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Feature: Stupid User Tricks

Feature: Stupid User Tricks

No one is supposed to say it, but every IT professional knows that users can be -- well, really dumb. If that word makes you uncomfortable, how about dim, slow, uneducated, ignorant, dense, foolish, half-witted, obtuse, doltish, boneheaded, technologically-challenged or ridiculous?The following stories might seem like the apocryphal urban legends you would see on the Internet, but they're all true. Only the names of the offenders have been eliminated to protect the blatantly guilty. So sit back and be thankful that these people don't all work at your company. At least, not yet.

The Blind Leading the Blinded

Sometimes technology is left to the whims of those who are uncomfortable with it by information technology personnel who should know better.

Bradley Barton tells of a former employer who asked a secretary who had no training to add a new mailbox to the voice-mail system. She sat down with the manual and started following the instructions step by step. Unfortunately, she had opened to Page 1 of the section that told users how to set up the phone system.

Step 1 was: Initialize the phone system. She did.

Suddenly, everything in the phone system -- from voice response menus to individual mailboxes -- was gone. All the company could do was start from scratch. Ironically, the company specializes in network security.

Be Careful What You Ask For

It was just another day at one of the largest home health-care outfits on the East Coast. The agency had just converted its systems to an IBM RS/6000. All the users had received training the previous week and a refresher session that morning. The biggest change was that they each had to enter a user identification and password to gain access to the system.

In midafternoon, Peter Perchansky, who was MIS director at the time, was paged and pulled from a late lunch to help someone who couldn't log in to the system and couldn't wait 15 minutes. Complaining about the system and the help all the while, the user keyed in the ID and password, at which point Perchansky could see the person adding something to the end of the correct second entry.

Why? Because someone else had told the individual to "type in the password ... and enter."Letting it All Hang OutJesse Josserand was sent to a user site to help solve an intermittent problem with a phototypesetter -- sometimes spaces and odd characters would show up in some text. It seemed like everything but the kitchen cabinet had been replaced over a month of troubleshooting and repairs. The most experienced technicians had gone to check it out, to no avail.

Josserand says he was "the new guy who needed to be broken in," and his visit represented the last, hopeless step before changing over the entire system. He watched the machine and operator in question and suddenly realized the problem.

The operator was a woman, both well-endowed and nearsighted. She would type, then lean forward to check the results on the data readout. As she did this, she inadvertently pressed some keys with certain body parts. Because type didn't register until the keys were released, the line was garbled only after the operator had checked for errors and immediately before she hit the Enter key.

800 Degrees of Irritation

Those who think that comfort with technology is the same as competence should take note: Greg Sweet once worked for one of the country's premiere business schools. One of the professors, getting ready to leave the office for several days, decided to set his e-mail account to automatically send a reply to any message he received while out. He did this himself, undoubtedly proud of his clever work.

As he was creating this autoresponder, however, the absentminded professor flubbered up and neglected to put filters in place so the automatic reply wouldn't go to the 15 or so mailing lists he was on. Whenever the mail server received a mailing list message, it sent a response saying the gentleman was out of the office. The list server hadn't been programmed to expect such a message, so when it received one it would generate a response saying it didn't understand. The professor's e-mail would then reply to that message with the automatic response.

As new messages came from lists, the traffic increased until the school's e-mail system was handling upward of 800 messages every five minutes and finally crashed, unable to manage the growing traffic. Sweet had to break in to the professor's e-mail account and set up the filters himself.

Temporary Copies

An IT company with offices around the world needed someone to help a manager in a London office. A temp was hired for about three months. Matt Bazzaco remembers that one day the manager handed the temp a floppy disk containing three important Microsoft Word documents. The manager told the temp to make two copies and send one to a second London office and the other to Sweden by overnight express.

The manager heard from the two offices promptly the next day. Yes, the packages had arrived, they said. But why, they wondered, had they been sent photocopies of a floppy disk?Hang Up and Dial AgainRemote access has become a way of life in corporate America.

Joelle Faulks' department at a former employer was once asked by an end user to configure his PC so he could dial in and get his e-mail when he was away from the office. The support team obliged, and the user left, ready for remote access. When he got home, he started the PC and -- no luck.

He called the help line for assistance, and the troubleshooting began, with staff checking the recent configuration. At one point, Faulks asked him whether the modem cable was securely inserted into the wall jack.

The busy executive said, "What cable? Phone line? No one told me about a phone line. How do I get one of those?"Learning Something NewA few years ago, a new user was having a problem and called her company's technical support line. Her cup dispenser was jammed, she said.

"Cup dispenser?" asked Wade Hyde. Yes, replied the user, the one that comes with the computer and holds up your coffee cup. It was stuck.

Scratching his head and having no idea what the woman was talking about, Hyde went over to her desk to see for himself. She pointed to her CD-ROM drive.

"That's your CD-ROM," he explained. "Where's the cup dispenser?""That's it," she explained.

Almost afraid to hear the answer, Hyde asked the user where she got the idea to balance a coffee cup on the CD tray. She replied, "Doesn't CD stand for cup dispenser?"Does all this sound too familiar?To share your own "Stupid User Story" with us? (anonymously of course) simply email Cass_Warneminde@idg.com.au at CIO Magazine.

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