Troubleshooters.Com Presents

Troubleshooting Professional Magazine

Volume 10 Issue 3, Summer, 2006
  I Mostly Ride Downhill
Copyright (C) 2006 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

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“Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?" -- George Bernard Shaw.


Editor's Desk

By Steve Litt
He was six feet two, skinny, black as coal with a round, young face. He was breaking down boxes in the lobby of the post office. Next to him was his bicycle. The seat was jacked up all the way, but even so, it was too low for my five foot nine frame, let alone his six feet two. I asked him if the low seat made it harder to ride, and in a pleasant Jamaican accent he said "no, it's fine, and besides, I mostly ride downhill so it doesn't matter anyway."

I mostly ride downhill

The part of me that graduated engineering school wanted to shake him. "What do you mean you mostly ride downhill -- are you on a journey to the center of the earth?", my mind shouted silently. Can you imagine having a guy like this troubleshoot your equipment? After making a couple more minutes of smalltalk, I excused myself, jumped on my own bicycle, and rode home. I never got the guy's name. I'll probably never see him again.

I love my bicycle. The seat is adjusted perfectly for my body. This one speed with a powerful coaster brake works rain or shine. The deep paperboy basket carries huge quantities of books to be shipped at the post office. Whipping down the bike lane on highway 436, my mind turned to the guy with the low seat. "I mostly ride downhill". What is his motivation for such a statement? Suddenly, I got it, and at that moment I knew this guy had inspired my next Troubleshooting Professional Magazine.

Let's temporarily look beyond the logical problems with his statement. His perception is that he mostly rides downhill. Is that harmful in his situation? He doesn't design bicycle gears or brakes. He just rides his bike to deliver whatever he ships at the post office, and when he pedals, he thinks he's going downhill. What's the harm? He's happy.

Look at all your friends and acquaintences. You probably know at least one who, on life's metaphorical roadways, thinks he usually rides uphill. Assuming the only two choices are thinking your usually ride downhill, and thinking you usually ride uphill, which is the better choice?

What we're really discussing is optimism and pessimism. Which is better for what situations? It's not a trivial question.

So kick back, relax, and read how optimism and pessimism interact with troubleshooting. And remember, if you're a Troubleshooter, this is your magazine.
Steve Litt is the author of Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting.  You can email Steve here.

Beware of the Optimism Fascist

By Steve Litt
We've all met them. You have a serious problem, and they try to make you feel better by trivializing it. You and your wife are having problems conceiving a child, and they tell you "it must be God's plan for you" as they walk their four children in the park.

Your boss makes you work 80 hours a week, never thanks you, never gives you a raise, and tells you "sure you can take a vacation if you complete all your work." They tell you to appreciate having a steady job, and they'd like to talk with you longer, but they have to pack for their annual Cancun vacation.

You're in the hospital with cancer, and they tell you to be thankful for life's blessings. They've never been sick a day in their life, even though they smoke, drink, take drugs and are 50 pounds overweight.

They're called optimism fascists, and their function in this world is to make others feel guilty about being saddened by serious adversity. They're masters of trite utterances:
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with the philosophies expressed in the preceding three sayings, if they come from within! But when some fool, without a clue what it's like to have your problems, recites them to you, they're less than useless. Such people are optimism fascists. How dare they imply you're ingrateful for what you have. How dare they add guilt to the problem you already have.

The best self-help advice I ever got was from my mother. When I was a teenager and had what I then considered to be serious problems, she told me "Steve, nobody can expect to be happy all the time." From that moment on, at least I didn't feel bad about feeling bad.
Steve Litt is the creator of the Universal Troubleshooting Process. You can email Steve here.

Beware of the Perpetual Pessimist

By Steve Litt
"Hey Jim, I just got a new job with a 50% higher salary!"

"That's nice, but I'll bet they'll work you 80 hours a week."

We've all met them. They're perpetual pessimists. No matter how well things are going, they find that one problem. And when they find that problem, it's not something to be quickly solved, oh no, it's something that will completely roadblock life. Where they go, happiness vanishes, innovation departs, and productivity plummets.

Unless they're very close friends or very close family, vanquish these people from your life. They may need help, but unless you're a professional therapist, you can't help them. If you try, they'll likely pull you down with them.
Steve Litt is the author of Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist.  You can email Steve here.

