Tech Tales From Hell presents..

Rules of Engagement

Andys Tech Tales Some thoughts to make your computer world easier. In life, there are universal truths. What goes around, comes around; everything that goes up must come down. And so on. The same is true in the world of computing. There are some commonly-found predicaments which seem to be almost unavoidable. And if we can predict them, accept them even as part of the way things are, then perhaps our nervous systems will live to fight another day.

Here then is a list of things I would like to share, which I have found to be true throughout my own computing experience. Think of it as a recipe for longevity and spiritual peace.


CFC - Check the F-ing Cable!

CFC! Number 1 on my list of things which go wrong on a network and elsewhere. I reckon 90% of network problems are the result of someone (often you) unplugging the cable and forgetting they did it. Another close relative of the unplugged cable is the faulty cable. It's easy to check and a staggeringly common cause of problems. Do it first before anything else.

Check the easiest stuff first

Still on the topic of fault finding, always check the easiest possible causes first. If your car stops, you usually check the petrol before stripping the engine down. The same applies to computers; cables get damaged, come loose, perhaps don't even exist. But are easy to check. Just like power buttons.

Store your data in more than one place

All storage mediums, disks, RAM, whatever, will fail. Often sooner than you expect. Always back up important files. The more important the data, the more copies you need to keep. Of course no-one really appreciates this until they lose something. There is never any excuse for losing data. If it's company files then your arse could be on the line.

One step forward, four steps back

How many times have you tried to do something, perhaps install some software, only to find you have to perform some other function first, often installing something else beforehand. And how often has this fallen over because you've gotta do something else prior to that!?

This happens to me all the time and is a common source of aggravation. You can't install a certain backup program under Windows NT because you need Internet Explorer v6 first. You can't install IE because you've gotta download it first. Then your internet connection fails. Then the CD you had the backups on suddenly develops unreadability syndrome.

Ah yes many of us have been here. The trick is to have a good yell (works for me, although you may have to choose the moment) and then go back to the job. This situation happens quite commonly, you've just gotta accept it and get on with the job. I find throwing things around the room helps too. CDs are particularly satisfying..

The Job Will Always Take Longer

Time!Closely related to many of the previous points in its insidious inevitability, even the most skilled technician will find themselves counfounded by circumstances (and additional requests) beyond their control. Nearly always happens when there's somebody else watching (usually the end-user) or when you're trying to demonstrate something which worked perfectly well the last time you did it. If you're on a schedule, always allow for the extra time of sorting out the other stuff.

When in Doubt - Reboot

F!Yes there are times when what should be working, isn't working. You've done your best and it's still not enough. There's only one thing for it - the three finger salute of CTL-ALT-DEL. Sometimes this doesn't work, like if the machine's locked up. Here the last resort of The Middle Finger on the power (or reset) button can be particularly satisfying. A reboot is easy to do and I've known it to fix all sorts of problems on both Windows and Unix boxes. Do it and do it early on.

Don't Give Up

The most successful people in the world aren't necessarily the cleverest or the richest or the most talented. The one common theme running through many of these people is that they don't give up. They keep plugging away in the face of discouragement and derision until ultimately their persistence pays off.

This is true in all aspects of life, but especially fitting in our wonderful world of computing where, it seems, nothing works right first time. The people who get the jobs and the promotion are the ones who get the job done in the face of all adversity. Accept the inevitable obstacles, find another way of getting what you want and stop whingeing.

The Buck Stops Here

As a tech support person, you don't have to know all the answers. But you do need to be able to find a solution, sometimes quickly. Be methodical, keep notes. And accept this inevitable responsibility.

No-one gives a shit about you

No-one cares what you know. No-one understands what you know - except perhaps another geek. People just want the thing fixed so they can get on with their work. Accept this.

Two Speeds

I have two speeds - one for teaching and one for doing. Establish which is required and perform accordingly. Slow down and take your time when teaching someone a task. Let them take notes and have a go themselves. It's time well-invested.

Sleep On It

Frazzled!!I am still amazed at how often this happens to me, even now. I will be struggling with a problem for hours and nothing will seem to go right. So in the wee hours I stagger off bedroomwards, feeling defeated and brain dead. Upon returning to the task refreshed, the thing will be fixed in five minutes. Happened to you? Weird isn't it. Sometimes you've just got to know when to call it a day and get some rest. If you are out on a mission-critical job which you can't walk away from, then at least take a break, have a stretch, a coffee, something to eat. The brain runs on glucose and regular rest. Use pizza with moderation.

- AndyM

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