Posted tagged ‘Help Desk’

Keeping alert at work

June 23, 2009

For IT support staff, sometimes it’s drought, and sometimes it’s flooding.  For me at least, it’s rarely much in between.  And since our hiring freeze, incidents that are within my scope are scarce.  I read this article today on Tech Republic regarding night shift boredom on the help desk.  Now, I don’t do “help desk” per se, and I don’t do night shift, but I do have the same essential issue – my quality of work depends on my alertness of mind.

I like Jeff’s ideas.  He’s pretty much hit the nail on the head.  I would add a few ideas, though.  Here’s my comment I posted on the thread:

First thing (which you alluded to) is physically keeping the body alert. Walking, running, even having a treadmill or bike in the office (depending on your corporate culture) could be a help. Proper ergonomics (especially neck and back) are a must.

Mental stimulation is key as well. I love designing things, so designing a woodworking project or a guitar or a computer program will keep me rolling at all but the most sleepy of times. If you like to hack (in the old-school non-destructive sense), and you have the authority to set up an old ‘retired’ asset, set up a dev box and write code. Save all of it, too. That kind of analytical thinking will not only keep you awake, but will also sharpen your analytical skills and broaden your knowledge.

Eating right is a big factor. While a Coke can provide a short buzz, it also makes you crash afterwards. Eat plenty of fruits/veggies, and take a multivitamin. Stay away from fast food, etc… all the things we already knew but don’t practice. =D

So what are your secrets for ensuring that, when the next phone call or meeting comes, that you are at the top of your game?


Open Source ‘LoggedOn2’ finds usernames for a domain PC

January 26, 2009

As the person essentially in charge of desktop support for a field office of about 100 users, I occasionally receive a phone call from a corporate network administrator who wants to know who’s using all the bandwidth, or who is downloading viruses, or the like.  Usually, they give me a NetBIOS name, and I take care of checking the user’s internet history and talking with them about their particular issue. 

More frequently that that, I have to track down a user who is using a particular resource.  For instance, this morning all of our available admin licenses for Alchemy (a document database) were in use, some by people who were idle for over an hour, and the person who really needed the license couldn’t get it.  But Alchemy only gives you IP addresses, not computer names or user IDs.  So I can use nbtstat to find the computer name from the IP address, but that’s still cumbersome.  In the past, I have had to make a spreadsheet (and keep it up to date) of which user has which computer.  It’s a good thing to have anyway, but I don’t need it for this process anymore.

Enter LoggedOn2.  It’s a simple (and incredibly fast) Delphi program that will grab the logged on user on any given box, either via NetBIOS name or IP address.  I tried a couple other alternatives, but this one was fastest and free.  The others either didn’t work (as in a VBScript someone posted), were too slow (one was trying to scan the whole domain for computers), or were shareware.  I don’t mind buying the shareware (and getting a 1.7 billion dollar company to drop 50 bucks for software isn’t hard) but this one works too well.  No installation needed, either. 

It is open source, so I did have a look at the source code.  I don’t write any Delphi, but I have enough knowledge to try to guess what it’s doing.  It looks like it checks the registry of the PC (under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive) for the domain ID of the user.  You do need administrative privileges on the remote machine (which you should have, if you’re an administrator).  It’s fast, simple, effective, and free.  Here’s a few screenshots:


 The main screen.  Click Scan Machine to continue…











Input the PC name or IP address, or select a computer from the list of domain PCs (which I conveniently blotted out)



 Output is the domain\username for the computer you entered (just like this screen, except instead of saying “domain\username” it would say “YourCompany\t_collins” or somethinglike that).  You can also click “Scan Domain” (if you have a small domain) and get the logged on user for every box.  This would make asset tracking especially easy as you could develop a list easily. 

Other features that would be great would be a comma-delimited or Excel report of all domain PCs and logged on users.  Especially great would be the ability to search by IP range so that I can grab only a few VLANs from our rather incredibly large domain.  At some point I would like to port this to Python, just for fun and to help my understanding of Python programming.

