Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Geis: . . . OK. I'm going to need to get the computername for your system so if you could double-click on the My Computer icon on your desktop.

User: OK.

Geis: Now, click on where it says Help and select About Windows.

User: It doesn't have help.

Geis: Really. Then I'm not sure what window you're on. Double-click on the icon that says My Computer.

User: It doesn't have help.

Geis: That window should have Help.

User: It doesn't. It only has File, Edit, View, Favorites, Tools . . . . Oh.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I'll send you an e-mail.

Lotus Notes is not designed to be used by multiple users on the same PC. But, in the branches, that's exactly what we are trying to make it do. Location settings need to be changed so that the user can get into their mail. If those changes aren't made, they receive a message "You are not authorized to access that database" as the system tries to take them into the previous user's database.

The Bank created an "Authorize New User" button that appears on the Notes Welcome Page that will automatically change the location settings.

However, over the weekend there was an update that wiped the Authorize New User button off of many workstations. Expecting that since a general update wiped them all out then a general update would restore them, we at the Help Desk spend the early part of the week simply talking the users through a manual resetting of their location settings. We did a lot of them but it's a pretty straightforward procedure to talk users through.

Yesterday, Notes Support came up with a resolution that would require a ticket for each workstation with the issue. Ugh! And then, P** from support said that we weren't supposed to do any troubleshooting, that is, that we weren't supposed to change the location settings manually so that the users could get into the e-mail in the meantime. I thought this was a foolish idea but was told that P** is getting to things quickly.

Well, P** got pounded. She really had no idea what she was in for and the vast majority of those tickets were not resolved by the end of the day. In fact, as of right now, only one of the 56 tickets opened yesterday for this issue has been resolved.

So this morning, users start calling in to find out why their issue had not been resolved. It turns out that the support resolution involved sending the user an e-mail with an application that recreates their Welcome Page with the Authorize New User button.

Did you notice the flaw in the logic? Users who cannot get into their e-mail are being sent an e-mail resolution.

So, when I go up to my Function Desk, which had farmed out the procedure that we weren't supposed to do any troubleshooting, and point this out to them, I get the response ". . . if there was a queue." So, by re-writing history (and I checked all the procedure messages they sent out yesterday) they amended their procedure to not doing changing the user's location settings ONLY if there were people waiting in queue.

This was a lie but it was said in such a manner that they might actually believe that was what they said yesterday.

So, I told my neighbor co-workers, who often turn to me for guidance rather than to the Function Desk, to open tickets and set the location settings manually so that when support sends out the e-mail resolution that the user's can actually receive it and fix their PC.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Blast from the Past

Two years ago, my team lead N*** left the Help Desk to go to Cincinnati to be the site manager for a new helpdesk. He built the group from scratch and apparently did a very good job.

Well, they wanted him to move out there but he wasn't ready to uproot his family. Nor was he really liking the two hour commute. So, when the project was over, he was looking for something else.

So, he called to see if he could have his old job back. "Oh, no, no, no", they said, "We can't hire you back." That is, until six months later when a few employees here at the Help Desk missed work one time too many and got fired. The Help Desk needed a warm body to fill a seat so N*** got a callback.

He had been a team lead but, in returning, he was going to just be a wage slave analyst like the rest of us. Part time. No benefits.

When I started, N*** trained me. Now, in a surreal turn of fate, I am training him.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Making more than I do.

I received a call today from M****, who is one of the deskside technical contractors. (We at the Help Desk are contracted as well, so I don't hold that against him.) He had just completed replacing a hard drive and re-imaging a user's PC and was calling for a Windows password reset.

"Is the user signing into the workstation or into the NT Domain?"


I had to ask the question again and could tell things weren't going to be going well. M***** told me that it was for the domain so I asked him to put the user on so I could do the standard identity verification with the user and reset the password.

Except that the user did not have an account on the domain. It's not unusual but, as it was a workstation password issue on a newly installed PC, it really should have been his responsibility to set up.

Except that he didn't know how to signon as the Administrator. Oh, he knew that you entered an Administrator password but didn't know what was.

"Don't you need to know the Administrator password to re-image the PC?"

Apparently not. It's all handled from the install CD. *sigh* OK. We at the Help Desk have access to the utility that generates the Administrator passwords. Technically, we're not supposed to have it but since we are required to reset user's passwords, we have to have the utility. I have M***** give me the computername, read it back to him and then plug the name into the utility.

The password it gives me doesn't work. It's pretty complex with upper case, lower case, numbers and special characters so I carefully talk him through it again, using the standard phonetics. Still no luck. And again with no luck.

I can tell he's having problems because he's calling from a cell phone and trying to type one handed.

"Did you just mumble 'caps lock'?"

In typing one handed, he couldn't hit the shift key and the character key at the same time to do a capital letter so he was hitting the caps lock key. That's all well and good, but the password contained a percent sign. Putting the caps lock on and hitting the % key actually enters a 5.

