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Let me unpack that for you - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Let me unpack that for you
Another post over there. Not pleased with this one, to be honest; I was rushing to finish it and I don't feel like I said what I was trying to say.

ETA: link fixed -- of course, the date part of it changed because I didn't actually post it till after midnight (FAIL!).

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braisedbywolves From: braisedbywolves Date: November 18th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC) (Link)
link's wrong: 17th not 18th, dude.

I suspect that the people behind "let me google that for you" don't have elderly relatives, or are just pricks to them.
braisedbywolves From: braisedbywolves Date: November 18th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Haha also computers frequently give error numbers because it is not politic for an error message to say "I was hungover that day"/"You are in the configuration space where this simply can't work, but we can't tell you that"/"Oh are Adobe still being pricks about this?"
braisedbywolves From: braisedbywolves Date: November 18th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Obviously I mean '18th not 17th' :)
emperor From: emperor Date: November 18th, 2009 08:00 am (UTC) (Link)
The point about error messages is key, I think - people are taught when a box comes up and your program dies to click "restart" just like that. "Oh, I dunno, it's just not working" seems a common response to "what was the error message?".
Somehow we've reached the state where your average user doesn't even think that reading the error message might be something you'd want to do.

I have a fiend who teaches IT in schools; I wonder if the curriculum includes "what to do when things go wrong"?
j4 From: j4 Date: November 18th, 2009 10:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Somehow we've reached the state where your average user doesn't even think that reading the error message might be something you'd want to do.

I blame Microsoft. If you can't do anything about the error (other than reboot or reinstall your OS), why should you waste time reading it? Or if you can click 'OK' and can carry on doing what you were doing, clearly the error wasn't that important. (This is a very very condensed version of a very long rant about conditioning people to accept mediocrity, so I hope it still makes sense without all the connecting bits left in... erm.)

"what to do when things go wrong"

Be an antelope!
ewx From: ewx Date: November 18th, 2009 08:24 am (UTC) (Link)

At the end of the day, it’s all about communication: the programmer, the software (insofar as it can be regarded as an agent), the user, the IT support guy — they’re all trying to pass information (in the broadest sense) from one agent to another without losing data.

This can be quite a problem even within a single program: if you have several components on top of one another then the error that occurs near the bottom can end up stripped down to nothing more informative than “something went wrong” by the time it reaches the top. (And that's even before a user, perhaps even at the best of times floundering in the deep end, tries to interpret it.)

crazyscot From: crazyscot Date: November 18th, 2009 09:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Bugbear du jour: a filesystem which returns an int on every call but only ever returns one of two constants, FAIL or OK. This is despite calling back to the OS to access the underlying storage device and potentially getting a wide range of error codes because myriad things might have gone wrong. I am loath to add a static int LastError ...
hatmandu From: hatmandu Date: November 18th, 2009 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, interesting piece, your satisfaction notwithstanding. In fairness to XKCD, I think he was more teasing the process in the IT support person's mind rather than saying 'anyone could do this'. (You're right that there's a lot of embedded skill and understanding.) I certainly do exactly what that flowchart suggests when people ask me for help as I 'know about computers' (ie know how to Google effectively - which I worry is now replacing all knowledge previously in my head...[*]).

By the way, I'm enjoying your NaBloPoMo greatly - it's a damn sight more constructive, in my jaded-had-to-look-at-too-many-people's-shit-novels view, than NaNoWriMo.

[*] The books on the shelves are now shuffling nervously. Be calm, my beauties. I'll never replace you.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 18th, 2009 10:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I think he was more teasing the process in the IT support person's mind

Yes, deffo. I feel a bit guilty using lovely xkcd as a springboard for a bit of a po-faced rant, but I wanted to have the rant, and the cartoon was what triggered it in my mind. :-} SORRY, RANDALL!

I certainly do exactly what that flowchart suggests

Me too! Though I also try to (gently) let people know that that's what I did, e.g. rather than just saying "You need to upgrade the fnargle widget" I'm more likely to reply "I googled for 'error: low fnargle' & the results suggest that upgrading the fnargle widget should fix this: [link to page explaining how to do it]". Basically, I don't want to maintain the "mystic priesthood" view of "people who know about computers"; I want to show people that there's no magic to it, that it's not so much "expert knowledge" (and it's certainly not "programming" or "science") as pattern-matching, experience, realising that 999 times out of 1000 someone else will already have solved the problem, and knowing where to look for the answer.

To mangle Benjamin Franklin, "Let the first lesson be information retrieval, and the second will be what thou wilt."
simont From: simont Date: November 18th, 2009 10:02 am (UTC) (Link)
The sentence I was closest to disagreeing with was the one about Google not being able to read your mind. It may not be there yet, but it's beginning to get just a little scary every so often :-)
j4 From: j4 Date: November 18th, 2009 10:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh, yes. Occasionally I find myself thinking something vague like "What was that thing I was thinking of? Began with a 'B'..." so I type 'B' into Google and it autosuggests the thing I was thinking of. Now, okay, that's probably because it was something I looked at or searched for earlier. But it's still a bit uncanny!
j4 From: j4 Date: November 18th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)
BTW, may I explicitly and publicly say thank you again, both for 'How to report bugs effectively', which is excellent, and for the DODECAHEDRAL BADGER! which is also excellent. :-) The badger has now survived three house-moves and still makes me very happy! *hug*
lnr From: lnr Date: November 18th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're absolutely right that that diagram is *far* too high level for a lot of users. Someone mailed us today with a problem with their email, I'm working from home today (parcels!) so tried asking a few simple questions by email to try and work out even what program she's using, but she'd rather I come and see her tomorrow as it's just too technical. And I'm not implying any criticism here, I don't think she's stupid at all, she just doesn't know the names for things or how to describe what's going on.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 18th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't help wondering what these people do when they have to do telephone banking, say....

- "What's your card number?"
- "Oh I don't know, I'm hopeless with numbers."
- "It's the long number across the front of your card..."
- "Look I'm sorry but I don't know anything about maths, but I've got the card here, can't you just come over from Bangalore and have a look at it yourself?"
1ngi From: 1ngi Date: November 18th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I clicked with trepidation as I noticed the geek tag and wondered if I was about to find something beyond my ken. So it was pleasant to discover that you understand that for so very many people (I suspect the vast majority) it all beyond their ken.

But the I guess so are microwaves and washing machines. Only when washing machines flood your kitchen they don't pop up a handy note in the powder drawer explaining which bit of the machine just packed up. I guess this is where the expectations are established - you hope that Washing Machine Repair Man and Computer Repair Man all speak the same language.

And they don't.

Love the heading 'Calling a spade the thing that you dig with'. Awesome.
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