Monthly Archives: January 2007

Idiot users and how to deal with them

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard from IT workers over my years of working in the industry is “users are idiots” or some variant thereof.  It’s an understandable but ultimately self-defeating attitude.  Users are your customers, they’re the reason you have a job – treat them badly enough and you won’t have them or a job for long. 

This is true whether they are literally customers (people who buy a product you make) or metaphorical customers (the people within your company who use the product you develop).  This attitude is the primary reason IT workers have a reputation for arrogance in the business world.

This is not a touchy-feely “always put the customer first” post.  Some users are truly stupid.  Many more, while not being inherently stupid, are capable of behaving in what seem to be incredibly stupid ways.  A couple of my favourite examples from previous jobs:

One of the many times I was “lucky” enough to be working in the public service, I was working on the development of a global intranet for a division of the federal government’s foreign trade department.  This was an intranet to serve over 100 overseas offices and one of the top public servants from Canberra came in to see how it was going.  This guy looked like a stereotype of a British major-general with a huge walrus moustache.  He gave off a vibe that made it obvious he considered us lucky to be worthy of his attention.

I started the demo I had been giving users from various offices (which had been going quite well with other users).  I opened the home page and started to explain how clicking on the various links would let you complete certain tasks and invited him to try it for himself.  He did this by picking the mouse up from the desk and trying to use it like a TV remote – pointing it at the part of the screen he wanted to use, clicking madly, then berating me because “it wasn’t working”.  I resisted the urge to ask “are you from the past?”

In another case I was running a training session with a group and one user in particular was having trouble so I was taking him through the process again:

ME: Right click on that link.

HIM: I am!

ME: No, you need to right click.  With the right mouse button.

HIM: I know how to use a mouse, I’m clicking it right and it isn’t working.

ME: Sorry, I didn’t mean right as in “correct”.  There are two buttons on the mouse; one is on the left side, on is on the right.  When I say “right click” I mean click the button on the right hand side.  I’m not passing judgement on whether or not you are correct.

HIM: You don’t have to talk to me as if I’m stupid.

ME: You reckon?

At this point I absolutely did not trust myself to keep speaking to this person and so called for a break.  I bring these stories up firstly to provide a bit of a laugh (hopefully) and second, to illustrate that, yes, we do see some truly stupid user behaviour from time to time.  So this is the recurring conundrum faced by IT workers: users behave like idiots but it’s a bad idea to treat them like they’re stupid because our jobs depend on them.

The first coping strategy I would suggest is the one I described above: take a break.  It often doesn’t occur to people to stop a conversation that’s going nowhere.  Do it in the appropriate way, of course.  Saying: “Let’s get back to this later.  I’ve made a note of your issues and I’ll look into them more then get back to you,” works way better than “Shut up!  You’re stupid!  I’m not talking to you any more.” 

Likewise, email doesn’t have to be answered instantly (despite what some people seem to think).  If you get what you think is a stupid email, take some time to think about a reply.  Get a second opinion if you can.  Just don’t fire off a quick response that makes it clear you think the user is stupid.

It’s also important to be able to determine when the “stupid user” behaviour isn’t an IT issue at all, even though it’s being directed at IT.  If a user’s system isn’t working because of the crap they’ve installed on their machine (“Download a free animated screen saver?  That sounds like a great idea – what could possibly go wrong?”) that isn’t an IT issue, it’s a HR issue because they’re misusing their PC.  If a user lack basic computer literacy that isn’t an IT issue, it’s a training issue.  If a user keeps bugging individual developers and eating up their time rather than following established channels, that’s a management issue.

One of the most important things to learn when dealing with stupid user behaviour is recognising  when dealing with a stupid user isn’t part of your skill set.  Most developers aren’t hired for their people skills – it’s great if you have good people skills but it’s important to be honest (both with yourself and with others) when you don’t.  That’s why Business Analysts, Team Leaders and Project Managers exist.  If you’re in one of these roles and you have lousy people skills then something is seriously wrong.

