Computer errors for beginners… tips and tricks for getting help

Man pressing error button - ©Depositphotos/ra2studio
©Depositphotos/ra2studio

In the realm of computers it is definitely not uncommon to get the occasional, or sometimes annoyingly regular error. However, one thing that many people do not know is some simple steps that can be taken to make a support team’s life easier in diagnosing the issue.

First and foremost it is important for both you, and who will be supporting you to realise that it is possible that your level of knowledge surrounding the error will be lower than that of the support team. While this is not always the case, (I will happily admit I have had clients teach me a trick or two before) it is the general rule of thumb.

A good support person will gauge the level of knowledge of the person who is seeking assistance and balance their explanations to a level that can be understood. However if you find someone is talking to you on too low, or too high a technical level, never be afraid to let them know and try to get them to talk to you on your level of knowledge. By doing so you can work more effectively together and also learn things which may help you in future.

The Checklist:

The checklist is something that those of us in support use day to day. Even as a systems administrator, I collect this sort of information to pass on to vendors for support and so on. However whatever your level of knowledge of computers, or level of support you are liaising with, this list can be of great use.

So next time you have an error on your computer note down the following information, it will make support’s life easier, result in a much faster resolution for you and assist support in documenting the issue for future reference.

  1. Take a screenshot: this may sound simple but so often people don’t do it. If someone says “I got an error” and we can’t tell exactly what the error is, it makes it impossible to trace down what the problem may have been. Taking a screenshot saves the need for you to try to interpret or note down the exact error and greatly assists support teams.
  2. Note down the exact time and date of the error or issue (including any subsequent occurrences): knowing the exact time and date that the error occurred allows support teams to investigate other factors that may have been occurring at the time. They can also look at logs of related systems surrounding the time your issue occurred to gather additional information.
  3. Note down exactly what you were doing leading up to the error occurring: in some cases errors can be triggered by an exact sequence of events that occur leading up to it. Knowing what you were doing that lead to the error can help to reproduce the error.
  4. If you are using a web browser, note down the browser you are using and the browser version (usually under Help –> About), also try a different browser such as Google Chrome or Firefox, see if the same error appears, note down if it works in a different browser.
  5. If it is a website that is having problems, try a different web site as well, note down the original web site URL that was having problems, as well as any other sites you tried.
  6. Try to note down any related information to what you were doing: for example if it was an email that you sent that was never received, provide the exact subject line of the email. If it is a file on a shared drive, provide the exact name and file location to the file. The more information you can provide, the less likely that support will need to come back asking for the additional information, leading you to a faster resolution.
  7. Let support know if you are on a PC or a Mac and what version of the operating system you are using (such as Windows XP, Windows 7, Mac OSX Lion 10.7.4 etc), if you are unsure of the version at least letting them know if you are on a Mac or PC is a great start.

Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

Most of all, don’t be afraid of telling support exactly what happened, we all start out somewhere and often support will come across an issue that simply needs user training, by us being able to pass knowledge on to you it is likely that you can do the same for someone else to make all our lives easier.

However if it is something that you have done wrong, often it will save support a lot of time and effort knowing exactly what has occurred, I am always of the mindset that if you do something wrong, then tell me so that I can fix it faster I will be a lot less unimpressed than if I have to find it out the hard way.

By noting down these details, whoever will be helping you out with your issue will be able to far more easily diagnose what occurred help you out. If you are having an issue with a problem you purchased on the internet, don’t be afraid to contact their support too. By providing the information above you have a great start to finding out exactly what problem may have occurred and should be able to work towards a resolution.

So whether you are a beginner in the tech world or a seasoned veteran like myself what are your thoughts. Have I missed anything out here?

Stuart

Do you control your phone, or does it control you?

Cuddling while on phone ©Depositphotos/OtnaYdur
©Depositphotos/OtnaYdur

If someone took your mobile phone away for eight hours, how would you cope? A simple question that many people answer with, “I would feel naked” or “I can’t live without my phone”.

So the question is a simple one. Can you, and do you ever, turn off your mobile phone? If you see me on the street, I will happily admit I am often there tweeting away, sending an SMS, or surfing the web. Therefore I am probably the last person on earth that you might think would happily say, “I can live without it for a few hours, and at times I like to”.

Each night when I go to bed I turn my phone off, nobody can call me, nobody can SMS me, no emails, messages or otherwise to wake me up. If I go out to a movie, I turn my phone off, I don’t want it vibrating in my pocket, bothering other patrons or interrupting the movie I have paid three limbs and my first born to see. I like to retain control over my device, and control if, and when I can be contacted.

The Backstory

This post comes out of something that happened a little over a year and a half ago when I was out for my birthday dinner with my family at a lovely little restaurant. We were sitting there having a wonderful time when we all observed a couple at another table who had just sat down and both taken their mobile phones out.

From the time they sat down, till the time their food arrived (and much to my own dismay, during their meal) both barely said a word to each other and spent the entire time playing games (and different games so not even a co-op) on their iPhones. It was to the point where I was positively BAFFLED at how anyone could consider the two people as even knowing each other, let alone being out for a romantic dinner.

Is there a solution?

As a geek I know that technology is a part of our daily lives, I struggle to see why people have to grab for their phone the moment they get a message or an SMS, why they insist on letting their phones control their lives. I also can’t believe how often I see social interaction such as the case above with people grabbing for their phones.