Positive Pessimism

By Steve Litt 
Pessimism isn't always bad. In fact, it's built into the Universal Troubleshooting Process.

That's right, Step 2 of the Universal Troubleshooting Process is "Make a Damage Control Plan". In step 2, you think of the things that can go wrong, and decide what safety precautions will prevent those things from happening. For instance, in repairing a car, you make sure never to have the oilcap off while you work, because if a nut were to fall into the oil fillpipe, you might have a 10 hour job taking the engine apart to remove it and then putting the engine back together.

Looking for the bad that can happen is a good activity if it's used to anticipate and prevent problems. However, it becomes a bad thing when you fixate on the bad and overlook the good. It's a fine line. Practice walking it.
Steve Litt is the author of four books on the subject of troubleshooting. You can email Steve here.

Ultimate Optimism

By Steve Litt 
The preceding article stated that pessimism was built into the Universal Troubleshooting Process as step 2. Optimism is built into the UTP also, as step 9, "Take Pride".

Step 9 is too big a topic to discuss here. It's the subject of the 24 page story "The Hallmans Had a Hard Life" in my latest book, Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting. What can be discussed here are the basics. There's also some more info on taking pride here.

After every accomplishment, take at least a moment to savor your victory over the problem. If it's a big problem, take longer. A couple years ago I finished a 2 week project and finished it well. To take pride, I took a 4 hour walk. I still remember it as one of the high points of my life. I can still visualize and feel it.

It's essential to take pride immediately after accomplishment. We all have a balance sheet containing percieved victories and percieved defeats. A net surplus of percieved victories makes of us serene. But when percieved defeats substantially outnumber percieved victories, it's a prescription for burnout. Victories uncelebrated are victories forgotten. Celebrate every victory. Take pride.
Steve Litt is the author of the Universal Troubleshooting Process Courseware.  Steve can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Dangerous Optimism

By Steve Litt
Optimism can be dangerous. Go to any convenience store and you'll see the same people, paycheck after paycheck, blowing their money on lottery tickets. They have no retirement plan -- they're going to "hit the lottery".

It's not just the lower classes. How many managers have you seen who hear about a new technology from their golf buddies and ram it down their technologists' throat? When their technologists point out instabilities or missing functionalities, the boss tells the technologists to "be positive".

The dot com crash of 2000-2001 was helped along by dangerous optimism. New owner-technologists were so confident of their assent to the upper class that they used venture capital to buy upper class trappings -- the Ferrarri, the office building with a swimming pool and tennis court, the mansion. With that money no longer available as working capital, they ran out of cash and couldn't finish their projects, or couldn't market them when finished.

Look at any furniture store ad: "Pay nothing for two years!" What in the world would give someone the impression that if they can't afford it now, they'll be able to afford it in two years? Sure, two years from now you might make twice the money, but you might also be living in a Hooverville tent city in an economy with 40% unemployment. Only dangerous optimism would motivate someone to buy now and pay nothing for two years.

We can't really fault consumers though -- look at their federal government. The US current debt on 6/3/2006 is about 8.3 trillion dollars. Right now interest rates are low so our nation can still handle it, but if interest rates go up much more, we're toast. But the government is confident of the future -- they just borrow more. Meanwhile, they seem to have forgotten that the way we conquered the USSR was not militarily, but simply by forcing them to spend beyond their means. Year after year deficits are dangerous optimism.

Optimism is generally good, but manic optimism can be extremely dangerous.
Steve Litt is the author of Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting. You can email Steve here.

Rational Optimism

By Steve Litt
Now we get to the heart of the matter. Used correctly, optimism works. It makes perfect, rational sense.

Nobody's done a better job explaining how to use optimism than the Reverend Robert H. Schuller, author of "Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do". Reverend Schuller wrote that book to help people devastated by the 10% unemployment of the 1982 recession. Schuller's "Possibility Thinking" is to human performance and self improvement what the Universal Troubleshooting Process is to troubleshooting. Every chapter of parts II and III of this spectacular book gives step by step processes by which you can gain optimism in tough situations, and use that optimism to succeed.

