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Friday, July 29, 2011

Replacing legacy applications: Four problems solved

These four IT shops upgraded systems for different reasons, but getting business involvement was key for them all.

John Brandon

July 28, 2011 (Computerworld)

Legacy applications are one of the most difficult issues to face within IT. A rip-and-replace approach is expensive, difficult to cost-justify and tends to interrupt business. Meanwhile, the legacy software lingers in accounting's ledgers, outlives its welcome in sales and causes poor network performance throughout the organization.
And it gets worse. An old mapping application in a transportation department, for instance, is a disaster waiting to happen. As the months and years go by, the problem becomes more serious and harder to address.
In the examples below -- each featuring a slightly different legacy application problem -- the key to finding a solution involved business analysis. IT staffers helped figure out how the legacy app was being used, in what ways employees depended on it and how the company would be affected by a disruption in service caused by a failure of the software. Application failures, of course, typically lead to a loss of productivity that continues during the time needed to install new software and train employees to use it.
"A core element in all these cases is that the existing portfolio [of IT applications] ought to be continuously managed for its balance of delivered value to cost and risk," says Jim Duggan, a Gartner analyst who studies enterprise IT applications.
Of course, how these companies balanced the value of software against its cost and the risk of failure, and the factors that pushed them to finally make an upgrade, varied depending on the specific business need and the exact nature of the legacy app problem.

Hudson's Bay Company and Lord & Taylor

Problem: A merger renders existing ERP systems obsolete
Wholesale ERP replacement to meet the needs of all divisions
Hudson's Bay Company is one of the oldest retail chains in Canada, having been established in 1670. The company also owns other popular chains, including Home Outfitters and Zellers. In 2008, Hudson's Bay was purchased by NRDC Equity Partners, the same company that owns Lord & Taylor, an upscale department store chain.
Together, the two companies employ about 75,000 people and generate more than $8 billion in sales, so the merger presented some challenges. One was that Hudson's Bay and Lord & Taylor were both happy with their respective enterprise resource planning systems, which came from different vendors, and neither company's system could handle the needs of both organizations. (The previous systems, which the company declined to name, ran on IBM mainframes.)
One of the main ways Hudson's Bay uses ERP is to manage deliveries to its stores.
Hudson's Bay packages
The new ERP system that Hudson's Bay deployed helps manage deliveries like these.
"When we order merchandise from a vendor, sometimes it comes in from Europe and we know about how many we need by store, but it might be months before it is delivered to our company," says Dan Smith, CIO of Hudson's Bay. The resulting delay, he adds, "may change how much you need for one store versus another." Store employees often have to wait until the merchandise arrives, open the containers and then route them to other stores as needed, he explains.
Hudson's Bay decided it needed one overarching ERP system for all stores to replace the older ones. Executives knew they wanted to move away from their older mainframe systems to use newer blade servers instead. One of the problems with the mainframes was finding Cobol programmers to maintain the old ERP software. The company upgraded to supply-chain management software from Manhattan Associates in part so it would know exactly what was being delivered to stores and when it was arriving.
Some of the benefits that the upgrade yielded included process improvements and labor savings, which Smith would not detail, and the ability to consider future acquisitions that could be parlayed more easily into the existing supply-chain software.
Of course, Smith says, the overall project presented several challenges too, including the need to integrate the systems for the combined companies and the need to train staffers on the new process.
Julie Lockner, a data management analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), says all mergers are complex, but they're especially complicated for retailers that will need to address compliance issues and figure out how old data sets will be maintained after moving to one companywide system.
If data is going to be merged into a single application, she says, companies should "[have] a plan for data retention and legacy application retirement at the outset" in order to minimize the chances that any application will become "a source of pain years later."
Legacy applications
For his part, Gartner's Duggan says Hudson's Bay faced a very complex series of problems: legacy apps that mostly worked but didn't meet the needs of the newly merged company, a large-scale implementation across multiple locations, and the political concerns that arise when different corporate cultures come together. The main issue, he says, is that complexity leads to high costs, and IT has to make business continuity a priority.
"A major factor in mergers and acquisitions will be the attitude toward business process standardization," says Duggan. "Political concerns often result in multiple processes where only one should exist. IT can federate some processes when that is needed, but using IT to mask an inability to enforce consistency can result in costly, unreliable operations."