Do I think there is a one-size-fits-all solution? Well no, probably not, however I can recommend a great first step for you is to take a step back, next time an SMS comes through, an email goes off or the phone rings, consider whether it is starting to control your life rather than you controlling it. The phone will be there in an hours time, as will any messages or anyone that was trying to call you.

As far as if there is a solution, I can tell you from first hand experience that your friends will need to be “managed” if you start taking back control of your phone, it took me a while to get people used to the fact that I will respond to their messages when I am ready to do so, rather than the instant they popped up on my phone. Initially people may perceive this as rude, but upon explanation they start to understand and accept why I do it.

Having said all this, it is simply my opinion, what are other people’s thoughts? Am I being too old fashioned? Do you have a different opinion or possibly agree with me?

#OpeningTheDialogue

Stuart

Improve your productivity and save time by typing less!

Man typing on macbook with a clock in the backgroundWhen you use a computer all day, every day, typing will invariably take up a significant amount of your time. Therefore, finding ways to minimise what you need to type, can not only save your fingers some extra mileage (helping to stave off RSI), but also result in some significant time savings as well.

For the last few months I have been using Breevy (for Windows) and TextExpander (for Mac) to achieve just that. Not only have I found significant time savings by typing less, I have also found I can achieve tasks faster by the reduction interaction with the mouse. I personally think the mouse is the slowest form of input we currently use today with computers, and therefore by automating tasks and removing the need to take my fingers away from the keyboard I can greatly increase my productivity.

What do they do?

Both Breevy and TextExpander enable you to define keywords/abbreviations that will expand to a “snippet” of text when they are typed on your computer. For example rather than constantly typing “Kind Regards, <newline> Stuart” on emails all I need to type these days is “krds”, and the text is expanded for me.

While this may seem simple at first as you start to use the text expansion on different tasks, the time savings really start to add up. Currently I use the following keywords (just to name a small few):

  • pmob – Mobile Number
  • pmobi – Mobile Number (international format)
  • pmail – Personal Email
  • umail – Work Email
  • lhack- Lifehacker URL
  • sshcbg- SSH to a server with a specific connect string with port forwarding
  • sr- My Name
  • /. – Loads Slashdot.org URL (personally I love the geekiness of this one)

You might wonder why I use a text expansion utility for entering URLs, as I mentioned earlier I find the mouse to be a very slow form of input. Now I can open my browser using keystrokes on my keyboard, then type a few letters and press enter to go to all the common websites I visit. The great thing is I can do this all without needing to move my hand away from the keyboard to engage with the mouse until the website is actually loaded.

What is the difference between Breevy and TextExpander?

From the feature set that I have used the programs are virtually identical and perform the same function. Breevy and TextExpander are made by two separate companies and the biggest difference between them is that Breevy is for Microsoft Windows and TextExpander is for Mac OSX.

Both TextExpander and Breevy have implemented synchronisation via Dropbox. This enables you to keep all your shortcuts in sync between your different machines. Breevy has taken this one step further and provided the option to synchronise with a Dropbox account that already has a TextExpander database on it. What this means is for you geeks that switch between Mac and PC you can use both Breevy and TextExpander between your machines without needing to maintain two separate copies of the database.

What do they cost and where can I get them?

Both Breevy and TextExpander cost $34.95 USD each (at time of writing). Both are available directly from the company that develops the software, Breevy is available from 16 Software and TextExpander is available from Smile Software.

Tips and Tricks!

Firstly I would strongly recommend that you start out small, pick a few easy things such as your name, mobile number, email address and train your mind to start using those as shortcuts. Once you are in the swing add some more, then take a while to get use to it and so on.

I too thought “Ooh I could add that… and that… and that…” but discovered that by doing it a little bit at a time, I was more easily able to memorise the shortcuts and not have to constantly refer back to find out what the shortcut I had written was.

Another thing to be aware of is that after you create a shortcut you may find that down the track you run into an issue where another “actual” word causes the expansion to occur. Take for example the shortcut “blogger” if you were to create the shortcut “ger” which would expand to “get emergency rations”, you will find you run into issues. When you attempt to type “Blogger” you will end up with “Blogget emergency rations”, therefore you will need to rethink the shortcut and perhaps add an additional letter to it.

This is the main reason why I now try to aim for four letters minimum in my abbreviations. I do admit I have made a couple of exceptions to this rule however even the “sr” I mentioned earlier causes me problems at times.

Lastly, while it is not a feature that I have used (YET), both Breevy and Textexpander provide the ability to use variables in the templates, upon triggering an expansion the software will pop up a box at you requesting the information so you can have a template that requests the users name for example. Very powerful and definitely worth a look, as I mentioned I have decided to start out small and have been slowly building up over the last couple of months.

Final Thoughts

As an Analyst/Programmer, I use a computer all day, every day. The use of these text expansion tools has helped me to save significant amounts of time by eliminating (at last count) 119 repetitive typing tasks that, previously, I did not realise were taking me such significant amounts of time.

All I can say is do yourself a favour, if you have a computer, and you use it regularly, grab yourself a trial and see the amount of time you can save by eliminating the need to type the same things over and over and reduce the times you need to reach for the mouse.