Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Computer Communication

705 words

A while ago, I wrote about our fancy new university cards and the flaws going along with them. The new system isn't only about these cards but it is accompanied by most bureaucratic interaction being handed off to the web. There is now a website which you can use to download PDFs of the various pieces of documentation proving that you're a member of the university. You can then print them and they contain a code which the recipient can type into the university's website to verify the document's authenticity.

That's not too bad. It's quite tricky to get hold of those documents, though. The first hurdle is that the web site will be very clear about requiring

  1. JavaScript
  2. Popup windows
  3. Acrobat Reader
to be available on your computer. The first is strange, the second is silly and the third is what people think you'll need to display PDF files. Of course this assumption is flawed on two grounds. Firstly a secure browser shouldn't be able to tell whether Acrobat Reader is installed on the system (it should only know about its plugins) and secondly, as OSX users know, Acrobat Reader isn't the only application capable of displaying PDF files. So while I do have a computer that has both Acrobat Reader sitting around somewhere on its hard drive and a web browser capable of displaying PDF files, of course the short-sighted 'browser check' simply puts me on a page containing this

Acrobat Reader nicht installiert.

This message tell me my login failed and gives me a red traffic light claiming that I haven't got Acrobat Reader – which I do. So I e-mailed the contact address, telling them their website is broken.

The question is these cases is how to e-mail them? Give technical details and ask questions or be the naïve user. I prefer the latter – I found that computer people like wasting your time with technical details you don't care for (I just wanted to download a file, not redesign their site...) and 'explaining' the broken design instead of solving your problem. Furthermore, at any site of a non-trivial size, I've found that people don't read your messages. The first reply you'll get are some standard blurbs.

This was the case this time, where I get a message telling me to check whether I have the correct PIN (more on that in a second), TAN and asking whether I have JavaScript and Popup windows enabled. All of this after writing them a message (including the screenshot above for good measure) stating that their site erroneously claims I don't have Acrobat Reader installed, although I did (a fact which I very well know is irrelevant to the problem but I didn't want to get into the details of PDF Plugin and reveal that I'm using a Mac as I've found many support people don't like Macs and take a 'your problem' attitude once they find out. You may have noticed that I am easy to upset. And I may not neet to point out that I was angry at that stage.

So I replied with a message, mainly asking the person who answered to read my initial request to begin with. And he apparently did and then told me that I should simply ignore the error message – just that there was no way to ignore it.

So what was the solution? Rather trivial: The bit about Acrobat Reader in the screenshot above was completely irrelevant. The real problem was that I used the wrong password (which they call PIN for some reason – perhaps because it is initially a four digit number). Safari remembered the initial one on first log on but they must have made me change it immediately afterward. Then it got auto-filled when I tried to log on the next time. Of course I only found this out after a lot of trying and by accident – after all the message displayed gives no hint as to the problem being related to the username/password as such messages usually do – it just said Login failed.

This experience had bad communication and communication broken by computers in so many places it wasn't funny anymore.

Perhaps an example of Wiio's law?

August 11, 2004, 23:32

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Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.