back to article What I learned from a dumb terminal

There is a (probably apocryphal) entry in a naval officer's fitness report that reads: "This officer never makes the same mistake twice. However, he appears to be attempting to make them all once." As developers we should try to avoid collecting the full set, but making some mistakes are inevitable; the trick is to learn from …


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  1. Joe Cooper

    Fun stories

    I had a similar problem once. Some users were reporting that buttons were missing when the software was fullscreen. I spent ages chasing down Java painting glitches trying to figure out why they weren't showing. But while it always worked on my system, some customers still had problems.

    Eventually it hit me that my code assumed a 4:3 screen, and there are a lot of screens on the market nowadays with a different ratio. Duh!

    My boss has a story similar to the one told. A very angry customer could not get the program to work. No amount of consultation over the phone could find the problem. Eventually he drove out there - six hours - to see what was going on.

    The laserdisc was upside down.

  2. Sir Runcible Spoon

    making mistakes and telling others

    the same holds true for network engineers.

    The number of times some cleaner goes into a customers' data room and uses the socket for the vacuum cleaner (not realising they have just powered down half a dozen servers/routers :) )

    There's also the legendary UUNet FYCF email (yes we all remember that Dave :P ) and of course Andy C's removal to 'end-of-file' of half the domains in the world at that time!

    Happy days.

  3. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Immaculate Constructions

    Amen to those Timeless Tales well Learnt, Mark, and Thanks for Sharing them.

  4. Reuben Thomas

    Practising as preached

    This is a joke, right: "making some mistakes are inevitable"?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When giving telephone support

    always listen to the sound of the user typing.

    The number of times users would type underscore made this important, although I found that calling it The Underscore Character solved that one, but then there was still the foreign gentleman who obediently typed out capitala

  6. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Ah - the age old.

    My users are getting used to me asking if it's plugged in now.

    Soon I expect the %age of calls that stop at that point to drop.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Sir Runcible

    Network engineers, we do have it rough sometimes, the amount of times I have been called out to a customer's premises because the line terminating equipment has a red alarm on it. No amount of asking the customer if his network was actually working (yes) would convince them that this was an historic alarm and could safely be ignored!

  8. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    How about this true story

    About 15 years ago, I was working in a major UNIX vendors support centre, and took a call about the colours being wrong on the screen. After going through all of the X colour (color?) maps and everything else I could think of, we found that red was coming out blue, and vice-versa. Green was OK, I suggested in desparation, that the customer unplug the monitor from the computer, and plug it back in.

    After some noises from the end of the phone, an amazed customer came back on the line, saying that when he removed the plug, it was incredably stiff, and he found that it was plugged in upside down! Quite how that could have happened by accident is beyond me.

    P.S, it was not a 15 pin high density D-Shell VGA connector, it was a D-Shell with three mini-coax connectors in it, one each for red, green, and blue, with sync on green, like below.


    \ o o o /


    When plugged in upside down, the mini-coax plugs connected, but the surrounding D-Shell must have been well and truly bent out of shape!

  9. Pooka

    Ahhhh memories.....

    Once back when I worked 1st/2nd/3rd line tech for an ISP I had a call that had been passed around the office before it came to me - one user who was getting a gay pr0n site every time he tried to get his email. The lower techies spent hours looking for virii and the like with no success - even complete system rebuilds hadn't solved the problem....

    Of course he was going to a gay pr0n site - he wasn't spelling Mail right - and what else would you expect from

  10. lee lawson
    Thumb Up

    another confused story


    I have similar stories from many years supporting military networks. I used to work in the army where I was a network/server engineer for the joint HQ in Europe. We had hundreds of 'mobile' computer stations, I put that in quotes as each computer was a two man lift!!

    Essentially we had rows and rows of tables lined up and deployed the computers onto them, computer/mouse, computer/mouse etc etc etc.

    We had a call from a high ranking military officer who told us that his mouse wasn't working and that he wanted us to fix it immediately, he was off for a briefing and wanted it fixed by the time he got back.

