back to article You did what? The trials of supporting remote users

IT support, as we know, is that job function in the technical ecosystem that takes the flack for any problem affecting a user. These can range from the straightforward if annoying forgotten password requests and slightly cryptic ‘my-laptop-isn't-working-anymore’ complaints, through to the more serious ‘accidentally deleted’ …


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  1. Tony
    Thumb Up

    Works both ways...

    I once had a support guy come to set me up with some comms software on my laptop.

    After a few attempts to get the software to talk to the remote server he gave up.

    It was at that point I told him he had plugged the modem into my ethernet port.

  2. Smiler

    Ah, the memories!

    Many years ago I was supporting a small office remotely, five PCs and a Mac. Requests for help were usually along the lines of not understanding how to do something in Word or Excel, deleted files needing recovery and so on.

    The best call I ever had from them was a straightforward, "Hi, Lorraine's computer is on fire. What should we do about it? There are flames and smoke coming out of the back of it."

    I very quickly suggested an alternative, 3-digit telephone number which ought to be dialled before IT support and they lived through their technical issue. I stopped supporting them shortly after that incident, they were more trouble than they were worth.

  3. Steven

    Many a tail...

    By far the most frustrating was when connectivity on one of our remote sites went down completely. After spending hours on the phone to a less then tech savy individual we eventually got to the route of the problem. She had unplugged the servers router to plug in a desk fan because she was hot...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Disappearing System

    Almost 12 years ago I helped to implement a new system this was based at a remote office and required a server with limited number of clients and some associated hardware for data recording.

    A call one morning resulted in there appearing to be an issue with the data on the network. The installed application would not process any data, would not return any reports and refused to allow logins.

    After trying various simple remote diagnosis of the client application, we arrived at the fact that the server had actually failed or the network had failed as we couldn't see it. We sent the user off to reboot the server, when they arrived in the office where the server had been located we were phoned by them to explain that the server had in fact gone, and that the window panel (which extended to the floor) had been removed, putty and all, and the server pulled back through the opening!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Help desk?

    "Service Desk" if you're ITIL (TM) compliant

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and become the very conduit of business service

    Yeah, good idea. Then you can dumb the job down even more, cut wages and call it customer services

    (hey Reg, you need a sarcasm icon).

  7. Tom

    MD troubles

    Showing an aged MD how to use the new orders and booking system, I said, 'click on the xxxx' he said 'how?' Now slightly pertubed at what was unravelling, i said he should use the mouse (how the hell are you supposed to tell someone this? here's me thinking i've just not understood him properly), after he hesitated, i gave him a subtle hint by gesticulating in a general mousey maner,

    He then picked up the mouse, gave it a scruitenous glower, then proceded to jab it at the monitor, asking 'how does it work, i can't make it go'

    Thankfully, he gave up at this point, i didn't have to open my mouth, which is a good job, as i'm not sure what noise would have been emitted.

    Another nice one was for national grid was asking a tech to diagnose a problem with his toughbook optial drive, after asking him to describe the state of the drive (which 'wouldn't go in anymore') I was stumped, i asked him to remove the drive again and asked him if any of the connections looked damaged at all, he said 'I can't see any conections, oh, hang on, do you mean all of these wires? I don't think I can attach them again"

    The idiot had pulled the tray out of the drive body along with optical array and motor and subsequent ribon looms.

  8. Liam

    ive seen loads but...

    the one that springs to mind was when a guy was trying to get onto the token ring network. he was using a pcmcia token ring nic on his laptop. after ages on the phone we couldnt figure out why it wasnt working, so he came up to us.

    it turned out he tad taken the cat5 end of the cable and inserted it into his ethernet port. trying to make some kind of aerial?!?!?! and these guys always get paid much more than you did... luckily moved quickly away from IT support to development

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Typical Windows Users

    They are clueless and make my job fun. Here is a small sample of what I have had:

    Faulty CD drive - user was putting disc in upside down. This happened to several people. When I asked someone who had disc problems if they were putting the disc in the right way (explaining why I had to ask) they got the huff and didn't talk to me for 2 weeks. Nevermind as there was nothing wrong with their CD drive.

    Faulty printer 1 - Got the call that the printer for a new employee wasn't working. I went over, put paper in the printer and watched it print. I didn't mind this call or helping this person as she is pretty (but taken!).

    Faulty printer 2 - Call that a network printer is not working. Go over to it, press Start and voila - it works. Turns out the user had selected custom paper but did not bother going to the printer to check.

    Computer doesn't work - I get lots of these calls, all the same result. First, check there is power going there and the easiest way is to turn on the monitor. Problem solved - user turns machine on, doesn't realise monitor is off so presumes computer is broken.

    Then there are the viruses. Lots of fun with cleaning up viruses. All machines have one thing in common: Limewire!

    etc etc.

  10. polossatik

    talking to a "dba"....

    Doing remote debugging of an Oracle db problem, ct told me he was on windows ...

    no matter what we checked, it was all fine according to him, but he could not connect locally (and claimed to not be able to test remote),seen he was next to the server and this was a dev system I asked him to check the oracle service and restart this. Suddenly everything went TO quiet at the other side.

    Asked what he did, he cut the power of the box. - So I asked to start the system again.

    Then he asked with what login he needed to use, so I suggested an domain admin login.

    After more confusion it turned out he was not on a windows box but a sun box...

    Finally got someone else on phone, who logged in with a user acount that had the correct permissions to make local connections, after commenting out the windows authentication adapter again in the NET8 config........

  11. Anonymous John

    @ Works both ways...

    I saw something similar at work a few years back.

    A PC's modem had stopped working, so a support bod had been called out. By the time I happened to walk past, he had been on-site nearly an hour. He'd changed all the settings, both before and after replacing the modem. All to no avail, as he still got the "No dial tone detected" error message.

  12. Mark York
    Paris Hilton

    Remote Access

    I had a call drop into my support teams group late one evening & I took the call as it was one of my less clued up (despite enough letters for two whole alphabets after her name) users in one of my supported building.

    The call read as follows:

    "Ya**in is in Spain on a audit, every time she tries to dial in for remote access, she hears the "engaged" tone. Please contact on her mobile phone & assist user with connecting via Remote Access".

    I sent her an e-mail (typical BOFH attitude), stating that if she was hearing the "engaged" tone,

    that perhaps she might want to :

    1 - Wait until other remote users dropped their connection.

    2 - Identify who she wanted me to kick off the remote access server so she could take their place (I didn't have those powers, but no harm in letting her think that).

    3 Check that she was in fact dialling the right number.

    I closed the call with a note that Level one support should have stopped this one at the first hurdle.

    She never followed up my e-mail, on her return to site, though she did log other classic calls such as this classic Remedy Request & subsequent phone call:

    "My printer isn't printing out"

    Are the lights on & any flashing error lights?

    Yes & No

    Have you checked the printer cable between the docking station & printer?


    Have you reseated the laptop & docking station.


    So I walked down to 225 (in the pouring rain on a winters afternoon IIRC) & strolled into PQA (nice bunch of ladies, aways trying to poison me with weird& exotic chocolates from their jollies.....I mean overseas QA trips, their sole male manager had his own office with shutable door inside the department seperating him from this gaggle of 5 women & understandably rarely came out, except for meetings, bog breaks, his own jollies overseas or to go home).

    A quick examination discovered an "air gap" of some 3 feet from the end of the printer cable & the printer itself, moving the printer closer & reconnecting the cable resolved the problem.

    Cable was disconnected love, thought you said you checked the cable

    "But it was connected"

    No it wasn't

    "Yes... but no... but yes.... but no.. but yes" in true Vicky Pollard (she was oblivious to the character) style only in a Indian accent, before conceding defeat..

    PH because we have all been there.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Whiteout fun

    Many many moons ago, I was a junior IT Tech. One of my users was the most wonderful secretary/PA to a chairman. Knew the company back to front, had a typing speed of 100wpm+, had a secret stash of cookies for her "little helpers" etc etc .

    We had a task to upgrade all the Secretary/PA pool from typewriters to Compaq Desktops. They had some variety of DOS and Word Perfect.

    Most of the staff picked it up quite well, some of course had encountered computers before, some had an open & willing mind.

    Then we got to the chaiman's PA, lets call her Eileen.

    For one thing Eilieen had a habit of really pounding the keys on her typewriter. Not a major problem on Manual or Electric models, but we'd already lost one Electronic model to heavy handed typing.

    The other problem was that Eileen did like to have things explained "by metaphor". So we had to explain filenames and folders by way of files & hanging folders and filing cabinets. Unfortunately while explaining Word Perfect I made a really unfortunate choice in metaphor.

    I'd already had to explain that you didn't need to put carbon sheets between the sheets of paper for the HP Laserjet III printer.

    I was explaining Backspace/Delete and equated it, quite logically with using "whiteout" (snopake/tippex etc).

    The whole thing seemed to go down quite well, so I left Eileen to her typing and went back to the IT lab.

    Ten minutes later I get a phone call which went along the lines of

    "My corrections aren't moving with the text on the tv-thingy"

    Puzzled I went round to see what had happened.


    Do you know how difficutl it is to get Whiteout off of a old CRT monitor screen?

    I do ...

  14. Justin Cottrell

    Daft Problem

    I once had a user call our helpdesk, who spoke to a junior on the desk. He spent about 20 mins trying to sort a problem out with someones laptop, which wouldnt accept any new passwords that he reset from our end.

    After about 2 mins i realised that something strange was going on with his keyboard. I asked him to read out the keys from left to right. It turned out one of his colleagues had popped off the keys and changed the order of them on the keyboard, so it wasnt qwerty any more. I Found it totally Hilarious!!!!!!!

    Another time, one of the companies engineers called me whilst he was Driving. He phoned to complain the gprs wasnt working on the laptop. Whilst on the phone, i told him to pull over so i could help him with the problem. He swore at me, threw the laptop onto the passenger seat in the van. The passenger window was open. Next thing i heard was oh F***!!!!. I asked him what happened. He replied it bounced on the seat, and went straight out the van window!!!! (must have thrown it extremely hard!!!!)) He was suspended for 2 weeks. Luckily enough for him, the laptops were Panasonic Toughbooks. It survived the falling out the window, and just ended up with a few scrapes and scuffs. Luckily there was nothing behind when he was driving!!

  15. Dan

    Works both ways part 2...

    I was working on a helpdesk, and received a call from a hardware engineer who was at a user's desk on a remote site. The PC wouldn't boot up, showing a "SCSI ID 5" error, and asking me what to do. (The fact that he was supposed to be a hardware engineer was bad enough, but...) He insisted nothing about the config had been changed, so I figured that first port of call had to be to eliminate the obvious by simply rebooting to check that the problem occurred a second time. He objected (quite strongly) and told me that he thought it was because the user's password on an AS400 at the other end of a WAN was out of sync! Anyway, he hung up on me, then called back 5 minutes later to say that he had gotten someone more helpful to reset the password, and this had resolved the problem, which demonstrated (apparently) that I didn't have a clue about what I was doing...

  16. jhwker

    What's that noise

    Happened last Sunday. Customer called me complaining that for the last two weeks she had been hearing a constant ticking noise coming from her desktop and smelling something electrical overheating every once in a while. I suspected a fan giving up the ghost and told her to shut the computer down and to bring it to the shop in the morning. She powered down the system and announced the sound was still there even without the computer running and with that she insisted I come out and find the problem.

    I arrived at the customers home, walked into the living room where the computer was located, walked to her desk reached up, took a battery operated clock off the wall, walked to the opposite end of the room and asked her if she could still hear the noise. She turned beet red and said, you are going to tell everyone about this aren't you? Please do me a favor and do not tell them it was me. Then she said I could go now... The overheating electrical item? A power transformer laying on a heater outlet, Oh, she had bought the clock at a tag sale two weeks before...

  17. Nursing A Semi

    Server issues

    We once sent a remote engineer to a site in Scotland to install a server with satellite uplink for a major chain of car dealerships.

    He arrived on site to find a parcelforce van parked in the middle of a field with the driver wondering who to hand the collection of bexes to.

    It transpired that the dealership was not scheduled to be built for another 6 months and the project manager had got his gant chart slightly wrong.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    2 Spring to mind...

    Two that I personally dealt with spring to mind, both from the days of dialup:

    1) The company I worked for had put in an 0800 dialup service, which was sized by the previous ammount that users were using the pay-for-and-claim-back dialup service, plus a bit. Because it was free, people weren't very good at disconnecting so it turned out to be a nightmare to connect to, as it was always in use. This resulted in users complaining left right and centre, this resulted in users connecting and staying connected. Incuding one user who connected, left the laptop logged in and running, then went on holiday for two weeks... A few words were had when he got back to work...

    (nb: There was a disconnect, but if your email software is polling for new mail every few minutes, you won't be disconnecting.)

    2) At the same company I had to deal with a user who had taken his broken laptop to a local barnch to get it rebuild and all the data re-synced back onto it. He waited for the laptop to get re-bulid but not re-synced before he picked it up. He called me up, from holiday overseas, asking where all his email and personal data was, we chatted for a bit and worked out what had happened. He decided that he wanted to get at least his email, I did a few calculations and worked out that it would take a three day international call to re-sync his mail - that was if the link didn't fail. He gave it a bit of thought and said he'd give it a go... It worked as well, but cost a bit...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Exterior Forces

    I once had a user who complained that her monitor was faulty, but every time an engineer turned up he could find no problems .. until he actually sat there in their office in the railway arches when a tube train passed overhead .. and watched the monitor warp as the train passed ..

