turn it on. It does tend to cause problems for those who bizarrely seen to fling the mouse away from them whenever they move to the keyboard.

            Anyway, like the middle button paste buffer it's gradually being removed by the wayland-gnome crowd who resent anything useful, so check back in a couple of years.

            1. ibmalone

              Re: Been there, Done That. will do that again...

              "without having to teach through" should obviously read "without having to tab through", but as it was written on a mobile phone which thinks it knows what you want to type...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just recently my boss (who is very technical) was trying to follow some instructions that I had written (pretty well if I do say so myself), but got stuck at a certain point, because I hadn't included something that I'd thought was too obvious to be required. Then I remembered, the procedure was documented, because it was designed for end users, the instructions were on the screen my boss was looking at.

    My boss had been so caught up in the details they'd not bothered to read those instructions, thinking that because they were for end users, how could they possibly help them, a technically competent person? ;)

    (I'm being intentionally vague on the details here)

    1. Mark White

      I've done that... the document was improved by making sure the text about the screenshot was on the same page as it.

      Done that bit, skip

      Done that bit, skip

      Doing that bit... where are the instructions? Can't be on the previous page because I've done that bit!

    2. steve_reg

      Whenever I have to write a procedure for end users, I ask my boss to 'test that it is idiot-proof'.

      1. Blade9983

        I think we've all had a boss that was qualified for that role at some point.

      2. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        If you think you've produced something that is idiot proof, the world simply shrugs and sends along a better idiot.

      3. J. Cook Silver badge


        We have a dedicated team that manages and curates the end-user documentation. Their documentation is quite excellent, and generally anything we write up gets reviewed (and/or rewritten) by them for consumption by the masses.

        Then there was the time I had written the procedure for handling the tape backups for one of our LOB applications, so that our support team could perform tape rotations for us. I had written it at the level that someone who was brand new to the support team should be able to run through it with little to no assistance.

        About three months later, we had some issues here people where not following the procedure, and in my frustration, asked my elderly mother (a former Kindergarten teacher) to read through it. After she did, I asked that if she had access to the relevant systems, would she feel confident in performing that procedure. She told me yes.

        Turns out, the tech responsible for performing that simple process did their own thing and didn't bother to read the procedure. That was one of the few data loss events we had, because the idiot didn't bother to rotate the tapes out correctly (which was part of the procedure). The tapes we needed (which had the monthly backups) had never been sent off site, and were overwritten a week later. We didn't catch it, because we had placed trust in this tech (who had been there longer than I had and really should have known better!) to do the job correctly. I don't know what happened after that incident, but I do know that he left the company a few months later for greener pastures.

        When we upgraded that LOB app, we included it into our centralized backup system, which had an automated tape rotation schedule built into it, and a multi-drive library that the tapes lived in.

        (and people ask why I have trust issues....)

        1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

          "asked my elderly mother (a former Kindergarten teacher) to read through it."

          We came up with a very similar concept but it just involved a mythical tea lady and was dubbed the "Mrs Muggins Test"

        2. Rol

          Idiot proofing a procedure is one thing, but writing it for those already hardwired to the old processes is another. In those circumstances I think it ideal to have two versions - one that is the prime document, that will live as long as the process exists, and a second for immediate consumption by the existing team where it goes to great lengths to highlight where the new process deviates from the old. In that latter version, I would always try and cover the potential errors caused by long term muscle memory and how to get the process back on track without having to ring me at 2 in the morning.

          In fact in my latest job I have found it useful to come along a week or two after their training to then show them how to fix their most common errors for themselves. It is a wonder why very little attention is paid to this element of training, as once they have made an error, they are stuck, or worse, frantically mashing the keyboard to try and fix things.

    3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Last one I did started with :

      For those with some experience :

      go here

      click this

      add xyz

      select x from dropdown

      click apply


      For much much more detail on that including pictures with little arrows drawn on them , read on ....

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        In my experience, both documents should have been identical, as everybody thinks they're "experienced" having sat through a half day lecture involving a projected slideshow with animations aimed at the intellectual level of tweens.

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Yup. to (mis)quote a famous song that typically gets played here in the US this time of year, the best documentation has "color glossy pictures with circles and arrows, and a paragraph explaining what each picture does" [sic] and can be followed by a fifth grader (Year 6 for UK) with little or no assistance.

          Mines the one with the "Alice's Restaurant" logo on the back- I hear they made a thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat.

