Something for the weekend We stand still. The suspense is unbearable. One of us is going to crack.
On the large screen of the projector is a message: “The application is not responding”. Facing the big projector screen is a room full of startup guys. Staring at them, and located just below the projector screen, is the restless and desperate presenter himself: me.
“It’s never been done before,” I lie as I finally give up frantically typing on the keyboard and pressing down on the trackpad like I’m playing Whack-a-mole.
Besides informing me that the app is not responding, the message on the screen asks me what I want to do about it. Interesting question. What I want to do is screw up the laptop mess by shouting, “I’m paying $55 a month for this pisspoor software!” but neither option is among those available to me.
Instead, I’m asked if I want to close the program (and risk losing information) or wait for the program to respond (and risk losing the will to live). Normally this would be answered by the conditions of my reservation. If I was on a daily rate, I would choose the former; if on an hourly rate, I would choose the latter.
However, two years of hosting online meetings have not been wasted and I know exactly what to do. Allow me to share the wealth of my experience with you now. Consider it a premium gift from me to you, in the confident hope that it will accelerate your professional development. Here is:
Whenever things go wrong, run a poll.
I turn to the crowd and ask their which option should I choose.
It doesn’t matter what they vote for. It takes them half a minute to make up their mind and raise their hand, and another minute to be told to please raise their hand higher and hold it there; and by the time I counted the votes each way, the decision has already been made for us. Either the software has stopped sulking about the scarcity of system resources, in which case I continue with the software demo, or it hasn’t, in which case I’ll announce it’s hopeless and press CTRL+ SHIFT+ESC.
As I relaunch the app, I regale the crowd with a long, twisted joke that I stole and adapted for someone much funnier than me*, while mentally adding the name of the app to my list of whimsical success.
Two of the programs I’m certified to teach temporarily stop responding as soon as you run them; on any computer, on any configuration, on any platform. Sneakily, they look like they’ve been fully launched, everything looking fine on screen in just a few seconds…after which the “not responding” message pops up regularly in the title bar and stays there for about a minute .
In my trainings, I always ask my trainees to launch these programs just before announcing a tea break. That gives the software five minutes to mess around with its “not responding” nonsense so it’ll have gotten its act together by the time we’ve started dipping our cookies.
Well, I’ve had enough. After once again dodging potential public embarrassment (with a poll, remember, you’ll thank me for that later) caused by unresponsive software, I’m determined to get to the root once and for all.
Back home, I go to the software company’s website and search for “App not responding” fixes. I start working on the suggestions one by one.
1. End of task / Force Quit the program and restart it
OK, that’s a given. I’ve been doing this for about 30 years. One of the first things I do when I sit down at a new Windows computer is set Task Manager to be “Always on Top”. I have a feeling this will be useful later and I’m always right. Anyway, let’s try something else.
2. Restart the computer
Obviously, this suggestion has not been updated since the pandemic and the advent of the new normal and remote work. It doesn’t matter that I’m the meeting host, I’ll just restart my computer, okay? The first time I did this, everyone I had invited to the meeting was instantly kicked out and it took half an hour to round them up.
To prevent this from happening again, I changed my meeting settings so that if I unexpectedly leave an event, presenter privileges are temporarily passed randomly to another attendee. But when I tried this for real, the moment I joined the meeting, the random attendee discovered that he had acquired full annotation tools and was drawing crude squiggles on my still frozen screen.
Also, restarting the computer does not work. This damn app continues to tend to be unresponsive from time to time.
3. Check for software updates
Great. Half the nerds in the industry tell me never to install the latest update; the other half tells me to do just that. I flip a coin: “update everything” it is. That doesn’t help, however.
4. Uninstall and reinstall the program
But I just updated it! Well, I have nothing else to do. In addition to doing work, of course. For good measure, I uninstall, restart the computer and then reinstall. That works! Hooray! I’m stuck in a job. Half an hour later, the program produces another “not responding” message.
5. Scan for viruses and malware
For what it’s worth, I tend to think that antivirus and anti-malware programs are malware by definition. But it’s a Windows PC so I already have one installed; it makes no difference.
6. Restore Windows to an earlier date
What? First you tell me to update and now you tell me to update. Are you making this up just to keep me busy and keep me from raising flags and forming barricades? Alright, worth a try…
Great, now nothing works properly.
7. Uninstall and reinstall Windows
Ha, by some strange coincidence I found out I had to do this anyway after step 6 my computer was fully armed.
8. Install the program on a newer computer
Fortunately, I keep several new computers at home just for this eventuality. Oh, actually…wait, no I don’t know.
9. Move your computer to a location with stronger Wi-Fi signal
Where would it be exactly? I heard the WiFi was pretty good in Basingstoke. I call my local real estate agent and ask to be called back.
10. Sell all your possessions, burn down your house, and join a monastic order atop a cliff in the Himalayas.
As tempting as it is right now, I have a better idea. Why not fix bugs in your sodding software to make it work properly?
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance tech enthusiast, juggling tech journalism, training, and digital publishing. He tried hard not to incite violence against software developers in this week’s column because he’s playing hell with SEO. Also, he no longer wants to see unsolicited advertisements for “replica” weapons and polemical chatter in his social media feeds. By the way, the stolen* joke mentioned in the column is below. More than Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.
A shepherd tends his sheep on a hill one day when a posh executive car steers cautiously into the nearby lane. He stops and the mirrored power window rolls down, through which you can see a complex dashboard of flashing lights and controls. A man sticks his head out and calls the shepherd, complains about the stupid sat nav and lack of road signs, and asks for directions.
The shepherd tells the man how to get back on the right path and makes a joke about relying too much on technology to follow what should have been a straight path.
Not wanting to leave with his tail between his legs, the man in the car offers a bet: if he can use his car’s technology to calculate the precise number of sheep in his entire herd spread across the hill, would she let him take away one of the sheep as a prize?
Of course, she said.
The driver then pulls out a laptop and erects a mini satellite dish, and uses all sorts of satellite photography and fractal chaos calculation applications to determine the size of the herd. Five minutes later, he has the answer. And the shepherd confirms that he is right!
She lets him choose a sheep to take, which he duly carries in the car’s huge trunk. In doing so, the shepherd offers a counter-bet: if she can guess what he does for a living, she wins back his sheep. He agree. Why not?
She tells him that he is a management consultant. Fair enough, he replies, on the first try. But how did she guess?
“You over-specified the vehicle you need for your trip, but you thought it looked good. You don’t know where you are going or where you are coming from, but you blame others for it. You chose to waste expensive technology telling me how many sheep I have which I already know and would have been happy to tell you too for free if you asked me but most importantly you blindly accepted a challenge you know absolutely nothing about.
“Now can I get my dog back?” »