Problem: Messaging platform is several versions old
A series of in-place upgrades to the latest version
At Flexcon, a Spencer, Mass.-based maker of pressure-coated films and adhesives for labels, a Lotus Notes messaging platform was becoming seriously outdated.
For Jeremiah Benjamin, the company's collaboration and tech support leader, the problem became a weekly support headache. For example, the system could not correctly render rich emails -- those that use complex graphics. The company also could not accommodate some add-ons for specific handheld devices because of the extra costs involved. Moreover, it took several days just to book a meeting room and match the size with the number of participants, says Benjamin.
"We had not done any upgrades in quite a while, and we patched [only] to fix specific problems. There were a lot of upgrades we had not done," Benjamin explains. "We needed to get things up to date."
Benjamin first started noticing problems a few years ago when the company's version of Lotus Notes failed to recognize some modern smartphones, including Android devices and Apple's iPhone. He also had trouble integrating new versions of applications, such as Microsoft Office, with Notes.
Because it had missed upgrades several upgrades, Flexcon undertook the fixes in steps, first going from Lotus Notes 4.6 to Notes 6.5. Then in 2009, the company upgraded IBM Lotus Notes and its Domino server from Version 6.5 to Version 7. The goal was to finish the upgrade before vendor support for the 6.5 release was cut off in 2010. Finally, in early 2010 Flexcon upgraded its Domino 7 server environment to Notes 8.5. Notes client upgrades were completed last year, and the company is now up to date on all of its Notes releases.
We needed to get things up to date.
Jeremiah Benjamin, collaboration and tech support leader, Flexcon
Benjamin says he used a variety of tactics to make the upgrade process a smooth one. He tested extensively and used Twitter to get advice from experts. He says he had paid for IBM support but rarely used it with the older version, but he made frequent support calls during the upgrade from Lotus Notes 6.5/7 to Notes 8.
The main benefit now is that Flexcon's IT team is prepared for the introduction of new consumer gadgets into the enterprise: When an executive brings in an iPad or a new smartphone, Benjamin knows Flexcon has the server and client versions needed to support the latest models.
"After this, I made the decision to always upgrade the servers within weeks of any release so as to always be current," says Benjamin. "The main benefits are supporting the latest devices, providing strong security, consistent user experiences and continual increases in performance."
Gartner's Duggan says that skipping upgrades tends to lead to an increase in security risks and a reduction in the value of the software. Flexcon was wise to address the legacy situation before the problems became harder to fix and the upgrades even more difficult to deploy.
And here's another problem that Flexcon encountered as a result of skipping upgrades: "They no longer had timely support for new technologies but still paid for them in the yearly maintenance fee," says Duggan.
Duggan advises IT shops to always stay within two releases of the latest version. He describes a strategy known as N+1. In that approach, most users would be on the last major upgrade (N) of the software -- not the most current release, but the one before that. Meanwhile, advanced users would testing the most current release (N+1) and casual users would be two releases behind them (N-1), gradually catching up to the main group of users.

Compassion International

Problem: Infrastructure makes adding new CRM features difficult
Extend the infrastructure for now, with the end -goal of cloud services
Jim Finwick knew the writing was on the wall. As the CIO of Compassion International, a Colorado Springs-based Christian organization that helps children in developing countries, Finwick noticed that an existing home-built CRM (customer relationship management) system called Compass was showing its age. Built on Sybase PowerBuilder, the CRM was not extensible, did not have an open API and did not have a way to collect detailed information about sponsors.
Jim Finwick
"We had all of these connections that were wired together, and not in a standard way, that created this level of fragility," says Jim Finwick, CIO of Compassion International, of his organization's old CRM system.
"We had all of these connections that were wired together, and not in a standard way, that created this level of fragility. We knew we needed more flexibility and stability," says Finwick.
His fears were realized in November, when the Compass CRM system froze completely, leading to a half-day of down time and approximately $500,000 in lost donation pledges. Because Compassion works with 10 regional centers and 25 offices locations throughout the world that help arrange donations, the organization needed a way to work without so many software patches and disparate connections. Compassion decided to move a new cloud-based IT infrastructure, built partly on the Microsoft .Net framework and partly on Neudesic Neuron, an enterprise bus server that connects diverse systems.
One of the organization's goals is to make sure there is a one-to-one relationship between the sponsor and a child. The goal is to ensure a sponsor knows that 20 other people are not sponsoring the same child. That means coordinating data about the child, in whatever country he or she lives, with data about the sponsor in an entirely different country. Ideally, a U.K.-based sponsor, for instance, will be able to get information very quickly about a particular child who needs help, even if that child lives on another continent. That level of integration would not have been possible with the standalone CRM system, but it's possible with the cloud.
So far, Compassion has upgraded the Compass database to run on a hosted platform using several technologies, including Neudesic. And Bleum, an IT outsourcing company based in Shanghai, added Web services to the Compass CRM to help the group get by in the short term. But farther out, Compassion plans to upgrade to a full cloud-based ERP system. Finwick would not say when that will happen.
   Compassion International
Compassion's new CRM setup makes it easier to combine data about sponsors and children, as seen in the lower-left portion of this screen shot.
ESG's Lockner says Compassion is on the right path, but she advises the charity to continue to bring users -- employees and churches and other approved groups using the system -- into the loop as it investigates a cloud-based packaged ERP system. With the cloud architecture, the organization may need to train users on what to do when the Internet is down or provide a way to make data available offline. She says it is important to make sure users have the same level of functionality in the cloud as when the data is local.