    And i was present when one engineer followed the process of fault-finding perfectly for over 15 minutes .. then finally asked the user if she could see any lights at the back of the machine .. only to be told she couldnt see the back of the machine because it was too dark .. because the power had failed about 20 minutes before .. And he was very polite to her too ..

    Paris because I think she would improve Paul Mcartneys song-writing ..

  20. Jason Harvey

    best one I remember

    or worst one... depending on your POV.

    I was working in a call center... that lasted 3 weeks. The users weren't the problem though. but I digress.

    I didn't actually get this call. But it did happen on my shift. we got many laughs out of this one. we were providing support for some knockoff brand sold on QVC or HSN to people that generally didn't even know what a computer was, much less how to use it. anyhow...

    guy calls and says his computer won't turn on. this is actually a normal call. seems the motherboards liked to be reset after shipping and sometimes needed the power button to be held in for 30 seconds to get them to work. no biggy... go down the list.

    Support: is the power cord securely in the computer?

    User: yes.

    Support: what's the power cord plugged into?

    user: power strip.

    support: what the power strip plugged into?

    user: power strip?

    support: another power strip?

    user: no.

    support: ...

    support: sir, the power strip does not generate power and needs to be plugged into a wall outlet.

    user: *plugs strip into wall and tries power button again* ok... that's got it. it turned on now. thanks. *click*

    we got many many laughs out of this one.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    not a "remote" support issue but....

    Several years ago I found my (supposedly IT-literate) boss looking dumbfoundedly at one of several test PCs, so I asked him if there was a problem. He told me he was trying to switch on one of the machines, but it didn't work.

    I checked the mains socket. All okay.

    I checked the cables at the back. All present and plugged in correctly.

    I checked that the monitor was connected and switched on. All fine.

    I asked him to try again to switch it on, at which point I discovered what the problem was.


    He was pushing the floppy eject button.

  22. Squits
    Gates Horns

    Hell desk with actual customers

    My favourite one when I read through the system we used to use for call logging:

    Customer had bought a pc from PCW, worked fine for a while.

    After about 2 months of having it, it wouldn't go on the 'net anymore, apparently his base unit was talking to him and it was scaring him, then it stopped working altogether.

    The agent had tried to get the pc up and running again but failed, so he sent out an engineer.

    The engineer arrived to find a house with windows covered with silver foil, when he looked at the pc he saw that the guy had drilled a hole in the top of the base unit and filled it with expanding foam 'To stop the voices' the engineer promptly left before he got turned into a stew or something.

    The only thing we could think of that would cause the base unit to speak to him was his isp phone number being wrong and the loudspeaker on the dialup modem telling him to 'please replace the handset and try again'

    His warranty was nullified and I think he got placed on a watchlist.

    I vaguely remember another customer threatening to kill his mother if we didn't send him an engineer, I think his call records were about 500 pages long.

    The devil is in these guys.

  23. Matthew Weekes

    Gateway Support

    Back when Gateway were actually selling computers worth owning their support was in meltdown so they started doing a kind of group support call where people with similar problems were allowed to listen to the calls before them in the queue. I guess the idea is that you magically find your solution from the last guy without the support monkey even needing to speak to you.

    So I'm trying to get a replacement mobo going and I'm listening to the guy a few places before me in the queue trying to get an additional harddisk installed. The operator had spent 20 mins or so taking him through opening the case,, moving the cdrom cage out of the way, fitting the drive, screwing it in etc. He moved onto IDE cables and jumper settings;

    Gateway: So with the IDE cable in place on both the motherboard and in the back of the drive, place the jumper on the back of the hard drive on the leftmost set of pins, marked "slave".

    User: OK

    Gateway: Now replace the lid, do up the large screw at the rear of the case and turn on the PC!

    User: It's already turned on.

    Gateway: ...

    Everyone else listening to the call: PMSL

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ghost in the machine

    A secretary called the helpdesk, saying there was a ghost in her computer. She said lettres were getting typed randomly in Word as she was using it.

    Remotly watching the user's screen, she attempted to duplicate the issue, but was unable to do so, as the ghost was obviously scared of me. Virus and spyware scans turned off negative, so I told the user I would ask someone to go on site to investigate.

    As I started to fill my ticket, I did not close the remote window. As I am typing, the user starts to work again and a few seconds later, I see giperish appearing on the text she is typing. I immediatly call her back to tell her I saw it happen. I still have no idea what caused it, but now the user is felling safe she is not crazy and is very happy.

    The next day, the technician goes there and can find nothing wrong with the PC and is himself unable to duplicate the issue.

    Out of curiousity, he asks the secretary to continue her work and he will stay to watch and see if it happens.

    It is when the rather well rounded secretary leans forward to turn the page of the document she is re-writing that the technician finally realises what is causing the random characters to appear. It was apparently very ackward to explain to her.

  25. Pete

    I wasn't getting any

    service calls after improving my application to the point that it practically ran itself and nothing was going wrong.

    This led to questions about my service charge. The next upgrade had a couple of 'non-standard' procedures, designed to result in service calls. Our clients were more satisfied with their service charges after that.

    Not sure what the lesson is here.

  26. Jacqui

    Double click

    This happened recently.

    A complaint that every time someone used the printer they get two copies instead of one. After watching I found outthe user was double clicking *everything* including the Ooo print icon. He still cannot grasp why some things are one click and others require two clicks....


  27. Andy Enderby

    not me, my boss....

    My boss was always a decent guy, didn't take idiocy well, but a picture of competence, personally I found him a fun guy to work for. Not everyone shared my view however....

    He got a somewhat tetchy call from a supported council IT department famous for it's Friday afternoon liquid lunches and for their clueless post pub support calls. Clearly as always it's our fault, as always the customer is always right and as always we know nothing. Problem : "unix commands don't work". Our chap who has a newborn daughter, busily supporting his wife when he could, putting up with a 4 hour daily total round trip commute each day, no sleep for days, guides him through all manner of diagnostics, knowing in any event what the problems are (ie PEBKAC enhanced by booze), and that engineer concerned was drunk finishes up with......

    (overheard over the partition), "ok, what does the prompt look like ?", a pause......"C:\> ? Oh for F*cks sake, get a grip man !"

    There followed a brief and robust exchange of views when it was suggested that whomever was administering the organisations Unix servers either gain substantial competence or jettison the booze at Friday lunchtime and that a favour was being done in not informing his superiors of his inebriated state.

    Having dealt with the guy in question, on a Friday afternoon it was a miracle he rembered to breath at times.

  28. Kristian Durvin

    Oh the tales I could tell...

    I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth... Back in the days of doing help desk we had a user from a warehouse site, located 3 hours away call and complain he could not print to the network printer there. So we ran through the usual troubleshooting steps of checking print ques, drivers, configurations and check that the printer was plugged in to power and the network, and had toner, etc... From his descriptions everything was in perfect order. So we dispatched a tech to drive up and see if he could get it working as the boss at the site was getting angry we could not sort it out over the phone. About 3 hours later our tech called us back to let us know the results of his visit. Seems the network printer had been moved in to the warehouse area and a forklift had taken a wide turn near the printer. The forklift prong had gone through the middle of the printer and pinned it in to the steel wall behind it. But sure enough it had toner and all the plugs were connected still, just as the user verified....

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Support helping Support

    I myself being the IT Admin at my company at 100 users was having an issue with my ISP modem at home. After trouble shooting the issue and discovering the NIC on the modem was faulty I placed a call into Support. I explained all the actions I had taken to troubleshoot the problem and how I came to my conclusion. The support person felt that I needed to redo everything again as it couldn't the modem since he could see the modem on his end. He felt I should reinstall Windows and my NIC drives. I tried to explain to him that using my router (for testing only) and received and IPaddress from my router but if I removed the router and plugged into the modem I received no IPaddress. His comment was I'm wrong as he's being doing his job for a few months now and he knows better than me. When I was able to reach a supervisor and explained everything to him he confirmed that it was a bad NIC on the Modem. I believe the first tech I was talking to no longer has a job. (This is what I was told)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Website Support

    The company I work for creates and hosts web applications; we also host email. I can't tell you the number of clients that have called complaining that they can't get to their website and/or email because of this "Page cannot be found error". Question 1: Can you get to any other websites? Answer: No. Argh!

  31. Garry Mills

    Few years ago...

    I was working with a local PC shop, who had a customer come in complaining that their newly purchased PC was freezing intermittently.

    All the required tests where performed, soak test, running every program on the system to the max, full system check, the works. Nothing found, so customer goes home happy it's been "sorted out"

    Next day they are back. Started to ask about the environment, near to power station, lones overhead, anything that could cause this. Nothing. Another soak test, customer out of door...

    Third time in, one of the guys decide to to the owners house to find out what exactly was going on. Silently, he stood there watching as the machine was plugged in, connected to the phone line etc, then dozens of fridge magnets where placed all over the case to "make it look pretty"

  32. Loki

    God help us

    So many good times but one really sticks in my mind even though not related to users directly. Me and my Muslim colleague had been rounded up to deal with a priority one problem which left quite a few people without access to the network along with a top director, so it was a bit rush rush.

    However, the timing was bad because as we were in the comms room checking things out my friend decided it must be time to pray to Mecca so unrolls his prayer mat (carried it in his laptop case) and proceeds to pray.

    User sticks his head into the comms room to see if we are making progress and sees me with wires thrown all over the place and my colleague on the floor praying.

    No prizes for guessing what he thought about this and probably went back to tell his manager that the network was likely to be down for some time.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tales From The Tech Support Trenches

    Two from my early years on a support desk:

    Monday morning, first call of the day - "Hello, IT Support? I've turned my PC on and it just comes up with 301 on screen and stops" ,"301?" says I, "that usually indicates a problem with your keyboard", "MY KEYBOARD!" says screams, "IT'S GONE!!!" with that the line went dead...

    Another day, another call (from about 15 years ago) - "Errr, hello, can you please tell me if these new compaq PCs are water cooled, cos I think mine's sprung a leak..." "Pardon?" I replied. "Well, there's water dripping off the bottom of my screen and onto my keyboard..." I told her to move away from the desk, not touch anything and call her building maintenance people, urgently! It turns out the ceiling aircon unit was leaking and the water had found it's way down the supporting column positioned next to her desk; down the network cable that was plugged into a socket on the column; and was then trickling down the side of her monitor as the cable ran over the top of it, on it's way to her colleagues PC.

    A new definition of "wetware error"?

  34. Anonymous Coward

    (L)users - they're a pain....

    I had a UNIX server that kept crashing (complete hang). Our first line kept rebooting it without getting a crash dump for me to look at. I called the user, who was getting rather irate (which I could understand) and rude (which I could not). As it happens, the following day after our 'conversation', I was actually about when the system crashed again. I quickly dived in, took a system dump, and brought the server back up. I looked at the crash dump and found that the user has spawned *thousands* of processes and caused the crash. I told him - he argued. I presented the facts - he argued it wasn't his code at fault. So I left it. 3 crashes later, he finally comes back and claims that 'it was bad data that caused his code to fail'.

    I politely pointed out that perhaps his code should have been written with data validation in mind....

  35. M E H

    IT Iliterates

    Not sure if this is quite in the spirit of the article as it doesn't really concern remote users, although I did have to support users while I was working at home, through a 56k dial up connection. In 2004.

    The hospital where I was on the Servicedesk had a high proportion of Nigerian and Filipino nurses. They might have been great nurses but they sure weren't IT literate. I think we take it for granted that people in this country will have grown up with them. Not so in developing countries.

    Anyway - one evening I take a call. They can't log on. So I reset their password. They still can't log on. Their PC wasn't accepting remote viewing so I reset the password again. "Now you are putting in jsmith as a username aren't you?", they assured me they were. Still no joy. I again checked that he was sure he knew what his username was and he was using that. Oh yes, he knew that and he was using it like he always did.

    It was the end of my shift so I said I would go around to the ward and see what was going on. This was totally outside my remit as we had desktop guys for that. So I go around there and he was using john.smith as a username. D'oh!

    The name has been changed to protect the guilty.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    @tom - MD troubles

    Wait a mo' You were right there watching this poor befuddled guy trying to work something he had never seen before and you couldn't take 10 seconds to put your hand on the mouse, move it around to show him the pointer moving, and then click the frikkin' button?

    please don't bother to explain how "helpful" you are...

  37. Jonathan McColl

    A neighbour

    A neighbour called to explain that the online help from PC World was no use, he'd spent hours with them on a premium line, and they blamed Microsoft and Windows needed reloading, and the software support number blamed the hardware and they all put off his important problem to everyone else, but he knew I was something to do with computers ...

    Whassa matter? A loud annoying buzzzzzzzzzzzz every day about 10am, absolutely definitely from the computer, and even after he'd unplugged all the kit following one support guy's recommendation to pack it all up for return. (If you can't see what's coming ask jhwker above).

    It took me ages to convince him it might be that alarm clock on the bookshelf on the other side of the room.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice trip up North - not.....

    Had a call from a customer who was unable to contact the office via his modem to download stock data for his produce (eggs). I couldn't work out what was wrong remotely, so I had to take the company car (beat up old Diesel Orion that was on its last legs) and drive over 120 miles to go and sort out the problem. It was so remote, I ended up almost grounding out on a dirt track. Having finally found the place, I could see no problem with the computer. Traced the wire from the modem round to the phone point - and found a mass of wires. Apparently he had knocked it off the wall and 'put it back as best he could remember'.......

  39. blackworx


    I had a payroll deputy manager ask me: "is there any way I can multiply these figures together in Excel so they come up automatically instead of having to use a calculator?" ... For the innumerable years he had been using spreadsheets he had been filling in his calculations by hand. The guy takes home almost twice what I do. I love going to work, me.