    Well I turned up and logged on, the mouse worked fine! no problems. 30 minutes later he called again in a fury saying that we were incompentant and that he needed his mouse to do his job. Again he was off for another meeting and demanded it was fixed while he was away.

    This went on for a little while, we even logged into his console remotely so he could see what the cursor looked like!

    It finally came to the point where I had lost my patience with the DFU and told him to wait by his computer for me to turn up. I did. He showed me that his mouse wasn't working. He was the only left handed user on that row and it turned out he was using the mouse the his neighbour's computer!!!!

    I told him that the problem laid with him using the wrong mouse, again he exploded telling me to reconfigure the desk so that he could work. So I lifted the mouse and carefully placed it on the left of his computer.


    all the best,


  11. GrahamT

    Failure of language

    Many years back I worked for a company selling DEC PDP-11 systems to travel agents. These had two 8" floppy discs; one for programmes and one for data. The agents were warned that they must backup the data disc each night. However, backup wasn't a common term then, so they were told to copy the data disc, and shown how to do it.

    Then one day a call came into the hell desk from a customer who had lost all her data. Having failed to make any headway on the phone, an engineer was despatched to central London to sort it out. The first thing he did was ask for the previous night's copy of the data disc. The travel agent went straight to a filing cabinet and took out a sheaf of neatly dated A4 photocopies of big, black floppy discs.

    The trained person had moved on and handed the job to someone else who said she knew how to "copy" discs.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Changing face of Help Desk

    Back in University, almost each floor in the Computing Department had a group of Help Desk technicians available to fix problems. This way, irrespective of how stupidly the Luser would describe their problem, the technician could just walk over to their desk and fix it. (Universities are also full of helpful, smart-arse Comp-Sci students (like me) that just love to show-off their 1337 sk1llz to everyone - so the support coverage is usually very good).

    This practice also takes place in smaller companies where the network administrator also doubles as a support engineer, too.

    The face-to-face personal touch works best and fastest.

    In most larger corps and multi-nationals, their support service consists of a combination of call-centres (usually off-shore) and a return-to-base service, plus a possible call-out service if you are on-site (with a desktop).

    When talking to an off-shore call-centre, you are dealing with someone that knows less than you; that is reading (very politely) off of a pre-prepared rote card and just trying to process you as fast as possible - in essence, talking to them is less helpful and more infuriating than just typing the problem into a computer troubleshooting program. Both will provide you with a trouble-ticket number and both will probably suggest that you take your 'broken' laptop back to the service department.

    At the service department, you just hand it in and are either given a straight replacement (large corps like their slaves to spend all hours working, not sitting around twiddling their thumbs), or told when to return to collect the fixed item.


    Switching off the CAPS-LOCK so someone can type in their password takes seconds if you are on the spot. If you have to call in, the support staff will simply start up the whole "Change Password" system; and even after that you still won't be able to login because the CAPS-LOCK is still on! So you'll be given a remedy ticket and told to return it to service department. Now that's got to cost more than having an on-Site techy.

    I don't know how large corp/organisations can make themselves more efficient in this regard, but there is definite room for improvement.

    (I know I drifted off-topic...)

  13. Alan Potter
    IT Angle


    Showing my age here. I used to sell microcomputers (i.e. before they were called PCs) and we had this word processor called Wordstar. It was great but it certainly wasn't WYSIWYG, nor was it GUI-based. A lot of the commands to do things like boldface (oh - there were no laser printers then, either. The height of technical excellence was the daisywheel printer). So - if you wanted to put something in boldface you would type ctrl-B then your text then ctrl-B again. Yes, I know the same is true in Word now. Anyway, there were other commands which involved using Ctrl-Q. So you had things like Ctrl-Q B which marked the beginning of a block, and then you had Ctrl-Q K which marked the end of a block. ("B" "K" - geddit?). And then you had Ctrl-Q Q followed by some other Ctrl character which meant: repeat whatever character or command follows the Ctrl Q Q sequence until another key is pressed.