It's impossible to list all this book's methodologies in this article, but my favorite is the chapter called "Count to Ten and Win". In it Schuller suggests that if you need to get something done and don't know how, you write out ten possibilities on a piece of paper, and start investigating. Chances are one, with suitable adjustments, will pan out. When you think about it, isn't this the self-improvement equivalent of the Universal Troubleshooting Process's Troubleshooter's Mantra, "How can I narrow it down just one more time?" Both move one from paralyzed despair to action. Schuller is the master of rational optimism, and every human in the English speaking world should read his book, "Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do."

When you think about it, the Universal Troubleshooting Process is built on a foundation of rational optimism. Implicit in all my teachings is that if it's a reproducible problem in a well defined system, that given an adequate Mental Model and test points, the right attitude, and adherance to the UTP, you will solve it. It's just a matter of how quickly.

One could state the case for rational optimism using indirect proof, where one starts by assuming the negative. Imagine thinking the problem can't be solved. If that were your thought pattern, why in the world would you even try? Until the inevitable defeat overtook you, why not waste your time with video games, substance abuse, promiscuous sex, gluttony, and television? I'm sure we all could agree that such time wastes would guarantee the expected failure.

But look around. People succeed all around you. They do so by not wasting time. They do so by taking action. Yes, it's true, sometimes they break bones, go to bankruptcy court, go to prison, lose friends, and even die, but many times they succeed. Look at your life. You've had successes. Look back on them, savor them, and most important, ask yourself how you did it. You know it was more than just luck. It was action spurred by rejection of unnecessary pessimism. No excessive video games, substance abuse, promiscuous sex, gluttony, and television. Just belief, study, decision, action, adjustment, and more of the same. If rational optimism didn't work, there would be no success, but success in fact exists. Therefore rational optimism must work.

Just for fun, research how the following people succeeded, and the challenges they faced doing it:
In researching their rise, you might need to look deeper than Wikipedia, but for each of these, there's an inspiring story. The other thing to remember is these are just the famous people. Look at your life, and you can name many personal acquaintences rising above significant challenges to achieve success. Use them as role models and justifications for optimism.

For instance, when I was 27 my buddy Dave said he was going to ride his bicycle 235 miles from Chicago to Cedar Rapids Iowa. As a veteran of several bike tours with many 100+ mile days under my belt, I was pretty sure it was impossible for mere mortals like Dave and me to do over 200 in a day. I could have simply said "good luck, I think it's impossible", but instead I took it as an opportunity, saying "I don't think it can be done, but if you're going to do it, I'm going with you." That's how I rode my first and only 200+ mile day.

I'm not even remotely pretentious enough to compare myself with Reverend Schuller, but I'd like to add a rational optimism technique straight out of the Universal Troubleshooting Process: Step 9: Take Pride! Part of optimism is the simple act of recognizing and appreciating that which turns out well. Beyond the appreciation, part of taking pride is an evaluation -- where were you brilliant, and where can you be even more effective next time. Such evaluation leads to continuous improvement in your performance, and ultimately, success.

Then there's retrospective taking pride -- take pride in what you did a long time ago. This is handy when the present is particularly bad, and you've lost confidence in yourself and your abilities. Remember past successes -- how you overcame challenges to achieve those successes. How you felt when the going was tough. Sure, today's situation is different, and you don't have the comfort of hindsight to tell you everything will turn out OK, but you can review moments of competence, and learn from them.

When taking pride retrospectively, it's important not to let it become a naustalgic wallow -- "back then things were so wonderful, and now everything's hopeless." Instead, gather hope in the fact that your character has seen you through hard times before, and you can do it again.

Correct use of optimism can unlock your fabulous future.
Steve Litt teaches courses on troubleshooting. You can email Steve here.

Skepticism, Cynicism, Optimism and Pessimism

By Steve Litt
Skepticism is a good thing. Without skepticism, you'd have been fleeced in every get-rich scheme that came along. Chain letters, pyramid schemes, multilevel marketing of dubious products five times the price of their competitors, real estate methods dependent on continuous market escalation, and of course, the lottery. There's an old saying, "don't look a gift horse in the mouth", but I bet the residents of ancient Troy wished they'd done just that.