Iowa Network Services

Problem: Backhaul monitoring works but doesn't provide metrics
New software that includes metrics
When a wireless carrier offers 3G or 4G service, it uses a backhaul station to link towers together and provide the fiber-optic backbone. Iowa Network Services, based in Des Moines, provides backhaul for major carriers including AT&T and Verizon. The company was using Aviant Networks to manage the backhaul services, which includes trunking (a way to share one line with multiple customers) and licensing wireless services.
   Iowa Network Services
Iowa Network Services' new metrics software allows staffers to get details about a number of parameters.
In the early days of wireless access, voice calls required a fairly straightforward connection. But these days, new data services for email and the Web can introduce latency issues for smartphones. So the customers for Iowa Network Services backhaul started requesting better monitoring so they could generate reports on quality of service.
"It would have been a significant cost to add performance metrics," says Leon Hofer, the vice president of network operations at Iowa Network Services. "The legacy system is over 10 years old, and we never built metrics into the original system." Given this customer need, and the age of the previous applications, the cost of updating the entire system "started making sense," Hofer says.
As with any upgrade, Iowa Network has encountered both unexpected advantages and unexpected challenges. The new system, from Monolith Software, provides more robust data and a better interface, but it is not always possible to put all of the data onto one simple interface, as was possible with Aviant. (Users can still view a summary in graphical form.)
Leon Hofer
Leon Hofer, vice president of network operations at Iowa Network Services, says it would have been a "significant cost" to upgrade the old backhaul system, so the company opted for a new software suite instead.
A new feature allows Iowa Network staffers to receive alerts by text or email when metrics exceed a certain threshold for packet loss. But learning how to use these new features, says Hofer, required some training and a new process. They've learned, paradoxically, that often it is faster for a technician to view lines of text and quickly interpret the results than to try to figure out what's happening within a graphical interface.
On the plus side, before the upgrade much of the work in troubleshooting had to do with tracking down a specific piece of networking equipment, opening a trouble ticket and correlating data from different sources. Now, the improved system gathers this data and makes it available through built-in reports.
Gartner's Duggan suggests that when business customers are demanding a specific feature -- in this case, monitoring -- the upgrade is a no-brainer. "Think about the business need as a product requirement," he says. When you think of it that way, he adds, "the implementation of a new capability will yield increased business and revenue opportunity."
In the end, every legacy application presents complex IT challenges -- analyzing the business process, figuring out the cost of the upgrade, dealing with the vagaries of training and re-tooling. As Duggan says, once any application hits production it is instantly labeled "legacy" -- and in many ways that means IT should start planning for how the application will be upgraded, replaced or outsourced even before it is fully deployed.
John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He's written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. Follow his tweets at @jmbrandonbb.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

BlackBerry Tutorial: Remove Uninstalled Apps from BlackBerry App World's My World

Tutorial: Remove Uninstalled Apps from BlackBerry App World's My World
If you ever downloaded and installed an app from BlackBerry App World on your BlackBerry smartphone and then uninstalled the app,
you might have noticed that the app is still showing on your My World screen.
No worry, there is a simple and easy hack to remove the uninstalled apps from the My World screen.
How to do it... just open BlackBerry App World and once it is active hold the ALT key and type RST.
BlackBerry App World will restart and only the installed apps will be showing on your My World screen.

Found under: Remove Uninstalled Apps, BlackBerry App World
Tutorial: Remove Uninstalled Apps from BlackBerry App World's My World - permalink
Published on 17.04.2010 in Blackberry News

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

As Twitter turns 5, it delivers 350B 'tweets' per day

Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service | July 15, 2011

Twitter launched its microblogging service five years ago today and the company is marking the occasion by doling out some impressive usage stats.

Currently, about 600,000 people sign up for a Twitter account every day, but it took Twitter almost a year-and-a-half to attract its first 600,000 members, the company said on Friday in its
official Twitter feed.

In its first day, users sent 224 "tweets," which is the number the current user base sends every tenth of a second.

Meanwhile, the company's engineering team disclosed
on its own feed that users send 350 billion "tweets" every day.

Last week, Twitter said that it had recently topped 1 million registered applications for its platform built by 750,000 external developers.

The usage metrics released by Twitter contrast with the ones that Google CEO Larry Page provided about the company's new Google+ social networking site on Thursday.

Speaking during his company's second-quarter earnings call, Page said that, although Google+ is still in a limited trial phase and available only by invitation, about 10 million people have signed up for the site. They share about 1 billion items every day.

"Delivering 350 billion Tweets a day is a terribly fun engineering challenge. But, it doesn't capture how passionate our users are," the post by Twitter's Engineering team reads.

Looking back, Twitter has improved tremendously its site stability, availability and performance, which early on were notoriously uneven, making the service vulnerable to frequent outages, slowdowns and glitches.

Today, Twitter's "Fail Whale" graphic, which became a mainstream symbol for things gone wrong, is seen much less often, and the company has moved on to other challenges, such as building a sustainable revenue stream based primarily on online ads.

Twitter is also facing discontent from some longtime developers who created applications that provided complementary functionality for the site, only to find that in the past 18 months or so, Twitter has decided to build those features natively into its service.

What's not in doubt is that it is the undisputed, preferred microblogging tool of public figures, companies and private individuals for posting short text messages online and sharing links.

It has even played an important and controversial part in political uprisings, in particular in countries with totalitarian regimes where pro-democracy activists have found Twitter to be an effective yet stealthy communications tool.

Although it caters to the consumer market, its microblogging concept has been adapted by a growing number of enterprise software vendors who now provide Twitter-like services for workplace collaboration and communication.

As it celebrates its fifth birthday, Twitter also finds itself without several of its most public representatives, including co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, who have recently moved on to other ventures.

Norway tragedy Facebook scams spreading fast

By Melanie Pinola | Jul 26, 2011
Facebook scams are popping up from people looking to exploit Friday's bombing and shootings in Norway. Users should be careful not to click on links they are not familiar with.
The issue was raised in a blog post by security software provider Websense. The viral exploit currently appears to be infecting one user every second.
The "clickjacking" scam adds fake posts on users' news feeds, encouraging them to click on infected links with the lure of hot news items and disaster footage. Most recently we've seen similar news-related Facebook scams using the Casey Anthony trial as bait  and even adding in Facebook Chat as an additional lure.
Social networking, by its very nature, is viral and makes large networking sites like Facebook a hotbed for malicious scammers. AVG reported last fall that of the nearly 20,000 malicious pages on the top social networking sites, more than half were on Facebook, and the majority of the rest were on video-sharing site YouTube.
Videos are particularly effective for scammers, Websense says, but even breaking news stories within search results can be unsafe. Searches for current news pose an even higher risk than searching for pornography or other objectionable content on the web.
The moral of the story? When it comes to breaking or hot news items at least, we should still stick with clicking only on trusted news organizations' links. Beware of those Facebook feeds.
PC World (US)

Proverbs and their opposites



The most beautiful thing is to see a person smiling… 
And even more beautiful is, knowing that you are the reason behind it.

