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poor advice on fixing things!

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First post, by gerry

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not meant as an entirely serious topic - but I am sure you've all experienced technical problems with both vintage and newer PCs (and stuff generally) and gone online to find answers

eventually there is often something useful, some rare times there is even a video guide!

much of the time though is spent trawling through several 'types' of advice that do nothing, here are 5

1) the totally generic advice with '5 steps to fixing x', all of which are either obvious (safe mode, yay!) or foolhardy (let's advise non techies to mess with the registry!)

2) Copy Paste for hits. You search, you find lots promising sites to visit - and they all have the same generic advice above, again and again and again ...

3) me too! You search, find lots of threads.. sounds good. OP says "I have problem x", you think - yes, just like me! page down and its just other people saying "me too! anyone found a solution yet?...", and clearly no one has, ever!

4) upgrade something! Sure if you want to play the latest game maybe upgrading a graphics card would work - but if you have a tech problem, and I may be alone here, no amount of 'latest drivers', 'flashing bios', 'update windows' etc has EVER done anything to change anything regarding the problem

5) MVP, not picking on kind MVPs and other nice folk at places like answers.microsoft.com but when that shows up in search results I sigh. They tend to respond in the same manner, with escalating steps of obviousness leading to intriguing (but identical) more technical suggestions often not quite understanding the problem. these are the ultimate form of types 1-4, containing everything above in neat, polite and near useless packages of 'well intentioned but managing to miss the point' guidance. Over time I've become quite good at predicting, just from the first couple of sentences, whether the OP's problem will be helped or just get caught in an infinite "have you tried steps 1,2,3" loop

of course, sometimes the above do help but i hope you recognise the frustrations of searching online for guidance only to discover repetition, misunderstanding, obtuseness and danger!

perhaps you have encountered more types or have a war story to share 😀

as final note - i have found actually good advice often in better forums (like vogons) and in odd places, like the comments on youtube or forums on other topics that somehow wander into tech territory

Reply 1 of 23, by Tetrium

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I once had this issue of cleaning the thermal something off of a Coppermine s370 (this was in my n00b days so I was still learning the basics back then and this was my then only 1GHz Coppermine and fastest CPU I had) and went to a computer store for advice. The advice I got was to use a very sharp knife to scrape it off. Obviously I didn't take this advice and got it off using a different method because using a sharp knife directly to a FC-PGA CPU seemed like a really bad idea.

One thing I find annoying on the net is when someone asks a question about a problem they are having and they get some advice to which OP answeres something like "Nope, that wasn't it" and the last reply is the OP saying something like "Nevermind, I solved the problem" without actually telling anyone how he solved the problem or what even the problem turned out to be.

Not sure this was what you asked for, but here you go 😜

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Reply 2 of 23, by MrFlibble

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Points (1) and (2) seem to become increasingly the trend, and what's worse, they also become increasingly a way to promote some paid product. I've seen quite a few lately, both for software and hardware. They all begin with the obvious and unhelpful steps (but then again, those might be not so obvious for inexperienced users so some positive informational value remains) and then present you with basically an extensive ad for some tool or software application that is supposed to solve the issue under discussion. Nothing wrong with that, theoretically, but from my experience those paid tools are not much more helpful than the generic advice to begin with.

As for advice/support from tech people, again, if this is official forums (recently I poked around the online community of my PC's manufacturer quite extensively) then point (5) is spot on. This is again generic advice but much more specific, and for what I was looking, usually ended with the user either giving up apparently, or sending the actual PC for repairs. People at independent specialised forums (a least I'm assuming that EightForums and such are independent communities unrelated to Microsoft) seem to have more focussed, more enthusiastic and more competent folks who are genuinely eager to study every problem in great detail and find a solution, but reading through such discussions I made the following, not particularly encouraging observations:

a. most of the time there's no surefire way to correctly determine if a problem is hardware or software related. I learned a lot about interesting tools like the Driver Verifier, as well as some other utilities that supposedly tell you what crashed and why, but the only real way is to test all suspected systems, which means replacing hardware components -- this is not what anyone can do while being at home

b. if you need to test hardware, this implies a certain level of competence in fiddling with computer parts, which is not an option for many users, and it would be safer to send the PC to a repair centre

c. software based solutions (driver replacement, registry keys etc.) tend to be hugely hit-and-miss, working for one user and not working for another even if on the same OS version; furthermore any such solution often transforms as users try it out, with different variants like change registry key X to 0 but if registry key Y says 1 also change keys N, M to 1 and also create key "BlahBlahDefaultState" and set it to 0

