Corporation speak with forked tongue

c: | f: /

Beware the auto-update. Beware the helpdesk. Companies make mistakes and give bad advice all the time, it seems.

Started Skype yesterday to hold a video conversation and the video button was missing. Hunted for it in case they’d moved it with the recent software update that it made me have a couple of days before, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Went into the application settings, which dutifully reported “You do not have a webcam. Would you like to buy one?”

Staring at the webcam perched on top of the screen, I begged to differ with Microsoft’s analysis. Moreso considering I could hold a regular Skype audio conversation just fine; and the microphone is built into the webcam.

The troubleshooter and official KB articles surrounding the topic centred on the usual crop of platitudes and vagaries:

  1. Check you haven’t accidentally bought a cheese plant instead of a webcam Yes, I’m sure.
  2. Reboot your computer Why? Because the six times I’ve started the computer since the software update aren’t enough?
  3. Update the drivers for your webcam Tried that weeks ago, got a blue screen at boot time until I uninstalled them via Safe Mode and put the old ones back on.
  4. Make sure Windoze is up to date Well, OK it’s still XP-SP3 because there’s nothing compelling in Win7 or 8 to bother with, but Skype claims it’s compatible with that.
  5. Uninstall any recently installed third party software that might conflict Haven’t done anything. The only thing that’s been updated is Skype itself. Tempted to uninstall that.
  6. Stand on one leg and scratch your junk while clicking the “We don’t have a clue what’s up but, rest assured, it’s not our fault” button

The basic tenet was that it was my problem; software fingers were pointing everywhere but inwards. But if that was truly the case, how come when I hunted for, downloaded, and installed the previous version of Skype (6.0.0.120) my webcam worked flawlessly?

My fault, my arse. Auto updates are now firmly set to ‘off’.

DVD registry wrangling

In a similar vein, the DVD drive on my boss’ VAIO stopped working. Win 7 this time: no application could see it and Windoze reported he didn’t have one installed. Eventually he contacted Sony for advice and, again, they gave him the usual moronic stuff like re-install the drivers (he’d already told them he’d done that) or use system restore (ditto: earliest restore still exhibits problem) but the icing on the cake was their next recommendation: a complete system restore. In other words, reformat and reinstall the OS.

My boss wrote back and said he was reluctant to do that because it seemed a bit drastic. Their response?

I really understand the inconvenience that may occur due to applying the time-consuming step of a full recovery; ‎‎however, we deem it as an inevitable step to take in order to clear out any software issues with your VAIO.

My boss asked me if that was reasonable. Hell no! I Put my sleuthing hat on and went trawling the interweb for the error messages he was getting “Windows cannot start this hardware device because its configuration information (in the registry) is incomplete”. Lo and behold, within five minutes I’d found that registry corruption was indeed blamed and the primary fix (on Vista at least) was to locate HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Class and delete the UpperFilters and LowerFilters subkeys.

Relaying the info to him, he found the offending registry entry and confirmed there were multiple entries for his DVD drive — which explains why Windoze couldn’t fathom which was the real one and fell over. He backed up, deleted the keys, and his drive sprang to life. So much for an inevitable course of action, eh Sony?

Fifty shades of help

How do these help desks and so-called support staff justify their existence? Do they not have the Internet available to them? Do they dumb down the service simply because 80% of the calls are from people too stupid to own a computer? Seriously, if I wanted to be patronised I’d go on Facebook and update my status to “My cat has AIDS”.

My expectation is that if I call people up it’s a last resort, because I’ve tried everything else and want a solution; not the software equivalent of a jackhammer for the machine, or for the application to have the cheek to imply I’m retarded.

I was lucky that in both cases I could get to the underlying problem by digging around at the right level and applying fixes myself. When such luxuries are taken away from us by the mass adoption of so-called smart devices like mobiles and tablets — where the only readily available interface is the application — the only advice in the majority of cases will come from app writers or help desk monkeys. Based on current track records, that doesn’t sound very smart to me.

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