Monday June 16, 2003

Ruth at CHALK wanted me to type up some general computer troubleshooting guidelines for the office so I wrote her some and then I thought it would be nice to post it to my website so other office workers could read it. I genericized it and removed my cell phone number and now I'm giving you that same basic info. The best you can do, of course is use some common sense. After you read this email you'll have a little bit more common sense than you do right now but you already possess more than you probably think. Confidence is key. Remember that lightsaber training scene from Star Wars with young Luke and Obi Wan? It's like that.

You will probably use a computer in your work in every job you have for the rest of your life. Consider the following generic employment training.

Call or email your system administrator if you can't figure it out. Hopefully they don't mind helping out.

There are a few things that go wrong that prevent Youthline listeners or other fine members of our staff from doing their job and they're divided into 4 basic categories.

  1. Problems with (the website hosted on our ISP
  2. Problems with the office's internet connection (DSL provided by
  3. Problems with the local office network or server (Chalk mail, files or databases)
  4. Problems with the computers in the office

When something goes wrong you should try to identify *where* in time and space the problem is located. Try to ignore nagging questions like *what* the problem is. That is the least important thing. The first thing you always do whenever there's a problem is stop what you're doing and try to figure out what you were doing when you noticed something was wrong and when was the last time you can remember it was working. Ask yourself or the person complaining this question: "What you were doing when you noticed something was wrong and when was the last time you can remember it was working?"

This is the most important thing about troubleshooting and by asking this stupid question over and over again to people in trouble I was able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars as a computer consultant. For advanced troubleshooters looking for a shortcut, here's one: The problem usually resides somewhere in the space between the keyboard and the chair.

Joking aside (for now) that question is really the most important because it is necessary to determine if something is actually broken and can be fixed or if it is really just the way things have always been. You'd be surprised how much how much smaller the "problem domain" becomes after passing this test. Generally, fixing things that have never worked is not the job of the troubleshooter. That falls to the engineer. This is not an engineering how-to.

The next thing you do is think about the chain (1 through 4) and start with #4. If the computer you're on is not working or not doing what you want for any reason, try a different computer and see if it does what you want. If it does, Boom! You've isolated the problem to that computer and you can calm down because there are lots of computers in the office. Assign a low priority to the problem, move and continue your work. Can't find your MP3 files? Tough shit.

If the other computer has the same problem it might be a problem with #3 or above. Try something that involves only the local network or the server. Try your Chalk Outlook mail or try to get to the database folder on the server. (Most adult staff know how to do this). If you can do that, #3 is probably OK and you can move on to #2. If not, the problem is probably somewhere in the office. Call the sysadmin.

If you got this far, you're probably trying to use a website or some other internet resource. What you do here is similar to #4. Try some other website or some other internet resource. If you can't get any webpages to work, you probably have a problem with #2 and then you should call XO communications and report that you think your DSL is dead.

If the internet connection is working and you got to this point and you think that only is the problem, you can call Interland and tell them the website is down but generally, you should call me first because there's a chance that I can fix it. For example, just this weekend Adam let me know that there was a problem with zipcode lookups on and I fixed it.

That's it.