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September 1999

Tech Support Revisited
by Brian Dunning

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As anyone who has ever worked in tech support knows, stupid questions deserve stupid answers. You'd think that FileMaker, being so much easier to use than other databases, would make better programmers out of us, and eliminate the stupid questions. But sometimes I wonder if it hasn't had the opposite effect, actually causing atrophy of some of the brain's higher logic centers.

Advanced Database Systems' internal email server is a lively place. This is where innocent ADS programmers ask abstract FileMaker questions, and where treacherous rogues waylay them with brutal sarcasm. Whether the eternal adage "Problem exists between keyboard and chair" is the case or not, I have found that sarcasm is the most satisfying response to give, though perhaps not the most efficacious.

Our most experienced programmer was trying to tackle the ageless client request to make the database respond to keyboard commands "like other Windows programs." She posed this question to the list on the off-chance that someone knew a workaround. With easy confidence, I pointed her to the Status(CurrentKeyboardMode) flag (new to FileMaker 5) and advised her to set it to "true." Little did I expect that she then combed through her manual, did web searches, scanned the app with a block editor, and was driven so mad hunting for this command that she actually killed three people over the weekend and had a fourth trapped in a pit in her basement.

You can guess the unfortunate fate of the green ADS programmer who dared to ask for help on this:

Q: When I print a report, it sometimes splits my container field in half between two pages. Anyone know how to fix this?

A: Check Status(CurrentProgrammerSkill). Does it say "false?"

Q: Where is that? Is it a plug-in?

Maybe some of these guys who are retiring early selling their plug-ins to FileMaker can dedicate some of that wealth to the development of the Programmer Skill plug-in. They could sell site licenses everywhere. Maybe the next product would be the Create Finished Solution Automatically plug-in.

I can't say enough about the Status functions. When FileMaker gave us access to these important registers with version 3, it opened up a whole new universe of tech support possibilities. No longer were we limited to the boring features that actually exist in FileMaker, we could now invent a limitless domain of ones that don't. So little time, and so few innocent programmers with honest questions:

Q: Does anyone know a way to prevent portals from jumping back to the top when you tab out of them?

A: Set Status(CurrentPortalMode) to "normal."

When Status(CreativeJuices) are "false," the following has been reported on the list as a response to almost any FileMaker related question:

Q: Does anyone have a good example of an inventory system?

A: Can't be done in FileMaker. Use Access.

When any question is longer than one or two succinct sentences, like nine pages of gobbledygook with field definitions, script listings, attached files, URL references, and quotations from the manual, any of several generic answers is appropriate. To wit:

Q: (1000 words or more)

A: Sounds like you're not getting enough power. Try plugging your computer into the 220 outlet in the garage.


Q: (1000 words or more)

A: Your preferences are corrupt. Delete your system folder and restart.

or the eternal

Q: (1000 words or more)

A: Reformat your hard drive.

It's one thing when the victims are being paid to receive the abuse, but it's a whole different ball game when providing tech support to a paying client. One could argue that the minute a client signs the service contract, they're agreeing to be abused for the better part of a year. But the client may see it differently. Here are some techniques which I cannot endorse, but which you may find helpful when a client calls to report a problem with your FileMaker solution:

1. Blame their operating system and tell them they should switch hardware.

2. Blame one of their employees you know to be on vacation.

3. Tell them you can't help until they can provide the version of their computer's ROMs.

4. Tell them today is Yitzmok, and as a practicing (invent a religion here), you're forbidden to work with electronic machinery for another ten days.

5. Buy some time by referring them to their 220 outlet.

For no logical reason, FileMaker files are often blamed when a user's computer crashes. Users always assume that the developer has maliciously used Set Crash Mode[On], and they grumble about "That's how those IT people maintain their power over us." Of course, if you really want to be cruel, you can advise your Windows users to fix the crashing problem by installing the latest version of DirectX, then selecting a generic video driver.

The sad thing is, that one's true.

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye