Successful Communication, more definitions

More Communications assistance.  When you are trying to get assistance from a technical support specialist or your IT person, it is helpful if you and that person have some common ground; some words that you can agree upon the proper use just for this event.  Last week I started with a few words that I felt were basic necessities; this week a few more that are still very basic, that are necessary for good communication.

Email: Any electronically transmitted message with one or more specific destinations.  Smart phone texts are a special case where the recipient is identified by a phone number; more classic emails use an address made up of a mailbox name and server name separated by an at symbol “@”.  For example; george is the name on the mailbox and is the name of the server (sometimes also called the service).
Email client: This is the program or App that is used to access your mailbox or mailboxes; it usually allows you to order all your emails (electronic letters) conveniently, compose outgoing email to whomever you desire and read those sent to you.  It may also include a calendar and other handy functions.
Post: Post (verb), the act of sending material to the internet in electronic form; sending an email is one example, adding a comment or photo or video to a social media site are examples, tweeting is an example.
Post (noun), is the material, however simple or complex, sent to the internet.  It can be blank (containing nothing) or extremely complex (an entire novel, a feature movie, etc.).  Regardless of what it is, once it is a post, it no longer enjoys the privacy of your personal device, it now exists on the internet.
IM, or Instant Message: A form of information exchange which, in its simplest form, is an exchange between two persons over an electronic connection in which both are simultaneously active and sending each to the other.  The resulting immediate receipt by the intended destination and ability to immediately respond was what set IM apart from Email.  IM grew to include live messaging among groups with voice and live video or shared media previously prepared as a virtual meeting tool and much more.
Network: any group of devices connected for the purpose of information exchange; often with a single information transmission protocol.  Telephone systems are one of the biggest and a very complicated example of a network; the internet is a good example, your in house printer sharing system is another example.  Perhaps not too obvious is the tendency for networks to be inter-connected.
Modem: Technically a device which performs modulation and demodulation.  In a more specific way, the device which extracts and converts network signals from a common carrier (phone lines, cable tv lines, fiber optic cable) to ethernet signal (or wifi) and also injects and converts local network signals (ethernet, or wifi) back onto the common carrier; thus providing two way communication for a given location.  Sound confusing?  A simple example is two people attaching a can to a single string and then talking to each other through the cans (the cans are modems in this example, the string is the common carrier; it works best of the string is taut).
Router: a network device that provides an interface (junction) between two or more networks; most current retail routers also include a small switch (see below) and wifi (wireless networking) capabilities.  It is a common function for a router to take a single internet connection and provide access to that internet source to a local private network with the router managing local addresses for all the local network devices.  In doing so it provides a layer of privacy for the local network while still providing internet access to those same devices.
Switch: a hub, the physical device that connects devices via cable to the other devices in a network.  Commonly, the LAN (local area network) cable from a router plugs into one port on a switch and all the other wired devices in a network connect to other ports in the same switch thus connecting all of them together (physically); in this way the router can control communications between any and all devices in a network).

Next week I would like to expand on a topic that I believe is implied in several of these definitions and its impact on our day to day use of modern electronic devices; that is the topic of Privacy or Expectation of Privacy.

Vocabulary, computerese

Communication, successful communication, is important in so many interactions but it became painfully obvious to me last week when I was trying to assist a customer over the phone. We were both speaking english but we weren’t communicating.  This wasn’t the first time I have experienced this issue; but it was a severe case and one that finally pushed me to action.
The problem, as it appears to me now, is that a lot of vocabulary has been built up surrounding modern computing and the tech industries.  To be clear, I am not talking about the highly technical language of designers, programmers, security specialists and the like; I am talking about the day to day language that our children have grown up with, and those of us in the industry or supporting the industry have struggled to keep up with.  What appears to have happened is that the majority of our population has never been exposed to this vocabulary; until recently they had no reason to know of its existence, let alone understand the words or their application.
A few examples of the vocabulary I am talking about are the words Desktop, Icon, or App.  For persons of my father’s generation Desktop is understood as the surface of their desk; my daughter would recognize the same word as identifying the work surface on her tablet, where the Icons for Apps can be quickly located.  It turns out that it doesn’t matter which Operating System (another bit of vocabulary) you have or which User Interface you use, most modern electronic devices have a Desktop, with Icons, for Apps.  Being able to recognize what they are and which is which is really helpful when someone is providing assistance but cannot see the screen.  Numerous times I have asked a client to “go to the desktop” and find a specific icon, only to have the client tell me there is no such thing; I will usually then describe the desired icon only to be told no, it isn’t anywhere.  My mistake was at the beginning; we didn’t understand Desktop the same and they weren’t seeing what I expected them to see.
So, I offer a few definitions in the hope that they will assist in the beginnings of a shared understanding.  From this shared understanding I hope to build the basis for more successful communication.

Desktop: (from Wiktionary) The main graphical user interface of an operating system, usually displaying icons, windows and background wallpaper.
Icon: a discreet picture or symbol which may be on a desktop or menu to provide direct access to some functionality, Application (app), or program.
App: an application or program to realize some simple or complex function.
User Interface: the collection of controls allowing a user access to the features of a computer, tablet, phone, or other electronic device; often used o provide simplified access to the operating system of a computer.
Operating System: the unified definitions and controls that provide a link between the user interface and components of a computational device.  MS Windows is an integrated Operating System and User Interface; while IOS is a User Interface.
Browser: an app or program designed to provide generalized access to the internet or internet style content.

These definitions are not exhaustive; but are specific to the topic of providing a basis for a shared understanding when working on or talking about modern computers.  I hope to provide more definitions next week in a follow up article to fill in some of the blanks left by this article.

Web content: When is help not helpful?

So, a minor rant to all folks and ‘bots out there who build websites. I just spent 45 minutes trying to figure out which carrier a vendor uses to ship its products; there was a handy link on their page about “carriers” and another “shipping help”. I had high hopes that one or the other would have information on which shipping method would be used; neither even gave a hint. Please let us all not fall into the Microsoft habit of giving accurate and completely useless answers to questions. When you set up a help page or an information page, please think about what information the person who came to that page might be desiring and offer complete, accurate, AND useful information.

An example (one I have been guilty of) “what would it cost to have you fix my broken computer?” answer: 85 dollars an hour plus parts. This is a perfect example of a Microsoft answer; it is of no use to the owner of the broken computer. A better answer would have been $45 (from a recent repair I did); a good answer would be (again from that incident), I will have your computer back to you in 3 days by noon with a charge of $42.50 for labor and $2.50 in parts for a total bill of $45.

While very little of the information is important to me (the technician), the timing of the return of the product may be as big a part of the expense to the user (who was without that computer for a few days) as the dollars and cents; and, the actual cost is far more useful than my hourly rate or the notion of some undisclosed fee for parts. Similarly, the company that is shipping me parts for a client repair tells me when I can expect the product but not which carrier; this is important because some carriers deliver in the morning, some in the evening, some to P.O. boxes and some only to street addresses and some charge more for residential than business deliveries.

Please think about (or get help thinking about) the audience and what kind of answer is helpful to them; why else have a help page or an information page?