Troubleshooting Professional

Back IssuesVolume 1, Issue 10, October 1997Back to Troubleshooters.Com
Copyright (C) 1997 by Steve Litt



Editors Desk
The Discovery of the Attitude
Of Course It's Easy For You
Litt Takes the Nine Count
Vote on Troubleshooting Professional
Letters to the Editor
How to Submit an Article
URLs Mentioned in this Issue

Editors Desk

By Steve Litt
The first step in the Universal Troubleshooting Process is "Get the Attitude". The Attitude is much more than a first step -- it's a tool you use throughout the Troubleshooting Process. It's also the most interesting (at least to my audiences) part of Troubleshooting. And the toughest. And the most unbelievable. And it's the most important factor in predicting Troubleshooting success. What is The Attitude? How do you get it? How do you keep it? This issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine explores these issues.

Some of the articles use a boxing metaphor. When I was a tech at a radio-tv shop, my boss was an ex boxer. He once told me that most of the guys he fought were his friends. In the ring it was his job to beat the other guy into submission. Nothing personal, it was just his job. Sounds a lot like an Attitude-enabled Troubleshooter battling a problem, doesn't it?

So kick back, relax, and read this issue. And remember, if you're a Troubleshooter, this is your magazine. Enjoy!.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

The Discovery of the Attitude

By Steve Litt
January 1989. You could buy your favorite song on 45 RPM vinyl. George Bush had just assumed the presidency. The economy-busting Gulf War was still a year in the future. And I discovered The Attitude.

Of course, I had been practicing The Attitude since 1979. It's just that I hadn't discovered it yet. It's precisely this paradox that makes teaching Troubleshooters such a challenge.

When George Bush was inaugurated, I believed Troubleshooting to be comprised of two Troubleshooting Tools: Mental Model and Divide and Conquer. Divide and Conquer is simply the act of repeatedly ruling out sections of the system under consideration until the root cause is discovered. The Mental Model is a map of the system in the mind of the Troubleshooter, usually implemented as a block diagram. I believed these two tools were the sum and total of my Troubleshooting expertise. Until a student came to me with a Lotus 123 macro problem she couldn't solve.

She was the smartest in her class. Her classmates came to her for advice. I agreed to help her. Using her knowledge of Lotus 123 (Mental Model), I slowly walked her though the Divide and Conquer process.

But it was tough. She was upset. At every step, she worried that "it can't be that", or she tried to figure all the possibilities instead of just running the test, or she insisted on trying for the immediate fix. Even after I explained Divide and Conquer, and she understood what we were doing, she still resisted. Almost in spite of her, we continued narrowing it down until we found the root cause.

I was, puzzled. She was the top student in her class, she knew Lotus 123 like the back of her hand, but she couldn't troubleshoot it. Why not? What was different about her than me? She had the Mental Model. And thanks to me, she knew Divide and Conquer. But it didn't help. What was missing? Was it a difference in attitude? YES! She was operating in panic mode, while I hunted that problem like a cold, deadly predator. The difference was astonishing.

A few days later, as Communism crumbled throughout Europe, The Attitude became the third Troubleshooting Tool.

Steve Litt is president of American Troublebusters and Troubleshooters.Com, and editor of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. He's also an application developer and technical writer. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Of Course It's Easy For You

By Steve Litt. Note that web URLS mentioned in this article are available at the end of this issue.
Of course it's easy for you. You have a record of 10,000, 10 and 10. When I explain how to get The Attitude, I know this is what listeners are thinking. Of course a guy who has 10,000 wins 10 ties 10 losses goes into battle confidently. What about the trainee yet to have his first professional Troubleshooting bout? Or the young pro with a couple wins over easy problems, and maybe a couple losses? Or how about the veteran, punch-drunk from years of tough problems? How do they get The Attitude?

The Attitude is a tough teach precisely because it's a catch 22. "How can I succeed in Troubleshooting if I have no confidence, and how can I have confidence if I have little Troubleshooting success?" Positive Mental Attitude? Saying it don't make it so. Or does it? More on that later...

Meanwhile, it's a mathmatically supportable FACT that EVERY reproducible problem is soluble! (See my Troubleshooters.Com article, Why reproducibles can always be solved). Since anyone with average intelligence and a tenth grade education can understand everything in the Universal Troubleshooting Process, they'll understand exactly why they can solve any reproducible problem (assuming they use Universal Troubleshooting Process). This is a mighty powerful reason to adopt The Attitude. But it isn't enough.