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            The most critical thing , which rarely happens is to put the text on the side of the pictures ,

            If its above or below you spend ages scrolling past the giant tabolidy pictures with arrows on to find your next instruction , and then even more time trying to remember id the text relates to the pic above , or below .

            if text & pic side by side navigation and general readability so much easier.

            1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

              When I was writing software installation documentations for a big migration project (more than 2 000 applications to reinstall, each needing a full installation procedure for the on-site support), we were told not to include pictures because disk space was costly, and instead to describe the screen (window title, name of the input fields, ...).

              Of course now including screenshots is not so much of an issue, as long as you don't put any value in the input fields, otherwise some smart-ass will input these instead of the expected values...

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            I think I've mentioned this story on here before, but it's been a while. I once had to write documentation for users on a day a co-worker had to bring her 6 year old son to work with her. I got him to test how easy they were to follow.

            Some time down the line, a user managed to cock things up, so of course the PHB cried 'did you get anyone to test these instructions?!'. Yes, who, Bob, who's Bob, Cow-orker's 6yo son. PHB accepted that the instructions were good enough a child could follow them. I'd love to have seen the communications with the complaining client, though.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              That tale has a real sting, lovely.

            2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

              I'd love to have seen ...

              "... the communications with the complaining client" ... probably resembled the cries of a 6 year old who missed dinner.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              In IT lore there is the case of one team complaining to higher management that the team providing installation documentation was not professional, since the latest such document had been writing using Dingbats font instead of something more readable.

              Note that these documents were used on a monthly basis.

              At a meeting with the heads of departments, when the big boss asked the document writers managed to explain that, he just said that his team had complained for more than one year that the other teams were not reading instructions before performing the tasks, so he had asked them to change the font of every new document to Dingbats.

              And it was like that for 6 month before anybody complained...

              1. Catkin Silver badge

                There's a wonderful font out there called Cocksure (NSFW) if you ever want to see whether someone is paying attention to fonts.

            4. This post has been deleted by its author

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "I hear they made a thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat."

            If you need to beat your Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey is a tad undercooked :-)

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          I disagree about the docs being identical, because if you actually do know what you're doing, it gets really annoying having to read through too much obvious stuff.

          To make a new image, open the main interface, click on "Image", then click on "New". In the "Image Name" box, write the name of the image. Image names should be memorable. Set the scheduled build date for the image. If you want to release the image immediately, you can click on the "Now" button. Otherwise, set the day, month, and year to your release date and optionally set the time using the hour and minute controls. If you don't set the time, the image will be released on midnight of the date you selected [which the hour and minute box say]. Select the image location using the "Location" control. [Five more paragraphs of this]

          After a while, you either skim or skip it entirely, and that means you miss the line in the fourth paragraph that says "When you're setting the image type using the Type control, selecting the General type makes the resulting system crash". Meanwhile, concise documentation for people who don't need to have every label repeated can just say "Create an image. Do not select general as the image type as that causes a crash."

          1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

            If you are including the description of bugs in your documentations, don't ship the product!

            1. jake Silver badge

              "If you are including the description of bugs in your documentations, don't ship the product!"

              On the contrary ... Since time immemorial, I have ALWAYS read the errata/"known bugs" page(s) before digesting the rest of the documentation.

              If your major software release's documentation doesn't include such a list, they are doing it wrong.

              No hard/firm/soft/wetware, anywhere, is complete and perfect.

            2. doublelayer Silver badge

              This was a generic example, but look at it. Does this sound like product documentation? It looks a lot more to me like the documentation of an internal process. Yes, it would be nice if internal processes never had bugs that the documentation worked around, but it's much more acceptable there than in a released product, since the people using it can be required to follow the procedures.

              In addition, the example phrase was a bug. It could have been anything else: instead of crashing, the "general type" or whatever we want to call it is undesirable but needs to be left in for some edge case. Or it is one phrase that refers to something outside the interface you're working with in the middle of a lot of text that all refers to that interface, so a reader assumes that everything they are doing is located in that interface. Basically, if there is some detail whose obviousness is significantly lower than the other details, it can help to accentuate it. When the details it's mixed with are extremely obvious, it can be logical to remove them and only state the nonobvious ones.

    4. ColinPa

      Follow the instructions

      I was on the support line for a product.

      One guy kept reporting problems over a month. He said he had followed the instruction

      Eventually I asked him to follow the instructions, and paste a photograph of the completed command.