At the risk of ending with a platitude, if you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.  It’s easy to bitch and moan about how stupid users are (all too often it’s like shooting fish in a barrel) but that does nothing to make the situation better.  In a world where IT work is increasingly commoditised and a wider range of jobs are in danger of being outsourced, people skills become increasingly valuable.  So learning how to deal with stupid users can save your job as well as your sanity.  I’ll borrow from another well-known platitude to close on a positive note:

There are no stupid users – just stupid situations.*

(*caveat: there really are some stupid users)

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Virgin worship, anal sex and oral sex

You know what?  I feel guilty about all the people who end up here looking for porn.  I want to give something to these people.  I still think you should read the whole post, it was quite well-received by my regular readers and I think you might find it entertaining and even insightful.  But just to reward you for dropping by, here’s a porn video:

So much for today’s gratuitous search engine baiting in the blog heading. It is a source of continuing amusement to me how many searches for sexual terms get pointed to this blog. All those horny desperadoes finding themselves on a web page that contains more words than pictures. And no porn. Never mind, horndogs, at least you might find an entertaining diversion here.

This post is actually a (semi) serious response to an issue raised on Suroor’s blog. Why the hell are so many people so obsessed with virginity? The focus tends to be on female virginity (admittedly, there are some people who place an almost equal stress on male chastity but they’re a small minority) which raises obvious issues of double standards. Why is it so often the case that men are excused if they have sex while women are expected to be virgins?

One contributor to focussing on female virginity is that there’s an artefact that ostensibly proves or disproves female virginity – the hymen. But this is where it devolves from an unhealthy obsession into pure insanity. A hymen in and of itself proves nothing. There are a plenty of reasons besides sex for the potential absence of a hymen (from medical procedures to accidents and doubtless other causes). And there are plenty of things a woman with an intact hymen can do that stretch any concept of purity way beyond breaking point.

There is this whole purity/chastity pledge/born again virgin routine that’s popular with American evangelicals that is absolutely astonishing in its hypocrisy. And another point, why is it so often the case that media reports about virgin obsession in Islam focus on it being the oppression of women while reports on Christian virgins are all about purity and the celebration of God’s love? Those damn brown people…

Anyway, while many reports are keen to point out how many eager young Christians are taking the “virginity pledge” they’re likely to gloss over how narrowly those teens define “virginity”. Apparently, these teens are way more likely to indulge in oral and anal sex than “impure” teens. Who knew taking it up the butt was the path to eternal salvation? It reminds me of the scene in “Clerks” where the girl gets pissed off at her boyfriends because he’s had sex with about six other women while she’s only has sex with two men which makes him some sort of slut. The it turns out she’s sucked 37 dicks.

Now, if you really put these hymen worshippers on the spot they’d say that all the anal and oral sex is wrong too. Most of them would, anyway. But where do you draw the line? Is kissing/groping/making out OK? So a woman who had sex with one man she loved is less pure than a woman who makes out with a different football team every night (but never has actual sex)?

And as I was saying before, often the weird obsession isn’t even about sex, it’s about the hymen. I remember reading a story years ago where a father was saying he wanted to sue the driver of a car that ran into his daughter’s car because she “lost her virginity” in the accident. I was intrigued and read on – were the daughter and the other driver overcome with emotion and commemorated their shared experience by having sex? No, it turned out the father was claiming the impact broke his daughter’s hymen meaning she was no longer a virgin. The other driver had therefore devalued his daughter and should pay compensation.

This attitude is nothing short of fucked up. It’s the sort of mentality that leads to the hideous practice of surgically “re-creating” the hymen. Nothing will get through to idiots who believe this is a sensible way to behave. Actually, a few solid punches to the face might work. Even if it doesn’t work, it would be fun to try.

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It’s official – Google have decided to kill all of YouTube’s competitors

What almost everybody has predicted for a while is now apparently a fact: Google have decided to enable revenue sharing for content creators on YouTube.  This is effectively a death warrant for every single YouTube competitor (interestingly, they’ve effectively killed Google Video too).  None of them have managed to make the remotest dent in YouTube’s popularity, even when they have tried paying contributors and YouTube hasn’t. 

