Software Development

10 technology traps your users should watch out for

We take certain best practices for granted, but users who don't know any better often create problems for themselves. This list will help steer them away from common pitfalls.

Technology is a two-edged sword. It can certainly make life easier. But it can also create headaches and frustration for the unwary user. Here's a list of some basic tech do's and don'ts you can share with them.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Saving a file directly to an external drive

Those external USB drives or flash memory sticks provide convenient extra storage. However, you should avoid saving an application file, such as a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, directly to such a drive. Save the file to your internal drive and then copy it to the external one. If you save the file directly to the external drive, it may become corrupted during the save, especially if you accidentally break the USB connection. In that case, you'll get the dreaded "[name of application] cannot open the file" message when you next try to use that file.

2: Working directly on an attached e-mail file

Your boss or co-worker has sent you an e-mail with an attached document you're supposed to revise. So you click on the attachment, spend hours on revisions, then save the file and forward the message, with the attachment, back to the original sender. Don't be surprised if you get a call asking why that file is still in its original form.

Yes, you can make those revisions to the attachment. You can save them and then close the file. You can even click on the original message attachment again, and see that your changes are there. However, if you send that message to someone else, chances are that your changes will be ignored, and all the recipient will see is the file as you first received it. Therefore, to be safe, first save that attachment to a non-temporary folder on your hard disk before working on it. Then, upload this revised file when are ready to return it to the sender.

3: Sending recipients a file in an incompatible format

Have you just installed Word 2007? Be careful if you're sending your .docx files to others. If those users haven't upgraded and they haven't installed have the Office Compatibility Pack, they may not be able to work with your files. Check to make sure that recipients have at least the same version of software as yours, if not later. Otherwise, you may want to save your file in an earlier format, if possible. Better yet, if your recipients are only viewing and not changing the file, consider sending your file as a PDF. You can download and install Microsoft's Save as PDF or XPS add-on for Office 2007 or look for a standalone product such as this free PDF creator.

4: Sending a file created in an obscure application

The same principle applies if you're using some uncommon application that only you have. Sending someone a data file from your application in native format will probably do them no good. If it's not practical for them to install that application, consider sending the file as a PDF. Alternatively, if that application has one, send recipients a viewer for the application. Such a version generally is free and will allow recipients to view a file but probably not to change it.

5: Relying unnecessarily on batteries

With respect to using power outlets, remember the same principle applies as with fueling your car or using the restroom: A wise person does so when he or she can, a foolish person does so when he or she must. Are you waiting for your flight at the airport gate area? Are you next to an available live outlet? Even though your laptop battery might be at 100%, take a second and plug your laptop into that outlet and run with electricity. You might later find that your airplane has no outlets or that you lack an adapter that lets you use it. If you run on batteries in the waiting area, you will have deprived yourself of battery power you later might need.

6: Losing that smartphone

Do you have an iPhone or similar product? If so, and you're like most owners, your whole life is now stored on it. If you lose that phone, you may also lose sensitive information, such as credit card and bank account numbers. Consider password-protecting that phone. In addition, if you do have an iPhone, you may want to get a program such as MobileMe. (Currently, you'll get a $30 discount if you purchase it when you purchase your iPhone.) This program will let you remotely erase the contents of your phone. In addition, if your phone is merely misplaced (say, in your home), MobileMe allows you to unsilence it and activate its ringer.

7: Ambiguity regarding email addresses

Have you ever been told, "I sent you an email already," but you see no such message? It could have happened because you (like many people) have multiple email addresses: your address for work and several for personal use. Be sure you ascertain which account the other person has sent the email to. And if you tell someone you sent that person an email, be specific as to which address you used.

8: Dead batteries

The presentation is about to start. You pull out your laser pointer, press the button -- and nothing happens. If you're traveling with battery-operated equipment, be aware that it might accidentally be turned on, thus draining the batteries. Consider this trick I was taught long ago as a Boy Scout: Reverse each battery, so that the positive terminal battery is touching the negative connection of the device and vice versa. Of course, remember to re-reverse it before you need to use it.

9: Entering a bad link

Don't rely on your memory or on manual typing of a URL when sending email or composing a document. One wrong letter or a wrong domain type may cause the recipient or reader embarrassment, irritation, or wasted time. Navigate to that Web site first yourself and confirm that it's the one you want. Then, copy the Web address and paste it into your document or email. Alternately, if you do insist on typing the URL manually yourself, test it to make sure it goes where you are expecting it to go.

10: Cats

Cats are wonderfully cute but curious creatures. If you have or are about to get one, be aware that they may find your keyboard a warm and comfortable place to nap. If they're heavy enough, and stay long enough, they may end up disabling the keyboard. Shutting down and restarting the computer may solve the issue, but the best approach is to keep them away in the first place. If you have to leave your computer, shut it down or put it in standby, then shut the lid. Most of all, you do not want that cat to have an accident while lying on your keyboard.