One minor annoyance (it’s a help too, but it’s annoying) is that the program is (in Windows terminology) “always on top.”  This is nice because I might be logged on to a server via RDP and need to grab an IP address from the server while switching back and forth between LoggedIn2 and the RDP session.  On the other hand, you have to minimize the window to get your screen back (it conveniently minimizes to the system tray).

This program is a great example of what old-school “hacking” was.  Make your own tool and use it to access the information you need.  Ah, makes me feel all nostalgic.

You can download LoggedOn2 here.  Does anyone have a similar program for Mac or *nix?

Data destruction (with DBAN)

December 9, 2008

Recent legislation has caused the American healthcare industry to change the way it handles information.  This has radiated into the IT realm in a variety of ways – network security, physical (facility) security, background checks, et cetera.  In my particular job role, I am responsible to make sure that our data never leaves our property.  Or more specifically, that our property never leaves the facility with data on it.  In other words, I clean computers prior to disposal. 

There are a variety of methods of destroying data, both digital and physical.  My personal favorite would be heating the hard drive platters past the Curie point (the point at which the metal is no longer capable of maintaining a magnetic charge).  However, your average IT facility does not have the means to make this happen.  Another method is degaussing – to oversimplify, degaussing is magnetizing the entire disk, causing all the bits to flip the same direction and erasing all data.  Encryption can also be used – not to destroy the data, but to make it effectively inaccessible.

These are proven methods which are indeed used, but they do have drawbacks – they can be expensive and can require special equipment.  Most often, they are services performed by third parties (with the exception of encryption).

Our company used to sell our old hardware to a vendor, who would certify the data destruction and then resell the equipment.  This is a handy solution, but due to our office’s remote location and some other recent changes, we are now wiping the disks ourselves with one of the most common methods – the software wipe.

Software wiping is most often done using a boot CD.  I use a Linux-based tool called DBAN (Darik’s Boot And Nuke), which I will talk more about later.

Even within the field of software-based data destruction, there are a variety of methods and algorithms, some (such as the Gutmann wipe) taking a very long time, but considered very secure.  Many people have strong opinions on this issue.  Our company currently requires at least the US Department of Defense (DoD) 3-pass method.  The method writes 3 passes of random data over the entire drive.

For this kind of wipe, I recommend DBAN, as mentioned earlier.  DBAN allows for unattended wiping of all drives on a system (or the drives of your choice), and it has proven very easy to use when used on physically healthy disks.  For damaged disks, you may be better off sending it to a data destruction company, in my opinion.

DBAN supports a variety of the standard methods, including Gutmann, DoD (3-pass or 7-pass), and others.  The standard DBAN is open source software and is distributed free of charge.  There is an enterprise version available which supports wiping over a network and wiping of multiple computers simultaneously.  Both versions, since they run from CD, are platform independent.  DBAN will wipe IDE, SATA, and SCSI drives.

Tips for handling end-user blunders with finesse

April 28, 2008

Bill Detwiler published a great post on TechRepublic last week on this topic.  And since I’m exceptionally busy right now (I’m working full time, in school full time, writing an article on rural e-commerce, have a wife and a 7-month-old, and am trying to learn golf), these last few posts have been referrals to other blogs that catch my eye.  They can usually say it better than I can anyhow. =)

So here’s a link to the post, and a preview too: “If you spend any time in IT, odds are you’re going to run across a few shocking examples of computer mistreatment. End users, even well-intentioned ones, can do some pretty wacky things when trying to “fix” their computers. …”

“Successfully handling end-user bloopers requires technical know-how, finesse, and above all professionalism. It’s also a key quality for IT support leaders. … Regardless of the environment you’re operating in, the following 10 tips can help you turn your next customer mistake into a positive experience.”

It’s a great post for any IT pro – have a look.