  40. J.R. Bloodsworth
    Paris Hilton

    Latest ROFLcoper

    Too many to tell in one post, but I think this one rates right near the top and occured just last week.

    Client calls complaining their boss can't receive emails on his brand-new Blackberry. He's in Aruba (you should already know where this is going).

    Not knowing how things were configured, I remoted into the client's PC to see if he's using the Blackberry Desktop manager. It's installed, but noticed there isn't a PIN assocated with it. Then I realized that they don't use Exchange, just POP accounts hosted off of customer prem.

    Then it dawned on me that his phone provider must be doing POP for him. So I ask:

    "Can he access the Internet on his phone?"

    "I dunno, we're trying to call him back, but his cell-phone isn't working."

    I'm still trying to figure out how he called his office (Had to be from a hotel phone).

    PH cause even SHE knows how cell-phones work.

  41. vincent himpe

    How win95 hacked Solaris

    These were the early days of window95. For those who don;t remeber : in win95 or 98 ( with network logon ) you can just create a new logon by entering a name and password on the welcome screen. if the name is not registered it will create an account.

    I had a brand new win95 box and jokingly created an account called 'root' with 'user' as password. and proceded to map the drive shared out using a samba session on a solaris fileserver.

    I copied some stuff over to the server. all was well... until poepl on the Sun network tried accessing those files.. permission denied ... hmmm. a quick ls later : owner is root ? wtf ? i ran back to the win95 and using a single drag and drop just moved entire directory structures around. whoa. Talk about a mayor bug in samba... Samba must have 'trusted' me since i was apparently successfully logged on as 'root' on the pc. This was flagged and took weeks to fix...

  42. Colin

    You did WHAT?

    Had a call from the US one day. The woman on the other end of the phone complained that she was unable to start an Oracle database that contained a lot of critical company data. Going through the logs, it appeared that the database files were missing. My first thought was filesystems not mounted. Nope - they were good. Went through the directory structure and found..... nothing.

    In a small voice, the woman then admitted that the filesystem had become quite full, and that she'd cleared down some 'large files'. Worked out that these just happened to be the database files!

    She asked if I could 'undelete them'.

    I told her to restore the last good backup.

    She told me that that was three weeks ago........

  43. Eddie

    One more from the archive...

    I used to (1994-6) work for a charity giving computer training to special needs groups. I was meant to be a tutor-befriender, but having arrived and found a pile of not working machines, I redesignated myself as a technician. We had some students who were on Outreach - we supplied a computer, a modem, training manuals, and support. One day one of the outreach students rang in and said that her floppy drive wasn't working, and she couldn't save her work, and so she couldn't send it in. We were a little short staffed so I couldn't get out to her, and so I asked our driver to collect it and bring it to me. I opened it up, and detached the floppy drive. Lifting it out, I noticed it was somewhat heavier than it should be, and it rattled. Very loudly. Opening up the drive I found it was filled with pennies and tuppences (two pences). Her toddler son had been given a money box, and had since gone round filling any slot like orifice with his pocket money. I replaced the drive, and phoned the lass, she had sounded very distressed, and they were a lovely bunch to support, always very grateful for your efforts, but I couldn't resist saying as she answered the call "I've had a look at your machine, but I'm afraid that there's no change yet....."

    Mine's the one with the screwdrivers in the pocket....

  44. Pooka

    Taking the glasses one step further....

    Before I moved off the helpdesk I took one phonecall from a blind customer who could not connect to the network. Everything seemed fine, and everyone else on the same site was able to connect. In the end I saw no option except to log the call across to a mobile engineer for further investigation. That afternoon I checked the status of the call to find the following message from the network engineer in the call log:-

    "Call closed. Users' guide dog bit through network cable."

  45. Chris Strnad


    Back in the dial-up days just as the 56k "war" started, I worked helpdesk for a local ISP.

    Our process for new accounts was to first get vital information (name & address), ask for a username (and check for its availability), generate a password, take credit card info if necessary, then hand the lot off to the sysadmin for account creation.

    I had just done all this for a keen & green new customer signing up and paying for a full year service ($140 at the time), and offered to walk him through Windows95 DUN settings. I got as far as the modem selection, but no further since one wasn't installed. After a brief explanation that one was required, he exclaimed, "I need a modem to do this?!? Well f--- that!" and promptly hung up on me.

  46. Kevin Bailey

    Golf game or company?

    Took this one myself.

    Unix server running a very large bakery - fleets of delivery trucks, dozens of branches etc etc.

    Boss gets a free golf game off the front of a magazine - wanders around office to see where it will play - unlocks and pulls out SCSI drive caddy on companies main Unix box - can't insert CD - shoves drive back in.

    We then get a call that unix box is not responding - and we can't dial in.

    Just about to book a flight from London to Ireland when I managed to extract confession!

  47. Joe H.

    Can you dial in and check my multiplexor?

    I worked remote WAN support a few years back and will never forget this call.

    A maintenance customer calls in and needs me to dial into his AAC, a multiplexor that will take T-1s in and send them out to various serial and high speed sync devices, and check it out for him. So I connect to it at 2400 baud over the PSTN. I notice immediately that there are 2 honking red alarms on both T-1s the AAC is configured to use.

    So I ask him if he has called his T-1 circuit provider about this problem. He says that they are on site. I ask him what they are doing, and he says they are down in a trench in front of his building.<boggle>

    So I ask him why he wanted me to dial into the AAC. He said to check it to see if it was OK. I said it was fine and would be even better when the T-1 provider sends it T-1 signal.

    Some calls are just unforgettable....

  48. nae


    a visiting engineer pooped into the help desk to request a mouse for a server as it hadnt come with one, I opened a new mouse box , removed the mouse and handed it over, 20 minutes latter he returned complaining that it must be a faulty mouse.

    i turned it over to check the ball was free, only to see the little plastic shipment holder still in place

    how we laughed, well me mostly

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Roaming profiles

    I remember some person in Singapore who needed help to do something with an application and, as I was making little progress in getting her to understand what was to be done (heck, she was only an auditor working for onE companY of the Big Four), I connected to her desktop in an attempt to help.

    The first thing I noticed was the desktop; every slot on the grid was filled with a file of some description - files not shortcuts. Resolution was high enough that this was adding 4Gb to the profile....the roaming profile.

    "It is slow to login?" I asked....


    I managed to not laugh and gave her instructions on how to resolve that issue - she declined!!

    And this was nothing to do with what I was trying to help her with....

    I could go on but would prefer to keep that area of my mind closed!!

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I want to support

    ...That well-rounded secretary. I'll help her type her gibberish any day.

    That was the story that got my guffaw and gets my vote!

    Our man who never made the support call was a very important executive from Japan, who insisted on a top-of-the range brand-new PC. We never noticed him using it, so one day, we unplugged the keyboard. It was months before he noticed.

    The thing that drives me wildest, after patiently explaining all the symptoms of a problem, over a long and detailed telephone call, is to be asked to put it all in an email!

    And I do recall the first time I was asked by support, only I don't think they called it support then, and I had never used a computer so did not know the lingo, to "power up" my computerised photo-typesetting machine. It took some verbal tooing and froing before I realised that the guy wanted me to switch it on :)

  51. Anonymous Coward

    A story against myself

    I'm not an IT support person, but my knowledge of the subject is a bit above average and I can solve most of my own problems if I have the access rights to do so.

    At my desk I run my laptop with an LCD as the primary display and the laptop screen as secondary - so far so good!

    On one occassion I was setting up to deliver some in-house training using my laptop and a datashow - datashow still turned off at this point. All my laptop would do when booting was stop at a blue screen - it would boot properly in safe mode, but in normal mode, no go. After several attempts I gave up and we did the training the old fashioned way, using the handouts and a whiteboard - all more or less happy.

    Back at my desk I plugged the laptop back in to everything and gave it one more go at booting before logging a support call - important note to self - even if a projector is turned off, the laptop may still see it as a connected primary display and display all the useful stuff such as login dialogues on it.

    Anonymous because some of my colleagues read El Reg, and I need to maintain at least a minimal level of credibility.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cooking oil

    I worked at a prominent university in my first job and used to get many scatty professors caught doing silly things.

    One day a female professor came in with a keyboard saying she thinks it's broken.

    "Why?" I asked.

    "Well I vomited on it this morning and after that it didn't seem to work very well, so I though I'd clean it with cooking oil..."

    And sure enough it appeared to be covered in bits of puke and was very greasy. I'm not sure I'd like to see the inside of her house...

  53. Bernard Mergendeiler

    Question of the week

    I used to work in Support for a software publisher.

    Best call I ever got was from an excellent customer who never called with the usual dumb mistakes. He had a server farm. The servers were named after characters from "Rocky and Bullwinkle", e.g. Boris, Natasha, Dudley, Nell, etc. He was installing a new server and could think of only one character whose name he hadn't used yet.

    Thus, the only reason for his call was to ask, "What was the name of Dudley Doright's horse?" I told him right away and he sent in an excellent customer satisfaction survey.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a User, I Admit When I'm Wrong.

    If I open a ticket, then find the solution; whether it is a workaround/fix, or PEBCAK, I make a point of letting the folks on the other end know, especially if it was a goof on my part.

    After all, it's the polite thing to do.

    It has never been received badly (well, except for one guy at the Adobe Photoshop Beta Desk, who just blacklisted me because I was...strident; but I don't really blame him).

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Once upon a time there were (may even still be) a number of Advanced Gas Cooled reactor power stations run on somewhat less than advanced Ferranti Argus computers (think genuine ferrite "core" storage (4k x 24bit words) and a master console - aka The Wurlitzer - with a large number of toggle switches and winken-blinken lights.

    Well, the disk storage was well passed its best - 1.92MB on a 1m diameter platter and enough angular momentum to make anyone dizzy - so we replaced it with error correcting solid state memory. We were quite good at doing such things and VERY VERY CAREFUL ("Large cloud of radioactive fallout now passing over X due to cockup by Messrs X, Y, Z" is not the sort of headline you want to wake up to...)

    Anyway, we tested it thoroughly (which included shift work enshrouded in bin bags staring at a high speed 'scope to track down the last 2ns glitch) and it was perfect.

    Until it got to site - at which point the "ultra reliable Argus systems", which hitherto had only crashed about once every two weeks (always safely switching to the backup I hasten to add) began to crash every 24 hours. And when everything fails more often the likelihood of two things going wrong at once increases accordingly. Nightmares of "core dumps" of CO2 from emergency reactor shut-downs all round.

    Fortunately, we had a good relationship with the (as was) CEGB: they called and said "Your fault", we said "Tisn't!", they said "We know... but you have to prove it" - but it took us weeks and lots of really high tech (for those days) equipment.

    Turned out that all we had actually done was amplify an existing problem - an illegal bus state (caused by an illegal instruction in the original safety-approved code) that our scrupulously programmed system refused to accept, but which the old Burrough's disks were perfectly happy to just "ignore". The bug in the source code was then fixed.

    After which, everything worked absolutely fine...

    But - have you ever had to jump start a computer? Really - the old Argus had a 12V lead-acid accumulator in the CPU rack, and if it was dead it wouldn't boot....

    Is it plugged in? Did you check the battery...?

    AC... just in case

  56. Gilbert Wham


    I got this:

    'Can you press ctrl-alt-del for me please?'


    'No? Why not?'

    'I've only got one hand.'


  57. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Ah memories

    In my PFY days I was a tech for Earthlink (an ISP). One day about a week into my time with live customers I get a call in the windows cue from a customer not able to connect to the internet. In total the call lasted just over an hour, the bulk of it due to said customer not understanding the concept of a right mouse click. After beating my head against the desktop repeatedly I could hear typing on the other end of the phone. I asked clueless (l)user what he was doing he said he was "right clicking on the desktop but it's still not doing anything". I then inquired "and how are you doing this". His response has given me a laugh to this day "well I have the mouse thingy on my desktop and I'm typing click like you told me to do". Yes folks he was indeed attempting to write the word "click" on his desktop instead of using the right mouse button. And yes I did indeed have to then spend a full five minutes explaining to him the concept of left and right mouse buttons /face palm.

    Not but two years ago I was contracting with a major southern california city. I was out in the field doing migrations when I get a call from the IT manager of the agency who's office I was working for that day. Said manager had been out to the office I was at a few days earlier attempting to hook up a multi function printer for one of the agency big wigs. Seems he was having no luck at all getting the printer to show up on the network despite being out there four hours. I looked at the printer and proceed to laugh uncontrollably. The IT manager when he set up the printer used the telephone cable (still plugged into a clearly marked phone port in the wall) into the Ethernet jack of the printer. Fortunately he had a good sense of humor about it otherwise my subsequent call giving him a hard time about it might not have ended so well. Just goes to show no matter how experienced we are, we all have out clueless user moments.

    Pair cos.... well should be obvious shouldn't it :-).

  58. Ed

    Anyone Else

    Pick up on some of the "true stories" above lol

    I had the director for commnications call (note i said DIRECTOR OF COMMNICATIONS) about the fact that she had not received email all day, I connected to her machine (very painful over a 4k vpn link to china) waited for her screen to appear and promptly clicked on the received colom header. (to change the sorting to date not sender)

    after all that she did not even say thank you

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Funny modem tricks

    Couple of funny modem tricks:

    1) Had a customer (a small deli) that kept killing modems. Went to replace their (internal) modem, and found that their PC was on a small desk right next to one of their walk in refrigerators. Didn't think anything of it until I accidentally brushed my hand against the fridge. Seems that they had a bit of a grounding issue.

