I'm a very forgiving sort of chap. No, really, I am.

I have a rule of thumb for user sympathy: if I don't think it's really the user's fault, then I say: "Don't worry about it". Nine times out of ten this happens when the user hasn't received the right level of training, or has been misinformed about how to do something.

I also strongly contend that the correct treatment for users that don't qualify for sympathy is to be struck repeatedly around the cranium with a sock full of wet sand.

If you're sceptical about such treatment, here are a few examples.

1. "Paint it red"
I got a request to colour an area of the screen red so that users (in-house, trained people) couldn't miss the "Cancel booking" link. Apparently having a big box with "Click here to cancel the booking", and having been on a training session where they were shown this link (it's at the top of the screen in a big white box of its own, so it's hard to lose) wasn't sufficient.

2. "Your system is getting the prices wrong"
The pricing algorithm for this particular product is extremely complex. There are all sorts of special offers which are only allowed under certain circumstances (and these circumstances can be very complex). To give you an idea, simply working with the client to establish the pricing rules and then documenting them took the best part of a week. Suffice it to say that the system was getting the prices right, and I can't help thinking that a sand-filled sock would have reduced the number of occurrences far more effectively than me simply pointing out the errors in their hand-done calculations.

3. "My keyboard is broken"
The first time this particular user said this, I went to look and discovered that she was copy-typing from a book, which was resting on the keyboard cable (on this particular keyboard the cable wasn't wired in - there was a plug on the side of the unit itself). I sympathetically showed the user the problem, stuffed the plug back in, and went away. When I was called for the third time, however, I felt justified in using the sock of wet sand.

4. "The modem in my mobile phone won't work"
The company bought this particular user a mobile phone, taking care to pick one that he could use as a modem for reading his email on the train. The battery life was crap, and he didn't need all the bells and whistles (camera, etc) so he swapped it with his daughter's. Somehow he expected me to miraculously make his daughter's phone (which didn't have a modem in it) work like the business one.

5. "Someone has cloned my mobile phone"
No. Actually you mean that (a) your boss has just found out that you've made hundreds of pounds' worth of calls to sex lines; and (b) you just discovered that we get itemised bills from the phone company. This actually happened to me in the late 1990s. He didn't convince us that his phone had been cloned, just that he deserved to be belted with a sock of wet sand.

6. "I can't get into the system"
True example. A law firm in the Midlands somewhere has, I've heard, a policy of password-sharing because different people have access to different stuff, and when the IT guys try to set up a new person with the same access rights, it often doesn't work. So the IT department actually encourages the users to share passwords, much to the latter's annoyance, because it means the wrong names appear beside jobs on the workflow system which makes it hard to figure out who to call when the system says: "File is already opened by Fred Bloggs". I'll lend the law society my sock of wet sand: [BASH] "Compliance!!" [BASH] "Audit trail!!" [BASH] ...

I'm sure many of you out there can suggest examples of candidates for Sock of Wet Sand treatment ... feel free to add them as comments below.