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Managing Expectations

Years ago I had a straight job with “Manager” in the title.  I didn’t have direct reports.  Instead of managing people,  I was managing processes and expectations.  It was hard work.

The corporate life is far behind me now.  I’m my own boss.  Or, I guess the way to say that now is I’m my own “brand.”  I fix computers, I set up computers, I teach people how to use computers.  I write a weekly column about all of that with the intention of helping people.  It brings in new business.

People send me their questions.   The emails roll in all hours of the day and night.  Everyone gets an answer except for the obvious trolls.  I answer paying customers first, readers and prospects after that.  I answer when I have time, all hours of the day and night.

Last week I got an email from a long-time reader whose computer I had worked on a couple of years ago.  He had a question.  I spent about ten minutes on a Saturday night answering him, because that’s when I had time to do it.  I got an email from him Sunday afternoon saying he didn’t expect an answer, and wasn’t prepared to take any of my suggestions until sometime later in the week.

Woman Screaming
Managing Expectations

Why, then, would he bother to ask the question?  Beats me.  Even more baffling, why bother to write back and tell me he wasn’t going to deal with it until he got ready?  I don’t know.  I just assume that people aren’t going to deal with it until they get ready.  There’s no real need to notify me of that.

When I am away from the phone and there’s no one to answer it, my cell phone rings and I can pick up the voicemail that way.  The other day, standing in a parking lot on my way into a lunch meeting, I picked up a message from a woman who said, “I don’t know how I got your number.  How did I get your number?  Do you fix computers?  If you do, call me back.  You can get the number from your caller ID.”  That was the entire message.

Caller ID works great if you’re sitting there looking at the phone, but not so much if you’re in a parking lot looking at a different phone.  Fine, OK, fine.  The voicemail voice spit the number out, I wrote it down and called the woman back.  No more than 10 minutes elapsed from the time she left the message to the callback.  I told her my name, that I was returning her call of a few minutes ago about her computer and asked how I could help her.

“My Internet Explorer is stuck.”

I told her I was sure I could sort that out, told her what my rate was, and that I come to her and her computer.  I asked her address and what time would be convenient.

“Well, my husband called a computer person this morning, and I don’t know if he already made an appointment or not so I have to check with him and I can’t reach him for at least an hour.  I don’t know how I got your name.  How did I get your name?”

Honestly, I don’t know.  It could be she reads the column, or her friend reads the column or I fixed something for one of her friends or family members.  It could be that she has been a customer of a colleague who wants out of the fixing end of things and refers his lunatic clientele to me.  (They not only find my rates too high, they like to  lecture me about it.)  She could have seen an ad online.

“Hard to say,” I told her.  “You haven’t told me your name or where you live, so I have no idea how you would have found me.”

Well, she said she would check with her husband about this other appointment and give me a call later to let me know if she needed me.  I was up till midnight meeting the column deadline and never heard from her.  I figured she was one of the rates-too-high crowd and forgot about it.

This morning the phone rang at 7:32.  I was in bed.  I figured it was either a wrong number or an emergency, so I rolled over and answered it, “Hello, this is Cate.”

It was…yes.  It was the woman.  “You’re still ASLEEP?”  She was incredulous.

“It’s 7:30 in the morning,” I said.  “What is your emergency?”

And you know what she said, right?  “I didn’t expect you to answer.  I just want to know if my husband resets Internet Explorer, will I lose all my Favorites?  I have a lot of Favorites, and I’d hate to lose them.”

“Well, just resetting Internet Explorer shouldn’t make you lose them.  But to be on the safe side, before you reset it, just export the Fa

vorites to your desktop or some place you can find them if something bad happens.  Once you reset Internet Explorer, if your Favorites are still there, just trash the exported file.”  I told her how to do the export.

I was still in my jammies.

“Well, I don’t want to lose them.  I’ll have him call you before he resets it.  I didn’t expect you to answer.”

I have to say, I’m doing a poor  job of managing expectations.