Skepticism involves looking below the surface, especially when something sounds too good to be true. Those utterly without skepticism are doomed to poverty.

Cynicism is chronic skepticism adopted as a life philosophy. It's usually not productive. It causes low morale, inaction (why try -- I can't change it anyway), and unhappiness. None of these things produces success. Occasionally cynicism produces angry revolutionaries who realize the hopelessness of "working within the system", and find a new and better way. That's a good thing, but all too rare. In my opinion, long before one gets to the point of cynicism, he or she should start doing something about those things he or she doesn't like.

Optimism has already been discussed in this TPM issue. Optimism is a tool. Like all other tools, those who use it well achieve impressive success. Those who misuse it fail, sometimes catastrophically.

If you define cynicism as disbelief plus anger, then pessimism is disbelief plus depression. No success can grow from pessimism's barren soil. Without even the anger component that spurs a few on to revolutionary accomplishment, pessimism strangles buds of young, growing success.

Bottom line -- be a skeptic and an optimist. Protect your jewels with good, healthy skepticism, and derive energy and inspiration from optimism. Fortify your optimism with patience, because true success seldom comes with the first attempt.
Steve Litt is the author of Samba Unleashed. You can email Steve here.

How to Be a Successful Optimist

By Steve Litt
George Bernard Shaw once said "Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?"

Mr. Shaw is already half way there, because he asked the right question. He doesn't ask "why is my business a failure?" He asks "why can't my business be a success?" The latter train of thought brings questions like "what if I advertised differently?" "What if I found a way to make the product cheaper?"

The first step is to recognize that success is possible. It won't be easy. It might not be exactly the success you had in mind. It might take a long time. But it's possible. People poorer than you, less connected than you, less intelligent than you, less physically robust than you, and even possessing less drive than you have succeeded.

Now that you've recognized that success is possible, take steps to make it more probable. Ask yourself (and others) the various ways you can achieve. When you meet an obstacle, as all strivers do, ask yourself how you can go around it, bust through it, or work it to your advantage.

The road to success is seldom smooth. Have patience, look at setbacks for what they are, setbacks, not Mount Everest. If you need to drop back and regroup from time to time, do so, but keep the spark alive in your mind. Success delayed is not success denied.

Consider the career of Ed Asner. Born in 1929, he kicked around in radio announcing, off-Broadway plays, industrial short subjects, and bit TV appearances. Not for a few years, but for over twenty. At age forty he was still picking up small parts wherever he could, watching younger actors like Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood pass him on the way to the top. Then, in 1970 at the age of 41, Asner was cast as Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore show, going on to star as Lou Grant on that show and the Lou Grant show until 1982. It's never too late. If Ed Asner's 41 seems young to you, read a biography of Harland Sanders.

Most of all, keep in mind that optimism makes sense. It makes you work harder, makes you question more, keeps your eye on the ball.
Steve Litt is the author of Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting. You can email Steve here.

Optimism and Troubleshooting

By Steve Litt
Counting registry elements, a modern Windows PC has tens of thousands of components. Add in applications, and it could easily reach a hundred thousand. Network a thousand application loaded PCs, and it you could have a hundred million components. Now here's a challenge for you -- troubleshoot down to the bad component!

Modern troubleshooting requires optimism approaching blind faith, yet it's done all the time. It's done with properly organized system knowledge, a productive troubleshooting process, and an optimal attitude. Troubleshooting is sometimes fast and sure, sometimes slow and jerky, but it usually gets done. The rational person believes the problem will be solved.
Steve Litt is the author of Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting. You can email Steve here.

Troubleshooting Professional Needs Theme Ideas

By Steve Litt
This is the tenth year I've published Troubleshooting Professional Magazine, and I'm running out of theme ideas. I've written about the UTP, The Attitude, intermittence, bottleneck analysis, toolsmanship, and generic problem solving. I've written short stories, dense and dry treatises, and humor. I can't think of what else to write.

Which is why I need your help. Please email me with topics you'd like to see covered in future Troubleshooting Professional Magazine issues.
Steve Litt is the author of Samba Unleashed. You can email Steve here.

Letters to the Editor

All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and may be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions, clarifications, corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in this magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in bad taste (bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).
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