• Ken Hay

Computer HELP

Updated: Aug 27


Anyone who works with computers has experienced, or at very least, nearly experienced, a nervous breakdown. He/she may be an accountant whose Excel work sheet , suddenly, will only sum adjacent columns diagonally; an architect whose drawings, sent electronically to a client, are reproduced as images from some porn file or other; a surgeon whose repeated “How to remove an ingrown toenail” searches result in detailed instructions on cardio-pulmonary transplant surgery; a high school student seeking advice on Pythagoras is served up with the full text of Einstein’s Theory on Relativity – and so on ad nauseum (that’s Latin for “until it makes you sick” just in case you intended to do a Google on it – it would probably give you the sound maps for Sydney Opera House auditorium).

Be all that as it may – and it is – the greatest roll-around-on-the-floor laughing/shrieking/ sobbing-in-despair game the computer gurus play on us is called “HELP”. Naturally, HELP is a four-letter word and whatever possessed the gurus to use that word in their work is beyond my comprehension. But then most things about computers are beyond my comprehension.

For example, not that anyone reading this would require examples, that business of computer codes being made up of “0s” and “1s” had me struggling. I could only comprehend two ways of combining 0 and 1 i.e. 01 and 10. But then a glimmer of understanding came with the number 8. 8 being the luckiest number ever, the foundation of life on earth, more important than CO2 etc. but studiously ignored by Climate Change Zealots. Throw in another neologism and we get Binary Code – and there you have it. Comprehension satisfied. I’ll bet!

I have come to the conclusion that computer people are barking up the wrong tree with the help concept. Or, more likely, like a pack of hungry wolves barking up lots of trees – whatever. Their fundamental error is having the Help requests attended to by computer Gurus. Now I am not so crass as to suggest that Gurus actually answer your plaintive pleas for guidance. No, we are all aware that that is not going to happen but, before they all wandered off to the golf course or the pub or where-ever they go, they will have up-loaded a set of ten or so multiple choice questions. These will be either expertly derived to match up with your question/s or randomly selected from a cardboard box in the office kitchen. They seem to have a preference for the latter.

You, the simple computer amateur, speak a different language to computer experts. You describe your problem. They read it and translate it into computer talk which you do not understand. For instance, if you are writing in Microsoft Word and suddenly find you need to change the font but the machine will not cooperate. You hit help and type in, “How to change font.” Word will answer with five alternatives – Track changes, Change case, Font, Default Font and Fonts. Well two of the responses could be helpful so you click on Font.

Word then comes up with another five guesses – Change the default font in Word, Cloud fonts in Office (???), Add East Asian fonts ….., Remove Language and fonts you don’t use, and Change the default text colour (font colour) in Word. You take an educated guess, or a simple punt, and select the first option. Up comes the response 1. Go to HOME and then select the Font Dialog Box Launcher. You could spend the rest the afternoon trying work out what and where the Font Dialog Box Launcher is but Mother Microsoft has made it easy with – TAKE ME THERE! Brilliant. Up comes a Dialog Box, (I presume that’s what it is but it is simply labelled “Font”) with multiple font parameters that enable you to change the default font. Problem is – you were not using the default font and you still have the dodgy font in place. Dear God. The other four options won’t help you.

The solution to this problem is easy – every computer Guru who is even remotely engaged in the Help activity should have, sitting alongside him/her, a little old lady who knows nothing about computers. I know most readers would prefer to have their ten-year-old grandson do this job but that would be falling into the same trap. Your ten-year-old grandson knows far too much about computers. He is one of the enemy. He too would want to rattle off the Font Dialog Box Launcher. He knows what it is, where it is and what it does.

Nana does not. And that is her most valuable asset if the Gurus really want to HELP. She must be at liberty to challenge everything the Guru wants to tell the customer. At first sight of Font Dialog Box Launcher she would ask, “What is that? How does the customer find it?” IT DOES NOT SEEM TO ANSWER THE CUSTOMER’S PROBLEM!” because that is exactly what the customer will be thinking. He/she does not know the computer language, neither does the LOL (Little Old Lady) but she can translate the customer’s language to educate the Guru and produce a happy customer. Good business!

Musing over this I had a flash of inspiration and decided to Duck the term Font Dialog Box Launcher. (I never use Google search engine and try to avoid Google as much as possible. Duck Duck Go is a search engine free of most of Google’s faults.) Amazement! Up came a page from DUMMIES titled “How to use the Font Dialog Box in Word 2016.”

On page one there is a print of a Font Dialog Box followed by how to get there – in Word

1. Click Home

2. In the Fonts group, click the dialog box launcher button.

And: The button is found in the lower right corner of the Font group.

Just so that there is no confusion this is followed by another print of the box with the Dialog Box Launcher button clearly labelled and some fonts with instructions.

Then, a stroke of genius – the statement, “Use Control D keyboard shortcut to quickly summon the Font Dialog Box.”

Just think how much user time could have been saved if the HELP message had contained this sentence or even just (Control D). But computer Gurus do not realize that you and me and millions of others do not know what a Font Dialog Box Launcher is. It’s just a tiny little arrow in a tiny little box at the lower right corner of the main Font box which is the second box from the left of the Home box. It is part of their daily life. To us it is part of our computer nightmares.

But, wandering about the internet, I discovered that there are no Dialog Launchers in the Mac versions of (presumably), Windows 10. Goodness only knows what any elderly Mac user does when confronted with, “Select the Font Dialog Box Launcher”. I can imagine it developing into a stare down between computer and user – and that could last a very long time.

I close with a plea to all computer people involved with HELP – get HELP with how you respond to appeals from users – any Little Old Lady would be able to HELP you.


ADDENDUM 27/08/20. Subsequent to writing this missive my desktop computer reached the ripe old computer age of 4.5 years and decided it was time to leap of its perch - never mind toppling therefrom. It slowed to less than snail pace and did all sorts of other things deigned to tell me it had had enough. Or at least so I thought. Discussion with friends, acquaintances, ten year old grand children and the occasional LOL resulted in the unanimous conclusion - time to let it go.

So I read its last rights and unplugged it. Nicked down to Hardly Normal and purchased a new one from a a choice of one - they sold most of their computers months ago courtesy of Covid-19 and people working at home.

Took it home and thought to try transferring everything from old to new. In fact new had a built in program that did just that - give or take a half dozen. Then, idly spinning the tower I made to hang USB drives on I noticed an odd one. Took it down and red the tag - Desktop System Recovery!!!!

I vaguely remembered producing it when I first brought the computer. "Fat lot of good it would do now." I thought but plugged it in and flashed up the "dead" machine.

The result was akin to jabbing a sleeping athlete with a red hot poker! Talk about resuscitation! The damned thing now works a treat. Darts from URL to URL in Firefox with nothing short of alacrity. Opens programs in the instant that I even think of them (well, almost) and behaves impeccably. The only ting it cannot help me with is - what do I do with a brand new desktop computer plus an older one on steroids?

Ken


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