10+ dangerous species of help desk callers

April 25, 2008, 9:57 AM PDT
By Jeff Dray

Takeaway: Support techs are well aware that end users come in all shapes and sizes. And thanks to IT pro Jeff Dray, they can now be classified. See if this list of user species matches up with the folks who keep your own help desk hopping.
During my years working in IT support, I have become more and more interested in the many types of people who call IT help desks. Like a biologist, I have found that having a classification system is critical in understanding the users I help on a daily basis. With this in mind, and with my tongue in my cheek, I have categorized users into the following species.
Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: "The Expert": Userus expertia

"The Expert" user is the curse of most IT support establishments. Experts try out something they heard about from "the bloke in the pub," an unqualified expert on everything who offers advice to anyone who will listen. Experts usually make a complete mess of their systems when they follow the bloke's advice. Then they compound the problem by trying to fix it themselves, often destroying their machines. As a last resort, they call the help desk and demand that their machines be replaced or mended immediately, as they have urgent work that can't wait. There has been an Expert at every place I have worked. I leave it to you to decide who your resident Expert is.

#2: "The Fiddler": Userus manipulate

The motto of "The Fiddler" is, "I wonder what happens if…." I've placed these callers next because they are closely related to the Expert. These callers don't realize that some files actually make their computers work. If they don't recognize a file as one of their own, they delete it and are surprised when something then stops working. Unlike the Expert, they don't say anything about the problem; you only discover it months later from a casual remark, such as, "Oh no, that hasn't worked for ages. I meant to call you." Fiddlers are usually very pleasant people — who will drive you mad.

#3: "The Mouse": Userus rodentia

"The Mouse" is more common than the previous two and fortunately, less harmful. For this species of caller, the big gray box is a source of blind terror. I can remember talking on the phone to a Mouse at a UK communications company. She had worked in a telephone exchange for years and was suddenly given a PC to help her. She had not asked for it and didn't want it. The screen was making strange noises, and she was concerned.
"I don't want it to explode or anything," she wailed.
"No," I said patronizingly, "They don't explode. There's no explosive in them."
Then I heard a loud "BANG!" through the phone.
"What was that?" I asked.
"My screen has just exploded," she replied.

#4: "The Train Spotter": Userus geekissimus

"The Train Spotter" is most often the offspring of an Expert and a Fiddler. These callers are usually harmless and don't have many computer problems. What they do have is an IT magazine, which they have read from cover to cover. The Train Spotters will invariably corner an unsuspecting help desk tech and proceed to bore the tech rigid by sharing their knowledge. The main difference between Train Spotters and other callers is that Train Spotters do not usually phone the help desk; they visit in person.
I'm not quite sure what they want from the help desk, but they take up a lot of time asking various questions about new innovations, about which I usually know nothing. I have found no explanation for the existence of this user other than that the Expert and Fiddler conceived the Train Spotter on a trip to a computer trade fair.
help desk

#5: "The Paranoid User": Userus newbigata

"Paranoid Users" are convinced that the computer has an intelligence of its own and is out to get them. The machine is constantly doing something that causes a problem. It will maliciously alter their documents, obliterate all references to their passwords, and lose work they have saved. If a machine is ever going to break down, it will be while being used by a Paranoid. This species' one saving grace is determination. They never give up, as much as you wish they would.

#6: "The I'm-Building-a-Case User": Userus fabricatum

"The I'm-building-a-case User" is grinding an axe to get some new gadget brought in or to have an old one taken away. They report hundreds of trivial problems, hoping upper management will buy them the latest all-singing and all-dancing machine. The real problem with this species of caller is the fact that they are usually not trying to replace computer equipment. This user doesn't see the difference between computers and any other piece of office equipment. I have often been required to pass opinions on all kinds of electrical equipment even after pointing out my lack of knowledge on the subject. I do not evaluate coffee makers. I do not drink coffee, and I know nothing about the black arts involved in its production.

#7: "The Just-Testing User": Userus gustulata

"The Just-Testing User" is not even using a computer but wants to test your knowledge and, if possible, trip you up. The best technique for dealing with this species is by answering questions with "I don't know." They cannot deal with this straight capitulation. Most Just-Testing Users would love the chance to show your boss how useless you are or how little you know. They are thrilled when you give a wrong answer and will crow about it incessantly.

#8: "Pig Pen": Userus perfumia

Based on the Charles M. Schulz Peanuts character, "Pig Pen" has the messiest, most unhygienic work area in the company. Pig Pen's personal hygiene is fine; it is only the workspace that is a hazard. It is a graveyard for old coffee cups, half-eaten green sandwiches, used Kleenex, and moldy sock collections. Pig Pens are some of the nicest and most technically able people you know. They usually give the help desk very little trouble except when their keyboard needs replacing, which is often. Pig Pen is a mainstay of most companies, the backbone of whatever department he or she works for. If that were not the case, the company would have let him or her go years ago.