What I learned in 2010

  • No matter how much your customer insists that his computer and his wife’s computer are identical, they are not.
  • If you solve the problem you went out to solve in the first 30 seconds of a customer visit, s/he will say, “As long as you’re here…” and you will be over your head for the rest of the hour.
  • “This computer is only three years old!” does not mean that in fact this computer is only three years old.
  • When you give a prospect a price for a job based on how long you know the job takes you, it will turn out that they do not have high speed Internet.

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2011.

A Day In The Life

I’m not making this up.

Say What You Mean

People call me up or send me emails to get me to fix their computers.  I’d have to say that 60% of the time the problem isn’t at all what they told me it was.  Why?

I wish I knew.

I had a customer tell me she wanted me to come over and install Windows 7 for her because she hated Vista.  She had purchased Windows 7 and had the (unopened) box there waiting for me.  The only reason the box was unopened was because she couldn’t figure out how to do it.

Checking the computer, I found Vista Home Premium SP1 with 2GB RAM.  I fired up the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor so I could get a handle on what was going to need updating.  I started backing up the drivers.  Given the RAM situation, this was going to take a few minutes.  I turned to the lady and said, “I’m just checking here to make sure your laptop is capable of running Windows 7, and to see what needs updating before I get started.”

Then, more to pass the time than anything else, I asked, “What is it you don’t like about Vista?”

“I can’t find the menus.”

I got her to show me.  She managed to navigate to Documents and open a Word document.  The page looked like this:


Word 2007 with the Ribbon minimized
Word 2007 with the Ribbon minimized


“You can’t find the menus when you work on a Word document?”

“Yes.  That’s why I want Windows 7.”

“OK, well.  What if we just fix this so it displays the menus?  Like this.”  I unchecked “Minimize Ribbon” and Word looked like this:


Word 2007 with the Ribbon maximized
Word 2007 with the Ribbon maximized


Then I added Search Commands and showed her around Word 2007.  I had to explain the difference between an operating system and Office.  I don’t know how much of that got through, but she was glad to know she could return Windows 7.

I charge the same amount to go over to someone’s house and tutor them on Windows or Office as I do to go over and fix or install something.

And speaking of “fix” why don’t you do what you say, say what you mean?


TeamViewer is a great little application for remote computer support.  I’m not supposed to use it for commercial purposes, and since I don’t have an extra $689 lying around just now, I only use it when I’m helping friends and family.

My dad told me he tried to update his Norton Internet Security but something went haywire, and now he can’t do much of anything on that computer.  Since we are about 2300 miles apart — and related — I figured I could come to the rescue via TeamViewer.

I sent my dad an email with the instructions for downloading the QuickSupport version.  I called him to see if he’d had a chance to do it.  It turns out that Dad is just confused about the difference between “Save” and “Run” on his Internet Explorer.

Math homework
I still don’t get it.

Now I see that the TeamViewer people have changed the website around so all I have to do is get him to the front door and have him click on “Join a session” but a couple of weeks ago when we were starting down this road, either that wasn’t there or I just plain missed it.

As I tried to remain calm and explain again and again what to do, I realized that how I was feeling right them must be a lot like the way my dad used to feel when he was “helping” me with my math homework.  I just didn’t get it, and no amount of talking about it was ever going to make a difference.  Now I think the same thing is true in reverse.

The Opposite of the Rule of Holes

The Rule of Holes states that when you get to the bottom of a hole, stop digging.

When you get to the bottom, stop digging.
Remember the Rule of Holes.

This week  the opposite of the Rule of Holes was in effect: When you fix a problem, don’t stop looking for more problems.

A woman called first thing Monday morning.  I work out of my home, and one thing I know is that when the phone rings at 8:02 the caller has been up since 6:45, waiting impatiently for it to be 8:00 and “late enough to call.”

What she said was that she was having trouble sending pictures in email.  What she didn’t say was that she had monkeyed around with just about every setting in Outlook Express, thereby creating havoc.

When I got to her house, she told me that some of her friends had been complaining about receiving lots of files but that pictures never came through.  “I know how to fix this,” I said to myself.  “It’s the ‘Break apart messages if larger than…” setting.  While I was surreptitiously high-fiving myself, the lady said, “So I decided to send the pictures to myself so I could see what they were talking about.”