I realised that for a very long time I had held a false belief that all the tech reports that Windows produces on crashes and stuff actually contain complete information for a tech specialist at Microsoft to read and reliably identify the cause of the problem. The actual state of events appears very far from this idealistic picture, and I suspect that apart from some very simple and obvious cases, the complexity of computers and OSs is such that there is no way to understand anything for certain just from logs, even for a highly skilled specialist.

Last edited by MrFlibble on 2021-02-23, 10:56. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 3 of 23, by Oetker

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Completely agreed, nowadays trying to find fixes for tech issues entails dredging through endless useless shit, just as you say, endlessly copy pasted generic advice that doesn't do anything. Or sometimes less-generic and promising (edit such and such registry entry) but false/outdated and still endlessly repeated. That Microsoft help forum you've mentioned is 100% completely useless and I never even click it anymore.

My additions:
1) Video guides. For more physical things, fixing a bike or something, video guides can be useful though you still have to spend time skipping to the relevant part. For tech stuff it's just idiotic and annoying.
2) Not that common, but sometimes a knowledgeable OP has a question and instead of it being answered, people will second-guess what the person is trying to do and offer their thoughts on what he should be doing instead.
3) Repeated falsehoods, I've seen it here sometimes, a lot in other places. At some point something that was mentioned once becomes a fact that is never checked but often repeated. An example that springs to mind was ALS100+ sound cards having a bad built-in OPL clone, while eventually someone here proved they just use a hitherto unknown external 100% clone chip.

Reply 4 of 23, by weedeewee

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Yep, most of those I can agree with, and then there's something more I've experienced.
Asking for advice or information on a forum and getting such a generic answer that you wonder why the person even answered, or the person directing you to another post that totally does not have the information, yet for some reason that person has an elevated status on the forum just because of the habit of replying to a lot of posts with generic answers, which ups his post count.
And then when you call them out on it, they get angry.
It's just all just absurdly mindboggling.

Last edited by weedeewee on 2021-02-24, 19:49. Edited 3 times in total.

Reply 5 of 23, by Tetrium

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weedeewee wrote on 2021-02-23, 12:55:
Yep, most of those I can agree with, and then there's something more I've experienced. Asking for advice or information on a for […]
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Yep, most of those I can agree with, and then there's something more I've experienced.
Asking for advice or information on a forum and getting such a generic answer that you wonder why the person even answered, or the person directing you to another post that totally does not have the information, yet for some reason that person has an elevated status on the forum just because of the habit of replying to a lot of posts with generic answers, which ups his post count.
And then when you call them out on it, they get angry.
It's just all just absurdly mindboggling.

oh and stay away from www.datashitarchive.com

This is pretty bad, but this could be even worse. I know of someone who basically said that being chronically depressed is your own choice etc, then some time down the road the forum admins proceed to make this same person a moderator of a psychology forum. Now that will definitely get poor advice on how to fix things, such a non-brilliant and facepalmable move -_-

Whats missing in your collections?
My retro rigs (old topic)
Interesting Vogons threads (links to Vogonswiki)
Report spammers here!