#9: "The I-Don't-Want-To-Hear-That! User": Userus headinsandia

This is a rather curious species. They call, ask a question, and if they don't hear what they want, they take it personally. I always wonder why they ask if they don't want to know the answer. It does not seem to matter that what they want is not possible. All they want is to hear the answer they're looking for.

#10: "The End-Of-My-Tether User": Userus adlimitus

This type of user is the angriest but, perversely, often the easiest to deal with. After spending weeks attempting to resolve their own queries, they finally swallow their pride and call the help desk. Calls from this type of user usually end in one of three ways:
  • The problem's solution can be found simply by reading page 1 of his instruction manual, which, of course, these callers haven't done.
  • Callers are informed that the operation they're trying to perform can't be performed with the equipment or software they have.
  • Callers have already found a solution but phoned the help desk to let you know how frustrated, mad, or unsatisfied they are.

#11: "The Nice User": Userus pleasantia

Userus pleasantia was long thought extinct but has recently been observed by TechRepublic member Dennis R in the forests near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This user is mostly harmless and can be recognized by its familiar cries of "Please" and "Thank you."
"The Nice User" listens carefully, explains his or her problem clearly, and follows suggested procedures. Because of their tendency to think before they act, calls from these users are rare. I have personally encountered this species of help desk caller several times during my career, and each time, they help restore my faith in the end user.

#12: "The I-Don't-Believe-You User": Userus suspictica

These users will ring for assistance, ask a question, listen carefully to your answer, and promptly refuse to accept any information that does not exactly match their own preconceptions. They are closely related to the "The I-Don't-Want-To-Hear-That! User": Userus headinsandia.

All in fun

Yes, it is possible to provide good customer service, take people seriously, and maintain a sense of humor at the same time. There are lots of wonderful people out there calling the help desk. These individuals have made the last 15 years of my career a pleasure. I have laughed and cried with users, shared their highs and lows, been shouted at, sworn at, threatened, praised, complimented, and commended. I have received unsolicited cards and small gifts on my birthday, as well as the ultimate compliment (being asked for by name).
Sadly, the nice users, who incidentally are by far the most common, don't have much mileage in them when it comes to comedy. The ones we remember most are those who fill the help desk hall of shame. It should be remembered that there are two galleries in that particular edifice, callers and help desk workers. Perhaps one day I will start a complete classification of help desk analysts.

10 habits of superstitious users

By Jaime Henriquez
August 24, 2009, 2:17 PM PDT

Takeaway: For some users, the computer is unfathomable - leading them to make bizarre assumptions about technology and the effect of their own actions. Here are a few irrational beliefs such users develop.
For some users, the computer is unfathomable - leading them to make bizarre assumptions about technology and the effect of their own actions. Here are a few irrational beliefs such users develop.

Superstition: A belief, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that future events may be influenced by one's behavior in some magical or mystical way (Wiktionary).
In 1947, the psychologist B. F. Skinner reported a series of experiments in which pigeons could push a lever that would randomly either give them a food pellet, or nothing. Think of it as a sort of one-armed bandit that the pigeons played for free. Skinner found, after a while, that some of the pigeons started acting oddly before pushing the lever. One moved in counterclockwise circles, one repeatedly stuck its head into the upper corner of the cage, and two others would swing their heads back and forth in a sort of pendulum motion. He suggested that the birds had developed "superstitious behaviors" by associating getting the food with something they happened to be doing when they actually got it — and they had wrongly concluded that if they did it again, they were more likely to get the pellet. Essentially, they were doing a sort of food-pellet dance to better their odds.
Although computer users are undoubtedly smarter than pigeons, users who really don't understand how a computer works may also wrongly connect some action of theirs with success (and repeat it), or associate it with failure (and avoid it like the plague). Here are some of the user superstitions I've encountered.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Refusing to reboot

Some users seem to regard a computer that's up and running and doing what they want as a sort of miracle, achieved against all odds, and unlikely ever to be repeated … certainly not by them. Reboot? Not on your life! If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Why take the risk?

2: Excessive fear of upgrades

Exercising caution when it comes to upgrades is a good idea. But some users go well beyond that, into the realm of the irrational. It may take only one or two bad experiences. In particular, if an upgrade causes problems that don't seem to be related to the upgrade itself, this can lead to a superstitious fear of change because it confirms their belief that they have no idea how the computer really works — and therefore no chance of correctly judging whether an upgrade is worth it or just asking for trouble. Better to stay away from any change at all, right?

3: Kneejerk repetition of commands

These are the people who, when their print command fails to produce output in a timely manner, start pounding the keys. They treat the computer like a recalcitrant child who just isn't paying attention or doesn't believe they really mean it. Users may get the impression that this superstition is justified because the computer sometimes does seem to be ignoring them — when it fails to execute a double-click because they twitched the mouse or when they have inadvertently dropped out of input mode. Or it may come from the tendency of knowledgeable helpers to make inconspicuous adjustments and then say, "Try it again."

4: Insisting on using particular hardware when other equally good hardware is available

Whenever you go to the trouble of providing your users with multiple options — computers, printers, servers, etc. — they will develop favorite choices. Some users will conclude, however, based on their previous experience (or sometimes just based on rumor), that only this particular piece of hardware will do. The beauty of interchangeability is wasted on them.

5: "I broke it!"

Many users blame the computer for any problems (or they blame the IT department). But some users assume when something goes wrong, they did it.
They don't think about all the tiny voltages and magnetic charges, timed to the nanosecond, all of which have to occur in the proper sequence in order for success. In fact, there are plenty of chances for things to go wrong without them, and things often do. But then, all those possible sources of error are hidden from the user — invisible by their nature and tucked away inside the box. The only place complexity isn't hidden is in the interface, and the most obviously fallible part of that is … them. It may take only a few cases of it actually being the user's fault to get this superstition rolling.