He solved that problem by having the user type. But it still wasn't working. After a few more failed attempts he realized that he hadn't selected "Workstation Only" and was thus trying to connect to the NDS tree rather than signing into the workstation.

We fixed that and it still wasn't working. After more frustrating attempts I read the computername to him. He confirms that it is correct. I read it to him phonetically and realize that what he had agreed was correct twice wasn't actually correct. *sigh* So, I feed the correct name into the utility and get another password.

Which doesn't work. And then doesn't work again. Well, this is pretty much the limit. Everything that he could do wrong he did do wrong. He was going to have to contact Network Services. I was surprised that he hadn't locked the Administrator account.

I carefully read off each character of the password phonetically and had him type each one as I read it and. . . .

It worked.

Now this whole, process took nearly 20 minutes on me reading the password off to him and him typing it in again and again. I want this man's job. I mean, I do this stuff all the time. I'll lean back in my chair with my hands behind my head and eyes closed and talk users who didn't even know that they HAD a workstation password at all through resetting one. And here is this pinhead, making a lot more money than I do, unable to do something so simple as type what I tell him.

So, why don't I have his job? Because I'm contracted, too. And in my Employer's contract with The Bank it says that neither The Bank nor anyone contracted by The Bank can hire me away from my current position. And being a major bank, that means that half the jobs that I might apply for are probably contractors with or clients of The Bank.

Five years I've been here.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Yo, man. Where's the rest of your bike?

As I was walking from work to where I park my bike, I was approaching a couple walking in the other direction. The male of the pair looked like the kind of guy you remember being on the football team in high school, complete with a chearleader hanging on his arm. As he approached he seemed to be looking at me with an unnatural intensity and I was again reminded of school where such an approach would have often been followed by some verbal abuse at my geekiness.

I was long past looking like a high school geek so I was curious about what facination he had.

Just as he past me, he said, "Yo, man. Where's the rest of your bike?"

As usual, I was walking with my bike gear on (helmet, bike shorts, gloves) with my saddlebag with work clothes and my bike seat and post in the other. It was standard procedure no to leave my $70 bike seat with the bike where it could be stolen and I even thought that the bike being left without a seat might be less of a theft target.

I wasn't disturbed that this guy might not have understood the logic of doing such a thing. After all, he probably hadn't ridden a bicycle since he was in school and certainly didn't commute to work on one. No, what bothered me is that he felt compelled to ask the question of a stranger walking down the street. Was this some low-brow macho thing to impress his girlfriend? "Yo, look at that dork with all that bike stuff and no bike."

You can see it, can't you? It's just like one of those awful movies with the stereotypical jocks and nerds except that this particular nerd has matured by about 20 years and the jock, well. . . is still a blockhead.

I weep for the future of our civilization.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Virus fun

Yesterday, our users started getting e-mails with a subject line of "price". This, of course, was a new virus: Trojan.StartPage.G. But, since I work for a bank, a lot of users could conceivably receive an e-mail for a price on something with an attachment.

If they practiced safe computing and deleted the e-mails that came without human-speak in the body of the message, it wouldn't be a big deal but, like many users, the previous e-mails from Customer Outreach advising them of this technique went unread and people opened them.

One saving grace is that The Bank uses Lotus Notes for their e-mail. In my five years of watching viruses coming through our e-mail program I have never seen one successfully hijack the Notes Address Book. Microsoft Outlook might spread it's legs wide and say "Rape me with your trojans and worms" but, so far, Notes has been resistant.

Of course, we still get an increasing call volume at the Help Desk from users who tried to open the attachment. Their machines are still infected. I have to open a ticket to send to Second Level Support.

About an hour into yesterday's virus festivities, I got a call from K** in Notes Support. She was letting us know there was a problem. "Of course we know. We're the first to find out when users do things they shouldn't." She speculated that the virus was hijacking the user's personal address book and I said that I doubted it. She looked at the header information for a number of e-mails and they all said VWALL, which meant it was all coming from outside. Customer Outreach was being informed and they would be sending an e-mail out to all users warning them not to open the previous infected e-mail. Of course, this was going to be a futile exercise because by the time the user reads the message saying "Don't pen the previous 'price' e-mail", they have already opened said e-mail and infected their PC.

But this was occurring near the end of the day so not only was it time for me to go home but most of the user's had gone home as well. The real joy was going to be Tuesday morning.

There was a queue as soon as I logged into the phone with all the expected virus issues. Again, because Notes wasn't propagating this virus, it wasn't as bad as it could have been but, as with all our previous virus days, we started running into an additional problem: definitions.

The Bank has its system set up to automatically update the user's virus definitions when they become available. User's don't even have to go through the server's login script.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work.

As with every virus outbreak we've had, troubleshooting reveals that a number of PCs do not get their definitions updated as they should. So far today I have opened over a dozen tickets for user's who not only opened the e-mail and infected their machine but their definitions hadn't been updating as they should. Some for as long as a year and a half (when their machines were installed). Technical Services has a website that users can access to download the latest definitions and update them manually but "page cannot be displayed" message were accompanying that attempt.