Reply 6 of 23, by gerry

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One thing I find annoying on the net is when someone asks a question about a problem they are having and they get some advice to which OP answeres something like "Nope, that wasn't it" and the last reply is the OP saying something like "Nevermind, I solved the problem" without actually telling anyone how he solved the problem or what even the problem turned out to be.

that's a great point - yes the OP sometimes is just as frustrating

c. software based solutions (driver replacement, registry keys etc.) tend to be hugely hit-and-miss,

this is very true, they can be useful but they can also just make things worse by cluttering the PC with further confusion and conflict

1) Video guides. For more physical things, fixing a bike or something, video guides can be useful though you still have to spend time skipping to the relevant part. For tech stuff it's just idiotic and annoying.
2) Not that common, but sometimes a knowledgeable OP has a question and instead of it being answered, people will second-guess what the person is trying to do and offer their thoughts on what he should be doing instead.
3) Repeated falsehoods, I've seen it here sometimes, a lot in other places. At some point something that was mentioned once becomes a fact that is never checked but often repeated. An example that springs to mind was ALS100+ sound cards having a bad built-in OPL clone, while eventually someone here proved they just use a hitherto unknown external 100% clone chip.

great points

for (1) I totally agree, i have found some great stuff helping with household things, whether its a big DIY channel, a company far away producing how to guides for its customers that benefit me or a guy with a wobbly iphone 4 back in 2012 that just happens to have the same bathroom tap that i have and shows how to fix it!

but for tech stuff, other than a few gems it's often either useless or dangerously promoting dubious executables linked in description

for (2), i can forgive misunderstanding but sometimes its just obtuseness or at least seems to be and for (3) yes, you are right about the myth making

the person directing you to another post that totally does not have the information

definitely! gives that false hope, quickly dashed! I think you are right that they are building 'forum credit' rather than trying to help

Reply 7 of 23, by Jorpho

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weedeewee wrote on 2021-02-23, 12:55:

Asking for advice or information on a forum and getting such a generic answer that you wonder why the person even answered, or the person directing you to another post that totally does not have the information, yet for some reason that person has an elevated status on the forum just because of the habit of replying to a lot of posts with generic answers, which ups his post count.

I think often when someone has offered a less-than-complete description of a problem, then it is useful to ask questions that might at least provide some clues so that someone might be able to figure it out. Do you think it is better to leave such posts with no reply at all?

Reply 8 of 23, by weedeewee

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Jorpho wrote on 2021-02-23, 16:28:

I think often when someone has offered a less-than-complete description of a problem, then it is useful to ask questions that might at least provide some clues so that someone might be able to figure it out. Do you think it is better to leave such posts with no reply at all?

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying, so... should I respond by asking you to clarify or just ignore it and leave it to the next person ? I guess that's exactly what you're asking. 😀

WWYD if I told you to go check the first post for the answer ? While you know that the answer isn't in the first post (because you went through all the comments on the post), but, maybe, just maybe, you overlooked it, so you go back to check, and 'lo behold, the answer isn't there.
Earlier today someone responded to the 'why did you join vogons' with ' I like to argue with strangers '. Would you appreciate that when you're looking for some info ?
oh, and i'm generalizing, this is not the forum, nor the person I've seen this behavoir... (yet, I hope never).

Reply 9 of 23, by Jorpho

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weedeewee wrote on 2021-02-23, 17:28:

WWYD if I told you to go check the first post for the answer ? While you know that the answer isn't in the first post (because you went through all the comments on the post), but, maybe, just maybe, you overlooked it, so you go back to check, and 'lo behold, the answer isn't there.

Then I would reply, "I looked at the first post, and I know you said X, but I was asking Y, which is something different. Are you familiar with the difference between X and Y? Because it's going to be difficult to help you if you think X and Y are the same thing."

There was a time when I would try to flog How to Ask Questions the Smart Way, but alas, that rarely seems to get anywhere.

Reply 10 of 23, by weedeewee

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Jorpho wrote on 2021-02-23, 18:03:

Then I would reply, "I looked at the first post, and I know you said X, but I was asking Y, which is something different. Are you familiar with the difference between X and Y? Because it's going to be difficult to help you if you think X and Y are the same thing."

There was a time when I would try to flog How to Ask Questions the Smart Way, but alas, that rarely seems to get anywhere.

You probably looked at it the wrong way.
😁

Reply 11 of 23, by shamino

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I get more frustrated with "troubleshooting" threads on automotive forums than anything else, because cars can get complicated and they need to be approached thoughtfully.