      Step 1 ok

      Step 2 ok

      Step 4 ok

      Step 5 problem

      "What happened to Step 3?" I asked "I didn't need to do it." he replied.

      He did step 3 and it all worked.

      I happened to meet his manager a few weeks later and told her what happened. I said he thinks he has a much higher skill level than he has.

      I emailed her about the incident, and how much of my time it took to resolve it. She used it at his annual assessment (along with other evidence) and he decided to leave.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Follow the instructions

        I had this happen to me.

        Seconded to the US for a couple of weeks, and I did a stint on the hell desk to help out.

        Guy rang up and explained his problem. I went through it with him, and sent him the steps to follow. He rang back later, same problem. So I went through it again, pretty much the same deal. Guy missed out a step, so this time I took extra time to explain *why* each step was necessary.

        He rang back again a couple of hours later, same problem. He just decided to skip another (different) step. At this point, one of the other support guys comes over and tells me the guy is *always* doing this. Never follows instructions, always misses a step or runs them in the wrong order.

        So in my best, forceful English voice, I told him he needed to go back, follow the instructions in the exact order they were given to him (via email I might add), note down the command and result, and only then to call back IF there was a problem.

        He didn't call back.

        1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: Follow the instructions

          Did you use the term "else we have a problem" ? I recently learned that, in the United States Of America, this term is interpreted as a threat in the style of you being the James Bond Villain, sitting in his chair, caressing his cat while saying that...

  5. Ali Dodd


    Saw a similar thing long time ago, someone trying to change language settings in office (multinational staff in company). IT writes guide and emails it to staff. Staff member has problem with it and another techie goes to help. Brings up the guide email and in the email itself (not even full screen) tries multiple times to click on the screenshot menu (despite the actual menu showing above the screenshot!). Fails and gives up going to get help. Other non IT staff member points out issue and correct menu & user fixes it themselves and tell techie it's all fine now.

    Massive fail by techie who has left that profession now and moved onto project management. Probably for the best as same techie didn't know what a heatsink was, slight lack of technical aptitude.

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: common

      Project manager might be right for him. I know project managers which are very good at being a project manager, but bad at being techie.

      1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        Re: common

        Ah, yes. My old and very highly respected Bob xxx. Known as Bob Whispering Death xxx. A truly lovely guy to work with: gently spoken, good humoured, immensely patient and sufficiently technical not to be given the runaround. BUT customers were never able to pull a fast one. He remembered and would take notes, accurate notes to back himself up and he was always ready to gently guide the client back onto the True Path and get them to agree the cost impact.

        The project managers project manager. He would lead a client gently by the hand, all the time keeping a very firm grip of the clients wallet.

      2. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        Re: common

        Project Managers are people who nothing more than bullshitters.

        Talk is cheap any idiot can talk thats not going to solve any problem. You cant talk and make food grow, you cant talk and make a good tyre replace a flat tyre on a bike. Some actual skill is equired to accomplish these tasks and many others. Project managers are just frauds who are a tax that gets in the way and adds cost .

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: common


          Good Project Managers are the people who enable *you* to do your job and earn your money.

          You may have 'skills' *but* you are not the only one with 'skills' and with the attitude expressed I pray to the gods that you do not have to deal with the clients/customers/etc directly.

          I have been a Techie of many many year and moved to Project Management also of many years.

          Lack of appreciation of the skills of the people around you is not a good place to start !!!

          That includes the project managers who often keep the 'annoying' customers off your back while you work !!!

          They also rein in the continuous 'scope creep' and ever changing requirements to change the dates of delivery due to external pressures.

          If you can do all that and attend many meetings to keep the project expectations on track while doing your 'skilled' job ..... please do eliminate the project manager while you work 36 hours each day !!!


        2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: common

          First, I HAVE to correct your **shudder** typos since they are WORSE THAN MINE! And your typos are just "being dumb" instead of "missing the key unnoticed". Keep in mind, I am German, not whatever you native tongue is. What a (good) project manager does, translated to your specific examples:

          > can talk that's not going to solve any problem

          His job is to buffer when something does not go as planned, keeping your back free and translate your tech-speak to customer language.

          > You can't talk and make food grow

          Organizes fertilizer to be there right on time, has the weather schedule ready.

          > can't talk and make a good tire replace

          His job is to have your tire on stock and the tools ready when you need it.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: common

      A heatsink is when the chair closest to the radiator gets assigned in seniority rather than need or competence.

