Much Ado About…


Nothing!


Maybe it is just the summer-time lull, but I have not been terribly motivated to write anything lately. Alas, the IIS newsgroup has not been spawning anything interesting nor new in terms of issues either, and my private blog comments are starting to degenerate into “can you help me figure out how application X works with IIS and how to fix it”.


You know, it is really hard for me to get excited about those type of questions because I am NOT in product support, nor do I have any idea how application X works through a cursory description of it. Sorry, I do not know how every application works…


Sigh. What I want to do is explain how IIS works and interacts so that you can help yourself figure out what is going on, but clearly many people do not want to learn and just want to use my time to get some answers. Grr…


For example, one very apologetic guy tells me that he followed my blog entry to allow EXEs to be downloadable on IIS6, but other file extensions like .CC2, .VDX, etc were still getting denied by 404s on IIS6. Umm… hello?!? There is a blog entry dedicated to troubleshooting IIS6 linked right off my blog entry, which should have led one to look in the IIS log file for more clues. One should then notice the 404.3 for the request, and a quick search on the Internet or even my blog should locate the solution.


Hmm… maybe it is because I am so close to the issue that I find the steps intuitively obvious, but I suspect otherwise. I think it is just basic common sense and troubleshooting skills one needs to have to survive in a digital world, but I think that progress has made computing so comparatively “easy” that not everyone using a computer or running a server has the proper skills to survive. And, I am not certain that is a good thing to encourage…


I mean, it is like how in the US, people treat driving as a “right” and not a “privilege” and let all sorts of miscreants onto the road with minimal training and supervision. And then we wonder about the insurance and accident rates. Put that in contrast with Germany, where driving is more of a “privilege” than a “right”, and we get comparatively better drivers, faster speeds, and less accidents. Ok, the occassional Ghost Drivers, but generally better.


For example, you also see this with Virtual PC/Server users. People ask about how to install Windows 3.1, DOS, or Windows NT4 on Virtual PC when the answers have already been said a decade ago – just need to search for it – and then they get annoyed that Microsoft did not put it on a silver platter for them.


Umm… hello?!? Virtual PC/Server is all about providing a Virtual Machine so that you can install/run whatever software you want. You are still ultimately responsible for figuring out how to do what you want to do.


Anyhow, it is always amusing to see the same user later balk at having to install OS by booting from a floppy. It appears that they s/he never lived through the “earlier” days of PC computing, before there were bootable CDs. It is at this point that one should marvel at the progress in computing and how much more coddled we all are nowadays.


Booting from a CD or USB key? Outrageous! Having drivers automatically detected and installed instead of going into Control Panel? Amazing! We take so much for granted, especially without knowing the basics… and that concerns me.


In my view, one should always start from the basics and build up knowledge from there. Otherwise, one lacks the building blocks to do critical thinking, which condemns one to mindless pattern matching and not mindful problem solving. And we all want problem solvers, right? 🙂


Anyways… I think a little elitist is ok; as with everything, just don’t go overboard with it.


//David

Comments (12)

  1. Andrew Smith says:

    Anybody in IT troubleshooting needs some basic knowledge but more importantly they need knowledge of how to find out information they lack. The art of troubleshooting is following a problem to it’s source but some people can’t start this process.

    My colleague (my former manager) lacks the knowledge on how to do any troubleshooting as he has always passed the work to his assistant. As he no longer has an assistant he’s having immense problems solving any issues that arise.

  2. JonH says:

    As an "Old Time" troubleshooter i couldn’t agree with you more.  I run into the same frustrations.  Thank you for expressing my feelings also.

    I once thought that troubleshooting was an art, but basically it comes down to having the desire to solve an issue, not have someone solve it for you.  Research and trial and error are all part of the process.

  3. P. Griffin says:

    Normally I find your blog very well written, and it’s a great resource to find out a little bit about IIS internals.

    Your entry today was different.  You talk about "rights" and "privileges," essentially covering the sense of entitlement that is so rampant in American culture (I can agree), but then your entry is interspersed with comments like:

    "You know, it is really hard for me to get excited about those type of questions…"

    "Sigh."

    … and my personal favorite:

    "Umm… hello?!?" (x2)

    You write a public blog.  Don’t feel like writing?  Don’t write.  Don’t have questions that excite you?  Don’t answer them.  Or, you could always go the *crazy* route, and write about whatever you want.

    But this post was so vitriolic, it turned me off.  I mean, you call the guy asking you the question apologetic, and then you rail on him for not checking through all the links on your blog (~45) to find the one near the bottom, which doesn’t show up at all if he’s reading it via RSS.

    Much ado about nothing, indeed.