The first problem is imprecise description of the symptoms by the OP. You pretty much always need to ask multiple followups just to get all the information. That's understandable, you're not always going to know what details need to be described, but if the OP is unable to clarify the details then it becomes pointless to try to help.
With car stuff, I sense a source of misunderstandings when people use unclear language like "it turns on" (what turns on?) "it wants to start" (whatever that means), etc.
Then there's phrases that could be meaningful but not everybody agrees what it means, like "it turns over". To me that means the engine is rotating. ie you're not just spinning the starter, but also the engine is probably NOT firing, it's just rotating. But I think people have different perceptions of that phrase so it can lead to confusion.
You have to be willing to give a thoroughly detailed play by play of exactly everything that the car does and doesn't do in response to each thing that you do. Not many people go into that much detail. Starting with when you turn the key (to what position?) - do the dash lights come on? etc.
Some people post links to private youtube videos to demo the problem - this is probably a good idea.

"Checked all sensors" - this is meaningless. Define what "all" is. An explicit list is required because nobody knows exactly what parts you thought of.
Define what "checked" means, because nobody knows what you did exactly to decide they were "good". In other words, you actually have to explain exactly what you've checked and measured, you can't just say "checked all sensors" because nobody can dismiss all of those possibilities without more detail provided.

Failure to identify the car - a lot of people rely on their signature to tell you what car they're working on. I dislike that for 2 reasons. One, for all the effort that goes into troubleshooting, I don't want to start by making assumptions. Just because you have a car in your sig doesn't mean it's the one you're working on. Just spell it out so nobody has to assume or ask.
Secondly, people's signatures change. 5 years from now, nobody reading the thread will know what car you had.

Ambiguous descriptions aren't the biggest problem though. You can get through that with followup. The biggest problem is what happens next.
Trouble Guessing.
90% of troubleshooting threads break down because everybody on the forum thinks it's a game to see who can be first to "guess" the problem. This is unproductive and usually takes the thread off into the weeds.

Few people will try to intelligently diagnose the problem, and they often struggle to get the OP's attention. First they have to ask followup questions, then try to get to the point of suggesting a diagnostic procedure, all the while competing with a mob of guessers offering easy answers.
It's comical to me how quickly the guesses will start streaming in, often before anyone can possibly have enough information from the OP to justify it.
If the problem is simple enough then sometimes that's okay. But if it's a more complex issue, like anything that involves electronic engine management, then it needs a thoughtful approach instead of "shooting from the hip".

Most times the OP doesn't want to troubleshoot. They're attracted to the quick and easy responses of something they can go buy. And so they listen to the guessers. They keep buying random stuff until they get frustrated and leave the thread or announce that the car is for sale.
It can take a lot of time to write a helpful response to these kinds of threads so if the OP doesn't demonstrate an interest in testing anything, or can't communicate coherently, then the people offering troubleshooting advice will lose interest and leave it to the guessers. That usually dooms the thread to failure.

I like older cars because they're sufficiently un-complicated, all their documentation has "leaked out", and the details of their operation are deeply understood to the point that you *can* troubleshoot them at home, if you want to. Unfortunately not enough people want to. Guessing is a disastrous way to approach most problems, but it appeals to people.

Reply 12 of 23, by gerry

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shamino wrote on 2021-02-23, 18:52:

I get more frustrated with "troubleshooting" threads on automotive forums than anything else, because cars can get complicated and they need to be approached thoughtfully.

all true, impatience on either side leads to second guessing and imprecise ambiguous descriptions. cars in particular are multi-sense things for diagnosing, its better to see, smell, hear and feel (eg vibration) when trying to diagnose, descriptions just aren't enough

to a lesser extent its useful to hear noises with PC's, and also see lights going on / off and the screen flicker (how much, when exactly, etc) to complement the "error message said this" report

(btw, agree on older cars - i had a small displacement engine in a car years ago and i could move my arms around in the engine bay to do things. more recently, a modern engine in a modern car, same displacement and same engine bay dimensions - but it was crammed with stuff, no room to do anything! - admittedly the engine was much better when running well, amazing what can be done now compared to 30-40 years back with essentially the same fundamental engine, in time all that will go too as electric takes over)

Reply 13 of 23, by chinny22

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I'd like to add the support/documentation sections of the hardware manufactures themselves.
More and more site are adding generic filler guides like "solving network issues" which links to an article with basic Windows 10 troubleshooting steps even though the hardware itself doesn't support Windows 10.