    2) Had a customer of a small dial up ISP constantly complaining about connection speeds. This was the kind of guy who would take out a stopwatch and bitch if it took an extra 5 seconds to complete a connection. After weeks of trying to determine why his 56K connection suddenly dropped to about 26K, he eventually wondered aloud if it had anything to do with accidentally catching his phone line with his "weed whacker".

  60. James

    Printer not working, how to promote project...

    As a favour, years ago, I labelled some old machines in an office with their status (which had hard drives potentially containing sensitive data, etc). A few days later, an irate phone call revealed the label printer hadn't worked since I used it. Needless to say, once I finished using it, I shut down the PC and the printer - apparently for the first time since it had been installed, since the regular user had no idea it needed to be switched on to function.

    Last year, working on organising a conference, some of my colleagues had an idea of how to promote it. Since they had plenty of time on their hands (I'd already automated all the paperwork except for actually depositing the cheques in the bank!) they spent a week or two browsing the web, gathering email addresses to send the conference information to. Sadly, they went ahead with this plan - and worse still, actually got away with it, using a throwaway Gmail account. I had really hoped Google's own abuse precautions would cut them off at the knees, but no...

  61. Anonymous Coward

    WiFi issues

    Regular Client phones me up - "Having problems with wireless". He then proceeds to tell me that he is at a customer site, in a room set aside for use of wireless. "It worked yesterday."

    "Where is the wireless access point?", I ask him.

    "On the other side of the room", replies my client.

    "Is there a fat bloke sitting in front of it?", I enquire.

    "Yes, there is. Why?", as the client tries to stiffle his laughter.

    "Move around the room until you can see the aerial", I tell my client.

    I then here more laughter from the client... as sure enough wireless starts working again when it doesn't have to pass through that fat bloke.

  62. robbie

    And another thing

    During the course of a long career some things stick in the mind, and occasionally elsewhere.

    "Hello Robbie, my program's not working." ... "The screen's on, but I can't read it." ... "What big box is that?". Someone had liberated the under-desk system unit .

    "Hello Robbie, my program's not working." ... "Yes, I've put the floppy disk in" ... "I've tried several copies" ... "The last one was a bit tight". Six floppies in one disk drive.

    "Hello Robbie, my printer's not working." ... "It was OK just a minute ago" ... "BANG" ... 3 inch paper clip embedded in ceiling tile just missing left eyeball. Don't mess with daisywheel printers.

  63. Ian Johnston Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    A User Writes ...

    I work for a Large UK University. We used to have a great academic help desk: two people who knew almost everything, knew who to ask about everyone else and who could also establish quickly - and remember - the technical competence of users, and tailor heir advice to suit.

    Then everything changed and we academics got the same help desk as the management types. Shortly afterwards, I had to call with a question. This was the question:

    "I want to print something from the VAX (dates me, eh) on the academics' printer in building XXX. Can you remind me of the queue name, please?"

    And this was the first answer, and indeed the only answer

    "Have you tried rebooting Windows?"

  64. John Stirling

    boot on the other foot

    I am our office IT person, but since it is a tiny little office of a dozen people I also have a 'real' job, the IT is simply because I am the least bad.

    I have to deal with all sorts of 'it doesn't work properly' type rubbish, most of which disappeared when we started buying decent hardware, and windows XP (we actually ran an office for about 4 years on Windows ME - the only operating system ever named after a debilitating disease.

    However the finest piece of stupidity is actually when we bought a brand new, 3k Dell Poweredge 2700 - the finest machine we had ever bought (more power in a cheap laptop now, but it's still running as a file server.). We bought it sans OS, as the only operating systems it supported were Win2K or win2003 (I think), and we were quite happy with a peer to peer winxp network. So retail copy of XP, and big hulking machine.

    I got the raid drivers installed ok, but after 40 minutes of wondering were the hell the CDrom was (including seeing if it was inside for security reasons), I gave in and phoned dell support - who took 15 seconds to point out where it was.

    I'd never seen a half height drive before.

  65. Anonymous John

    @ Payroll

    I'm retired now, but some of my colleagues' spreadsheets brought tears to my eyes. My fingers itched to rewrite them properly.

    Only one initially impressed me as the minus figures showed in red. "****" me" I thought. "She's used conditional formatting." Took a closer look, and found she hadn't. She'd gone through the spreadsheet and manually formatted the cells with negative numbers to display in red.

  66. Jeff Cook

    My report did't print!!!

    My personal experience was Gabbie, an expeditor for a home building company here in the states.

    We had added a custom screen to the sales order screens for adding miscellaneous items to go out to a job site (extra lumber, brackets, etc.). At least three times a week she would call saying that her miscellanious item report didn't print. That had never happened even during development and testing. I came to find out that when she had printed the report was during the printing of work orders to go out to the shop floor. They got sent to the printer as individual print jobs, all 150 - 200 of them. Her report was in the middle of the stack. The days she didn't call they either had no extra items to send or she ran it before or after the work order print.

    She went on maternity leave for two months. Two months of no calls. The person subbing for her would go look through the work orders. The day Gabbie came back I got the call "My report didn't print".

  67. Anonymous Coward

    Static and Floppies

    Back in the late 90s I provided IT support to a manufacturing company which had a "main frame". The head of IT was proud and defensive of her AS-400 and never referred to it as anything other than THE MAIN FRAME. My job was to introduce PCs and PC servers into the facility to bring the company into "main-stream".

    I provided her some Windows PC set-up info on a floppy disk and watched as she walked away, slowly sliding the diskette into the curved back pocket of her nicely filled denims. With a sigh, I walked away to continue setting up the new company Windows server.

    10 minutes later she is in the server room telling me that the floppy disk was full of garbage data. The BOFH horns came out and I stated that it was obvious she was wearing silk underwear. She blushed beet red and stammered" How could you know that?"

    I pointed out that I had seen her put the disk in her back pocket and that cotton jeans against silk panties would result in a high static charge as the two materials rubbed against each other when she walked. This static charge would destroy the disk data.

    I took the disk, reformatted it and reloaded the data file. I handed it back and reminded her that this was a PC (windows) disk and to use her new desktop PC not the AS400 terminal loader. "Oh, and do not put it in a back pocket or a shirt pocket if you are wearing a silk teddie." She turned beet red again and exited quickly holding the disk out-stretched between thumb and fore-finger.

    (I knew all along that she had garbaged the disk on the AS-400, but what the Hell!!)

    10 Minutes later an officious email from the Director of IT was informing all facility employees that carrying unprotected PC disks while wearing silk and cotton was prohibited!

    Some days its like clubbing baby seals!

  68. Anonymous Coward

    Mouse Tuning

    Over the years I've received many interesting support calls. A couple that still keep my chucking even now include the instance one of the office administrators was given a new mouse. All seemed fine until we got a call complaining that every time she adjusted the dial on the bottom of the mouse to make it faster, the ball would fall out.

    More recently had a remote user freaked out that her laptop had been hacked by someone. As she was typing out a new word document she had managed to turn on the microphone and voice recognition software. Although not very accurate, the microphone was picking up all conversations in the office, including the call to me and entering it into her document. I'm not sure she ever accepted our solution and remained very suspicious of her laptop.

  69. Andrew george

    Role Reversal

    Despite 8 years on a Helldesk the funniest support call I had was as a user.

    I was on a 2 year stint as an analyst for IT trends in the company (by that stage I was burned out with support so needed soemthing different). And was using an NT desktop with the BSOD screensaver (which simulates the screen everyone sees in NT eventually quite well).

    Anyway..went to lunch one day, came back and found one of the junior local support techs about to inset a build disk into my PC. He'd noticed the BSOD and thought to kick off a rebuild while I wans't around (which I thought was pretty good of him) - watchign his face when the "BSOD" cleared after I pressed ENTER was priceless!

  70. Richard Mason


    1) I was doing support for a timeshare company with resorts in the Canaries and mainland Spain. While I was in the resort in the Canaries once I got a call from the mainland saying none of the workstations could see the server on the network. This was an old 10base2 network. I asked if any computers had been moved and was told "No", and then I got the head receptionist to go round checking all the T-connectors and terminators like I had taught him to do, and when he said he had done so, there was still no server.

    I logged in remotely from where I was and couldn't do anything from the remote access workstation, nor could our hardware support guys back in UK. After 2 days of trying to sort out the problem, it was decided I should fly to the mainland to sort the problem, they had guests checking in on the Saturday and Sunday, I was flying on the Thursday so they were even getting ready to manually check people in using the book they had had before the computerised booking system.

    I arrived on the Thursday evening and promptly went round checking the network cable, I managed to get the network working again by terminating it outside the locked accounts office, which was where I decided the problem was. Early Friday morning I went into the accounts office which was run by a couple of sisters. The younger one was in, and I found the source of the problem, the older sister's computer was missing and the cable was lying there with no T-connector or terminator. When I asked the younger sister where the computer was, I was told the older one had taken it home so she could do some work from home as she was 5 months pregnant at the time. So much for no computers being moved and the cables being checked.

    2) Another time, the same company had sales offices in Eastern Europe which we ran on laptops. I got a call one day from the office manager in one office saying her laptop wobbled and wouldn't sit flat on the desk. I thought maybe one of the rubber feet had come unstuck from the bottom, so I got her to turn the machine over and check. No, all the feet were there and in the right places.

    She told me she thought it was the 'big round thing' sticking out of the bottom of the machine. This had me very confused as I had an identical machine and mine sat fine. So I got her to describe what she could see, and we finally decided where I had a flat panel with slots covering the processor fan, she had a big round fan sticking out of the base of the machine. I asked where that had come from, and it transpired the processor fan had been playing up so one of the local staff had a look at it, he couldn't get a low profile fan to replace the faulty one, so he had gone out and bought the smallest fan he could find and then cut a hole in the base of the computer so he could fit it. Not only did his modification not work properly because now the machine was sitting on the fan itself and so even less air was getting through, but only a week before the phone call, the company had paid to extend the warranty on this particular machine by 2 years.

    3) Back to our 2 sisters in the accounts office in mainland Spain. I got a call from the younger one saying that when her computer was switched on there was a buzzing on the phoneline, and if she tried to print from Word across the network to the deskjet attached to her sister's machine, the printer physically switched itself off. Both of these had me really stumped but I was due out to the resort a couple of weeks later so I left them until I got there.

    When I arrived, all was as she said, the buzzing on the phone and the printer physically switching itself off. Knowing what the electricity was like in Spain I thought maybe we had an earthing problem, so I got maintenance to bring up their little plug which lit up in different ways depending on what the fault was in the sockets. The maintenance guy plugged the plug into the power socket and it lit up like a christmas tree, we both looked at the plug, then at each other and then backed out of the office very fast. It transpired the local electric company had been doing some work recently and somehow had managed to wire across two phases. We had an entire block containing 16 apartments, the offices and reception all putting out 415V through the normally 220V sockets, and they had been like that for nearly 4 weeks.

  71. Jeff Riechers

    Best ever?

    I had a client with an error message on their screen. Standard protocol they read me the message, I tell them to say OK to the error. They say OK, then I ask them what they see and they read the error again. Confused as this is usually a one shot error, I again tell them to say OK, and tell me what they have on the screen. When they again state the same error I fired up the remote control software to take a look.

    I see the standard error on the screen with the bright candy like OK button and tell them to say ok. They again, say OK, but I notice their mouse cursor never moved.

    I then stated slowly, "Click OK"

    Problem solved.

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    remote support is a nightmare

    i am a developer and so mostly support testing systems rather than problems 'out in the wild' but occasionally i get called in when people are at a loss. where i work, the helpdesk is purely there to weed out the timewasters, any real problems go on to a proper support team (they can check code, release small updates, etc, although still 90% of what they get are timewasters that slipped through), but when they get stumped, i'm called on.

    remote support is near impossible, due to the users propensity for lying* and the users general retardedness when it comes to computers. (just mail me the file on your c: drive in the logs folder called xxx.log is akin to asking them to perform brain surgery with a meat cleaver after a few pints of vodka) not forgetting the works of genius, who report problems 2-3 weeks after they had them, without mentioning it.

    generally, my experience of remote troubleshooting, is 80-90% getting the user to admit what they really did before the problem occurred, and the rest is firing up a testing system and recreating it myself locally to solve.

    *although i do enjoy pulling transaction logs and responding to the reports with exactly what they really did, pretty much keystroke for keystroke**, and why they shouldn't have been doing it, usually some attempt to bypass restrictions they know are placed on the system.

    **not a keylogger, but a financial system with very good auditing capabilities, as people trying to bypass restrictions generally means some sort of attempt at fraud whether they realise it or not :)

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Just a little typo I'm sure

    Figuratively, I read a zillion electronic help requests every week. Some are so grammatically tortured that they are incomprehensible. On rare occasions they are so well written any reasonably intelligent person could understand the problem as well as what actions had already been taken, whether they were an IT guy or not. And, of course, there are some which make no sense at all. For instance, my all-time fav arrived just a few months ago. The entire problem description, which had to do with a dev tool, was only two sentences long. The second sentence read, quote: "It is changing "<" to "<" and ">" to ">"."

  74. Andy Enderby

    Ultimate for me.....

    Getting a call from an irate business user who couldn't dial in to anything from his workstation. Everyone else could. LAN was up, no problem. Ok thinks I, "Humour me, could you plug a telephone into the socket your using to dial out please ? I think it might be dead"....... I got called every idiot in christendom and in the end sent a field engineer round. He did the same diags I did, then called me....."Humour me, could you plug a telephone into the socket your using to dial out please ? I think it might be dead"....... Now this guy (lovely chap, good field engineer, but never afraid to admit to himself if he went out of his depth), did just that. Guess what ? One patch lead later everything is fine. Oh yes, everything was on the support log too, including my initial stab at the eventual solution. I suppose I could have said something about patchbays, but given the customer........ Best not.

