Computers do... funny things to people. With alarming frequency, capable, adult professionals of all stripes just can't seem to overcome the most basic obstacles involved in the everyday practice of computing. When your grandmother struggles to understand that sending email doesn't require postage stamps, it's kind of endearing; when it's your co-workers, who grew up with computers just like you did and use them every day to do every aspect of their jobs, it's... less so. That so many people still fail so frequently leads one to wonder: can everyone really be this feckless, or are we, the creators of the software they struggle to master, just incapable of creating something usable?
Sometimes, the answer is emphatically the former.
Tazza worked for a company that subtitled live television, and, as such, had staff working on a round-the-clock basis. While the twenty four-hour support desk dealt with on-air problems and operational issues, Tazza was the main point of escalation for issues that were harder to classify. Bright and early one morning at 4 AM, Tazza received a call from the support desk.
"Hi Taz," Jordan yawned down the line, "how's your morning?"
"Have coffee, will travel," Tazza said. "Guess your shift's almost over?"
"Thank God. So, look, Mary's trying to prep subs for the 5 AM slot, but she says Titleist isn't working since it was upgraded to the new version yesterday."
"Hmm, that's weird. I'm pretty sure it wasn't upgraded yesterday. I'll take a look, thanks. Get some sleep."
Tazza fired up LogMeIn and tried to connect to Mary's laptop. It seemed to be offline, which was pretty serious if she was trying to finish subs for the next time slot. Taz dialed her number.
"Hi, Mary. I can't connect to your laptop, which might explain the problems you're having with Titleist. Can you access the internet?"
"Hmm..." Mary murmured, her mouse clicking in the background. "How do I check that?"
"Just go to google.com, or any other site that you don't already have open."
"Okay, that's working! Thanks!"
"Wait, wait... I haven't done anything yet. And I still can't see you online. Let me send you an IM."
After a moment, Tazza heard the tell-tale ding! from Mary's side. "Ok, I got it!"
"Okay. Under the Lync chat window there's a couple of buttons. Can you click on the monitor button and share your desktop with me so I can see what's up?"
"I don't have those buttons," Mary said. "Someone changed the Lync software on my laptop and removed all the other stuff, too."
"Uh..." Tazza stared at the screen blankly for a minute, trying to work out what could have actually happened. The subtitlers' laptops were pretty mission-critical; no one would just update or remove a bunch of software from them at random. It was time for a sanity check.
"Ok, Mary, thanks for bearing with me. Next, please click the Start button, type C-M-D and press Enter. In the black window that appears, type "HOSTNAME" and press Enter. What does it say?"
"Let's see... Oh! LAP-JENNYSMITH. What's that mean?"
Tazza took a deep breath. "It means you're using Jenny's laptop, not yours. Jenny isn't a subtitler, so she doesn't have the same software on her computer. Where's your laptop?"
"No, see, this is my laptop, just someone changed everything on it."
"Please humour me, Mary. Do you take your laptop home or do you leave it in the office?"
"I leave it here, but—"
"Okay, so where in the office did you leave it yesterday?"
"Over on the other desk..."
"Would you just take a quick look over there, please?"
"Oh! There it is!"
Taz sighed, already contemplating his second coffee break. "Would you like me to stay on the line to see if it's okay?"
"No, thanks! I'll be fine. I better go get the five o'clock titles done!"
"Have a nice day, Mary."