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
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
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
A: Check Status(CurrentProgrammerSkill). Does it
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
Q: Does anyone have a good example of an inventory
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
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
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.