    I had a client I was supporting. They were using Wordstar. They were having problems. And they had a stammer. And they were trying to tell me their problem.

    Cue: "I pressed ctrl-q-q-q-q I-I-I pressed pressed ctrl-q-c-ctrl" etc. I gave up.

    It wasn't as bad, however, as when a nephew of mine went to get the results of a biopsy on a brain tumour. Was it Benign or Malignant? The consultant had a stammer: "We have your results. Your tumour is bbbb-mmmmm-bb-mm-bbb etc" Luckily it was benign.

    Sorry - wandered off-thread (hence the IT? icon) there for a mo but I still thought it was amusing...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The heritage of chronicling mistakes in IT is a long and glorious one

    Try googling or altavisting for Computer Stupidities by rinkworks...

    Yes, some of them are old, some are old-hat and some are just bitchiness, but some are laugh out loud funny...

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Making mistakes and not telling others

    The reverse is also true: A development company I have had the misfortune to have as a supplier would never admit fault, regardless of the evidence piled up against them they would always find a way to shift the blame - often onto us. We eventually go to the point where taking the hit of changing to a new supplier was easier than continuing with the original developers.

  16. pastamasta


    Once on a weekend evening shift, I received a worried call from a cleaner who had heard a loud beeping emanating from our client's server room. We asked him to describe the noise, and even to hold the phone up to the offending server so we could hear the noise. We spent hours checking every service and log event we could get our hands on, with no clue as to the cause. Finally we rang the client's own local on-call engineer and got him to drive out to the site and have a look. It turned out that some idiot had left a book on the server console keyboard, which was overflowing the keyboard buffer and making the speaker beep repeatedly. Classic...

  17. Anonymous Coward


    It's no surprise that ever since the old days of computing - that the Problem Exists Between the Keyboard and the Chair.

    I spent a long time doing 2nd/3rd level support for a very large global company. Lots of stories like this. I usually succeeded in being as friendly and helpful as I could with end users. In the most part - they were fine; they were usually more than happy that someone could make their problem disappear and then they could get on with their work.

    It was the service desk/non-IT management who were my nemeses. IT illiterates making technical decisions. One that still makes me laugh is the remote update of the VPN/Firewall client on several thousand remote laptops. The old one had to come off, reboot - the new one had to go on, reboot and voila. They spent months planning this - and a few days before "the big push" they involved lowly old support guy.

    Halfway through the high-powered executive go/no go meeting - I asked them if they'd spotted the flaw in their plan. Nope. Dozens of ITIL trained Change Managers, a team of "developers" and associated Executives and PMs hadn't asked the simple question:

    "Once you've uninstalled the old VPN client - how is the machine going to connect via VPN to receive it's new installation?".

    It was probably no surprise I had several years' worth of Dilbert in my drawer. I felt like we were brothers....

    (My team - again - saved the day, on time and with zero budget...but we all got outsourced to India.)

  18. Graham Bartlett

    As the saying goes...

    As the saying goes, "Learn from other people's mistakes - there isn't enough time to make them all yourself."

    And thinking outside the obvious immediate symptom is always a good plan. Over the last 10 years, I've spent a lot of time helping out electronics hobbyists on various forums. One of the most common questions is "how do I stop my circuit from resetting (or doing something else strange) when I turn on a motor (or relay, or other power device)?" Some people start into metal boxes to shield from EM interference and other weird-and-wonderful magic. But people who've been answering this question on a regular basis for years will tell you that actually the most common cause is that the power device is pulling down the power supply, so the circuit is resetting because it's got no juice to run on! They might have checked the supply with a voltmeter, but the supply dropout will typically only be for a few milliseconds so they'll never spot it with anything less than an oscilloscope.

    Hence the point of questioning your assumptions. In this example, it's the circuit which exhibits the problem, and checks on upstream stuff seem to show them working OK. In fact the checks on the upstream stuff haven't been as comprehensive as they'd thought.

    Fault-finding on cars can follow a similar pattern. The tendency is to replace parts in order of cost and/or difficulty-to-reach until you find the cause. The complication which people often forget is that the new part you just bought could also be knackered.

