The other morning one of my neighbors called saying "I don't know what I did, but I can't get to the Internet any more". Earlier last week a customer called saying "DNS isn't working".
Both of them were wrong.
The neighbor had simply deleted his browser shortcut from the Desktop. The customer's router was blocking everything, not just DNS. A reload of a saved configuration file restored the router to sanity, and recreating the shortcut of course made my neighbor happy.
My point? You can't trust what people say, because their ability to describe a problem accurately heavily depends upon their general understanding of technology. My neighbor doesn't know how to do "Start->Run" and even if he did, he certainly wouldn't know that "iexplore.exe" is what he needed. The customer who thought DNS was not working had a more misleading problem: he knew that DNS translates names to IP addresses, but he didn't know how to test to see that he actually had no path through the router at all. That caused me to make a mistake: I assumed that he in fact did know that everything but DNS was working, so we wasted a few minutes looking in the wrong places.
Usually I'm suspicious of any stated "fact" from anyone asking for help. Understand I mean nothing derogatory or demeaning by that: any doctor would rightly be suspicious of any "fact" I might state in describing a medical symptom and an auto mechanic will surely have misgivings if I blithely asserted that my timing must be off. It's a matter of how much we know about the technology we are working with and the auto mechanic shouldn't feel any more ashamed of his basic understanding of computers than I do of my basic understanding of auto mechanics. I'm suspicious not because I think these people are incapable of intelligent diagnosis, but simply because they don't eat, sleep, drink and breathe this stuff every day as I do. The less accurate your mental model of a given process is, the less accurate is any guess you make about its malfunction. Your explanation for an earthquake is going to be a little off if you think your world is turtles all the way down.
By the way, neither of these calls put any money in my coffers. I don't charge my neighbors because I might need their help with something someday, and even if I never do, most of them are retired and could better spend the money elsewhere. Technically, I could have charged the other customer (I didn't sell him the router and he doesn't have general support with me), but it was such a short call I didn't bother.. yeah, I know: I'm a fool. That's OK.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2011-03-10 Anthony Lawrence
Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it. And to make matters worse: complexity sells better. ((Edsger W. Dijkstra)