  6. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

    Click, click, click, nothing happens

    Reminds me of a common trick we used to play in the office from that era, probably still works today if people weren't so keen to lock their screens.

    Close all windows and take a screen grab of a user's desktop. Set that screen grab as the desktop backdrop and then delete all or some of the actual desktop icons. All the icons appear as normal, but obviously don't do anything. A variation was to modify the desktop screen grab to be one pixel shifted, and leave all the icons in place so they appear fuzzy to the eye.

    1. VonDutch

      Re: Click, click, click, nothing happens


      Rotate 180 degrees

      Set as background

      Delete icons

      Rotate desktop 180 degrees

      That one was truly mean if people didn't know the quick keyboard shortcut (or it had been disabled) to return the desktop to normal.

    2. Zolko Silver badge

      Re: Click, click, click, nothing happens

      A colleague of mine did that to me, quite annoying, even scary. I've done that to myself on my phone also : take a screenshot inadvertently, then try to use the phone which doesn't do anything.

      But this could also be done remotely with x-terms if you knew which screen:0 the colleague was. Was on HPUX if I remember correctly. Those were the days !

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: Click, click, click, nothing happens

        Ha, similar but different, just recently. Brand new laptop, try to Delete a file and quickly Enter to say yes I really want to delete that file. Now the cursor changes shape and whatever right-click, left-click, keyboard magic incantations I use -- "Nothing happens." I have unsaved work, web search on the phone for solutions to unresponsive linux, no joy. Eventually in my random attempts to make progress in the dark cave, I must have used the Escape key at some point, oh it's working again. The penny dropped the *next* time I tried to Delete a file. This time I wasn't in a hurry and actually looked at the resulting dialog ... of the linux Screenshot utility! The PrintScreen|Delete keys on the new laptop correspond to the Delete|Fingerprint keys on the old one. So the *previous* time after Enter it was patiently waiting for me to grab a region from the screen....

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Click, click, click, nothing happens

        "I've done that to myself on my phone also : take a screenshot inadvertently, then try to use the phone which doesn't do anything."

        Out of curiosity, which phone/OS/App was that? Whenever I need to take a phone screen shot, I press the relevant buttons and the image is saved to Photos (or wherever, it shows as an Album in Gallery for me). It's never been automatically displayed with no hint it's an image, such as not having a translucent menu along the bottom included icons for share, delete etc.

    3. swm

      Re: Click, click, click, nothing happens

      There was a screen saver that took a snapshot of the screen and slowly random bits on the screen would drop down to the next non-white bit below. Eventually there was a set of pixels at the bottom of the screen where all of the bits came to rest.

      Another screen saver took a snapshot of the screen and slowly caused the image to "melt" causing weird distortions of the screen.

    4. Narpington

      Re: Click, click, click, nothing happens

      A chap in the pub (part of the group, never met him before) complained to me that Pronhub wasn't working on his phone so being a helpful type I offered to take a look. It was odd, most of the apps didn't launch. Then I noticed that some icons had copies, slightly offset and realized that someone, probably one of his 'pals', had taken a screenshot and set it as the wallpaper. After removing that and rearranging the icons all was well. He was a bit simple so it was a cruel trick to play.

  7. Howard Sway Silver badge

    still couldn't make 'Excel' work

    The correct solution in this scenario is to take another screenshot of the spreadsheet embedded in the Word document, open Paint and paste the screenshot there. The spreadsheet can then be edited by drawing numbers into the cells with the pencil tool. If you need to add columns up, open Calculator and type in each number,in the column, pressing the '+' key between them - quick AND easy!

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: still couldn't make 'Excel' work

      And to send it via email you print it, and then use the scan2email function of said MFC-printer.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: still couldn't make 'Excel' work

        ...use the scan2email function ...

        Have you paid the requisite licensing fee?

        (ISTR this was an issue a few years back...numpties tried to extort everyone by claiming to have patented it)

      2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: still couldn't make 'Excel' work

        Surely, I told this here once before already. It happened in early 2000s when the partner of a colleague attended an Excel training. When exchanging exercises with an other student, they would print the spreadsheet and then fax it each other. And yes, they both did have e-mail as well.

  8. John H Woods Silver badge

    Who amongst us has never clicked a screenshot? :-D

    Was amused to see my two year old niece trying to pinch-to-zoom a photograph in a (physical) magazine tho ...