YouTube has consistently beat out any competitors by a handy margin in terms of how many people watch and contribute.  Now that they’re going to be providing an opportunity for content creators to make money, all of their competitors are going to become digital ghost towns.  I mean, more than they are now.  While this development has obvious appeal for me (is YouTube going to provide my post 500 milestone for me?) I can think of one obvious drawback.

People are arseholes.

YouTube has one of the greatest concentration of arseholes on the internet.  They come in many flavours, from the common or garden variety of hater to racists and other zealots to those who game the system.  It’s this last group of arseholes who are going to have the biggest impact on the success (or otherwise) of YouTube as a paid medium.

In the current YouTube world where there are NO direct rewards for how many times a video is viewed, there are still hundreds of “cheaters” who employ various methods to raise their profile.  And by this I mean methods other than actually being so good that thousands of people want to watch them.  And they do this for… nothing.

The truly bizarre thing to me is that many of these people who spoof the system truly gain nothing by doing it.  They don’t feature themselves in the videos so they aren’t going to gain any “fame”.  They don’t produce other videos so they aren’t gaining attention for their “real” work by proxy.  They gain nothing but they frustrate thousands of legitimate users.  For what?  So they can say they got a million views on YouTube?  Maybe I’m missing something but this seems like the epitome of fucked up to me.

I think it’s distinctly possible that the “cheating” will get so out of control once there’s money involved that the resulting disaster will make YouTube implode.  Not likely but possible.  The one area that YouTube is still a long way from getting right is the user/community aspect.  The paid model could very well degrade the user experience even further.  A truly scary prospect for anyone who’s been trying to cope with the dog’s breakfast that is YouTube today.

I wish YouTube wasn’t so opaque.  I wish I knew what was going on inside.  I wish I knew what they were planning to do with the “community” aspect.  I wish I knew what they were planning to do with cheaters.  But my crystal ball is on the fritz.  So we’re going to have to wait and see.

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Some Angry News you may have missed

Here’s some more behind the scenes news reporting from Mr Angry.

The first story revolves around a major Australian festival known as The Big Day Out. This is actually a series of concerts featuring major Australian and international acts that tours the capitals every summer. The Sydney show is almost always on Australia Day and last year it happened to arrive not long after the Cronulla race riot – an unfortunate event where a large crowd seemed to mistake “patriotism” with “being a drunken bogan fuckwit”.

At last year’s BDO there was a phenomenal amount of flag waving. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this but there were several cases were it took on menacing and racist overtones. One of the most obnoxious incidents involved a moron draped in the flag walking down a line of people urging them all to kiss his flag. When one person, inevitably, refused the drunken dork punched the dirty commie refusenik. Oh, and then the flag waver ran away. How unlike a racist to be a coward.

Anyway, the organiser of the BDO decided he really didn’t want that shit this year. So he made a public announcement. Did he stick to saying he didn’t want people to be aggressive drunken dickheads? No he didn’t. He showed the astonishingly poor judgement to say he didn’t want people to wear the Australian flag to the concert. You can imagine the shitstorm that followed.

This next piece is the medical breakthrough that caffeine drinkers have been waiting for – caffeine is good for you! Well kinda, sorta. It was positive enough for me to increase my cola intake by several litres a day.

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What does kiwi poo taste like?

AKA “The Return of the Little Angries“.

My life is fraught with peril.   A perfectly respectable novelty girft from New Zealand is used by my kids to play an awful prank on me…

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What is Australia Day?

While I’m in Australia Day mode (although it’s over now) I thought I’d post one more video on the topic.  This video was done in response to a request for some background from a YouTube subscriber who didn’t actually know what Australia Day commemorates.  In this video I give a brief overview of what the date marks (the First Fleet landing at Port Jackson), the legal concept of Terra Nullius and why some people (trouble making commies) call it Invasion Day.

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Angry Australia Day

It’s Australia Day today – our national day and I’m celebrating in the traditional way by scorching some dead animals.  But am I a proud Australian?  Well, let’s start with a definition of “proud”:

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