Friday, November 17, 2006

On difficulty

I spent over an hour yesterday on the phone with my favourite database client, repairing a problem she created while trying to update the software. The result was positive but unsatisfactory: the database was updated correctly and now runs properly, but I would dearly like to know what went wrong before. Because it keeps on going wrong, you see, we have this conversation quite regularly.

Lou truly is my favourite client: as well as being funny and very witty, she is also the only customer who really uses the database well. She finds more bugs (even typoes and grammatical errors) and suggests more improvements, than all the rest of our customers added together. And even better: when she does find a problem, she reports it in a carefully-written, explicit and comprehensive e-mail. Heaven!

(Most customers ignore most problems, they either try to work around it or simply abandon the attempt to use that particular function. Those who do contact me usually say "There was a problem ... no, I don't remember what I had been doing ... oh yeah, there was an error message - but I didn't read it." Gah. On behalf of the software developer community: if when you find a problem in a piece of software (or website) please report it to the developer! It won't get fixed if we don't know that it's broken. At the very least, please make a screenshot of the problem and send us that via e-mail.)

Lou is an expert user of the database, she knows all its tricks and understands on a pretty deep level how all the pieces fit together, and she can also relate it to the working world that she and her clients inhabit. I would love to engage her for seminars and training sessions, because she also has the knack of explaining things simply and non-threateningly, but she just laughs and says "no thanks."

However, Lou is baffled by Windows (for which I have the greatest sympathy). She is utterly unable to understand working with files and folders at the operating system level, and apparently cannot have two Explorer windows open at the same time without getting confused between them. This is the cause of the recurring problem when updating the database: it can't update itself, the user has to move files around by herself. One of these days, I shall have to sit beside her and watch what she does, to understand where & why it goes wrong, and so find a better way of distributing the software.

In related news the saga of disaster after reinstalling Windows continues. I have been unable to create new installer routines for Windows for my database since this summer (well, I hadn't tried until after the holiday). It's probably some aspect of the operating system that I am utterly unable to understand; though in my defense I have reported every stage of the misery - with screenshots - and the developers can't understand it either. Every week they post a new "fixed" version which I download, which also doesn't work but each time for new and exciting reasons. I downloaded over 4 gigabytes last month, my next ISP bill will be horrendous.

Seventeen down, thirteen to go.


Blogger CarpeDM said...

I have learned a long time ago that I would never be good at teaching how to use Word or Excel, I have a problem with people who are afraid to use the program because they're worried that they're going to break something. So, usually when someone asks me to show them how to do something, I'll grab their mouse and start clicking away, breaking the cardinal rule of training (discover how the person learns, are they hands on or hands off). It's just one of my many faults but I'm so charming, it is usually overlooked.*

I am all caught up with your blog! Yay!

*If you were thinking one of my other faults might be that I'm not very modest, you'd be right.

November 17, 2006 at 6:41:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger brooksba said...

I've always figured the best way to learn a new system is to try things and see what happens. I think that comes from my generation though - as a kid we used computers in school and you either played with it, or you didn't get anything done. Users who are familiar with the system are the best to point out errors, mainly because they know what was supposed to happen.

I wish I could answer your problem about Windows. But I am oblivious. Do you have to pay for everything you download? That's interesting. I'm not familiar with that pricing structure.

November 17, 2006 at 9:11:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

DM: it would only be a fault if it were untrue :-)

Brooksba: I'm on a volume tarif: X Euros per month (not being coy, I really don't know) for the first gigabyte, and a slap with a wet fish if I go over; if I then go over 2 Gb it's two slaps with a wet fish etc etc.

November 17, 2006 at 10:38:00 p.m. GMT+1  

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