How come my users NEVER call the help desk?

March 24, 2008

We have a help desk.  But our users never call.  We are a MT spoke office  for a company based in Texas.  We do have a help desk, and a corporate one at that (HOORAY for keeping it domestic!!!).  I’m an onsite tech that supposedly takes care of what the help desk can’t.  So here’s the thing.  I might get three help desk tickets a week.  Our users just won’t call (and Diane is probably reading this…).  Part of this, I think, is because we (being a somewhat specialized spoke office) use some different software that I can support but the Help Desk can’t.  I think that part of it is also caused by the fact that we are affiliated strongly with another spoke office with their own IT department, so the HD doesn’t know where to send the tickets.  So all that said, I think the main reason they call me is that I don’t put them on hold and I usually take care of them immediately.  I really pridefully just think it’s because my officemate and I really kick tail in the service department, so our users actually want to call us (one of our users told me I am a “dream” this morning…).  OK, the gloating is done.

So anyway, Jeff Dray wrote a TechRepublic article on the subject of “getting your users to call the help desk.”  Here it is, in all its (optimistic-and-perhaps-impossible-if-you’re-a-spoke-office) glory.  I think some of the ideas are very good (like 7, 8, and 10).  Some are not (IMHO), such as #4.  Our corporate credits/billing/AR group used to do this and it was less than captivating.  Anyway, I do think it’s a great brainstorming article, and I think what may work for me won’t work for you and vice versa.  And really, in business, often the important thing is not always which method you use, but how thoughtfully, thoroughly, and persistently you implement it. 

Enjoy – Ben

 “Help desks should constantly strive to improve their methods of client interaction. Users must feel comfortable with the help desk and know they will receive prompt, courteous, and effective support. Here are ten practices your help desk can use to strengthen user relations and improve client utilization.

  1. Be proactive. Don’t wait for a problem to occur before you meet the users—get out there and introduce yourself and the team. In touring the building, you may find ways to improve the way users work. You may be able to show them easier ways to work, shortcuts, better software, and so on.
  2. Have a help desk open house. This get-together is a great way of receiving feedback on your work and learning exactly what the users want. Everything you teach the user is one less problem log later. It also shows the user that you want to improve communication, breaking down that “us and them” atmosphere.
  3. Make contacts in each department of the company. Forge links with these power users and authorize them to handle routine problems. When necessary, these contacts can report more serious issues and training deficiencies relevant to their department.
  4. Publish a monthly newsletter. You can offer hints and tips related to the most commonly asked questions, as well as getting your face known around the company.
  5. Set up an intranet page for the help desk. You could have a short biographical piece on each team member, detailing hobbies, interests, and special areas of expertise, as well as an online form for reporting problems during off hours.
  6. Tag every piece of supported equipment. While you are designing the tags, why not include the help desk number? You could also include useful information like reminding the caller to make a note of any error messages, to call from a phone that is adjacent to the equipment, to have the equipment running when they call—all those annoying things that often waste time.
  7. Publicize the help desk. Get some posters up that show the hours of operation, what you can help with, and what the help desk’s phone number is. You would be amazed how many people do not know the help desk number and call via the switchboard.
  8. Send every user a laminated help desk tips card. On one side, list the help desk’s phone number, e-mail address, and hours of operation. On the other, print helpful tips, such as noting error messages, calling from the room where the equipment sits, and remembering what they were doing when the error occurred.
  9. Work yourself out of a job. Make your users the best trained, best supported, and most efficient in the world. In the highly unlikely event that you make the entire help desk redundant, your bonus and promotion package should be out of this world!
  10. Most important of all, enjoy yourself. Have a joke with your colleagues and, where appropriate, with the callers. Some help desks I have visited are so serious that you wonder whether it can be any fun at all to work there. When the users start to include you on their e-mail distribution lists for jokes, you know you have reached them in a way that means that true communication has been achieved.”