  19. Mark

    Users of memory lane

    Dealing with end-users in this way is something that all developers should have at some point in their career. The user's aren't always dumb, but as you say, their contextual references can be in totally different dimensions to the techie.

    Reminds me of back in the mid-80's. The beginning of the IBM-PC market, my boss would sell a PC to some manager who would then typically present it to his secretary with the comment "do something useful with it". So we ended up with a lively business in writing bespoke applications for a number of local businesses where the primary user was the secretary. You had the whole project, from gathering requirements, to proposing a solution, writing it, delivering it - and above all supporting it.

    Now someone who is a PA to a managing director isn't dumb, but they have a different frame of reference. I learned a lot about dealing with customers back then - patiently explainging that CTRL-C meant holding down the CTRL key to break in to a .bat file. And as for guiding them over the phone through the usage of EDLIN taught invaluable patience.

  20. Anonymous John

    I heard a wonderful one a few years ago.

    A user reported that her password wasn't accepted when she was standing up.

    IT Support put it down to user error, but gave her a new keyboard. The problem went away.

    Then someone noticed that the old keyboard had two adjacent keytops on the wrong keys. The user was a touch typist, so it didn't mattter normally. But when she entered her password before sitting down, she looked at the keys.

  21. Alan Edwards

    A very similar one

    A large number of years back, I once spent most of a day working out why a mouse was inverting it's movement (left moves cursor right etc.).

    Turned out that she had a new laptop, and was holding the track ball controller that was supposed to be clipped to the side of the machine upside-down and moving it like a mouse.

    It was only a comment from her about the mouse buttons being in an awkward place that turned the light-bulb on.


  22. Barn
    IT Angle

    Lack of info.

    I work on a service desk, so it's all too familiar for me.

    One of the more common things we get are users saying 'I can't get into program X', and actually it turns out they can't get into their computer at all! They only see the computer as email, or word processor, or device for sending on 'hilarious' pictures of fluffy kittens and such.

  23. Stu

    New tools

    I too agree with the 'knowledge is power' thing, thankfuly its nice to see 'modern' tools, such as remote desktop/assistance or LogMeIn which show us end-users' systems directly, help to eliminate communications difficulties with customers and help the technician focus on the real technical aspects of problems - this is what is more important to be shared around the 'water cooler' so to speak!

    (Yes I know remote viewing of user sessions has been around for decades, but they are more ubiquitous and much friendlier to use nowadays).

    But yes Remote desktop can hardly save us from users who have their monitors upside-down, or insert their 'laser-disks' upside down! Perhaps webcams could come to the rescue - at least they'll save expensive onsite drive-outs.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Common sense is anything but...

    Yet again, Ben Franklin described this syndrome 250 years ago:

    "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other".

  25. Tony Green

    My favourite from when I was on the helpdesk

    ICL's dumb terminals in the early 1980s displayed "protected fields", where you couldn't type anything, as half-intensity. The then equivalent of editable text fields were full intensity.

    One day I got a call from a contractor who told me "It's odd, but all the protected fields have disappeared from my terminal."

    "Ok," I said, "on the right-hand side of your terminal, you'll find a knob marked brightness."

    "Yes, I can see that."

    "Just push it up a little bit then."

    "Fantastic, I've got my protected fields back."

  26. Nic Brough
    Thumb Up

    My classic was

    A user who wasn't particularly computer literate, but knew it, and did her best.

    We sent out patches on disc, which were pretty much automatic - insert disc, hit the "look for patch" option on the admin menu (which backed up then installed it), call us if there's any error messages.

    I was trying to explain to her how to reach a particular report in the system, when it dawned that she didn't actually have the option because the patch it was in hadn't been installed. No problem - decided the best option was to send my colleague Steve to check what she had and hadn't got, and upgrade. He found all the disks in a cupboard, neatly labelled, but still sealed. She thought just the disks arriving would install them...