  4. steve says:

    This post definitely comes of too elitist.  I agree that the key is that people need to have "problem solving skills", but you can’t expect everyone to have the same knowledge base as yourself. What are the key "problem solving skills" anyways?  And where is the cutoff for "the basics"? At some point a level of abstraction is necessary.

    When you have a 4 year university program there is only a limited amount of foundation that they can cover, and even then there is only a small portion that you will probably use and remember.  

  5. David.Wang says:

    P. Griffin – True, I generally agree with your assessment.

    It is just that with this, I am on my "Personal" post category, and what I am trying to convey is my frustration; not that it is unique nor is it an excuse because everyone encounters it and should handle it correctly. I just thought to try this out in a more "intimate" than "PC" tone.

    After all, I am human and need to muse and vent, too… 😉

    I know that this is a public blog. I know that it is more edgy and could be misconstrued by people, but at the same time, it also voices the thoughts and feelings of others, suffering in silence. I am commisserating with them.

    If I could rearrange the links of my blog different while retaining its color/font/layout scheme, I would. I tried to mitigate some of the layout problems by using the "News" section (which is the earliest bit of text I can control) to point at the useful entries and samples at the bottom, as well as give quick troubleshooting flow-chart of what to do. It is a shame that RSS-readers strip this info; if there is a way for me to attach it to all blog entries even in RSS, I would.

    //David

  6. David.Wang says:

    steve – hehe… now we are wondering into the dangerous and disputed territory of education, and lest I start another firestorm. I will be brief and not start/fan any flames… 😉

    I probably wondered around in the blog entry too much before coming to the point of distinguishing between "problem solving skills" and "expression of domain knowledge". Ok, I admit it; it was 3am, and I was tired.

    I am ok with people not having domain knowledge because it is just information that can be acquired and leveraged, and I am happy to try and help fill the gap.

    However, problem solving is something else altogether. It is more of a desire to learn, experiment, and apply knowledge, usually towards achieving some desired goal. I am not certain it can be taught, though it can definitely be fostered and encouraged.

    I can say that when reading and answering questions, I love the problem-solvers because they show evidence of interest/learning and are often missing a few bits of critical information, which I am more than happy to supply and often explain as a blog entry. If I have gathered a crux of understanding that can help someone else reach their understanding, I am glad to share it.

    Then, there are others, who show every sign of wanting to achieve some goal yet not putting forth the effort (either unwilling, or their task is way beyond their current scope). It can be very frustrating because I do this on my own time and initiative, not to be taken advantage of or otherwise sucked into doing someone else’s tremendous task… because I want to help you achieve your goals, but I only have so much bandwidth.

    //David

  7. Robert E. Spivack says:

    David,

    I agree with your comments, but you are really diverging into a philosophical discussion about the decline in society and education.

    Skills that some of us take for granted (using a search engine intelligently to find answers, looking thru a blog for links and references, etc.) are sorely lacking even amonst otherwise educated and smart people.

    The truth is, a lot of computer users, including developers, either do not know how to use online help, search engines, or read documentation or are too lazy to do so.

    I believe it is the former and represents a basic failing in education and training.

    When I went to Engineering school, we told right away that the real skill we would learn is how to teach ourselves.  The "Engineering method" isn’t about memorizing facts, formulas, and equations, it’s about learning how to solve any problem, even one we have never seen before, when confronted with it.

    It seems that over the years everyone, including Engineers have gotten dumber and dumber.

    There is an interesting article that columnist John Dvorak write a while ago about the "dumbing down of America" and how PC’s have not empowered smart people to be more productive (the original "pitch"), but have actually been a crutch.

    More often than not, PC’s have allowed semi-literate, barely competent entry-level workers to function and hold a job.

    Like the cashier at Mcdonald’s that presses buttons with pictures of hamburgers and has no idea how to make change until the register shows the amount that needs to be returned allows untrained, high-school drop-outs to work, in the corporate world, PC’s and PC software are doing the same thing.

    Now John Dvorak wrote that column when commenting on the then "new" UI in Office 2003 – the task pane, et. al.  He (correctly, I think) said the UI’s primary goal was to make the Office Suite easier to use by stupid people that could never figure out how to use the "File.." menu and actually look for the features/commands they want or use "help" to find them.

    Sound familiar?

    What is really scary to me is that in a recent Microsoft in-person seminar (I’m sorry I can’t remember which because I’ve attended a lot of MSDN, TechNet, TS2, and other sessions), I heard a new buzzword from the Microsoft person:

    He referred to "structured task workers" versus "knowledge workers".  That is the first time I heard that term.  Until then, all corporate users were always called "knowledge workers", but now, we have a euphemism called "structured task workers" which really means "stupid idiots that can barely perform the same repetitive computer task over and over" so we have to make the PC even more usable by these "blue collar" PC users.