In addition, keep cats away from your power cord, or rely only on battery power when they're around (but see the earlier point regarding electric power). Your cat will start playing with the power cord or get tangled in it. And if frightened, the cat will lunge away, possibly getting hurt and/or ripping and thus destroying your cord while creating a Fourth of July display. (And yes, this has happened to me.)

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

34 comments
jpnagle59
jpnagle59

Be careful when reversing a battery in a device. Some devices warn not to do it because it can harm the workings.....

steve
steve

The most irritating obscure format - MS-Publisher If you want to use publisher, that is your business. If you want to send it to other people, use PDF. Not everybody has Publisher Not everybody wants Publisher Not everybody can run Publisher OOo can open open almost everything, except .pub

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

My cat once pulled a couple of keys out of the keyboard. Aside from that, he loves to sit on top of a closed laptop, on the screen. I always cringe when I see that. Now my cat isn't all that heavy, but still....

handyman1972
handyman1972

Obviously, it would be impossible for me to know every device affected, but many new electronic devices to not respond well to "reversed polarity" scenarios created by installing the batteries incorrectly. Many devices that use some sort of LED (flashlights, computer mice, etc.) as well as many other devices can be permanently damaged by installing the batteries in the reverse direction. While a large number of devices have reverse polarity protection built in, many do not. A practice that I use is to keep my batteries outside the devices in plastic battery cases. A translucent plastic case that holds four AA or AAA batteries can be bought online for around 99 cents. These cases are also handy for carrying extra batteries for your devices. As a gadget freak who also has a photography hobby, I can tell you that I ALWAYS have extra rechargeable batteries with me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You phrased this point as if cat management issues were related solely to laptops. Cats like desktops too. If you're regularly subject to feline help, be sure to save your work when you get up. Misplaced paws can easily hold down Delete or Backspace keys. Entire backsides can insert extraneous characters. Demands for deserved attention can wreck havoc with that Boss level. 'Dogs have owners; cats have a personal staff.'

The Dream
The Dream

When I was working helpdesk I had to "find" modified attachments in a user's "OLK" directory on more than one occassion. I too had to teach them the wonderful but underused proceudre called "Save As"

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

Well you call something a PC, which obviously stands for Pussy Cat, and then give them a toy mouse attached to it, what do you expect? Any way, who's the one who does nothing they don't want to do, gets fed, kept warm and safe for nothing, and has one or more slaves to do their bidding. When you see your cat coming to play/sleep/get your attention consider that they may have a point. Switch off. Play with cat. Aaahhhhh! P.S. Oh hilarious. I can't call a cat a Puddy Cat, with s's instead of d's.

TobiF
TobiF

I don't reverse batteries. If I don't know when I'm going to use a gadget next time (for instance when moving to another location) I take the batteries out and put them in a small separate plastic bag, which I fasten to the quipment with a piece of adhesive tape. That reduces the risk of battery leakage (and reduces the problems a leakage would lead to...) But when just travelling, I'll open the battery compartment and slide in a tiny piece of paper between the battery and the connector. This piece of paper is a more reliable protection than possible diodes inside the gadget.

mj.wells
mj.wells

The 'Boy Scout' and British Army technique (and no doubt many places elsewhere) was/is to reverse one of the two identical cells that were/are used in filament torches. The theory is that assuming that both cells were put in new they will have similar voltages and characteristics at all points in their lifetime. They will therefore have equal and opposite EMFs and so no current will flow in the external circuit. This procedure would not work for an odd number of cells Athough the reverse breakdown voltage of an LED is normally a magnitude higher than its forward voltage an LED passes a small, but finite reverse current of the order of microAmps; over a long enough time (very long) this will run the battery/cell down. It is not recommended to reverse the cells in modern equipment unless you have enough electronics knowledge to understand the nature of the circuits in the equipment and the implications.

123anon
123anon

While I completely agree with your argument, I have to disagree with your example. LED flashlights will not be harmed by reversing the batteries, same goes for laser pointers as mentioned in the article. LED = Light Emitting Diode. For those of you that don't know, a diode is an electrical component that prevents electricity from flowing in one direction. Think of it like a one way street for electricity. Therefore reversing the polarity of the batteries for a simple device composed of a switch and an LED will not cause damage. I would imagine the same would be true for simplisitic remotes as well. However I wouldn't recommend it in that ipod touch.

btljooz
btljooz

...to [u]"leave it"[/u]. In this particular case [i]"it"[/i] means the computer and all its components. I have three cats, did have more, and all of them know/knew that if they were caught [u]any[/u]where they were "not supposed to be" they'd either get bombed and/or spanked and [b]put[/b] where they [u]were[/u] "supposed to be". I have no problems at all in this respect. B-) As for kids, [u]cats[/u] are actually [b]EASIER[/b] to train! :|

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Hi, thanks. When I talk about running on batteries, I should have said "If you are working on a laptop, consider running off battery power" or something like that. Thanks.

dave
dave

It's ancient, but hey, it's a Trinitron with great color. No keyboard issues here. The cats will probably stage a revolt if it dies and I finally have to replace it with an LCD.