    Anyway, he upgraded, and being a nice chap, helped her move office (she'd booked it for his visiting day because she was scared to move the computer on her own - again, shows some sense if you're scared of the computer!) and everything was good.

    Until month end, when she couldn't print. I took the call and ran through "print to file", "is the printer installed on the computer", "what's the printer icon in the system tray showing" etc etc. After half an hour, I got her to send one more report and asked her to tell me if any of the lights on the printer flashed (I knew the printer had an "incoming data" LED), thinking the printer is broken. Response - "there's no lights at all". What? Not even power?

    D'oh! Steve had plugged it in, but not flipped the mains switch.

    Since then, I have always started by assuming that the user is (accidentally) not telling me something that I need to know

  27. James

    Learn to "not assume."..

    ... it takes a while.. but it's always a case of not jumping to conclusions and not "assuming". And very often it's the obvious. I once, (when a student) with others, pushed a friends car around a square in Aberdeen at 2 am trying to get it to start. It was 15 minutes before someone thought of checking the obvious... (fuel gauge!).

    We've found systems like "LogMeIn" rescue are invaluable for software based support - now we can see exactly what the user sees and does.... and I guess video links can help with the hardware (CDs upside down, printers upside down !!! coffee cup in the CD drive holder!).

    Must always remember that the user's perspective is entirely different from yours! "Is it plugged in?" (or similar) is always a good place to start.

    How many support people have asked the question: "What version of Windows are you running?" and got the reply "Office 2003" (or whatever!).

    Ho hum!

  28. Greg Jebb


    Tech Support category is the best.

    (Slightly out of date though)

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The pencil...

    Still think this is an urban legend, but I still like the old "NASA spent thousands getting a biro to work in zero-gravity, the Russians simply took a pencil into space."

    Wood for the trees, it's all the same. We are so conditioned to believe that the technology is perfectly designed, how can anyone subvert it in anyway, you simply cannot do things wrong. Can you? So when they fail to work, it has to be something up at the top level, the fundamentals are so long in the tooth, so widely used, they can't go wrong. Simple answers, to cloudy problems.

    My other favourite quote, working in IT, "Never underestimate the ingenuity of a fool!".

  30. tom
    Paris Hilton

    My story

    I remember working for a certain IT manufacturer as a software tester. We were stumped when for a new install of an operating system the cursor would only move vertically or horizontally but never on the diagonal. Eventually it turned out that the new mice provided to us at the same time as the OS install had oval trackballs (this is before optical mice).

    More recently one of the secretaries here had me pulling my systems (multiple machines linked by KVM switches) apart by simply placing a small post-it note over the optical sensor on my mouse.

    Just shows everyones context is different, as a techie I made the mistake of jumping to the techie solution without first considering simpler options.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    I have had several people call me, saying that the "Ctl-Alt-Del" is not showing up when they turn on their computer, only a solid blue screen. I know now ask them "Is your second monitor turned on?" Several people here have their external laptop monitor set as primary.

    Another one I heard was from a Dell techie. The user's monitor was showing different shades of red. Sometimes it would look fine, other times not. After replacing the monitor, checking the color settings, reinstalling the drivers, replacing the video card, and eventually reloading XP, the on-site tech who was on vacation went into the office and pulled back the red curtains. Problem solved.

    Paris, 'cause she knows what happens when (meat)curtains get in the way.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Earliest attack of user cluelessness with computers?


    On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament!], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.


    attributed to babbage

  33. Wolf
    Paris Hilton

    Back in the day...

    Back when the IBM PC AT was new and shiny I was the programmer and chief support tech (small company :) ) for a dental office management program. Backups were done on 5.25" floppies (the kind that really were "floppy").

    We had a whole chapter on the importance of backing up your data, but let the customer supply the backup program. Most chose a nice reliable program, so it worked well.

    Backups done on floppies inevitably required about 20 of them for any reasonable amount of data, and the instruction was usually "please change floppy" or "insert next floppy".

    One day I got a call from an office manager that her software had crashed, taking the data with it. She assured me she had a backup so I was relieved. The conversation went like this:

    Me: "About how many patients do you have?"