  75. Peter Gray

    Rural solution

    When I was working on the service desk at one of the local banks one of the desktop engineers came down to show us a laptop wrapped in a plastic bag that was dripping muddy water. The reason?

    The bank had issued all of it's Rural Lending Managers with new laptops and cell-phones (this was back in the late 90's) with the idea being that they could do the full applications etc while at their customers farms. They did not provide these guys (mostly ex-farmers/farm managers themselves) with any training on using laptops.

    The manager whose laptop it had been had been unable to work out how to open the laptop and turn it on - he was a bit of a technophobe. He kept it in his car and filled out the old paper forms, so was able to work that way. One day, while driving back down a fairly rough metalled road his car got stuck in a large pothole. His solution? Wedge the laptop behind the wheel of the car to get more traction!

    When he was called to explain what had happened he said "It was the only use I got from the f*cking thing, please don't send a replacement"

    We didn't.

  76. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    At a company recently aquired by HP...

    I was subcontracted to provide onsite support after L1 offsite (different country, different First Language) couldn't resolve the problem...

    1) Received server for rack mounting and final install from city "A", the project manager was in city "B". The team that built the server had told the PM the server had a DRAC card but upon receipt, no card in evidence. Empty slot. It's not an IT problem, it's a physical lack-of-existence problem. By a server build team.

    2) User having weird problems. Sent to see him by L1, turns out L1 had asked him to change the attributes on his entire profile to +R +H. WHY??? (PS, try it, it's hilarious!)

    3) Different job, ask user for their username, the reply was "smellybum99" (Seriously!) Um, no, not your password, your username please.

  77. Anonymous Coward

    new year's day call

    I work for a local newspaper and on my first year in the job, received a call on January 1st.

    At that point I was used to late night calls, weekend calls, etc.., since this a newspaper, the bulk of the work is done by night, every day.

    But some of the older journalist arrived at work very early. Even on January 1st.

    I waked at about 8 AM with the soothing ring of the phone.

    I answered groggily with something that may have sounded like "what the f*** do you want at this hour!" (remember, it was Jan 1st)

    It was the senior editor of the international section, an elderly and respected guy (oops).

    He was having some problems with the cable reception. I don't mean cable TV, but old cable news reception.

    I asked him to reset the cable reception PC, something that he knew how to do, because the dam thing stalled frequently.

    And then he told me, in a very calm voice: "yes, but there is a lot of smoke coming out of the room".

    This woke me up in one second.

    I dressed as fast as I could and drive there.

    When I arrived, the fire was already extinguished, but it had burned a whole cable rack, used to interconnect the reception PCs with the newspaper network.

    I removed everything I could from that office, in the hope that the damage was not so severe.

    Well... one of the machines digested a LOT of smoke and was dead.

    The others were coughing, but recoverable.

    After a couple of hours of trying to reach the boss, finally answered his phone:

    - Boss, I believe you should come here

    - (some words muttered)

    - Well... you see... a fire in the cable reception room...

    Minutes later he was there.

    In that time, some of the maintenance guys have (supposedly) replaced several of the CAT-5 cables, some of the cables connecting the cable receptors with the PCs, etc.

    Tried to get everything to run...

    And it worked!

    We just could not believe our luck.

    Then I turned to check the cables: they were not replaced, just welded together and in two cases, twisted together and isolated with scotch tape! (I swear to God I am not making this up!)

    But the things were working, so no one would accept anything else.

    Later, we discovered the cause of the fire: one of the maintenance guys used the room to take naps (apparently). So he rigged an electric fan to cool the room to his preferred temperature. For some strange reason, he removed a thermostat from the fans electric motor.Then, he left the fan working since Dec. 30.

    Predictably, the thing kept working until it started to burn, fell from the fan (burning), and damaged everything surrounding it.

    That was some hangover!

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Years ago

    I worked third line helldesk for a large distributor. Typically we supported consultants, resellers and solutions providers -- people who should have at least some degree of IT literacy.

    A consultant for a large provider logged a call that his Netware 3.12 and 4.11 servers connected through NIAS (Novell's remote access solution of the day) running over ISDN.

    This guy was one of those who was very quick to get loudly offended if I asked him anything basic so I spent weeks trying to fix his problem and got nowhere.

    Finally I risked his ire and started from basics. About the fourth question went along these lines:

    Me: Can you confirm the protocol settings you are using on both ends please?

    Him: I have already been through that, they're fine. It is all set up correctly. I have been doing this for years.

    Me: I appreciate that, but please humour me.

    Him: *mutter, mumble, waste of time, what a stupid question*

    Me: I am sorry, it must be a bad line, I didn't catch that

    Him (eventually): I am using TCP/IP address and IPX address 123456

    Me: OK, what IP address are you using at the other side?

    Him: What?

    Me: You have only given me one IP address, IPX will work with just the network defined at both ends, but IP needs unique addresses, so I need to know both IP addresses.

    Him: You are not paying attention, listen carefully: the netware 3 server is using IPX and the Netware 4 server is using TCP/IP.

    Me: <long pause>: the 3 server is just using IPX?

    Him: *in a "are you fucking stupid" tone of voice: yes

    Me: no IP on it?

    Him: *same tone of voice*: No.

    Me and the 4 server is just IP through NIAS, with no IPX?

    Him: Yes.

    I did talk him through getting it working but he still refused to believe that IPX couldn't talk directly to IP, even when adding IPX to the 4 server's NIAS interface fixed the problem.

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Disk Space Issues

    I was called into the customer services office one afternoon to be told to get in my car and head to a particular customer site as there was a problem with their UNIX system. As there was no-one technical on-site I would be able to find the fault and relay details back over the phone. This was all before the internet etc.

    I arrived to find the server completely dead. and the console complaining about the OS They had rebooted it that morning in-line with their normal operating procedure to clear hung processes.

    Whilst discussing this with the techies in the office a vague conversation about the costs of a new disk had been mentioned a couple of months ago as they were short on space. They had not purchased one due to cost.

    Upon further conversation with the customer it appeared they solved the problem by deleting some big files they had found. It turned out that they had deleted the UNIX kernel and settings. As they had re-booted the kernel and settings were no longer in memory and thus when they had tried to re-boot the system could not find the OS.

    Took a lot of work and an engineer to recover the environment as the configuration was not on any of their tapes!

  80. Anonymous Coward

    Ghosts in the systems

    Some of our secretaries called saying that their nice new systems were occasionally bleeping and typing in random characters. The users claimed we had IT poltergheists. After checking for an epidemic of stuck keys and viruses, and discussing the price of exorcism we found a simpler cause.

    All the new systems came with barcode scanners and the stands for these were almost always unused. The scanners were all trying to read barcodes off the woodgrain . The bleeps were when they actually succeeded which they then inserted into whatever programme was running.

    Perhaps others have come accross the problem of mouse pointers suddenly shooting accross the screen? After again ruling out ghosts we removed the mouse mats that had large white areas.

  81. Anonymous Coward

    Does being the Help Desk for most of your family count?

    One day my aunt calls. A brand new computer. I just under 3 hours, she has found a place for every cable. Everything except the speakers is plugged in. She can't find the right place for the cable from the speakers. I tell her to look at the back of the computer, for a row of small holes, with little symbols for mic, line in and so on. No holes she tells me. No small holes what so ever, she assures me.

    I then ask what brand the computer is. Fujitsu. I remember my Moms computer is the same brand, and even if its not the same exact model, i gave her a call. It was her sister after all.

    I explained why I called (and gave her a bit of a fuss, for having giving her sister my telephone number).

    "Mom, I need you to go to your computer, and find the wire from your speakers, and tell me where they are connected to the computer."

    Moms puts down the phone, and goes to the computer. Returns a few minutes later, and says "it goes to the power strip".

    "Mom, there should be another, thinner, wire going from the speaker. Could you tell me where that ends?". Another few minutes, and I get the answer "it goes to the other speaker".

    "OK Mom, there should be a THIRD and last wire going from the speaker. Could you please...."

    This time it take a little longer, before my Mom returns to the phone, and answers "it goes to the phone outlet on the wall".

    What? Deep patient breaths in my end of the phone.

    "Mom, that makes no sense what so ever. Why would the speakers be connected to the phone line?".

    Her logic answer: "Well I don't know, but I can hear when the computer tries to connect to the internet".

    I explain to her, that those are sounds coming from her modem, not her speakers.

    But knowing my Mom, I had a bright moment: "Mom, have you bundled all the wires in some sort of way?".

    Turns out, she had bought some sort of cable organizer "to make cleaning easier" and just pulled the wire from the speaker going into the cable organizer and decided that the wire that moved "the most" in the other end, was the other end of the speaker wire, and that just happened to be the phone line, ergo....

    When I got her to look a last time, all she could tell me was that the speakers 'bright green plug' was going into the back of the computer.

    I called my aunt back and asked her, if the plug on the speaker cable was bright green. Yes it was. Could she find ANYTHING on the back of the computer with the same colour?

    Yes, there was in fact a series of small 'knobs' in different colours on the back of the computer. And yes, now that I asked, the "knobs" DID have small holes in them, precisely the size of the metal part of the plug from the speaker cable.

    Problem solved. And it only took forever.

    A heart, 'cause I love my Mom none the less.

  82. GordonP

    Turning the tables for a change...

    I'm a developer who's also worked as a TME in a previous life, so I can sympathise with IT support. One time, working for a large corporate (who shall remain nameless), the intranet went down. I checked with my local colleagues - yep, definitely not my PC, everyone is affected. I checked with a colleague in another country - same thing her end. So the intranet world-wide for a major company had apparently gone down. I expected alarm bells would be ringing somewhere and that IT support staff would likely be panicing and chasing through patch-panel cables etc., so I left it 30 minutes. But half an hour later, still no intranet. Right, time to phone IT support....

    "Ah, hello sir", said an Indian voice (starting to get a sinking feeling in my chest at this point already).

    "Yes, I'd like to report that the intranet is down.", I replied.

    "So, which office application are you having trouble with?", continued the Indian voice.

    "Uh... I'm not. I'm calling to report that the intranet is down, world-wide!", I said in a direct and clear voice.

    "So, are you saying that you are having problems with Word?", he continued.

    "No, the intranet is down! This is quite important. It's affecting staff world-wide.", I repeated, now really starting to loose hope.

    "Ok, thank you sir.", he replied followed by a pause.

    Brilliant I thought, it's finally got through to him and he understands.

    "So what exactly is the problem you are having with Word?"


    ... so let's not be too damning about the kernel load known as "users".

  83. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is definitely true because it's on your screen

    I once took a call from a user who was having terrible trouble getting on the wireless network with his MacBook. "Wait there", I told him, and went along to see what he was doing. When I arrived he asked, "Are you here to fix the network?" I took his MacBook, smashed it over his head and kicked him down the stairs. Hilariously, the slightly dented MacBook then connected to the network. I laughed and laughed, then went back to the comms room to close the ticket and call an ambulance. You wouldn't believe what happened next. A squirrel had somehow gotten into the comms room and eaten through a three phase power line, taking the entire campus offline for the day - including the ticketing system! So although I resolved the MacBook problem quickly and efficiently, I still ended up out of SLA. Talk about awkward users!

  84. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My faux pas...

    Ok, here's a little story about when I messed up... but really, what I did should not have been possible! I was working in a development lab for a major worldwide telecom player. This lab was an engineering lab and was supposed to be isolated from the corporate network. I was working on a CompactPCI board which was known by it's three letter acronym name, which began with the letter C. Well, I punched in the details in the boot-loader part / initial flash setup bit... very similar to RedBoot and all the others. You know the stuff, Board Name, Board IP address, IP address of DNS server, TFTP protocol, etc. etc. Well, try as I may, I couldn't get the darn thing to connect. 15 minutes past. Then three scary looking IT support staff stormed into the lab. One screamed at me "Turn that board off!" I didn't know what was wrong and started to try to ask why. But he cut me off and screamed "Now! Turn it off now!". I obeyed, because it was obvious he was extremely unhappy. What had happened, is that I had in a moment of brain fade, reversed the fields for the board's IP address and DNS server IP address. I think you can see where this is leading... yes, because C (the first letter of the name of my board) comes before D in the alphabet (which is the first letter of DNS), my board had suddenly become the intranet DNS server for the entire organisation world-wide! Ho hum.... well, at least they helped me get connection to my target board.

    I have to chuckle thinking back to that day. It should so not have been possible! I was in a lab that was supposed to be isolated!

    Later that year, we had no email world-wide for 3 days due to a server replication problem ... rumour has it that our CEO at the time phoned up Bill Gates and after their conversation, Microsoft put a team on it which finally got the problem sorted.

  85. oblivion

    misc restaurant support stories...

    I used to support POS systems and telecom for a major restaurant chain---I personally supported around 70 restaurants---I drove all over hell and back and was on call till 1am most nights...

    My favorite: One of the units complained that the main computer would no longer communicate with any of the POS terminals. Upon opening up the case, I found a family of mice had been living inside and had peed and defecated on the motherboard until finally this nastiness ate through a trace on the circuit board going to the PCI riser card in the machine. YUCK! The machine had perhaps a half pound of mouse shit in it! The machine was still happily running though--those old NCR servers were tough.