Reply 14 of 23, by Miphee

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To be honest people want a solution immediately and they don't want to bother with an extensive search about the problem.
When they have to work for it they get frustrated. Most people can't even use Google Search properly.
Just 30 years ago people actually had to visit libraries, purchase user manuals or call a technician just to fix a simple problem.
Now they are complaining because there are too many solutions for the same problem and they have to click a few more times?
Getouttahere!

Reply 15 of 23, by gerry

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chinny22 wrote on 2021-02-25, 10:54:

I'd like to add the support/documentation sections of the hardware manufactures themselves.
More and more site are adding generic filler guides like "solving network issues" which links to an article with basic Windows 10 troubleshooting steps even though the hardware itself doesn't support Windows 10.

good point - the official documentation, even if it's in authoritative looking print, can be just as hopeless as online sources. A shame, i think technical writing skills have sunk since the heyday of the 80's (in PC terms)

Reply 16 of 23, by gerry

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Miphee wrote on 2021-02-25, 11:11:
To be honest people want a solution immediately and they don't want to bother with an extensive search about the problem. When t […]
Show full quote

To be honest people want a solution immediately and they don't want to bother with an extensive search about the problem.
When they have to work for it they get frustrated. Most people can't even use Google Search properly.
Just 30 years ago people actually had to visit libraries, purchase user manuals or call a technician just to fix a simple problem.
Now they are complaining because there are too many solutions for the same problem and they have to click a few more times?
Getouttahere!

yes it's true, but I do sympathise in some cases.

a 'regular joe' sometimes encounters something like a screen not extending to a monitor on their laptop, for instance, and thinks this ought to be simple but can't solve it themselves. a search or question online and suddenly there are dozens of pieces of advice from pressing various keyboard combinations, downloading new drivers, going back to old drivers, checking various parts of various cables and even obscure things to do with config and registry. I can well imagine how overwhelmed the owner is and also how irritated that something which should just work seems to involve such a plethora of possibilities.

for more complex problems the same sympathy evaporates though, when something quite involved is demanded to be explained in a one liner involving near zero effort or thinking from the owner

Reply 18 of 23, by Miphee

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gerry wrote on 2021-02-25, 15:28:

a search or question online and suddenly there are dozens of pieces of advice

Indeed, people need some basic knowledge about the hardware or software they are trying to fix. If they don't have it then they are going to have a tough time finding relevant information. It's like doing an oil change without knowing the exact type of your car.
So people need to know their computers first, learn how to search properly and select the relevant information.
Regular Joes usually ask somebody to help them find a quick fix because it's easier to ask someone who knows what he's doing.
Some of these people can only use a search engine on a basic level so a DIY hardware/software page is simply not for them.
People who know what they are doing won't have a hard time finding the correct answer and weeding out the bad ones.

Reply 19 of 23, by creepingnet

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Miphee wrote on 2021-02-25, 11:11:
To be honest people want a solution immediately and they don't want to bother with an extensive search about the problem. When t […]
Show full quote

To be honest people want a solution immediately and they don't want to bother with an extensive search about the problem.
When they have to work for it they get frustrated. Most people can't even use Google Search properly.
Just 30 years ago people actually had to visit libraries, purchase user manuals or call a technician just to fix a simple problem.
Now they are complaining because there are too many solutions for the same problem and they have to click a few more times?
Getouttahere!

That's a part of how I manage to pull of some of the stuff I do. People don't realize that a search engine is not a magic genie who will just cough up the right answer. A search engine is more like a street sweeper that sweeps up crap off the street, and maybe if you look hard enough, you'll find the right answer on some random piece of paper that got sucked up by the web crawling googley-fu algorithm.

~The Creeping Network~
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My Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/creepingnet