Das reboot: That's the only thing to do when the screenshot, er, freezes

German efficiency was no match for user stupidity

On Call Welcome to Friday the 82nd of March. Or is it only us for whom the days are blurring? Luckily The Register is here to bookend your week with our regular On Call feature.

Todays teutonic tale comes from "Ben" and concerns that most dreaded of all On Call incidents: the one where someone spots you and ushers you over to help. Escape is sadly rarely an option.

Ben's story takes place some 15 years ago, when he was a mere IT apprentice at a German IT company. The company in question, he recalled, "had come into being when a group of regional banks outsourced their IT departments into a co-owned company."

The team responsible were in thrall to the misguided but fashionable belief that costs would be reduced by such a move. For Ben, it involved a six-week stint at one of the banks. "The idea," he said, "was to foster an understanding for the peculiarities of our customer's business in order to improve service."

The branch where Ben worked was a monument to the brutalist architectural movement of the 20th century and the interior design choices favoured by 1970s fashionistas. The arrival of ATMs had swept away all but one of the old cash counters, staffed by a human, and left the rest of the cavernous hall as a "general service area."

On the day in question, Ben noted something unusual. Rather than the odd elderly customer or two shuffling toward the cash counter, a substantial line had formed and was not moving. Before he was able to scarper in true PFY style, the inevitable happened. Someone called him over.

"I know we are supposed to call the help desk," worried a manager, "but the computer for the cash dispenser keeps crashing and the customers are getting impatient. Could you take a quick look, please?"

Ben arrived at the cash counter to find the teller, who was only slightly younger than his usual clientele, exasperated and close to outright panic. The web application responsible for turning numbers into cash had apparently enjoyed an update overnight and the computer was now freezing when he tried to use it.

"I've had to reset it three times already and you know how long it takes to boot these things up again!" the old man blubbered.

Ever helpful, Ben asked the user to reproduce the issue.

"I expected him to launch straight into the application," said Ben, "Instead he launched Lotus Notes while telling me that 'the boss' had sent him the new application before heading out for lunch."

Ben smelled something fishy. Sure enough, the panicked teller opened up the latest email from his boss, which was titled 'New version of Bankomatic 9000 will be released later this week.'

The teller skipped through the text that announced the new version, the release notes and advice and instead went directly to the attachment. Which was a screenshot showing a Windows desktop with the updated app running in IE on a development server.

"See? It crashed again!", he shrieked, clicking madly around the obviously unresponsive screenshot.

"I can’t even close it or reboot the machine!", he wailed as he desperately tried to click the close button and then the start button, again on the screenshot, but to no avail.

"Now I have to reset it again...", he said in a sobby voice and reached for the machine's reset button.

Ben should have stopped him there, saved him from the reboot, "but mostly I was busy biting down on my own tongue and desperately trying not to burst into laughter in front of everyone."

Having composed himself while the computer ground back into life, Ben explained to the teller that he had actually been clicking on a screenshot.

"He didn't get it."

Ben then tried to explain what a screenshot actually was.

"Again, he failed to get it."

As patiently as he could, Ben dredged out some tortured metaphors to get the message through, explaining to the teller "If your mate buys a fancy sports car, sends you a letter with a coloured picture of it and invites you for a test drive, you can’t just put the picture on the street, sit on it and drive off. You still have to visit your mate and get into the real car.

"Now, your boss sent you a nice coloured picture of the new app..."

As Ben continued to stretch metaphors past breaking point, the teller's expression changed as understanding dawned. Processing of the queue was restored.

And Ben's reward for his impromptu in-person call-out? The look on the teller's face "as well as the gratitude everyone showed afterwards were almost worth the pain I was still feeling from my tongue."

Ever had to resort to words of two syllables or less to get the message through to a user? Or had the clearest of instructions ignored when there is a picture attachment involved? We've all taken those calls – share yours with an email to On Call. ®

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