    I remember spending about 8 hours rebuilding one of these in a far away unit, so tired I was almost seeing double. I finally had it running and it was propped on a chair with the cover off as I tested it. I'd just powered it off to put it back together when a random employee wandered by and spilled perhaps a gallon of soapy water all over the innards. I was too frazzled to do anything but laugh. The tone of my laughter scared them a little I think...

    Also made a frenzied dash to a unit to discover the system wouldn't power up because they'd plugged the UPS into itself. A perpetual motion machine? Not quite.

    Had a lightning strike at a strip mall that one was located in... I parked next to the rest of the contractor's vans, as every store in the mall had something fried. The CPU, modem, credit card terminal, phone system, and electronic safe all were DOA. Was able to get all running but the safe :)

    Favorite quote: Employee looking at the display of a credit card terminal "Why does it say it's dilating?" (mental image of the machine in stirrups, ready to give birth)

  86. David Nunn

    Wrong kind of mouse...

    Working support in a media monitoring company in Sydney, we got a call from a user in the Canberra office. "We've noticed that we have mice in the building. Can you help?".

    Er, no, we're IT, not Rentakill.

    "But <forgotten_name_of_manager> said to call IT"

    Still can't help. Call a pest controller.

    Turns out they'd told the manager that there were problems with mice, she heard it as computer mice, so said call IT.

    A friend pointed out that it was lucky we didn't receive any calls about Komodo Dragons...

  87. Anonymous Coward


    Got a call out a to a warehouse, where there was a report of a loud buzzing coming from the network cupboard, which was pretty much inacessable after the warehouse's layout was changed to accomodate taller racking. Not being able to see into the back of the cupboard i assumed the buzzing was a dieing fan in the switch or router... I unrack the router all apears fine, try to re rack it wouldnt go in easily, push a bit harder figuring the rail was bent next thing i know i know im sliding down the ladder trying to escape the swarm of pissed off wasps that had seen fit to build a nest in the cupboard, very glad im not alergic to the buggers...

  88. Maksim Rukov

    stories from the trenches

    A developer now, but once I was part of a server support team. What memories!

    1) Replacing a server's hard drive at a small rural site. All the staff are out and about but the site was unlocked (hopefully because they were expecting me, not because they were careless). Do the replacement without trouble. Need to call HQ so someone can keep an eye on the disk rebuild. None of the land lines work. Mobile phone has no signal. In the end I commandeer one of the PCs and send Novell's popup messages to any and all of my colleagues. Eventually got one to remote into the site's server and we had a conversation using the console.

    2) Similar to 1, except the site was locked. Not wanting the several-hour drive to be in vain, a workmate and I proceeded to dismantle a window and essentially break in to do the maintenance work. Thankfully we managed put the window back without any damage, though it wasn't exactly any more secure than it started.

    3) Some angry user at another remote site complained that the site's server was too noisy and wanted it gone immediately. When we said that we couldn't just remove the server, he filed a Healthy and Safety type complaint (which, as I'm sure many of you can imagine, causes all sorts of unrelated people to be suddenly interested in the affair -- in other words a right mess). Anyway, when we were trying to get the server to slow down its fans someone had a bright idea. We powered the server down and rung up and asked, "Sorry to bother you sir, but we've made a small change to the server, is it still too noisy?" ... "Yes! Grumble, grumble, when are you going to fix it? Urgent!" Suffice to say that put an end to the validity of his complaint. We think he was complaining about the air con noise all along...

    4) When testing networked printers en mass during an upgrade, I would send a test page of my own design -- a single smiley face icon in Word blown up to fill the entire page. Ring up a nearby user and ask them to confirm what's been printed. Years later, it was a game to spot these smiley faces after users took them and used them as cubicle decoration.

    5) The old grey engineers who knew the OS backwards told me this tale of yore. They would install a camera in the server room. Then they would send new guys down to check out some "faulty" server. Using their knowledge for evil, they would have the server prompt the poor sap "This server uses palm recognition. Please place your hand on the screen." The camera would capture their bewilderment and eventual obedience. Replace "hand" with "face" and occasionally "voice" for different flavours.

    Best wishes to all the bods out there in support. I've been there so I know how you should be treated. "Urgent" is a dirty word.

  89. J

    Billable stupidity

    Government office called about a computer that was working fine but "couldn't start windows". After a couple questions and answers that made no sense I popped around to have a look since it was just down the street.

    Several people were standing around the switched-off computer staring intently at a monitor controls menu. The computer apparently was switched on and off each day using the monitor switch. I pressed the button on the front of the computer and left.

  90. Clive Harris

    "My computer is posessed by the Devil"

    A few years back I had a frantic phone call from a lady . Her computer had become "possessed by the Devil" and could I come round right away, preferably with a priest. When I got there (without a priest), she demonstrated the problem. It was running Red Hat (version 8, I think) and the machine was in a darkened room with only the screen for illumination. About 10 minutes after switching it on, the screen suddenly darkened and then slowly lit up again with a display of flames. Slowly a large evil-looking head arose from the flames, with a sinister grin (it was also smoking a pipe, but I didn't notice that till later).

    It was, of course, the "xflame" screen saver, but it gave me quite a shock, particularly in that darkened room. I can well understand an inexperienced and superstitious user assuming the worst. The exorcism consisted of deleting xflame from the list of screensavers. I decided not to worry her with stories about the daemons and zombies that habitually inhabit Linux/Unix boxes. After that, I removed xflame on all the linux boxes I commissioned, to prevent further callouts.

    On a different note, a few weeks ago my daughter called me to say that "the internet was broken" and her mouse had "gone retarded". It eventually turned out she had let her pet rabbit loose in the room and it had acquired a taste for PVC. The ethernet cable was bitten clean through and the mouse cable had a series of tooth marks in it. I made her pay for the new mouse.

    Xflames, of course

  91. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    stolen hardware.

    True story:

    caller: I can't log on.

    me: let me take a look. Let's start with your user name . . .

    calller: blah blah

    me: Hmm, looks OK. Not locked out, etc, etc. Do you know the PC ID, or IP address, or . . .

    caller: no. And I can't log on to find out.


    me: I'm stuck. You should be fine.

    caller: blah blah blah (friendly, but I'm still in trouble).

    me: Sorry. I'm really stuck. I'll have to visit your branch and take a look.

    <the next day>

    The office is a mess. Papers everywhere. Filling cabinets knocked over and contents on the floor. It turns out they had been robbed, and the PC stolen (not the keyboard, or screen, which still switched on).

  92. Shadow Systems

    All I can say is...

    I used to work for Packard Bell.

    Administrating, Maintaining, & Troubleshooting a Windows 95 network of over 5,000 PC's, 12 Servers, 4 "R&D" stations, and MILES of 10bT cabling...

    I mean literal *miles* - the complex was an old Military Armoury - ten buildings, each two American Football fields *wide* & 1/4 mile long.

    Networked together for controlling the R&D, testing, maintenance, production, & shipment thereof, Packard Bell personal computers.

    I'd still be going through therapy if it weren't for my ability to suppress the memories of that hell hole & the suffering working there caused.

    If I never see a Packard Bell machine running Windows 95a again, I will be a VERY happy geek.

  93. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The caller was my mum!

    I was supposed to be on 'third level support' for a brand new SAP deployement. Suffice to say, it was complicated and expensive, and we were expecting a few calls.

    The grand pooh-bar of IT was on the floor, just to add moral support. A few senior managers who wanted to be seen to be helping were there too. It was the first morning of 'real live users'.

    At my desk. Everyone trying to look professional in front of management. My phone rings. I answer professionally. It's my mum, but I don't let on. She's trying to print a photo at home, but it isn't working.

    I walk through everything. Have you tried this, have you tried that. What do you see now. How about this. Is the light on? is the cable in? Does your printer actually work? Has it ever worked? try agian. Is there an error message/ read it to me, etc, etc.

    Over an hour later, she's printed OK.

    There have only been one or two other calls, and other people have taken them. It hots up a bit later, but the managers have gone by then.

    Grand Pooh Bah of IT holds a meeting at the end of the week to discuss the project - a few issues, but mostly OK. Everyone is relieved.

    A big shock: I get a 'recognition award' and a big pat on the back. And a Myers voucher for $100, I think.

    It turns out he was most impressed with the way I handled what was obviously a 'very difficult' user on the morning of go-live. He was listening to me for an hour or so, and I solved the callers problem. He was very happy. That's real 'customer service, etc, etc.

    I never told anyone it was my mum.

  94. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Blonde user syndrome.

    Many years ago, back in the halcyon days of windows 95/98 we had a customer phone up explaining that her computer would turn on and then suddenly stop, we dug further to discover the machine was hanging at POST.

    Asking her what the last thing she did was, nothing she replied, just turned it on but then proceeded to ramble on about how she would need a plumber to fix this...

    A Plumber? i asked (by now i'd activated the speaker phone so the other chaps could hear this)..

    yes she said a plumber.. We were now of course all thinking she had had a leak or a flood and obviously some thing was water damaged, like the keyboard or something..

    Can i just ask why you think you need a plumber to fix your PC i enquired??

    Well, she said, the last thing right at the bottom of the screen is L2 Cache, 32 pipeline burst...

    I shit you not....

    Paris because she knows about dripping pipes...

  95. Loki


    Ok, yes, second post, but just one word: Secretaries.

    Lovely laides but completely clueless when it comes to applications and computers. Still, usually good for a cup of coffee and always so pleasant and greatful.

  96. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Error messages.

    I provide for a few local small businesses and they can always ring me for support during the day so I guess it counts as remote support.

    I took a call last year from a user not renowned for her grasp of technology (alright, she's thick as two short planks and is known as Thick L****** to most of the employees of this company and plenty of their customers too.) which went along the lines of;

    User: My computer just crashed.

    Me: OK were there any error messages or did it just stop responding?

    User: Yeah there was an error message but it's gone now.

    Me: OK, what did it say

    User: Some computery shit I didn't understand.

    Me: OK so did you write it down?

    User: No, I just reset my PC, I thought you would know?


    Paris. Totally Paris.

  97. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Yes, I too once had the "my computer is on fire" phone call.

    me: Is it really on fire? I mean, really? Actually 'burning', with real flames? You're not joking, right?

    caller: Yes. It's burning, right now. The flames reach all the way up to the ceiling. . .

    me: That sounds very dangerous. Why did you call me - you should call 000 (that's emergency in Oz)

    caller: I wasn't sure what to do. I'm new at computers, and you seemed to be helpful once before.

    me: It's NOT about the computer. It's about the fact that you have a huge fire on your desk. Call 000 right now.

    caller: So it's not because I'm saving my file to A:\ drive? I asked Steve, and he says that we shouldn't save to A:\ drive . . .

    me: JUST CALL 000. Please! Right now!

    caller: I'm never sure with computers . . . You know, I sometimes save to the wrong drive. Don't get mad at me, it's by accident. It can cause things to go wrong . . . I'm still new with this system, and I don't want to cause any problems . . .

    caller: ouch! this phone is getting hot. Can I call you back from another desk.

    me: I can hear the sirens in the background. I think that's the fire brigade. Just hang up. I'll call you tomorrow (about a replacement PC). Goodbye.

    The next day: A three PC branch office. One PC destryed by fire. Other two PCs destroyed by fire retardant damage from the fire brigade. (Extinguisher was on the wall, about 10 meters away, apparently. The fire brigade bloke grabbed it and put the fire out).

  98. Charles Smith

    Here's one for the oldies

    One of my user departments had gone through the trials and tribulations of converting their office from a wholly paper/index card operation to a computer based system. Their reports were printed on Fan-fold paper.

    Comment from their user manager: "This system has made an enormous improvement, but can you arrange for those prints to have the hinges at the side rather than the top."

    If you understand the joke in this you must have been in IT forever and should have retired ages ago :-)

  99. Graeme Hayes
    IT Angle

    Users - Don'tya Just Luv 'Em?

    I work abroad and we support users using several languages and have too many ditties to count. However, two stand out......

    Due to the vagaries of the local infrastructure, we often have to use a device called a "Stac", which is a voltage convertor and stabiliser. We had one user log a call for us to supply a Stac for use with his electric pencil sharpener.

    On another occasion, one of my local colleagues fell foul of the language barrier and logged a call on behalf of a user who apparently wanted "cretin people" removed from the e-mail address book.

  100. kevin quinn
    Thumb Down

    slightly unrelated ...

    ... but along similar lines. A long time ago, before I got into publishing and IT, I worked in a Hi-Fi equipment shop. A guy had just bought a large and rather expensive Hi-Fi (record deck, radio, tape deck). A little while later he rang to say that it wasn't working and, as he lived locally, could he bring it back. I said OK. A little while later I saw his car pull up outside, and then he got the large Hi-Fi unit out of his car, and struggled into the shop with it, and then went back to get the speakers (which were equally big and heavy). Anyway, I soon saw the cause of the problem – when he'd got home and started to assemble the unit he'd looked at the plugs on the end of the speaker leads and thought they were "for American power outlets" so he'd cut 'em off and fitted 13 amp mains plugs to 'em before plugging the speakers into the mains!

  101. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Reasonable request

    Working helpdesk for local government a few years back I am still amused by an email from one of the councillors asking for a copy of the internet on CD so they could use it at home...

  102. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's this button do...?

    I dunno if this actually did happen, but I'd love to believe it's true. Whilst working for a very large computer manufacturer, I heard this story of a site visit gone wrong.

    Said company used to arrange tours of their facility for IT students from a local college.

    One of these tours had finally arrived in the main machine room, and the tour guide was running through his script about "mainframe this", "disk storage that", "comms rack the other"; when one voice from the back of the tour group called out "what does this big red switch on the wall do?" The guide looked round just in time to see the student accidentally press the emergency power cut off switch for the entire room!

