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A Touching Story But Not That Way, Part 2

, , , , | Right | May 19, 2023

I work at my university’s tech help desk. An elderly gentleman walks up to the desk one day with a newly bought iPhone.

Customer: “I want you to be here in case I need you.”

He fiddled with the setup process. I went back to my usual duties as I saw him attempt to type in his email address on the iPhone display keyboard. Instead of typing with two thumbs, he subscribed to the method of placing his index finger on a random letter, then sliding it slowly over to the letter he wanted. He couldn’t quite get the hang of lifting his index finger at the right moment, resulting in many sighs and harrumphs of frustration.

Ten minutes later, almost to the point of yelling, this fine gentleman proceeded to pull a mini Phillips screwdriver out of his pocket, grip the handle in his hand like a javelin, and ready his arm to poke out the individual letters of his AOL email address. 

I quickly intervened before he destroyed his ten-minutes-old, very expensive purchase.

A Touching Story But Not That Way

What The Flock Are Ewe Doing?!

, , , , , , , | Learning | May 19, 2023

Back in the early 1990s, I worked at a European science institute developing software. The institute had just purchased a set of powerful, state-of-the-art Silicon Graphics workstations and had set them up in a computing lab.

A group of us working on them discovered that it was possible to write a script that played a sound remotely on a terminal at a set time, so that somebody quietly coding away in an otherwise empty room would suddenly hear a loud belch even though nobody else was present.

Things got out of hand when one of my colleagues refined the script to loop around random computers in the room playing a sound. They uploaded a set of sheep noises and primed the script.

Unfortunately, there was a surprise visit to the computer room from the head of the institute and a number of VIPs. Just as the head was extolling the new computer facilities and the high-quality science they would facilitate, first one and then another of the computers started “baaing” loudly until the whole room was bleating like a flock of demented, angry sheep.

The demonstration had to be redone, and security on the workstations was tightened very soon afterward.

You Make Life Easier And It Comes Back To Bite You

, , , , , , , , , | Working | May 18, 2023

I worked for a property management company about ten years back or so. They were behind the times — very behind the times. They did have a computer system that tracked payments being made — though they had to be manually entered — and on certain days, the system would print out a physical list of late charges.

They managed hundreds of Homeowners Associations. This late charge printout was huge. The way they handled it was they split it into three parts and dedicated three people to work on it for a few days.

It was insane. I did the tedious data entry on it for a few months and decided that it had to be fixed.

Since I couldn’t replace the software, of course, I decided to use the tools I had. Instead of physically printing the report, I exported it to an Excel document and then made a simple script that cut it down to a usable file. I then added in several calculations to sort out the amount of the fees based on the file. Then, I made a macro that copied the data from the Excel file into the billing software. I did this on my own free time.

I took a three-person multi-day job and cut it down to about an hour using tools we all had access to. It would have been instant, but the macro literally had to simulate keypresses for copy-paste into the ancient system — no import options.

For the first month, I did it both ways, and every difference between the human results and the system results were mistakes the humans made. It found dozens of mistakes that would have gone out to the HOA members, and likely that was just the norm. The machine did it better. I even added on a bit that sorted out addresses so the letters could be printed with the late fee information.

I was fired not long after. My manager claimed it was because I was not a team player or some such crap — that I wasn’t fitting in. My friends there said the gossip was pretty much that she felt I was a threat to her job. And the fact that I was the only male in the department and the only one who couldn’t speak Spanish fluently didn’t help. (It was in Miami.)

It left me pretty bitter for a while. On the bright side, teaching myself how to do it made me pretty good with Excel, which has helped me in most of my jobs since then. I just tend to keep my shortcuts to myself now.

A Cash Flow Problem

, , , , , | Right | May 18, 2023

Caller: “I want to pre-order tickets.”

Me: “Ma’am, we can sell tickets in the theater or online, but we can’t do it over the phone. Can I direct you to our website? I can walk you through the process.”

Somehow, she doesn’t understand anything that I try to tell her, so I hand the phone off to my manager. Twenty minutes later, he finally gets off the phone with her.

Manager: “Instead of going to our website, she just kept typing the movie she wanted to see into Google. I finally got her to our website and walked her through how to order the tickets, but then she said she didn’t have a credit or debit card.”

Me: “So, how was she expecting to pay?”

Manager: “Cash.”

Me: “Over the phone?”

Manager: “Yup. When I tried to explain to her that she couldn’t pay for her online tickets with cash, she got angry and hung up.”

We have no idea if she ever made it to the movie or not.

Oh Dot My Dot God At WTF Dot Com

, , , , , | Right | May 18, 2023

I am walking a long-standing client through some problems with her email setup. I’ve known this person for a long time and we’ve had a good working relationship. I’ve told her that the whole setup will take no more than ten minutes.

The domain for her email address includes her first name and last initial.

Me: “Okay, [Client]. Click ‘Account Settings’ and select ‘Outgoing Server (SMTP)’. Highlight the server and click ‘Edit’.”

Client: “A small box just popped up.”

Me: “Great. Now, in the server field, I want you to type in ‘mail dot [Client] dot com’ and click ‘Okay’.”

Client: “Okay.”

Me: “Can you send mail?”

Client: “No, it still says it won’t let me send.”

And we go back to the SMTP settings.

Me: “What do you have written in the server field?”

Client: “[Client] at [Client] dot com.”

Me: “Right, type ‘mail dot [Client] dot com’ in there and click ‘Okay’.”

Client: “Mail dot [Client] at [Client] dot com.”

Me: “No.”

Client: “Mail at [Client] dot com.”

Me: “No, mail dot [Client] dot com.”

Client: “Mail [Client] at [Client] dot mail dot [Client] dot com.”

Me: “You’re messing with me, right?”

Client: “No, I don’t think so.”

After a few minutes of this, it is quickly dropping to Abbott-and-Costello levels.

Client: “Okay, ‘mail dot [Client] dot com’? Are you sure? That doesn’t look like an email address.”

Me: “Just try it.”

Client: “Oh, I can send mail! Thank you!”

Total time: ten minutes and ten seconds.