Intellectual acceptance isn't enough. We need emotional acceptance. Our logical mind accepts that we can solve any reproducible problem, but there's a little voice that says "but that won't really work for me". We know the machine, we know the Troubleshooting Process, but negative mental attitude can stop us in our tracks. If, and only if, negative mental attitude is the root cause, the solution is to replace the negative mental attitude with Positive Mental Attitude. Let me repeat that:

If, and only if, negative mental attitude is the root cause, the solution is to replace the negative mental attitude with Positive Mental Attitude. 

To solve this type of problem, Keith Ellis recommends, in his article titled "Affirmations", saying something like this:

"I choose to joyfully become a great Troubleshooter."

I choose


become a great Troubleshooter

Mr. Ellis recommends we always recognise that every change we make in our life is a choice. Mr. Ellis recommends we maximize the power of every affirmation by injecting positive emotion, such as the adverb "joyfully". This is the actual goal of the affirmation.

Once the student learns the Universal Troubleshooting Process, and logically accepts that he can use the Universal Troubleshooting Process to solve any reproducible problem, and that it also helps solve intermittents, he can recognize that the root cause of the catch 22 is his resistance to emotional acceptance of The Attitude. At that point, daily use of affirmations such as recommended by Keith Ellis will gain emotional acceptance, and break the catch 22. I recommend a thorough reading of Mr. Ellis' article, whose URL is listed at the bottom of this newsletter.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Litt Takes the Nine Count

I became a Troubleshooting champ when Muhammad Ali was still had the WBA crown. I've beaten all comers -- blown up SAE amps, inadequately designed Kenwood KS4000 receivers, DEC PDP23's with juryrigged operating systems, errant pointer intermittents in C programs, and Windows GPF's. So I wasn't the slightest bit worried about my late 1996 title match against a brash new challenger -- a Cyrix 166/Win95/noname-motherboard upgrade. Like Apollo Creed before his fight with Drago, I seriously underestimated my opponent. Would it be as fatal?

Three hours into the Troubleshoot it changed from a techical fight to a brawl. Windows 95's installation CD errored out. I spent the next 8 hours, using the same Windows installation CD, other computers and other disks, proving the problem was the Motherboard itself, and went to get a replacement. The vendor replaced it, and even installed Win95 on a disk hooked to the new motherboard. Round 2 began with the champ (me) badly shaken.

The challenger took a beating as Win95 installed cleanly. It looked like a victory for the champ. Then the challenger threw a surprise left -- file corruption when compressing the hard disk. The brawl continued, round after round, installation after installation, BIOS setting after BIOS setting, Win95 option after Win95 option. The challenger bobbed and weaved -- sometimes it looked like compression almost worked, sometimes it crashed miserably. I was exhausted and dropped my guard. The challenger hit me over and over with intermittent disk problems. Finally I hit the challenger with my best right -- I got a full refund on the motherboard, cpu, and memory and bought a SuperMicro motherboard with an Intel Pentium 150 and 32 meg from another vendor.

Having industry standard components was like fighting in a smaller ring -- the challenger couldn't run away. It looked like the champ would prevail. Installation and compression went smooth first-time. The challenger was dizzily swinging in the air. Then one of those wild shots hit. The printer didn't work!

I went to pieces. Frustrated tears filled my eyes as I threw things around the room. Other problems have beaten me, but nothing could prepare me for this kind of brutality. Like Muhammad Ali in his 1974 fight with George Foreman, the aging master went back to his one remaining asset -- experience. Putting the project aside, I forced myself to re-adopt The Attitude. I then discovered my printer port wouldn't work if configured as ECP. Switching it to an EPP cured the problem -- the champ wins the round!

Next the motherboard hit me with inability to assign and keep a drive letter for the Zip drive. Dead on my feet, I managed to hang on to the last thread of The Attitude, and finally cured the problem with a Lastdrive= config.sys command, and properly pushing in the Zip Drive's cable. Exhaustion made what should have been a 10 minute General Maintenance fix into a day-long affair. The slugfest trudged on.