    Fortunately, the button was the "release to break" type and legend has it the poor student had to stand there, with his hand on the button for 15 minutes while the IT staff initiated a graceful shutdown of all the kit in the room.

  103. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Ah end users....the joys...

    Hmm having worked in a support desk environment for 5+ years now. Providing support for a range of people from the general public to lawyers and secretaries in various firms to council staff I have had possibly hundreds, nay thousands, of fantastic support calls. Here are some that still tickle me today.

    Telephony issue:

    User having difficulty retrieving voicemail, done the manual phone reset so proceeded to ask him to unclip the "curly cord" from the bottom of the phone. The user didnt need to use the clip as he appeared to be physically able to removed the cable without...DOH!!!!

    Different user (telephony)

    Me: What type of phone do you have (referring to make model etc)

    User: A yellow one!! LOL!!!! (that still makes me wet myself today)

    Joe public. User calling, My pc has caught fire due to a part that was replaced by one of your engineers. (child in background "but daddy, the computer didnt catch fire, you set it on fire") you couldnt write it!

  104. Ben Roberts

    just a bit dumb :)

    Switching over to VNC edition instead of connecting via Remote desktop Control with XP Pro was the best plan we could come up with considering we could show and learn the users what they are doing wrong and maybe tell me what is going wrong.

    But the sheer laughter of connecting first time to an 'un-experienced' remote desktop user and taking over there computer, was a mass amount of phone calls involving mainly women absolutely petrified that there was a ghost or some sort rummaging through her files and setting.

    But it's not always the vulgar women that lose all inteligence when IT support takes over the computer. my experience made me nearly pissed my self for the dumbness that occured.

    a bloke at my work at another site phoned up for a bit of support, as they do. on the phone he sounded really concern why a folder would not able him to copy and paste to another folder, (reason was a word document was still open) but the sheer funny ness of the poor old man shouting at telling me which folder he wanted to edit, by telling me that he was pointing at the folder, 'i'm pointing at the folder!!' not with hi mouse but with his finger! total silence of embarrassment!

  105. Stef

    Back in the day

    This will be the early 80s when I was a humble op for a large sweetie firm in Sheffield which had a subsidiary many miles away.

    "Me computer's brok"

    "Is the cursor flashing?"


    "Can you see a little flashing square on the screen?"


    "Is there a light on the keyboard?"


    There was more of this, eventually we were getting to the stage of the only option being loading up a car for a long drive out with replacement kit.

    "'ang on a bit, s'not plugged in"


  106. Nick Palmer
    Paris Hilton


    User calls me.

    User: My laptop won't turn on.

    Me: Are there any lights showing?

    User: No, it's just not working.

    <We go around the houses a few times checking the power etc>

    Me: OK, looks like it'll have to come in.

    <Time passes, then user comes into my office>

    User: I've brought my laptop in, it still won't turn on.

    Me: OK, let's have a look.

    <User hands me laptop case, most notable feature of same being a &%$£ing huge tyre-mark across the middle.>

    User: It's just not been working at all...

    Me: ...since you drove your car over it?

    User: <sheepish look> Errrrrr...yes...

    Me: No shit.

    User: Is it covered under the warranty?

    Me: Oddly, no...

    Paris, 'cause she's still got some tread on her too...

  107. Marc Routliff


    Back in the days when I was a engineer in a computer shop, three little times allways pop to mind. A customer when insisted on buying a pack of blank cd's just to see what would hapen, even know we insisted they would not work when he did not poses a CD-RW. Another customer who came in and wanted to buy an ATX case, on hearing that the cheapest we had was 20 pounds, he seemed shocked, saying he wanted more then one, he infact was interested in the 2000 we had. Puzzeled I asked why, it seems on the recormendation of his IT Support officer, he needed lots of ATX cases to "build a firewall". and lastly A young man of 15/16 yrs came in and bough a CD-RW drive, confident he could take the nice new drive home and fit it him self. near the end of the an older gent (namly the boys dad) came in carring a PC with the sheepish lad behind him. On hearing that the PC 'blew up" with an array of sparks and smoke after the fitting of this drive, In pure curiosity I removed the side panel to find that insted of connecting the 2 required cables (the power and data cable) the young promosing engineer had indeed pluged them in, and also striped a live lead inside, soldered speaker wire to it and then soldered the other end of the speaker wire from the live lead to the pins for selecting slave or master. The result was the frying of the CD-RW, and the speaker wire melting and catching fire. When asked why on earth he would do this the answer was simply, I though it was what I had to do.

  108. Andus McCoatover

    @My faux pas...

    Done that! Had an IBM 600E lappie with two ports, RH 7.3 (Still the best) . One connected to the office intranet, and the other supplying dhcp to the blade server I was testing.

    This Cupid Stunt did wrong, and when I set it up I failed to tell dhcp to serve only eth1 (the blade)

    Wondered why the disk was thrashing hopelessly while doing nothing....

    Worse, I went for an 'extended lunch' (ok, I lived nearby, missus off that day and it turned into a "grub-screw" ;-) to see if it'd get stable, leaving the machine in a quite restricted room. Very few employees (10?) had access.

    'course, it was giving IP addy's to anyone who rebooted their PC. In a complex of 1000+, that'll happen a lot. Esp. with Senior Execs arriving regularly to give presentations.

    Returned about 2 hours later. Bollocking was too good for me. Other IT blokes thought "Good day for a hanging".

    As I've left - unrelated reason - , I can tell you that this was c. 2004 @ Nokia, Tampere, Finland. Finns aren't noted for their emotions, but these blokes rewrote the rules!

  109. Stef

    Not exactlt IT Support, but...

    The Midlands, late 80s, a large regional brewer.

    The IT Director was an accountant transferred over from Finance because he knew how to set up a spreadsheet. Would sit in his office, red-faced, puffing on his pipe.

    There was no computer in his office.

    The Project Manager had no computer in his office either.

    The IT Director's first brilliant idea - get rid of all the computers IN THE IT DEPARTMENT.

    We could write everything down and the secretary would type them in for us.

    I'm sure that by now he's running a bank.

  110. sam


    Whoa whoa whoa, How am I supposed to know what a "Mailbox Control Panel" is?

    Clue's in the name


  111. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    what is this? alt.sysadmin.recovery?

  112. Anonymous Coward

    The server only works properly when you are here

    Going back a decade ago, used to work for a small IT company.

    Attending a customer site to do the monthly server health check (check the logs, do a test restore, check disk space, etc), was approached by the manager and a tech who was onsite doing an upgrade of the banking software they ran on all their PCs who informed me the server had been running very poorly. Only thing I could think of was that, when I came in, the server (running NT4) had a 3D screensaver set - which, in those days of having no 3D processing on the graphics card was a CPU killer. Of course I had turned this off as soon as I logged in - and I then explained this issue to the manager.

    Got the tech to run an install and it ran really well. Packed up and headed for the next site.

    20 minutes later, my boss is on the phone telling me to turn around and head back, as the server wasn't working properly and the manager had just given him an earful. I called the company and asked her if she had turned on the 3D screensaver, which she said she had, as it was her server and if I thought this was the problem I was an idiot. Eventually I convinced her to walk over to the server whilst the tech was mid-install and just move the mouse. Screensaver cut-out, install instantly speed up, "lady" manager went silent, then "Bye" and hung up.

    Rang my boss back and told him what had transpired. Was rather glad when I got back to the office that afternoon and was informed he had canned their support agreement.

  113. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Red or white?

    Caller: "I spilt wine in my laptop. Can you get me a new one by tomorrow?"

    Me: "Maybe - where are you at present?"

    Caller: "Detroit."

    Me: "Ok, it's not physically possible to get you one from our spares here in Melbourne (Australia)..."

  114. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong way up

    I was once in a rather large pharmaceutical company campus where a mobile user couldn't get his laptop to work on the network. After going through all the usual rigmarole I gave up on the telephone solution and electrd to walk the two and a half miles to his office.

    By the time I got to his office, he was most apologetic. While I was walking to him, he worked out that he had managed to put the network cable in upside down. Yes - upside down.

    Needless to say I didn't ask for a demonstration as to just how he had managed to achieve this; I simply thanked him for being so honest and proceeded to walk a number of miles back to the office.

  115. Colin Sutton

    @AC Re: Oops - Argus at AGC

    I was fascinated to read that the Argus 500 with my hot backup software was still running the Advanced Gas-Cooled Nuclear Power Station after the 2MB Burroughs Disks were replaced. I debugged the OS on those machines.

    One of those Burroughs disks had an intermittent problem when it was delivered, would drop a couple of bits once every few hours. A keen hardware engineer sat looking at a scope connected to the data lines waiting for the problem to occur. He spotted that there was a glitch when the vacuum pump operated - the disc was in a sealed enclosure, with a small window through which we could check how bad the scratches were after a head crash. He replaced a filter across the pump drive circuit, and the drive never lost a bit again.

    My help-desk story: I was called up one night at 3am by a power station operator telling me that the printer wasn't working. It turned out it had run out of paper. I led him through connecting up a new box of fan-fold paper and went back to bed. An hour later I'd just got back to sleep when he rang me again: "the printer is working ok now" .

  116. Anonymous Coward

    One for me, three for others,...

    1. When I got my first subscription to the internet (28.8k mode, windows 98), I could not connect to my ISP. Now I am a developer and pretty hopeless at networking, so I ended up with the ISP support person going through the applications installed on their pc to see if it matched mine,...

    Supt: Terminal Services

    Me: Yep

    Supt: TCP/IP

    Me: Yep,.. uh hang on what was that one again?

    Supt: TCP/IP

    Me: Thats the missing one - I think its important somehow.


    2. In my days in miltiary IT Support of an old mainframe application, I got a phone call from a Major in the Supply division.

    Maj: I have been trying to logout from your application. it says "F10=Exit" and I have been pressing the "F" key, the "1" key and the "0" key and nothing is happening.

    Me: O-O-O-O-OK sir, if you look above the main row of number keys on the keyboard, there is a set of 12 keys grouped into bunches of 4. They have F followed by a number on them - press the tenth one along.

    (I was a private at the time, so was not permitted to laugh until I had signed off)

    3. Helping a female Doctor friend over the phone.

    Me: Type "dir c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc"

    Her: OK, I made a mistake with the last character, it said "No such file or directory".

    Me: Press F3 then backspace over the last character and change it

    Her: (in amazement): The last line I typed just got redisplayed! How on earth did you do that?

    4. Troubleshooting an HP Printer with JetDirect installed.

    Me: Does the Printer XX99 have paper.

    User: yes I am standing by it and it does.

    Me: I just interrogated this printer using JetAdmin, it says "out of paper".

    User: Definitely paper in all trays

    Me: I have just printed a test page, it has gone through the printer OK, is it there?

    User: Nope.

    [15 minutes later]

    Me: Is there a label on the printer, top-right? What does it say?

    User: "Printer YY26"

    Me: You have been standing by the wrong printer for the last 15 minutes.

  117. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ This is definitely true because it's on your screen

    Man if I had a quid for every time I day dreamed about doing that...

  118. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing text

    In 1987 a colleague called me about a problem he was having with his home computer (we only had three PC's in the company then, of which I happened to have one). He had already spoken to the shop where he bought the machine and had taken it in, but the only solution they had was to wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows (3.11). Since he had some important spreadsheets on it that existed only on his machine, he obviously declined the offer and called me instead.

    His problem was that everything had gone white - he could not see anything. A couple of questions later it transpired that the windows were still there, but the contents had disappeared.

    Eventually I discovered that he had been fiddling around with settings, trying to make Windows look better, and managed to set both the background and font colour to white.

    It took some mental gymnastics to fix, as I was not near a machine, so had to try and remember the commands to change it back to something he could read, but we eventually managed.

    If he could he would have kissed me over the phone, he was so happy. Also a lot cheaper than what the shop wanted to charge him to rebuild his machine.

  119. peter garner

    Mouse fun

    Admittedly some years ago:

    Me: ".. and then you click on the Start button with your mouse.."

    She: ".. oh I've never used a mouse before - how do it do that?"

    Me: ".. Umm.. hold it like you a bar of soap and move it around the desk"

    She: "I never use soap".

    Silence - presumably she used shower gel though

  120. Anonymous Coward

    Is Transatlantic remote enough?

    Email from my mother-in-law;

    "Internet is down. Will update once it's back"

    STOP, because we should have stopped when considering getting her a computer.

  121. Anonymous Coward

    Used to work..

    .. for a big computer supplier, was told thsi story about a customer who came in before i started.

    A man came in with a burnt out pc, the pc smelt of parafin(or something nice and flamable anyway). Puts it down on the desk and says "i want a new pc, this one caught fire, i was able to chuck it out of the window where it landed on a bail of hay"

    it went to court and apparently he managed to get money back, dunno which judge decided on that.

    Flames cause.. well ..

  122. Paul Westerman


    "a visiting engineer pooped into the help desk.."

    Well, that's not going to improve the situation, is it.

  123. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    numpty CSOs in govt departments

    a CSO was a user with slightly-advanced access for basic IT maintenance at remote sites.

    One numpty kept asking us every week or so to alter the hosts file for a printer IP address. When he eventually was asked why, he said it kept changing every time he rebooted it.

    Last I heard he is an MSCE and causing even more obtuse problems.

  124. Ivan

    Computer Slow

    I received a call from a user in a remote office. He complained that his Desktop was running slow. I RD into his computer and start poking around at his Start Up programs. Discovered kazaa running on a corporate desktop downloading movies and music.