6: Magical thinking

These are the users who have memorized the formula for getting the computer to do what they want but have no clue how it works. As in magic, as long as you get the incantation exactly right, the result "just happens." The unforgiving nature of computer commands tends to feed this belief. The user whose long-running struggle to connect to the Web is resolved by, "Oh, here's your problem, you left out the colon…" is a prime candidate to develop this superstition.
Once on the path to magical thinking, some users give up trying to understand the computer as a tool to work with and instead treat it like some powerful but incomprehensible entity that must be negotiated with. For them, the computer works in mysterious ways, and superstitions begin to have more to do with what the computer is than how they use it.

7: Attributing personality to the machine

This is the user who claims in all honesty, "The computer hates me," and will give you a long list of experiences supporting their conclusion, or the one who refuses to use a computer or printer that had a problem earlier but which you have now fixed. No, no, it failed before and the user is not going to forget it.

8: Believing the computer sees all and knows all

Things this user says betray the belief that behind all the hardware and software there is a single Giant Brain that sees all and knows all — or should. They're surprised when things they've done don't seem to "stick," as in "I changed my email address; why does it keep using my old one?" or "Did you change it everywhere?"  "… Huh?" or "My new car always knows where I am, how come I have to tell Google Maps where I live?" or the ever-popular "You mean when you open up my document you see something different?"

9: Assuming the computer is always right

This user fails to recognize that the modern computer is more like television than the Delphic oracle. Even the most credulous people recognize that not everything they see on television is true, but some users think the computer is different. "There's something wrong with the company server." "What makes you think that?" "Because when I try to log in, it says server not found." … "Why did you click on that pop-up?" "It said I had a virus and that I had to."

10: "It's POSSESSED!!"

Users who are ordinarily rational can still succumb to superstition when the computer or its peripherals seem to stop paying any attention to them and start acting crazy — like when the screen suddenly fills with a code dump, or a keyboard problem overrides their input, or a newly revived printer spews out pages of gibberish. It serves to validate the secretly held suspicion that computers have a mind of their own — and that mind isn't particularly stable.


We're used to seeing superstitions among gamblers and athletes, who frequently engage in high-stakes performances with largely unpredictable outcomes. That superstitions also show up when people use computers — algorithmic devices designed to be completely predictable — is either evidence of human irrationality or an interesting borderline case of Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
What kinds of superstitious behavior have you seen among your users? Have you been able to ease them past the abyss of their irrational convictions?

Jaime Henriquez has been working in IT since the 1970s, with time off to pick up a Ph.D. in technology and culture.

10 things end users do that drive me crazy

By Jack Wallen
May 6, 2011, 8:55 AM PDT

Takeaway: Annoying users come with the support tech territory, but sometimes a little venting can help. See if these scenarios sound familiar.
As a member of a local consultancy firm, my primary jobs are remote support and backups. Because of this, I deal directly with our clients a lot. Although I am fond of many of those clients, most of them still display behaviors that drive me, as a consultant, crazy. And maybe it's the excessive rain and storms we've been having, but these behaviors have escalated lately. So I thought I would share some of these things with you to see whether you've run into them — and whether you've encountered other behaviors you want to share with your fellow readers.
Please understand, I do this to lay down a bit of humor so we can all commiserate, cope, and (I hope) laugh at the follies we deal with day in and day out. I do not, in any way, mean to suggest that I think people are horrible or that I don't like to deal with them.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Take control of remote sessions

I do a lot of remote support. For that support, I use either LogMeIn or TeamViewer. Inevitably, I run into clients who constantly want to "show me" what's going on, take over the mouse to point out something different, or even use their machine for something else (like replying to an email that should be able to wait). Outside of annoying any support tech, this does one thing — extends the length of time needed to do a job.
Sometimes, it seems clients don't realize that other clients are actually waiting for my help, so they think they can take up as much of my time as they want. But beyond taking up time, this type of behavior often can lead to an environment of mistrust, where techs feel the client does not trust their work. No one wants to work under these circumstances.

2: Give too much irrelevant information about an issue

What I really want to know is that you clicked on an attachment that was in an email. I don't care to know the email was originated by your grandmother on your father's side and the email had the most darling picture of kittens and puppies playing together in a field of daisies. I also don't care that you were sitting at your desk, having your usual lunch of yogurt and sliced apples dipped in caramel when everything started to go down the drain. Get to the point, give me the facts, and I will do my job to the best of my ability.

3: Blame the issue on something I (or another tech) did previously

Yes, I've worked on your machine before. No, what I did last time to help you remap your K drive had zero effect on the fact that now you can't get a network connection. Although they may be related, they are not directly cause and effect. Trust me on this. I'm not trying to pull a fast one on you, and I am 100 percent sure that the K drive issue is not related. But on the off chance that you simply will not believe me, I will do everything I can to show you the two are not related in any way. If you still don't believe me, I have a list of other consultants who will be happy to have your work — until they're no longer happy to have your work.

4: Lie

This one should not need any explanation. But for those who have yet to experience the liar, let me set the stage. There are times when you log into a user's machine and discover that something obviously has been done — a profile or program deleted — that can be done only by an end user. When an end user has made such a mistake, he or she will sometimes try to deny doing anything to cause the problem. That's fine. But most support professionals can see through the thinly veiled lie. We know the truth… so it's okay to admit it.