“Good idea,” I told her.  “Let’s have a look.”

Sure as shooting, it was the Tools | Accounts | Properties | Advanced | “Break apart…” sequence.  Boom.  Fixed.

We tested.  She navigated to a folder in My Pictures, used the Task Pane on the left to select “Email the contents…” and we watched XP optimize the files and add them as attachments to an email.  She addressed the email to herself and sent it.  I waited for it to be received.  And…nothing.

“I know where it is,” said my customer, “It’s in Deleted Items.”

What.  The.  Fuck.

So we looked there and yep, the message had gone to Deleted Items.  But.  All the pictures were there, and we could open all the attachments.  “But,” she said, “I should be able to see the pictures in the message, and I can’t.”

Well, that’s  Tools | Options | Read |”Read all messages in plain text” so I went there, and found that box checked.  I cleared the check mark, returned to the message, and  all the pictures showed up in the message.

This left only the very puzzling issue of why her messages to herself end up in Deleted Items.  I tried:

  • Sending a message without an attachment – Nope, it’s not the size of the message
  • Turning off AVG’s Email Scanner – Nope, it’s not AVG
  • Looking for a spam filter – Nope, none there
  • Checking Message Rules – Nope, no rules defined

Finally it dawned on me that maybe she’d added herself to the Blocked Senders list.  When you block an address in Outlook Express, all the mail from that address goes straight to Deleted Items.  I opened the list and there must have been 600 email addresses in there…including hers.  I deleted it.

Everything worked as it had…before she started changing the settings.

Strange day.  She should have quit digging before she changed all the settings.  I had to keep looking for problems until there were no more problems.  Billable time: 1/2 hr.

Ask Me Later

At the end of May I called on a first time customer who asked me to come out and look at her computer because “everything is messed up.”

Not sure what to expect, I hauled my netbook and every piece of test gear, every bit of cable, an external hard drive, and several utility-laden USB sticks out there. Here are my notes:

Printer wouldn’t print, port was LPT1.
Uninstalled printer software and reinstalled from Dell disk.

Installed 4GB RAM that was lying around. Configured paging file, restarted, FOK.

Transferred photos from camera to computer. Refused to install Kodak EasyShare.

When I visit a customer for the first time I always check their antivirus program to see that it’s current and that it’s actually configured to scan daily. You’d be surprised how many people have something set to scan once a week.

Her desktop was littered with Norton icons. I had a look, and noted:

Norton Account Information
Trial version expired
Internet Security 2010 has till mid August
Norton 360 not even activated yet, cost $114.00 and is on auto renewal.

Should check with her around aug 1 to see what to do.

I cleaned out the temp files, ran a registry cleaner, and then ran a malware scan. While the scan was running, we discussed The Norton Situation. It turned out she had no idea that she’d purchased two different products, or the implications of that. We left it that it was important to do something before the current subscription ran out, and she said she’d get me back in early August to figure it all out.

I went back last week to uninstall Norton Internet Security and install Norton 360. With someone this clueless, I always turn off the computer and start it up again before I do any work. Windows booted up, and Adobe Flash Player displayed the big red window prompting for an update.

“Oh, Flash Player wants an update,” I told her. “I’ll just go ahead and do that while I’m here.”

“I’ve been wondering about that,” she said. “I’ve just been clicking on Ask Me Later.”

Just this one time, Norton Internet Security uninstalled without trying to kill the computer. I snuck up on it with Revo Uninstaller, and it was out of there before it knew what hit it.

Internet Explorer 8 nag
Configure me

I installed Norton 360. I checked that her email was working. I opened the browser to check that, and here is Internet Explorer 8, waiting to be configured.

“Why does that keep popping up,” she asked.

“Well, it’s going to keep popping up until you answer yes or no.  What do you want to do?”

“I’ve just been clicking on Ask me later.”

“OK, well I’ll just set that up for you so it quits asking, OK?”