    1. BenDwire Silver badge

      Maybe she'd seen Harry Potter with its moving photographs?

  9. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Talking about "idiot proof"

    Many years sinceupon, the company for whom I was working got slightly involved with a London hospital, who wanted a real-time system to gather the status of individual beds, from a basic 3- or 4-button terminal at each bed.

    I don't think the nursing staff had a very high opinion of the intellectual capabilities of Fire Service personnel. I was endlessly amused that one of the criteria dictated by nursing staff was that whatever we came up with had to be "fireman proof"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Talking about "idiot proof"


      the guys with the yearly calendar, half nude with kittens?

      1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

        Re: Talking about "idiot proof"

        Whatever floats your boat

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear melt down

    I had something similar at a small defense contractor that I worked at. I had introduced MFA for the VPN that staff used to access work when at home (it was covid time) before they had nothing which was a bit of a worry considering the work they did! Any road up it was a sonicwall VPN and setting up access was pretty simple for the user. I had installed the client software on all the laptops of staff who needed to use it and given staff a choice of how they wanted MFA to work, either by TOTP via email or by an authenticator app. I wrote an instruction sheet that included plenty of screen shots on how to setup the MFA, to use the authenticator app you had to login to a webpage with your VPN creds and scan a QR code into your authenticator app of choice. One particular user was having trouble getting on the VPN and after various troubleshooting calls I was getting nowhere so I said next time he was in the building I'd pop over and take a look. After a few weeks he was onsite so I paid a desk visit to see what he was doing. He attempted to login in but when he was asked for a MFA from his authenticator app I noticed that my userID was being used!!!!!!!!! The penny then dropped! When he configured the MFA he had scanned the QR code from my instruction document rather than from the website he was meant to go to! That QR code was taken from a screen shot that I made using my creds. The major worry was this bloke was an ex-navy nuclear engineer and then a nuclear safety engineer involved in refitting our trident boats, yet he seemed incapable of following simple instructions!!!!!!!

    1. Mr Humbug

      Re: Nuclear melt down

      Not to mention that you gave everybody in the company a copy of your TOTP seed :)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not IT but idiots! Just left the building to get my lunch, the lift was downstairs so I took the stairs. Got to the ground floor to spot some old dear, well actually probably only in her 60's trying to call said lift by pressing the buttons on the emergency evacuation call panel that is next to the lift! The two VERY obvious buttons to call the lift are next to the lift on the other side. I have also witnessed plenty who can't seem to work out how to push a BIG green button to exit the building or be able to work out how to use their Staff\Student ID car to tap to open the door to get in, despite there even being instructions with picture on how to tap your card!!!!!!

    1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

      Green buttons to exit.

      I always do a mental stumble when I see those green buttons to open a door. I worked for a long time in a place where there was strict access control and the green buttons were emergency exit buttons, not for regular use. I still haven't totally gotten out of that mindset.

      1. robmobz

        Re: Green buttons to exit.

        I am used to them being alarmed exactly to discourage this.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      If you put a panel with buttons next to a lift then it should be obvious that they'll get mistaken for call buttons. Save your mocking for whoever placed the panel there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        its required under BS5588 Part 8 so not much choice where it goes, its part of the lift!

        Voice Evacuation Intercom System

        The voice evacuation intercom system has been developed in accordance with BS5588 Part 8. In its simplest form, it is a system that is used for the evacuation of people with impaired mobility in the event of a fire or emergency, under the direction of management, authorised persons or fire fighters.

        It comprises a final exit storey control panel (FES control panel), evacuation control stations situated on each landing and a lift car station. It is powered by a mains control unit (containing a power supply), which is normally situated in the motor room.

        Once activated by the Euro key switch on the FES control panel, the lift controller automatically switches to evacuation mode, sending the lift car directly to the FES level. An interactive two way communication link is established between the FES control panel and the lift car and also the FES control panel and the evacuation landing stations.

        At all levels, the evacuation landing stations start to flash, as does the lift car station. The lift can now answer normally to car calls for the assisted evacuation of people with impaired mobility.

        The evacuation mode is normally stopped upon the fire fighter's arrival when the lift is switched to fire fighter's mode.

        1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

          people can be tired too, not just stupid

          "Once activated by the Euro key switch on the FES control panel..."

          **Before** being activated by the Euro key switch, perhaps the buttons on the **intercom system** could announce something like, "Hi, we are the emergency buttons, the non-emergency buttons are over there."