5: Take control of conversations

When I'm trying to explain an issue to an end user, it really bugs me when that user takes over the conversation, preventing me from being able to effectively communicate either the problem or the solution. Generally, these people tend to have more to say on the issue than necessary and assume what they have to add to the situation is far more important than what they have to learn. If those end users would stop and listen for once, the reoccurring issue I am trying to help them with might not reoccur.

6: Ask the "quick question"

This one really bothers me. Without fail, a client will call me with a "quick question" that inevitably winds up being a 30-minute phone conversation. My time is valuable through the workday and those quick questions add up. Not only that, but many clients use the quick question to avoid having to pay for support on the real issue.

7: Chat while I'm concentrating

This goes along with dominating the conversation. Many users, while in the middle of a remote session, want to chat. Sometimes that's okay, as we are simply waiting for a download or waiting on the progress of a service or application. But when I'm elbows deep in the dirt and grit of trying to resolve a crucial issue, don't try to chat me up about the weather, the royal wedding, or the price of gas. Please let me resolve the issue at hand (especially one that requires my concentration) and then I will happily chat about whatever (so long as I don't have a pressing appointment after yours).

8: Insist what their "cousin" told them was true

I get it. Some companies enlist the help of "Cousin Joe," who happens to owe the secretary a favor and "knows a thing or two" about computers. Well, Cousin Joe didn't do you any favors when he caused even more problems doing what he did. Not that I am going to slam your cousin. But when I say that although Joe's intentions were good, what he did was counterproductive to solving the issue at hand, please don't insist that the cousin was in the right and that I am only trying to bilk you out of more money. Of course, if it ever comes to those kinds of words, you will most certainly be looking for a new support specialist.

9: Undo my work

Raise your hand if you're guilty of undoing all that work the support techs did the very second they left. I've seen this happen plenty of times. I've had clients actually confess to doing this. What those clients don't realize is that I will more than likely have to come back and redo what I did prior to this visit — and I'll also have to fix problems they caused by undoing my work. Do us both a favor and don't undo my work. This is rarely going to be a smart choice, and the possibility that you'll be able to resolve the issues created by your tampering are nil.

10: Lack the necessary information

When end users call for help, 75 percent of the time they have all of the information necessary for a successful appointment. The other 25 percent? Not so much. In fact, a large portion of that 25 percent require nearly double the normal job time just for fact gathering. So… when you call, please make sure you have all the information needed to complete the appointment. Otherwise, you are wasting my time and running up your bill.

Other peeves?

Do these users sound like some of your clients? If not, you are one lucky consultant/support specialist. If these clients do sound familiar, you have my sympathy. What other user behaviors do you run into that annoy you or impede your work?

10 classic clueless-user stories

November 26, 2008, 7:50 AM PST
By TechRepublic

Takeaway: Recounting the amazing antics of end users can be one of the best ways for support techs to let off a little steam and keep their sense of humor intact. Here are some member-submitted doozies.
Technology may be evolving at warp speed, but one thing about IT will never change: Techs love to swap stories about the deficiencies of their users. The dumber, the better. That's just the way it works. How else are you going to make it through the week if you don't get to shake your head in disbelief after hearing at least one tale of epic confusion, ignorance, or arrogance?
TechRepublic member zlito started a discussion thread a few years ago asking everyone to share their best user stories. Judging by the response, an incredible number of members seem to have encountered users who created mayhem with magnets, asked for help locating the "any" key, used the CD drive as a cup holder, or took the word "desktop" to mean furniture. Others showcased user thought processes so bizarre and convoluted, you couldn't track them with a bloodhound.
Because such stories are fairly timeless, I've pulled a handful of classics to revisit. But I hope you'll jump into the discussion here and start a new, more recent round of all-time-best user tales.
Note: This entry originally appeared as a TechRepublic article and is also available as a download.

#1: Icon by any other name

I had one user, the sweetest lady, who was not very computer literate. After she got her new computer, she said, "Where are my programs?" I told her that I had made shortcuts on her desktop to the programs she used. She said, "When I click on the icon, that's not the right program." When I asked her which program she was referring to, she said, "The third icon down." I asked her which program that was. "Oh, I don't know the name of it. I just know on my old computer, it was the third icon down program."
This one took a while.
– nabess

#2: Money's worth

Client: I don't understand why that accounting software cost so much. It's only been used once.
Consultant: What do you mean, it's only been used once? You use it every day.
Client: No, I don't. You used it once when you put the program on my computer and it's been sitting in the box ever since.
…Time to get my money up front….
– BWestly

#3: IRQ sale

One of the contractors in my office ordered a new computer through his company. Unfortunately, he ordered a NIC with an RJ45 connector and we were on a coax network at the time. This was back in the days of Win95. I informed him of the problem and said I had a spare NIC to give him if he would order the correct NIC to replace the one I provided.
He got on the phone with his company and complained about the NIC. This guy thinks he is a computer genius, but really just thinks that bigger, better, and more are always the solution. So he ordered everything he could think of in this computer. Not a single bay was open and most of the slots were filled. Needless to say he had an IRQ problem. His company gave him the number of the computer company and told him to call their sales department. I was happy to see him on the phone because then he wasn't bothering me while I set up his computer. I overheard him say to the sales department, "My land guy says I'm out of IRQs. Can I buy some more of those?"
– Idbollert