I accepted all the suggested settings, and moved on to trying to configure Norton 360 to run daily scans.  It is, apparently, impossible.  I thrashed with that for about 10 minutes.  I got everything else pretty much the way that makes the most sense for a user who has absolutely no idea what is going on under the hood, but I could not find the schedule setting I wanted.

I must have been talking to myself out loud, because my customer was looking at me, completely bewildered by my continued efforts to set up the antivirus scan.  Finally, she offered her suggestion.  “Can’t you just click Ask Me Later?”

Dust Destroyer Rules

Out of nowhere, everything sounded scratchy.

I was listening to the pre-show for my favorite tech podcast, the Mike Tech Show, and it sounded like crap.  Since Mike takes a lot of time to put out a good podcast with excellent audio quality, I figured the problem had to be on my end.

Ever since The Ethernet Incident when My Dog Sandy disconnected the cable during a thunderstorm, and I spent 45 minutes on hold for the ISP before it occurred to me to troubleshoot the simple stuff first, I try to troubleshoot the simple stuff first.

I shut down the computer and reseated the speaker connection to the audio card.  I checked everything from the card back to the speakers.  Everything was plugged in securely.

When I restarted, the scratchiness persisted.  Damn.

I plugged my headphones into the front jack.  Still scratchy, so now we know it’s not the speakers.  My headphones also convert to USB.  When I tried that, the sound was clear.

Uh oh.  It’s the sound card.

The good news and the bad news all rolled into one is that the sound card is not a card at all, but is built into the motherboard.  I checked and found that I have the latest drivers, so no help there.

Dust Destroyer
Dust Destroyer Rules

A great little tool called Speccy told me everything I needed to know about what’s inside my computer, except how many empty slots I have or what they are.  So now it’s time to open up the case and have a look around.

Because I have a big sheddy dog, I always blast some canned air into any computer case I open up here.

This time I opened up the case, took a picture of the available slots, used up the remains of a couple cans of Dust Destroyer, and put everything back together.  And…the sound works great now.

Ain’t it great to be lucky?

Just When I Thought I’d Seen Everything

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of work  for people who just got a new PC with Windows 7 on it and want me to get their files from their old PC to the new one.

This is easiest when the customer buys a whole new system, including a monitor.  I can get started on setting up the new system while I transfer files from the old PC to an external hard drive.

Sokoban is supposed to mean "Warehouse Keeper" in Japanese
Like Lucy in the candy factory, but slower.

When they just replace the tower, I have to get the file transfer process going first because I’m going to need that monitor on the new system.  It’s a little bit like that old DOS game Sokoban, but I’ve gotten pretty efficient at moving through the first 22 levels of the process.

Last week I set up a new Windows 7 laptop for a lady who wanted me to get her files from her Windows 98 machine.  Well, the external hard drive I carry wasn’t going to be an option because it happens to be formatted NTFS.  Because why on earth would I need a FAT32 hard drive?

And it turns out I didn’t, because this PC had no USB ports.  It must have been upgraded from Windows 95 at some point.  So no external hard drive, and forget about even tracking down drivers for my FAT USB keys.

No problem, right?  I’ll just burn some CDs.  Nope, no CD burner.

Now it gets interesting.  I can remove the hard drive, put it in an enclosure and transfer the files that way, but I hate that option.  It always turns out that the case hasn’t been opened in 10 years and the hard drive is underneath rails or otherwise difficult to remove.  So what I’ve got left is a working NIC and a Telus modem/router combination.

It’s been so long since I worked on a Windows 98 PC that I honestly don’t think I could even bluff my way through networking this PC and the Win7 laptop.  But.  I found the last version of Filezilla that works with Windows 98 (Version 2.2.22) and installed that.  Then I FTPed her stuff to my domain’s FTP space.  When I set up the laptop, I installed the current Filezilla client and FTPed everything down.  That went a lot faster.

After that is was the routine tasks of setting up email, importing her old mail and contacts and putting documents and pictures where they belong.  The really hard part of the afternoon was trying to get PowerPoint Viewer to work, but that’s for another post.

You may ask yourself, “How do I work this?”

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense
Stop Making Sense

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