Interactive Problem Resolution and Thread Length

When I work on a networking problem in person, I can generally ask the owner / primary user of the computer a few questions. Based upon the answers received (or not), and having the computers involved in front of me, I can frequently do some investigative testing, and arrive at a diagnosis.

When I work on a problem remotely, the diagnosis generally takes longer. Then, I must ask the Original Poster (OP) to perform simple tasks for me. Generally, even then, with results from the investigative processes made available to me in real time (as the diagnosis is being performed), I can ask for additional investigative tasks; with enough patience and persistence (from both of us), a diagnosis is not impossible.

When I work on a problem asynchronously and remotely, as is the general case when advising in online forums, this problem becomes a bit more challenging. Latency becomes a factor, as does distractions from other helpers. The longer the investigative process takes, there is more chance that another helper will contribute an alternate diagnosis, which sometimes contradicts or interferes with the investigation at hand.

  • Factors affecting me.
    • Distractions by other tasks, including $payjob.
    • Ignorance of the situation being investigated (which generally decreases, as the investigation continues).
    • Ignorance of the subject involved (I try not to let this become a factor, by trying to focus on subjects which I have experience in).
    • Latency between posts. The longer I have to wait, after posting advice, for the OP to respond, the less I remember about the situation. This leads to longer time for me to respond to subsequent posts by the OP, leading, in turn, to decreased attention by the OP.
  • Factors affecting the second party – ie the owner of the computer, or the Original Poster (OP).
    • Distractions by other helpers.
    • Distractions by other tasks, including $payjob.
    • Ignorance of my methodical diagnostic procedures.
    • Ignorance of the situation being investigated (which generally decreases, as the investigation continues).
    • Ignorance of the subject involved.
  • Factors affecting any third parties – ie additional helpers.
    • Distractions by other tasks, including $payjob.
    • Ignorance of my methodical diagnostic procedures.
    • Ignorance of the situation being investigated.
    • Ignorance of the subject involved.

Are you a fan of American baseball? Have you ever watched American baseball? It’s more than a bunch of guys hitting a ball around, and another bunch of guys trying to keep the first bunch from hitting the ball too much. There’s a lot of strategy there.

Have you ever watched the Infield players (defense team) preventing an Infield Hit? The batter hits the ball to the shortstop (or other infield player, such as pitcher, second baseman, or third baseman), who grabs it, tosses it to the first baseman, and the batter is out. Simple – no strategy – just do the best you can to get the batter out.

Wrong. I was once on a corporate softball team, and the manager of the team arranged for an ex-pro baseball player (retired) to give us a small bit of strategic instruction. Just that small procedure – batter to shortstop to first base – is a quadratic equation carried out in real life. Watch sometime.

The shortstop and first baseman act as a single, coordinated unit, and maximise the time allowed them, before the batter gets to first base. How many times have you seen that the batter hits the ball, the shortstop fields it, and gets it to the first baseman when the batter is merely a third of the way to first base? Not that many times, I’d bet.

  • If the batter hits the ball really hard, the shortstop may have to really scramble to even stop the ball. When he gets up, he has to really hurry to get the ball to first base, where the batter is almost there.

    Since the shortstop is taking a while to get the ball to first base, and since he will possibly not be in exact control (he’s scrambling, remember), the first baseman is covering first base at a stretch, with his toe on the bag, and moving in an arc around the bag, from the home plate side, to the outfield side. This gives the shortstop a 10 foot target to aim for (watch the first baseman stretch sometimes, he can get a good 5 feet stretch from his toe to his glove).

    As the shortstop throws the ball, in a hurry and from an uncomfortable position, the first baseman notes whether he is throwing straight towards first base, or to its infield or outfield side, and moves in the stretch arc accordingly. Shortstop throws ball, first baseman moves quickly to position himself, catches the ball, batter out.

  • OK, let’s say the batter hits the ball really hard, and the shortstop is properly positioned, to grab the ball without even moving. His positioning, before the ball was hit, is not random; but we leave that for another discussion.

    The shortstop now has the ball in his hand, and he’s standing and ready to throw the ball. Does he throw it to the first baseman immediately? No, because he’s waiting for the first baseman to get into position. He’ll probably toss it into his glove, and grab it again to get a really good grip for throwing.

    While the shortstop is positioning the ball for an accurate and hard throw, the first baseman is getting into position. The shortstop throws the ball like a bullet, right to the first baseman, and the batter is out.

  • Now for the third possibility. The batter hits the ball really weakly, so it just rolls. The shortstop charges towards the ball, and grabs it farther infield. He’ll probably charge it to the right of its path, so when he gets it in his hand, he’ll be facing the first baseman. Again, he’s positioned just right, and in control.

    This time, he has less time to throw (he had to charge towards the ball, and the batter is running). Since he charged towards the ball, and at an advantageous angle, he comes up with the ball ready to throw immediately, maybe even from a bare handed grab. The first baseman, having already gotten into position, is waiting. The shortstop throws the ball, the first baseman catches it, and the batter is out.

So I know you’re asking yourself “So what the heck does this have to do with network problem resolution?”.

Well, I’m like the shortstop. Or maybe the first baseman, or a combination.

  • If the ball comes quickly (as in a problem report from the OP, with lots of good detail), I have a good chance of giving a quick snappy (mysterious) answer as to what to do about the problem.
  • If the ball comes slowly (as in the OP posts simply “My computers don’t network”), I take my time, and ask a few questions, to try and get to know the OP, and the network. This looks like nothing useful to the other helpers. So the longer I take in my diagnostic procedure, the more chance that another helper may come up with alternate advice, or sometimes a quick fix. The alternate advice may, or may not, resolve the problem.
    1. If the alternate advice resolves the problem, it may be a solution that I did not anticipate. In that case, I have just learned something, and I may include it in one of my diagnosis and troubleshooting articles.
    2. If the alternate advice resolves the problem, it may be a solution that I did anticipate, and may have been mentioned in one of the many articles that I ask for the OP to Please Read. But the second helper, in a shotgun approach, or instinctively, may offer the solution without any diagnosis. Oh well, that happens.
    3. If the alternate advice does not resolve the problem, it may create complications that make it harder to fix the problem. So I have to watch carefully what the other helpers are suggesting, and if they come up with a procedure that may be a problem, I have to convince the OP to avoid that advice.
    4. If I come up with lots of advice, or articles to Please Read, the OP has lots to do. If I provide too much advice in the beginning, I may waste the OPs time, and his eyes may glaze over and he will ignore my advice. If I don’t provide enough advice, the other helpers, again, may get involved.
    5. If I take my time, and ask just the right questions, I can lead the OP thru the problem diagnosis, and he / she can diagnose, and correct, the problem on her / his own, or from reading my articles, and maybe learn a bit from all the reading.

    Either way, getting the problem diagnosed and resolved is like getting the batter out. Sometimes it happens, other times it doesn’t. And sometimes, the shortstop throws past the first baseman, and the batter ends up on second base, or farther.

    But out or safe, there is a strategy in there. You just have to know that it’s there, and play with it.

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