Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | September 5, 2014

Troubleshooting Tips – Not so High Tech for the High Holidays

ComputerTechMy first real job was in a computer company and I owe a debt of gratitude to them, especially my supervisor Joe, for teaching me the basics of troubleshooting.

For those who don’t know, troubleshooting is a way of identifying the root causes of a problem, enabling you to find the solution. In the computer business, the first thing we would ask is “What is happening (that shouldn’t) or what is not happening (that should)?” We try to get the most defined details possible. By identifying the specific problem without assigning a cause to it, we get a more objective picture of the issue and keep our options open in dealing with it.

Next, we’d ask when it started. By matching a timeframe to any other things that might be going on, we can see if there is any cause and effect link between them. Then we identify which things might cause the result and one by one eliminate them as possibilities.

For example, recently I got an e-mail at work saying that some people couldn’t log in to a particular software program. Now that’s a very vague statement. It’s internet-based so could they on to any other sites? If not, it’s not a software problem. OK, they can get on the actual website, but they can’t log in. No problem, we’ll reset the passwords. I tell them to MAKE SURE THE CAPS LOCK IS OFF because if they try to enter a password with a capital letter where there shouldn’t be one, they will not get in. I reset the passwords and it works for one user, but another person still has problems. I ask them to text me the usernames of the people who are having trouble.

When they do, I see the problem with user number 2. It’s PICNIC (Problem in Chair, Not in Computer.) You see, he was misspelling his username. I clarified what his actual assigned username was and voila! he was able to log in. I then noticed that User number 3 had the same issue. The text had the wrong username. Problem solved, right? Wrong!

I called and told the woman who had initially contacted me to tell user number three that the username was wrong. He insisted he had it right. I showed her where to check and she confirmed I was right. We then had a conference call. It wasn’t really a conference call, but she put her cellphone on speaker and stood in front of the user’s desk. That way, when I asked a question, I enjoyed a response that sounded like someone gargling the ABC’s in a wind tunnel. The woman repeated the answers and the user insisted he was having the same problem. As it turns out, I managed to overhear in between gurgles, he had been able to log in the whole time. The problem was that the system was asking for a new password and the one he submitted was not being accepted.

I pointed him to the small text beneath the spot asking him for his password which identified that the new password must have letters, a number, and a special character (such as $!*#% – which are quite appropriate for how I was feeling at the moment.) Each time he tried putting in a password without following the rules it wouldn’t take and he thought it was a problem with the computer. Again, this is pilot error, with the user placing blame where it doesn’t belong.

It’s Elul. It’s a time for looking at ourselves and doing self-assessments. If we want to figure out what is wrong, the first thing we need to do is keep an open mind and not be quick to place blame. The problems we have just may be caused by a different source than we think.

We need to see when we started having issues, both in terms of what we experience in our lives and how we treat others. Did something set a chain of events in motion? If so, what caused that event and can it be addressed?

When we have problems, do we think that perhaps, like my friend with the wrong username, the issue is that we expect our lives or roles in the world to be different than they are supposed to be? Do we refuse to read the fine print and then, when the new password we enter doesn’t work, do we blame the software (read: Torah) and not ourselves?

The Torah and mitzvos are set up so that the world functions optimally and we get the maximum productivity out of it. If we choose to operate on our own terms, then we have no one else to blame when things don’t work. In fact, they actually are working perfectly, just as the Programmer intended. It’s just that our expectations and desires may be incompatible with this operating system.

So, take it from someone with experience, and be a little more methodical in troubleshooting yourself. When you understand that the errors most often lie in the user’s control you can skip the finger-pointing and simply correct the problem. Then everything will start working as it should and we’ll all be coded for a sweet new year.


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