#4: Retention dissension

We currently have a great policy for keeping e-mail to a minimum. It's only kept 90 days, then it's deleted, so if you want to save it past the retention period, you have to put it into a file somehow.
This has been in effect for several years, but amazingly, we had a couple of executives in the legal dept who built up 40,000 messages in their inboxes each, without having any deleted. I finally got the connection when the new "retention policy" was published. The company lawyers who wrote it had a line in the document that excluded themselves from the policy and made sure they could keep everything forever!
– msholtva

#5: ####

One of our marketing managers complained that he couldn't make any sense of a telephone management spreadsheet I'd sent him because he couldn't see when the calls were made. I explained that each worksheet in the spreadsheet had a name and the name indicated the applicable month. Two minutes later, he arrived at my desk saying that he still couldn't make any sense of the spreadsheet because there were no dates in the worksheets. I opened my copy and showed him that the dates and times were in column A. He then tried to tell me that I had sent him the wrong file because his column A just had "stars" in it! Oh boy-was his face red when I showed him how to expand the column! Makes you think, huh?!
– PhatKatz

#6: Must have been the instructions

Back when floppy disks were the only portable medium (good old 5 1/4 and 3.5 inch disks hold not much more than a mere 360K), I was working as a field engineer for a third-party support firm. Remembering two calls always brings a smile to my face.
Caller #1: A guy rings up and says that he has just received his new update on four 3.5 inch floppy disks and he followed the instructions supplied with the update to the letter. He had a problem with the machine reading the second disk, just would not accept it. After a few probing questions, a site visit was required, so I attended the next day and was amazed by what I saw. Yes, the guy obviously had a problem reading the second disk after following the installation instructions:
1. Insert disk 1.
2. Run setup, click OK when asked.
3. When asked, insert disk 2.
What I found was that he had not removed the first disk and had actually managed to get both disks into the floppy drive AT THE SAME TIME. Ooops.
Caller #2:
Me: Hello, Tech Support.
Caller: Hello yes, I received this update from you for my new PC, but it cannot read any of the floppy disks you sent me.
Me: Hmm. Can you please explain what's happening?
Caller: OK, I opened the box and read the instructions telling me to put in disk 1 and run setup.
Me: Good; next?
Caller: So I got the disks out the box and put the first disk into the drive after removing the protective cover.
Me: Protective cover? Do you mean the little white sleeve that the disk comes in?
Caller: No the big black cover that the disk comes in. Is it supposed to be that hard to get the disk out?
At this point I fell off my chair, only just managing to put the caller on hold before breaking out in a laughter fit. When I attended his home, he had not only managed to take out the disk from inside the disk casing, he had actually managed to get it lodged into the drive and then broke the heads of the drive when he tried to get it out.
– darkside

#7: Memorable lessons

Several years ago, our organization finally got a T1 connection, so everyone suddenly had access to the Internet. The firewall with content filtering software was installed, but we were still playing around with the filtering settings.
Lots of our workers were complete newbies, so I had to teach a class on using browsers and e-mail clients. I had a mixed class of men and women, most of them completely new to computers. One of the guys was a very religious man, and everyone there was well aware of that.
At one point, I asked everyone in the class to enter in the URL box. After a moment, I heard a gasp, followed by everyone in the room busting out in laughter. Seems my religious friend didn't know how to spell "Yahoo" and had instead entered "Yuho." To his shock, and in front of a room full of witnesses, he was immediately transported to a raunchy porn site! The poor guy will never live it down!
– Quiet_Type

#8: If it don't fit…

Back in the early '90s, I was the PC support person for a tire manufacturing plant. Most of the computers had dual floppy drives (5 1/4 & 3.5), but there were some old clunkers (IBM PCs) with only 5 1/4, as well as some state-of-the-art 286 Compaqs with only a 3.5″ drive. It is latter that this story is about.
I got a call from a summer engineering student that her disk had gotten stuck in the drive. When I got to the computer I found that she had her work on a 5 1/4″ floppy. She was trying to load this work on one of these new Compaqs. The disk was too big, so she decided that, since the material that the floppy is made from is the same, if she were to fold her large floppy in quarters to make it fit the drive then the drive would still read it. Thing is, this person was otherwise a very smart, logical person. I also had a fairly good rapport with her, so I asked her, "How is the drive suppose to spin the disk if it is folded?" The lights came on, cheeks reddened, and she made me promise not to tell ANYONE what just happened. I didn't in that job, but we both had a good laugh.
– support

#9: Not a speck of dust

I work for an engineering company. I had an engineer (with an engineering Ph.D., no less) call me about a broken mouse. When I arrived at his office, he showed me the problem by moving the mouse smoothly from one side of the mouse pad to the other while pointing out that the cursor moved in jerks. I showed him how to open the mouse, remove the ball and how to clean the crud from the rollers. After this, the mouse worked perfectly. He was quite happy and I left satisfied that this "problem" had been solved to everyone's satisfaction.
However, the next morning, I again received a call from Dr. X to say that his mouse was broken. This time when I arrived, he moved the mouse from one side of the pad to the other while the cursor did not move at all. When I turned the mouse over, I found that our engineer had decided that the mouse was poorly designed to allow all of the dust and debris to enter it. To correct this poor design, he had applied scotch tape over the entire underside of the mouse! I have to admit, he would probably never have had a dirty mouse problem again!
– ESchlangen

#10: Most important meal of the day

User: "Is sausage bad for printers?"
To this day, I wish I had replied, "Patties or links?"
– Mchappell