    Her: "About 5,000".

    Me: "Ok, you'll have to restore your data from backup. You have one, right?"

    Her: "Oh yes, no problem."

    Me: (thinking to reassure her) "How many floppies is the backup on?"

    Her: "One"

    (dead silence for 10 seconds as cold dread washes thru me)

    Me: "One?"

    Her: "Yes, one"

    Me: "um, didn't the backup program prompt you to change floppies?"

    Her: "Of course."

    Me: "Then why do you only have one floppy?"

    Her: "I put the same floppy back in each time."

    I swear to God this is a true story!

    Paris, because she might make a similar call today...

  34. Anonymous John

    Re The pencil...

    It is an urban legend.

    Lovely pens. I've used no other pens for nearly 40 years now.

  35. Robin

    re: My story

    "More recently one of the secretaries here had me pulling my systems"

    Yeah I've worked in such pleasing environments too...

  36. Peter Hines

    I said "right-click on the file"

    I said 'right-click on the file'

    He heard 'write click on the file'

    and that's how he ended up with a file called 'click' and I ended up with a few more grey hairs.

  37. Herby

    Never attribute to Malice that which can be explained by stupidity

    While this is a wonderful statement, the "malice" part is more fun:

    Example 1: Most character terminals, being monochrome, had simple deflection systems. Some of the coils inside had a simple two position connector that with little effort can be installed the "incorrect" way given a little "push". Opening up a terminal and swapping said connector can be most fun to an unsuspecting victim/sucker/co-worker. It can take a few hours of all sorts of "how could that happen" and mad diagnosis attempting to find a solution.

    Example 2: While working at Apple, a co-worker described an 'init' routine that decreased the screen size 1 pixel in each direction every time the machine re-booted. The effect of this "screen shrinker" are fascinating. In his developing work, he thought his eyes were going bad as the screen shrink day by day. It was just a little, but over time it became significant. The victim was finally told of the "hack" and let in on the prank. It was much fun while it lasted.

    Example 3: (Not really IT related) Back when gas economy was not THAT important (read the '60s), someone had purchased a VW Beetle. He would come to work and brag about his mileage every time he filled up his tank. Then one of his co-workers would add a little gas (remember it was "cheap" then) to his tank, the bragging became worse. More was added over time, and the "zillions of miles per gallon" ensued. Then he stopped adding gas, and down it went., not getting so much now, and he would run out of gas every once in a while. It ended the "bragging rights" of the VW owner. I suspect that this was before VW's had gas gauges, so it was pre-1964 or so. For the UK: gas == petrol.

    We now return you to your regular program. Yes, BOFH's existed even then!

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Users assume as well

    When ATMs where first coming out we wrote a program that would ftp in and download the information from the ATMs network to the person who actually owned the ATM. I was in charge of maintaining this program. One day I rewrote the FTP program. We released it and soon I got a call from my boss saying I had broke the download and we needed to revert it back. Wanting to see what was wrong I asked if I could debug it first. He had the ower of the machine on the phone and the guy was quite upset. I asked him to download his data again as I watched the FTP server. I could see the program logging in and downloading the file. I asked him did it work and he said no. I asked how he knew and he said it just disconnects him. I asked him to look to see if the data was there and it was. Because the new FTP program was so quick from the old one he just assumed he didn't get the data and was just be disconnected from the network.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Punch-down blocks in all the wrong places

    Mid-80s, I was working for a company that built gear to dynamically allocate bandwidth between voice and data.

    Incredibly Big Monster of a company (not HAL!) started getting weird bit error rates on their global T1 (E1, T3 etc ... ) network. I was assigned to track down the problem after lower level techs couldn't figure it out.

    Going thru' the data, I discovered that once the problem started occuring at any one site, it gradually became worse ... It was never bad enough to actually take down a connection, but network errors ramped up over time.

    Further review showed that the same team of installers had installed the gear at the sites with the problem.

    I flew out to Boca and discovered that they had installed punch-down blocks in a janitors closet ... directly over a mop bucket full of ammonia water. Seems it was the only wall space that was unused almost universally in such spaces.