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "I have also witnessed plenty who can't seem to work out how to push a BIG green button to exit the building"

      In some cases, it may be because they've not seen them before. Or worked recently in a company/building that used something other than Big Green Button releases. Was in one this week that had a brushed stainless steel plate the size of a standard light switch with a small, approx 10mm diameter brushed stainless steel button in the middle. Probably difficult to see the button for anyone with vision problems. I've seen others that look like light switches but are rocker switch and is a momentary contact that springs to actual light switches as well as those light switch type next to other non-standard switches that most would assume to be door access rather than the one looking like a light switch.

      Big Green Button exit switches may be fairly common, but are far from standard, ubiquitous or even recognisable by people who don't work in buildings that use any kind of press-to-exit systems.

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        We've got contactless ones now! Just wave your hand languidly past the thing like Sir Percy Blakeney in character as an idle British aristocrat.

  12. BJC

    Easily avoided?

    It seems to me that the problem can be easily avoided with a little effort. Modify the screenshot images to dim most of the image (or convert to monochrome), and only highlight (or colour) the sections of interest. The screenshots will then look significantly different to the actual application. However, users that are completely unfamiliar with the application (and application norms) could still try to use the modified screenshots. At least the error would be immediately obvious to all others, trying to help. It's a method that's worked for me.

    As ever, it's the balance between the resources to create the material against the resources for follow-up support.

  13. mpi Silver badge

    Wait, what?

    "and we agreed an appropriate solution was to add a clickable link within the Word document to open the actual Excel file."


    Am I to understand that the standard method of opening an Excel document thereafter was to open a Word document and click a link therein? Or did I miss something?

    1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

      Re: Wait, what?

      and it was soon upgraded to:

      - open a PowerPoint presentation

      - click on the Word icon inside to open a Word document

      - click on the Excel icon inside the Word document to open the Excel file

      because everybody knows that management uses only PP...

  14. PB90210 Bronze badge

    Had a colleague call me over because Excel was just showing a blank screen. Reopening Excel gave the same blank screen.

    It was eventually discovered the the default sheet had been windowed and somehow the window had been dragged out of sight... reloading just 'opened' the same out-of-sight sheet

    (View > arrange sheets)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Print screen, set as wallpaper

  16. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Told this before..

    Way back when I was young, and just starting out, I had been made redundant by my employer, and to make ends meet, I temped. For a few weeks, I temped in the Quantity Surveyor's department in a local British Rail (or Network SouthEast as it was at the time) office.

    It was a small, if impressive (for the late 80s/early 90s) building. Lots of dark brown brick, tinted windows, computer controlled lighting, swipe card locks and computers on pretty much every desk. Par for the course now, but this was the early 90s.

    My department had a lot of documentation online, and it was hosted on a computer running one of the first intergrated Office suites. I *think* it was called "Smart Office", and it had a powerful (for the time) scripting language that enabled you to design a complete system using the apps pretty much automatically.

    The system when I got there ran fairly well, but after a few weeks of using it, and being both a keen programmer, and fan of the Smart Office scripting language, I made some changes, optimising it.

    Too well. I made it so easy to use that when the Boss bought in a pretty, Blonde girl to help me (or so I thought, being the hormonal gullible idiot I was), I jumped at the chance to train her. Only to find out I was training my replacement.

  17. Grogan Silver badge

    Yes, I think it was Office 97 where I first ran into that trap with the UI. I somehow undocked and closed something important and had a dickens of a time getting it back. It happened to me again with Office 2000 and I couldn't remember how I got it back and couldn't get to the menus. So I deleted the user registry settings lol

    I really hate stuff like that, where even fumbling with keystrokes activates hotkey shortcuts that do things that aren't obvious to undo. Accidentally hit ALT while typing or something and before your very eyes menus and dialogs are popping up lol

    1. DexterWard

      Cats are very good at activating such things by walking over the keyboard. A few years ago one of ours turned on the option to read out the text of all websites on the Mac. Took ages to find out how to turn it off, with the computer helpfully reading out all the google results.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        There have been odd times when my keyboard ended up inverted in some sort of shift-lock mode, acting as if the shift key was always pressed and pressing it acted like you'd stopped pressing it. Very weird and disconcerting. It's happened only a few times over the years, far enough apart to be different keyboards on different computers and almost certainly different OS's or at least OS version. Usually because I hit the keyboard in frustration, pressing many keys at once. I can only assume it's either something in, or at least used to be in, the keyboards internal controller chip, or the keyboard simply taking revenge on me for mashing the keys!