Tink!
Tink!

Many years ago, I had my young daughter with me at work. I sat her down at my desk whilst I did something else. Came back to an obscure screen displaying on my monitor. Luckily it was just the Help Menu in WordPerfect, but it does point out the fact that young children love to push buttons!

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

Had this issue several times with users in the office. Got them in the habit of saving Word,Excel attachments to their "my docs" folder before doing any editing...

colinnwn
colinnwn

I've tried before for an unrelated reason to find files in that directory, but it seemed to be a hidden system directory that even by selecting the normally correct options in Tools>Folder Options>View, OLK wouldn't show up.

Tink!
Tink!

standing by my desk when I read #2. I pointed out to her that she fit that very description. She sheepishly agreed and pointed out that she has been better recently. :D

Churlish
Churlish

Yeah, they make you *****foot around words like that.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

There are too many variables for error in reversing batteries to prevent discharge. What works best 100% of the time is to carry them external to the device, individually wrapped, and install them only when needed and remove when through with the device. This has the added benefit of keeping the batteries out of the equipment if they go bad and burst.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If one carries the little pill shaped batteries, a trick is to fold them into a line of tape. The batteries can be held beside each other with top and bottom contacts covered.

handyman1972
handyman1972

You are correct that a "simple" device will likely not be permanently harmed by battery reversal, but I think most of the devices we tend to carry go beyond just an LED and a switch. Those devices that contain ICs are far more sensative, and may or may not have reverse polarity protection built in. I first learned of this issue when I became an avid high tech LED flashlight collector (NiteCore, Fenix, Surefire, etc.), and found (by ruining a $45 flashlight) that a number of these higher end lights, while IC controlled, do not have protection built in. And the problem extends to devices beyond flashlights. Given the fact that it's diffcult to be sure if a given device is protected, I'd say take the batteries out, or use a slip of paper/plastic between the battery's postive contact and the contact of the device, as another poster suggested. Why risk frying an expensive and much needed device?

colinnwn
colinnwn

Cheap laser pointers are the one device that meets your description. Most half decent LED lights, and all remotes, don't drive the diode directly. The power is passed to an IC that encodes information (remote) or bucks the voltage up as batteries age (decent LED light), and the IC drives the diode. These ICs may generally have reverse polarity protection, but I wouldn't risk it unless I 100% knew. In general, I think the idea to reverse batteries is a bad one. Most people don't have the knowledge, or the tech specs of the product, to determine if it is safe.

thegoodiago
thegoodiago

How about a douche-bag free board. You can take the first step and head for the door.

handyman1972
handyman1972

Make that two votes for a cat-free lifestyle!

dcwhitworth
dcwhitworth

. . don't have a computer, much less trouble.

tracy.walters
tracy.walters

...my guess is that as well as you train your cat, if you leave the house, they will be right in the middle of whatever they were not supposed to be doing.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

I have two boys...night and day personality difference. I think that the younger one could actually raise the older one. A few advantage that cats do have off the top of my head: [i]1. Your neighbors won't call DSS whenever you put them out int cold overnight for disobedience. 2. You can find a relative who will willingly adopt a cat if you lie and say it is a "good one". 3. If the vet bill is going to be too high, you can put it down. [/i] Not that I want to do any of those things to my kids (except number 1 sometimes, kidding, kidding! ;) )...I'm just saying... :)

steve-f
steve-f

AFAIK you need to be a local admin on the machine, have hidden folders shown and have "Hide protected Operating System Files" unticked.

bill
bill

Whether talking about a pussycat, pussyfooting around issues, or simply gathering pussy willows, I'd suggest a filter for objectional language should be slightly more intelligent than to simply ban all uses of the legitimate word p.u.s.s.y. Sheesh. PS - Funny, seems if you make it one with another word, it can't see it. I'm resisting the urge to play with words like pudenda. Oops.

jgaskell
jgaskell

We could get rid of everyone who can't take a joke and who heap personal abuse on people they have never met, even though they would never have the guts to do so if they were face to face with that person. What is it about Internet message boards that makes people think it is acceptable to abuse people in a way they would never do in the real world?

kentontator
kentontator

A lot of times I wish users were screened before being given a PC here at the office

btljooz
btljooz

...the human must be smarter than the cat! I have tricks and ways of knowing where my cats have been while I'm away. Some of these tricks and ways are even cues/reminders that they shouldn't be getting in certain places ...even though The Alpha Kitty (ME!) isn't around to supervise. ;) Now, understand my cats are all grown and I've had one for all of his coming 7 years, one for 4 years and the other for 3 years. I've also trained animals of all sorts all of my life, so I know how! B-)

colinnwn
colinnwn

I always select show hidden files and folders and show file extensions even for known types on every computer I start using, but I forgot about unticking "Hide protected Operating system files." Since I am not admin on my work computer, that is probably why the script I wrote a long time ago to delete all the files in that hidden folder would always fail.

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