Microsoft Backup smacked me with inability to restore original file dates. A drawn-out restore from floppy fixed that. Then the challenger mounted a brutal attack with a vanishing CD drive letter. The champ countered with a BIOS config change of the CD between drivetype 3 and auto. Then swapping the IDE cables. Then switching between master, slave and neither on the CD drive. Then all combinations. Nothing helped. Exhausted, I thought of giving up. The champ was down and the ref was counting. On the count of 9 I somehow got up and continued troubleshooting. Repeatedly, I chanted my Attitude mantra, "just narrow it down one more time".

The fight continued. The bios setup contained an option called "failsafe settings". I enabled that option and rebooted. It was a weak jab at best, but it hit the exhausted challenger squarely on the jaw, and he went down. Sprawled unconsious on the canvas, the challenger was counted out. The computer worked perfectly. The computer has worked perfectly ever since. The champ retained his title.

After the Fight

I won. Retained the title. The computer had absolutely no further problems. So why did it seem like a defeat? My friends said things like "that motherboard made you look real bad", and "looks like your Troubleshooting Process didn't help you that time". My wife got closer to the problem with "you were a walking Attitude violation that whole time.". My confidence was deeply shaken. Step 9 of the Universal Troubleshooting Process is "Take Pride", where you debrief yourself on the details of the Troubleshoot. What went right, what went wrong? The thing that went right is that I fixed the computer. What went wrong? How could I prevent future occurrences? I would reduce pressure from now on by not touching my main machine before the new one was fully functional and tested. And I would get diagnostic software to deal with the black boxes. And "smart manuals" (often part of the diagnostic software) to help with the overload of variables. And I wrote complete instructions on building a Windows 95 machine from scratch (available on Troubleshooters.Com), so next time my confidence would be a little more justified.

Perhaps the most valuable learning experience was seeing how the other half live. Those poor souls who try to troubleshoot without The Attitude. It's awful! And I learned The Attitude must be kept no matter what the challenge. Bosses can threaten termination, customers can threaten to take their business elsewhere, dead processes can shut down the business, but The Attitude must be retained. Because without The Attitude, all is lost.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Vote on Troubleshooting Professional

The idea behind Troubleshooting Professional Magazine was to provide a forum for discussion of the best ways to bring Troubleshooting Process to the masses, and preventing commercialism from eclipsing the truth. I anticipated others writing the articles. With only a few exceptions, that hasn't happened. Frankly, I'm running out of ideas.

Also, Troubleshooting Professional Magazine is not nearly as well visited as Troubleshooters.Com's Windows 95 pages, automotive page, or Universal Troubleshooting Process page.

So here's the question. Do you find Troubleshooting Professional Magazine valuable on an ongoing basis, or would you be satisfied with my keeping the issues already made on the site, but making no further issues. Please email me at Steve Litt's email address to vote. Thanks.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

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.).
Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be sure the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot return your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.

How to Submit an Article

We anticipate two to five articles per issue, with issues coming out monthly. We look for articles that pertain to the Troubleshooting Process. This can be done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other literary device. A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a specific product, but must be useful without the purchase of that product. Content must greatly overpower advertising. Submissions should be between 250 and 2000 words long.

All submissions become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), unless other arrangements are previously made in writing. We do not currently pay for articles. Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for clarity or brevity. Any published article will include a two sentence description of the author, a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired. Upon request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine issue, to the author's website, providing that website meets the Troubleshooters.Com criteria for links and that the author's website first links to Troubleshooters.Com.

Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with subject line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should read as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):

I (your name), am submitting this article for possible publication in Troubleshooters.Com. I understand that this submission becomes the property of the publisher, Steve Litt, whether or not it is published, and that Steve Litt reserves the right to edit my submission for clarity or brevity. I certify that I wrote this submission and no part of it is owned by, written by or copyrighted by others.
After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a two sentence description of the author.

URLs Mentioned in this Issue Affirmations. Keith Ellis writes this concise, common sense article on using affirmations to cause positive personal change. This is a *must read* for anyone learning or teaching The Attitude. Why reproducibles can always be solved. An article by Steve Litt showing the mathmatical proof that all reproducible problems are soluble. A (too) brief description of The Attitude, as Step 1 of the Troubleshooting Process. Building a Fresh New Win95 Machine. Details the complete process for building a Windows 95 machine from scratch.