Open a ticket for Second Level support to go on site and not only update the definitions, disinfect the machine but also find out why the PC hadn't been getting the latest definitions in over a year.

It's a good thing Notes is as resistant as it is.

As of noon I have taken 42 calls, which is about the number I get on a normal day. 3.5 hours to go.

Oh, and another thing. . . .

Most of this is somewhat "normal". What one would expect with a virus issue. What I didn't like to deal with was receiving a message from the Help Desk Managers saying: "Try to refrain from using 'virus' in the tickets." So, what's really going on is an effort to skew the documentation of the events away from it being an actual virus issue. As if not using the word "virus" will make it not a virus issue.

"Also, if anyone asks for any information about what is being done or how wide spread the issue is, politely explain to them that support is working on theissue and will probably provide an update at a later time."

So, here Management is specifically telling us to obsfucate and dodge the user's direct questions. To essentially lie.

Sorry, guys. I'm not going to lie to these people. When they have been waiting on hold for 15 minutes and CNN is reporting a widespread virus issue, most user's are smart enough to put two and two together.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Avtech Direct

Through a special arrangement, Avtech Direct is offering a limited
allotment of BRAND NEW, top of-the-line, name-brand desktop computers
at more than 50% off MSRP to all Staff Members who respond to this
message before 5 P.M., Tuesday, August 3, 2004.
I've been receiving this sort of crap on one of my accounts for quite some time. I have attempted to use Mailwasher to bounce it in the hopes that a MAIL UNDELIVERABLE message would prompt them to remove my e-mail address from their list. Since that didn't work, I felt that I had nothing to loose by using the link at the bottom of their email that purported to unsubscribe me. That, of course, didn't work either.

Two weeks ago, I decided that since they had so thoughtfully provided me with a toll-free number (800-884-9510) I could call them to have them not only remove my name from the list, but make them pay the phone bill.

I asked for the Director of Marketing and was shunted to a line that never answered. Eventually I was disconnected and called back, this time asking to speak with someone in Customer Service. The person there tried to re-direct my call back to the person whose responsibility it was to take care of these things. Again, the phone never answered. I wasn't disconnected as before and the person in Customer Service took my e-mail address and assured me that it would be removed from the list.

However, that was and untruth because this Monday I not only received another unsolicited e-mail from Avtech Direct at the account that I had been receiving it, but I also received a duplicate message at an e-mail address that had never received e-mail from them before.

So, I called again. Again, the receptionist directed me to a number that never answered. I got back on with him and he said the Director of Marketing was in a meeting. (If he knew he was in a meeting, why did he direct my call to a phone that he knew wouldn't be answered?) I was unwilling to leave my e-mail address again because that only succeeded in getting me more trash.

Tuesday, I forgot to take the phone number with me to work and so when I got home I called.

The re-direct to the Director of Marketing never answered and again I didn't want to leave my e-mail address. The receptionist directed me to another mystery number when disconnected me.

I called back, this time asking to be connected with someone in Customer Service. Maureen in Customer Service wanted to take my e-mail address but I told here that it had been done before but I was still receiving unsolicited email and I wanted to speak with someone who could actually solve my problem.

Maureen said she couldn't do that and, with panic starting to rise in her voice, said "Do you want me to loose my job." Loose her job?

"Your job is not my concern. Could I speak with your supervisor, please."

"I don't have a supervisor."

"You are working completely unsuper. . . . "


So I called back and asked to speak with someone on the Executive Staff. The receptionist obsfucated saying that he could not connect me unless I give him a name.

"Is this the person who called earlier?"

"If you mean the person that has been hung up on three times already. . . "

"Maureen left the room crying because of you."

"Who am I speaking with right now?"

"Just one moment," and the receptionist put me on hold. When he returned, he refused to give me his name.

"What is your supervisors name?"


I called up again.

"Avtech Direct, how may I direct your call."

"Yes, I'd like to. . . "


All right. I've been this route before. I had one company in Atlanta that didn't even answer their phones for an hour because I kept calling back, simply trying to talk to a human being with the power to remove my name from their mailing list.

Of course, this was all just a waste of time. A search of the web makes it pretty clear that Avtech Direct has a long history of scamming customers. I'm sure their staff are experienced in giving people the run-around. The receptionist seemed particularly skilled.

Look at http://www.badbusinessbureau.com/reports/ripoff90565.htm

Am I sorry I made Maureen cry? Hell, no. She works in customer service and I've been in that boat. The first thing you do when someone asks to speak to your supervisor is give them to your supervisor. The claim that you don't have a supervisor is a sloppy attempt to avoid dealing with someone.

I am cursed with an overdeveloped sense of justice and feel that criminals like Avtech Direct should be made to pay for their crimes. Unfortunately, even the Federal Trade Commission seems unable to exact the proper punishment on these people. And while I would like to have the skies wrench open and pour a plague of demons upon Avtech's California offices, I would call it even if they would just stop sending me SPAM.