  8. David.Wang says:

    Robert – thanks for the thoughts. You eloquently voiced what I had bordered on saying but dropped in my comments. Despite the technological advances and greater productivity, I am even more concerned about survival skills that are lacking and what is taken for granted.

    On the one hand, I agree that computers should be more reliable, easier to extend/use, and empower its owner.

    On the other hand, I don’t want computers to turn into a mindless crutch which actually disempowers its owner.

    Sigh. The problem is that the crutch is too simple and alluring. Must… resist…

    Ok, for the curious, I went and found the article by John Dvorak:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1787713,00.asp

    //David

  9. P. Griffin says:

    David,

    To tell you the truth, I missed that the post was filed under "Personal," so that’s my fault.

    I think part of the problem you’re seeing is that programming has exploded in the number of technologies, languages, frameworks, libraries, etc.

    While this has allowed us much more productivity, in general, it does take us away from more "bare metal" style development, and since you no longer *have to* understand the fundamentals, most people (the one’s who don’t have a genuine interest in what’s going on under the covers) don’t.

    It seems like most people in society just want to get their work done, finish up, and go home for the day.  Almost everyone I work with is like this.  But I don’t think it means they’re any less intelligent.  I’m no rockstar programmer; not even close, nor am I particularly intelligent.  I just have a B.A. in Comp Sci from a small school.  But interest drives discovery, and logic puzzles/computers have always interested me.

    Things like why I read Chen’s blog, even though I don’t do anything with Win32, or why I read yours when really all I *need* to care about is that IIS is serving up my .aspx’s without any fuss.  Most people at my work are browsing ESPN or EBay when they’re not on the job.

    You are probably particularly insulated because you work at Microsoft, which like most big players, sees value in hiring smart, capable people.  People that care about what’s going on underneath.  Have you worked for "Corporate America" recently?  Ever wonder what happened to all the guys/gals that didn’t go CalTech or MIT?  Maybe they started at a Ju.Co. and finished up at a State U., with a MIS degree?  They’re all here, and they’re all working for the weekend, and that’s about it.*

    And those are probably the people that are asking you the questions that make you frustrated.  They’re just trying to get their stuff done, and you’re the guy that knows how to do it.

    I’m sure I’m grossly oversimplifying, but that’s the way it seems to me.

    My god, that was long and rambling.  My apologies.

    *I’m not saying if you go to MIT that you’re automatically a good programmer, or that if you have an AA (or even a G.E.D) that you can’t be the next Knuth.  It’s just probabilities.

  10. Karl Westerholm says:

    Coming from a Support background in PSS/IIS at MSFT, retired for several years now,  I can understand and sympathize with both sides of the coin.  When on the phones there was an art to tailoring our response style to the customer on the line at the moment.

    Some customers didn’t care about (nor necessarily even understand) the inner workings of the solution, they just wanted it fixed 15 minutes ago so they could go on about their business.

    Others wanted to know exactly what was being done, why, and how to replicate it themselves in the future.  Or, better still, how to understand the general troubleshooting process used so they would be able to use permutations of it to solve similar (but unrelated) issues in the future.

    I much preferred the latter type of customer, but understood and didn’t take offence when the former type of customer made it clear they didn’t want the ‘complete tour’ – just the solution, and quickly, thank-you-very-much.

    Of course, there was a third group of customer I valued even more – and into which I would aspire to be a member myself – the kind who never, EVER, called me:  They were too busy researching, thinking, testing, tweaking, breaking, and fixing, to ever even *consider* calling Support for the answer.  😉

      Cheers,

      –>Karl

  11. jvierra says:

    I have always believed that every programmer, admin, techy or tech/IT manager should be required to study the history of computing at some level of detail.

    I learned from the transistor up.  Now that’s pobaly overkill but there are some issues that can be decided based on knowing that there is a transitor involved.

    Writing a program off paddle switches with octal and hex groupings,  defining instructions from bit groupings and register assignment bits can make a programmer a whole lot more sensitive to what is required to get the damn video to run.

    The first car I had didn’t have turn signals, an air conditioner or power brakes.  

    Resources like MS team blogs are a great new invention of the modern computer age.  In teh past no one new wht the programmer was thinking when the code was designed.  Now we get an inside view that makes the documentation stand up and speak.  

    Maybe in a few years we can build a brain interface that will pipe all of this past the brain and into the mind of the users.  Just think of what blogging would be like then.

    I recommend "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0316491977/qid=1151038486/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/102-2134856-2697743?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

    I still have an Intel 4004.  Won’t run Windows but it’s a snap to program.

  12. David.Wang says:

    jvierra – Yeah, I look forward to the creativity and transparency unleased by Microsoft’s open blogging policy. Along with beta programs which give users early access and feedback mechanism, users today have tremendous access and insight into the development of Microsoft products… from the indivduals themselves, and I believe the more the better.

    //David