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12 Secrets of Your Company's IT People

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Anyone who works in an office has probably sent their fair share of emails to the Help Desk. But where do those emails go? How does your office IT person decide whose problem is worth addressing first? And why, oh why can’t they display a shred of urgency about your sticky E key?

We talked to a few IT pros about what the view’s like from behind the Help Desk.

1. THEY KNOW YOUR PASSWORDS.

Not because they can access them, but because you’ve made them painfully obvious. “You don’t know how many people who, if they’re not forced to, won’t change their password from the default 1234,” says Laurie, an IT worker for 15 years in New York. “There are still so many people that use combos of birthdays, their kids’ names, but they’re just really easy to crack.”

And they’ve found passwords written down in the strangest places, including on crumpled up pieces of paper hidden in the furniture, Laurie says. 

“One guy had taped to the back of his mousepad a list of probably 20 different usernames and passwords for websites he was using for personal reasons,” says Mark Z, a tech support employee in Indiana.

It’s no wonder humans are the cause of more than half of all computer security breaches.

2. RESTART, RESTART, RESTART.

If you want to do your IT department a favor, turn your computer off and on again before you even think about calling them. Despite being a cliche, a good reboot really does fix a lot of problems. “At least 50% of my job is restarting things,” says Lewis, who has worked in IT for three years. “Whether it be the entire PC or closing the browser. A lot of times I'll say, ‘let's start with closing the browser,’ and they'll say, ‘I DID THAT, SEE?’ and I'll say, ‘Ok cool, that's the right idea. That's actually just one tab though, so let's close the whole browser.’ And then it'll work.”

3. THE ISSUE YOU'RE HAVING IS PROBABLY YOUR FAULT.

“At least half of all incoming help tickets can be chalked up to human error,” says Cris, an IT worker for six years, “and at least half of all IT work is just trying to interpret the help requests of people who don't natively speak ‘computer.’”

You’ll know if your IT person doesn’t think you get computers when they start using metaphors to explain things to you. “Take networking, for example,” says Keith, who works in IT in Oklahoma. “People who don't understand how NAT (Network Address Translation) works get an explanation of how they can have a four wheeler or a dirt-bike and they can ride all around their house. Upside down, sideways, slantways, etc., but can't take it on the freeway legally without putting it on a trailer first.”

4. THE BOSS IS OFTEN THE WORST OFFENDER.

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“Discovering how little people who were running the company understood the technology they were using was surprising,” says Michael who worked in IT for an advertising agency for two years. “People who made seven or eight times what I was making and had been in the industry for many years didn’t know how to reset their password or check their voicemail. There was a point where these people had everything done for them and they stopped learning about the technology.”

Still, when it comes to the boss' computer, no request is too big. “The president of the company I worked at had his laptop run over by a semi-truck,” Mark says. “But we got his data back.”

5. THEY WISH YOU'D STICK UP FOR THEM.

If your office IT department is made up of just one person and your issues take forever to get resolved, it’s probably because he or she is exhausted and overworked. In that case, it’s in everyone’s best interest to petition to get the lone employee some help. “A lot of organizations want the IT department to be as lean as humanly possible so overhead is low,” says Tom Bridge, an IT expert in Washington, D.C., “but nothing is worse than a burned-out IT person. They make mistakes and that’s where systems fall apart.”

6. THERE ARE TRICKS YOU CAN USE TO GET YOUR TICKET TO THE TOP.

It’s all about making a case for why your problem should become their priority. “Tell me why I need to stop what I’m doing right now and fix your problem,” says Bridge. “Mention deadlines. Mention who you’re working for. If you’re working on a project for CEO with a 5 p.m. deadline, that’s clearly more important than something else. But be honest.”

Also, be descriptive. Simply complaining that something isn’t working is a quick way to get ignored. “Include as much information as possible,” says Laurie. What steps have you taken so far to fix the problem? Have you rebooted? What browser are you using? “The more info you give me, the faster I can help you,” she says.

7. PRINTER PROBLEMS GET IGNORED.

“Pretty much anything to do with printers” goes right to the bottom of the to-do list, according to Keith. Not just because it’s boring, but because it’s such an easy fix and they don’t like embarrassing people who couldn’t figure it out for themselves. “The very simple stuff … the kind of issues that make people feel really stupid when you finish it. We just got a part-time PC tech. He gets those tickets.”

8. A LITTLE KINDNESS GOES A LONG WAY. 

You should be nice to your IT team, because it’s the right thing to do. But also because they’ll always prioritize a ticket for someone they like. When it comes to grumpy coworkers, Laurie says she tries not to be vengeful but admits they “might get put further down on the list of things I have to accomplish that day.”

Sometimes they’ll take bribes. Mark recalls a previous job where his boss’ attention could be bought with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. “Candy’s the way to my heart,” he says. If you’re mean, “I’m not gonna erase your files or infect you with a virus but you might also just have to deal with your broken computer for a day or two.”

Adds Bridge, “What it comes down to is treat your IT guy like a person.”

9. THEY KNOW WHEN YOU'RE LYING.

When you drop your phone down a flight of stairs for the third time or spill coffee on your keyboard, it can be tempting to stretch the truth or blame it on the kids. But “a good IT guy isn’t judging you,” says Bridge. “They just wanna fix your problem. We don’t care how you got into that predicament.”

The sooner you come clean, the faster they can help. Also, they’ve probably seen worse. “I've seen pretty much every variety of food and beverage spilled on laptop keyboards, including tea, coffee, a fruit smoothie, and corned beef and cabbage,” says Cris. And Laurie says she once found Fruit Leather stuck in a computer’s CD drive.

“We once had somebody say, ‘My computer died. I don’t know what happened,’” says Mark, “and you could smell the vanilla latte in the keyboard. It was fragrant.”

10. THEY SUGGEST YOU STOP WATCHING PORN AT WORK.

In 2010,  the Nielsen company found that roughly 21 million Americans access porn sites on their work computers each month. The IT department knows this better than anyone.

“If there’s one thing I could just pass along, it’s that your IT guy knows more about your porn habits than your spouse does,” says Bridge. It’s their job to be on the lookout for questionable sites or downloads that could lead to a virus or external attack on the company’s server. “Not every company does this but a lot of the smart ones do. It’s not that we want to know, but it’s our job.”

11. YES, THEY CAN READ YOUR EMAIL. NO, THEY DON'T WANT TO. 

A good rule of thumb is to assume anything you do on your work computer can be read by someone else. “We don’t want to read your history,” says Bridge. “We probably can if we’re asked to by management. But seriously, do you think we have time to read your email?”

12. THEY'RE PROBABLY GOOGLING THE ANSWERS.

“I have heard the phrase, ‘the best place to hide a body is the second page of Google because no one will look there,’” says Keith. “If that's the case, we would be solving a lot of murder cases. I think I might have made it to the 35th page of a Google search before I gave up. The trick is to pull various sources of information together to gain a better understanding of what the actual problem is.”

According to Mark, a favorite joke in the IT world is “the reason the IT guy knows more about computers than you is because he’s better at Google than you are.”

All photos courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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