        Because it was rare and "accidental", I never did find out what made it do that and hence never found out how to reverse it other than to unplug the keyboard and plug it back in, hence my reasoning it was a function of the keyboard controller that was never documented, or at least not widely known about.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          I've had the more limited version of this, where the computer acts like a modifier key (it's never a normal key for some reason) is stuck down. The key is not stuck down. Pressing it once somehow unconfuses the computer and returns the keyboard to normal functioning, but for a while there, every letter you press is now executing some keyboard shortcut. This can leave you in a weird situation if you type quickly enough to rack up a few of those in sequence. I assume this is a hardware cause as it's not been limited to any OS, and it is compatible with the keyboard dome getting stuck somehow, but maybe it's our machines showing their mild revenge at how many times we blame them for our own mistakes.

  18. xyz123 Silver badge

    Onc has a support ticket for someone that said Excel wasn't working.

    Went to the desk. Excel loading fine. The guy said "see? it's not doing anything"

    I think he thought it would just do all the work for him.

  19. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

    True Story of how I'm an idiot

    I was building some new systems a few years back during the early days of the pandemic.

    I'd built one in Jan, and in April was retasking that build into my mediaserver (that was still on Windows 7 and AMD FX)

    The new build was my personal gaming rig... and I'd decided to splash the cash a little as a treat.

    That meant X570 motherboard and the 3800X CPU along with 64GB of DDR4 3600mhz, new case, new storage, new PSU... aside from the GPU... new everything.

    So I'd got a 500GB Sabrent rocket PCI-E4.0 nvme drive for the OS. On my previous build, I had a 250GB WD Black (PCI-E3.0) for the OS.

    I use anydesk to remote into my server.

    Some of you might be able to figure out what happened next already.

    After installing the OS and going back and forth to my home office for the next 6hrs or so whilst it updated windows 10 and I got programs and so forth installed... Remember I was retasking the other system as my mediaserver. So I was working on 2 systems at the same time... one remotely.

    So at some point... I checked on storage space left on the OS drive on my new gaming rig.

    Wait... that's only showing up as 250GB... I checked the packaging... it should be 500GB. It was late, I was tired and I was now annoyed.

    I fired of a quick email to the seller, letting them know they shipped me the wrong drive and went to bed.

    The following morning I boot up the system and notice it is actually 500GB.

    Cue a WTF moment... before it dawns on me that I was looking at the drive on the server the night before, because I was logged in remotely.

    Cue an Oh Shit moment as I realise I fired of an email that was a little blunt and passive aggressive.

    Thankfully it was a weekend now... So I fired of a 2nd email, profusely apologising and explaining my stupidity. I had a reply on Monday... with them basically having a good chuckle at my expense. I even added the story to my review of the product.

    It doesn't matter how smart you think you are, how much experience and knowledge you have... you can still pull a moment like that out of your arse. What matters is how you handle it... it doesn't hurt to have a bit of a chuckle at yourself from time to time.

  20. Blackjack Silver badge

    I remember a case when it wasn't Excel but "something cheaper" so the instructions didn't quite work.

    I just needed the sheet printed, for schoolwork, so I figured a way to make it work... by making someone else do it for me.

    If I had to summit a file by floppy disk I would have been in trouble since again what we had at home wasn't Excel.

  21. JLV

    April 1st and Windows 3.1 joke

    step 0. Sneak into co-worker's PC while they're on break

    step 1. Take screenshot of desktop

    step 2. Set wallpaper to said screenshot.

    step 3. Minimize actual desktop to a small icon lower right (yeah, 30 yrs back, not sure how I did it). I think the desktop was just a program, so you could minimize it.

    step 4. Watch them click their program icons to get work done.

    1. Screwed

      Re: April 1st and Windows 3.1 joke

      We used to move some or all the desktop icons off into a separate folder.

  22. Anonymous Tribble

    I once edited my desktop wallpaper and added copies of some shortcuts. Then got our local windows support guru very confused when they didn't do anything when clicked on.

  23. Richard 36

    When my aunt had driving lessons, it had to be explained to her which way to turn the steering wheel in order to make the car turn left.

  24. Phage

    I wonder if that was the Railways. I did a contract there (Maternity cover) and loved every day

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