    Corroded metal replaced and blocks relocated, no more bit-errors ...

    Live. Learn. Educate! :-)



  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Graham Bartlett

    "Fault-finding on cars can follow a similar pattern" - What I learnt the hard way: if the circuit diagram doesn't make any sense, you've got a defective earth.

  41. Legless
    Paris Hilton

    Too Much Information


    A few moons ago I was doing 2nd Line/3rd line at an outsourcing company that looked after lots of local and regional councils. It was an easy job and I rarely had to talk to users. But I did take all the "hot calls". Calls that the helpdesk had no idea where to send them to or calls that were politically sensitive. The one that follows was one of my favourites.

    One of the Helldesks bods rang me and said she had the headmistress of a particularly demanding school on the line. She was extremely pissed off and the operator wanted me to handle it. So I took the call.

    "Hi, I'm Legless. Can you tell me what the problem is please?"

    "It's pornography. There's pornography all over the childrens computer screens" the head replied in an incredibly posh voice.

    "OK. Can you tell me what type? I asked expecting the answer pop-ups, pop-unders, home page changed etc...

    "COCKS! BIG BLACK COCKS!!!" screamed the head excitedly...

    I corpsed. Hit the mute button and collapsed over my desk.

    Be careful what you ask......


  42. Jeffrey Nonken
    Thumb Down

    @The Pencil

    'Still think this is an urban legend, but I still like the old "NASA spent thousands getting a biro to work in zero-gravity, the Russians simply took a pencil into space."'

    Snopes is your friend.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ... is the process of challenging your assumptions.

    And that includes assumptions such as "the user has the screen the right way up" or "the disk is in the drive" or whatever. Start with the stupid and work your way up to the sophisticated. If you do it the other way round, it's you that will feel stupid. (Humility is a Good Thing for programmers to practice).

  44. Art Hawkes

    easy mistake to make

    Not sure this is relevant but moons ago I played piano in a pickup band. One time we had a gig with a Vibraphone player. For the first hour, I thought Wow! he's playing some really way out stuff. In the beer break, he was complaining about the piano being out of tune until we looked at the vibraphone. The keys came in two sets, one for the 'white' notes, the other for the 'black notes', the keys being linked on two wires. He hadn't spotted that the top, 'black' set was placed a full tone to the right! Les Dawson would have loved it.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    PDF encryption model

    Not so long ago, the place I was working at received a phone call from the head of IT for our country's secret intelligence service (our client at the time). He had received a PDF from the CIA, and couldn't figure out how to open it.

    Double-clicking is difficult.

  46. Rosuav

    @ Pooka

    "Of course he was going to a gay pr0n site - he wasn't spelling Mail right - and what else would you expect from"

    Good reason not to use Microsoft's mail service. just gives you Google.

  47. Tuomo Stauffer

    Dump terminal times had some benefits..

    Mostly you knew that there was something not really(?) working, even the data entry and office personnel were at least used to get what they waited and mostly knew their limitations. Today - it has changed! I'm now out of it because got too tired of managers, CIOs, whatever who have absolutely no idea what they are talking but because they are "big bosses" they think that yelling is more important than trying at least a little to understand the computer systems.

    Yes, a customer is a customer, but when you get 2am support call THIRD time and already guess that a manager in a state wide infrastructure has removed the same cable again(!) because it doesn't look right(!) - and I was on 3td level of support so two other people already got yelled.. Unfortunately they had fired all the admins - everything runs nicely so why would we need any admins, we can save money just having some console operators? Who, actually, left because even they with their small experience knew better! It was kind of funny - first time was confusing, second time was frustrating and third time(!) - I probably broke some some vendor / customer rules, he got promoted and we never had at least that problem again!

    And, don't ever get involved with a relative as a customer! They don't even have to be one of the "stupid" relatives but because they are a relative! They assume that you are there to solve any problem and stop even trying, first sign of ANY problem and you are supposed to come and fix it! I had one - never again!

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