    I explained how bad this program not only could affect him but his job. He then stated, "Oh, maybe that is why my tablet is running slow as well?" He had kazaa running on it as well, over the corporate wireless.

  125. Anonymous Coward

    Hardware issue

    We had a user drop a laptop down a lift shaft, down the little gap between the lift doors and the floor doors. I guess her system crashed. I am sure that takes some doing.

    I also had a colleague - a road warrior - who, on a drunken night out, fell into the sea boarding a mutual friend's boat at a marina. The mutual friend , who had fished our man out of the sea, rang me next morning to tell me as it was quite a laugh. Road Warrior calls in later to say that he needed a new smartphone as he'd dropped his smartphone in the lav ('it fell out my jacket pocket!').

    You could have heard a pin drop when I asked him why there was salt water in the 'lav'...

  126. Mr Larrington

    Celebrity Give Us A Clue

    In a previous existence, one of my tasks was keeping an eye on a thing we used to run for the Ministry of Filth and Lies, or "BBC" as some are wont to call it. Among the clever things it did to amuse itself in the still watches of the night was automatically to execute stored searches of the Data Bases and e-mail the results to the intended recipient. One such recipient was a well-known TV presenter. His searches, though, had clearly been set up by someone else, as the automagic system soon received a plaintive reply from the well-known TV presenter, along the lines of "Help! What am I supposed to do with this?"

    Because I am evil, and don't like wasting time wielding the Cluebat, I had set up an auto-reply saying "I am only a a piece of software and cannot help you. Pray call the Helldesk". The well-known TV presenter, however, did not heed the warning, and kept replying. Until, that is, I got fed up with him and deleted all his searches. Blissful e-silence ensued.

    Eventually the Ministry of Filth and Lies declined to pay for the system any more, so we buried it in an unmarked grave at midnight with a stake through its heart, and used the disks to make soap. It would be cruel and heartless of me to mention the well-known TV presenter's name, but I'm betting the merest mention of his name makes Mik-ell How-erd squirm with embarrassment.

  127. Adam Nealis
    IT Angle

    When is a cardboard box not a cardboard box? and other tales ...

    All the following are from my time spent at London Business School in the IT Dept.


    "What Operating System are you running?"



    Asked many times in 1993 - 1995 by MBA students (in an American accent): "How do I get on Innernet?". I watched those people become addicted to Windows 3.11 on laptops. Then to the "Innernet". I believe that these people, our future "business leaders", are responsible for a lot of the crap we still deal with. Microsoft spent their marketing dollars well.


    I am manning the helpdesk. I get a call: "This is the 3rd time this week I have called you. There is a computer in its box outside my office. It is blocking the corridor. When will you come and move it."

    I replied "Did it occur to you that maybe the porters left it there? Just because the box has a computer in it, why do you call IT? Please call the porters and ask them to remove it."


    Another call to Helpdesk: "Hi, I think there is a problem with my computer screen. The picture is kinda wavy."

    It's a hot day, so I ask "is there an electrical applicance that is switched on near the monitor?"

    "Er, no."

    Undaunted, I continued, "Is there a fan near your computer?"

    "Yes there is. Please wait a moment ... There, I've moved it and the picture is fine. Thank you very much."

    [The user was always civil, and genuinely pleased that I solved his problem. But note the automatic "no" to my question.]


    "Good morning, IT Helpdesk."

    "Hello, there is a problem with my computer. I want you to come and fix it." This said in an accusatorial tone. Therefore, the user will not get a visit unless I think there is a non-PEBKAC problem.

    "Can you describe the problem?"

    "The computer is white."

    "You mean the box is white, or the picture is white?"

    "The picture is white."

    I suspected that this was becuase the VGA cable was loose. I've noticed this before. The first thing to do is to reseat the cable. In principle, if a user can put a key in a lock, the user is capable of doing this.

    "And it was fine yesterday?"


    "Has anything changed since yesterday?"


    [Note the automatic "No"]

    "Have you moved your PC recently?"

    "Yes. This morning." This without a trace of irony.

    "OK. Can you please disconnect the monitor cable and plug it in again? Not the electrical cable, the blah blah one."

    "I've done it and it is still broken. Please come and fix it."

    [That was too fast. I know she's lying.]

    "Ah, maybe one of the pins is bent. Can you please remove the video cable from the monitor and tell me if the pins are bent?"

    [The user will now worry that if there is aproblem, they might get the blame (after all, she moved the PC herself. Our porters flat refused to move PCs, even if we disconnected them, etc.) This gets the user to remove the cable and check it..]

    "OK. The pins are not bent."

    "Please put the cable back."

    "OK. I've done it. It is fixed now."


    I was in a bad mood when I got this one:

    "Hi, I appear to have a memory problem."

    "Then go and see a doctor." <click>

  128. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    always fun

    remember someone ringing me from another office saying that his computer was just beeping at him and the screen had frozen...

    made him wait 5 mins then rang back and told him to shift the pile of papers from the edge of his keyboard that were resting on the small enter key...

    then fed him a load about having to dial into the spy camera's in his office to find out what was wrong.

    apparantly caused a bit of panic in that office, one of the directors tried to bollock me but was laughing too much...

  129. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Start with the basics

    I had a user ring me up to say his colleague could not logon to our system so i reset the password and ensured all was correct with his account. Still no joy so i asked what he was entering in the username, password, domain boxes but he said these options werent available on his screen. After a brief silence he then said "If i logoff first, would this help?"

  130. Anonymous Coward

    Its job security

    Yes we all slap our heads and let out the Homer Simpson "D'oh!" when these things happen but for some, its what keeps them employed. A couple examples I have experienced as inbound tech for a local ISP.

    A caller calls in with their internet is not working and they need it to work. Equipment all checks out fine, so what is going on with the computer. The computer is booting up with a black screen with the no system disk found message.

    Another situation of everything plugged in correctly but not working was due to a modem being plugged into an outlet that was controlled by a wall switch. The modem had a battery back up so when the switch was off it would run for a few hours but stop working once the battery died. Once the battery died the phone would stop working since it was a Voip style of phone. The real kicker is this went on for a few weeks including dispatching two techs to the home where everything appeared fine.

    Finally one that stands out in my mind is when someone called and while going through support the person requested that the caller close the window. Throughout the call this request was made a few times without ever catching on that when the close the window request was made, the caller would say hold on a second. Finally the last time the request to close the window is made, the caller stated that it is going to be difficult closing any further windows in her home because they all have been closed.

  131. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    old boss

    My old boss a few years back was a classic example of the Peter Principle, perpetually complaining about stuff like "my printer doesn't print" after selecting US paper size on an A4 printer and being unable to press the big green button.

    She also claimed much expertise in writing presentations. The example below is one of many. I wasn't even IT support, by this point the real support guy was way beyond being patient.

    (phone rings)

    me: Hello, Graphics.

    boss: There's something wrong with my computer, I can't see how to sort slides in Powerpoint.

    me: Uh, OK. Just click the icon in the bottom left. It looks like four little slides.

    boss: What? I can't see that.

    me: It's on the lower left. Four little white squares in a 2 by 2 grid. Or you could also use the View menu at the top and select slide sorter.

    boss: That's not right. I can see View but there's no slide sorter.

    me: That's odd. Have you asked IT?

    boss: They're no good. You'll have to come down. (hangs up)

    (1 floor, 2 security doors later)

    boss: See? Like I said, no icon. You're meant to know about this!

    me: I see. Is everything on screen exactly as it was when you called?

    boss: Of course! What's the problem?

    me: Well, first, this document is in Word...

  132. Rob Beard

    A couple of calls...

    I imagine I've had loads of funnies over the past 13 or so years I've worked in IT support although I can't think of many at the moment.

    I do recall a couple of annoying calls though from my last job working as an IT support bod for a large group of radio stations (who were taken over last year).

    Now I was the one IT bod for the region with two Broadcast Engineers so to be helpful and learn a bit more about Broadcast Engineering I said I'd be happy to provide on-call cover 1 week in three. Now there was one user who tended to be a bit of a pain in the arse, he was a nice enough bloke and I got on okay with him but he had a tenancy to call for the littlest of things. This guy did travel news for the breakfast and drive time shows so did early shifts (5am start).

    I got a call from him one day to say that one of the playout systems wasn't working and that he couldn't pre-record his show. Now the general idea was, only phone an engineer out of hours if the station has gone off air or if something mission critical has stopped working (i.e. the playout system gone down and they're playing off CDs, or the news computers don't work).

    So he thought it was critical but I tried to explain in the best way possible whilst half asleep that it could wait (his show wasn't due to go out until 12pm and he was recording about 30 mins of links). Suffice to say I talked him through restarting the playout system but I was not impressed. Annoyingly he used to do that quite often.

    On another occasion I had a call from a presenter at our most remote (geographically anyway) station for our region. He said that the computer for e-mail and internet wasn't working in the studio. Now this isn't as mission critical but still fairly important. After much over the phone troubleshooting and remoting in to find the PC was working okay I got ready to head up to the station (this was a Saturday morning about 10am and the journey was about a 180 mile round trip). Luckily before making the trip I called one of the other more clued up presenters who lived nearby who popped in. Turns out the presenter hadn't tried turning the monitor on. Was kind of my fault for not thinking of that but generally the kit was never turned off in the studios.

    Apart from that I've had a couple of annoying calls, an ad's machine failing at 8pm and me spending the night messing about getting it going and things like KVM over ethernet boxes failing and the presenters not being able to work (usually this sort of thing happened over night or on a weekend, never during working hours!). The great thing about being on call though for that company was that we got a minimum of 30 mins time off in leiu for sorting things out so if a call took 5 minutes we'd get 30 mins off, I think I must have got about an extra week's holiday a year out of that.

    I have also made some boo-boo's in the past...

    Once when I was working at one of the radio stations I ended up taking a station off air for 5 mins (the station was automated the majority of the day from an old DOS based playout system). I pressed CTRL-ALT-DEL on the wrong keyboard and it rebooted the machine. Luckily it wasn't a much listened to station.

    Also when I was much younger and learning more about computers I ended up screwing up my dad's PC a couple of times. Once I accidentally deleted the Stacker files from his hard drive so it wouldn't boot and all he was left with was a big hidden compressed file, and another time I set a BIOS password on his PC and forgot it. Luckily with the help of my local school technician (who I haven't seen in years, if you're reading this Francis, look me up on Facebook), he helped me get back up and running and saved me a grounding.

    Mine's the one with the 40MB hard drive with Stacker compression set to 30:1 on it.


  133. David Mitchell

    It's not always hands off.

    As an Ex IT support manager now running my own IT Support busines I would be more than happy to make site visits to anyone's remote users/customers!!


  134. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Takes an Engineer....

    [This isn't a remote support one, but it's still a good one to show just how much trouble a little knowledge can create.]

    I work on the other side of the wall from support, in development. For a product we were working on, we had to create a root file system image. To do this, we essentially created an entire directory tree of files, and then tar'd it up.

    Being new at some of the things, we came up with a simple set of steps and automated the process

    1. su root (so everything we make is root)

    2. empty the working directory (by doing an 'rm -rf $WORK_DIRECTORY')

    3. copy all the files

    4. build the tar ball

    One day, while developing the script, someone set the environment variable WORK_DIRECTORY incorrectly so it pointed at the root of our build server's directory tree. Lucikly, "/bin" and "/lib" were before "/home", so we only had to reinstall the OS, not rebuild the system.

    Then we learned about fakeroot...

    - John

  135. Sabine Miehlbradt

    Simulating trouble

    A company I once worked for was writing the code for a railway simulator for a museum on a Pentium 500 with the keyboard rewired to the controls of a real train exhibit. (Basically a railway game).

    One nice day the museum called my boss and told him in no uncertain terms that our software had "failed". Boss send me down with a work order of "Take a look at this and pull a few teeth while you are down there."

    A 3 hour drive later I was staring at a BIOS error message: 3B stuck key. - our software hadn't even run yet. Took me 20 minutes to persuade the local manager to get me a replacement keyboard.

    The project was cursed anyway. Two weeks later the board failed intermittently and guess what was blamed? And of course the customer never understood why they didn't get the same kind of gfx and functionality from a Pentium and 80K Marks worth of programming than from the 3M Marks custom hardware simulator used for train drivers' training.

  136. steve

    It's your phone man!

    I used to work as a helpdesk manager and one of our techs was taking a call and then bursts out laughing after he put the phone down.

    I asked him what happened as the scenario is one of the managers 'upstairs' calls down to say he has forgotten his password (following a liquid lunch) my guy dutifully resets the password and says it's todays date, in numbers you'll need to reset it once you've logged in.

    All good and perfectly normal...

    The next thing he hears is beep beep beep beep beep beep in his ear, calm as you like he reminds the caller that he needs to use the keypad on his PC rather than the buttons on his phone....

  137. Anonymous Coward

    re - What's this button do...?

    I think that story is a common theme in IT departments.

    I heard a strikingly similar story at my last job about one of the operations guys. At the time he was new to the department, and had gone into the server room to reboot one of the dev machines. Literally as he pushed the power button on the fascia, a colleague who happened to be with him at the time yelled 'STOP!! Thats the production box!!".

    The production box had just started processing its end of day batch as well, so the poor guy couldn't let go of the button as this would kill the machine mid-batch and *really* screw things up. Despite all attempts there was no room to get a screwdriver or other implement past his finger to secure the recessed button ... so he had to stand there with his finger holding in the power button, slowly going blue, until the batch was done an hour or two later and the machine could be gracefully shut down.

    There was a similar story at the same site about a different colleague who accidentally stepped into a void in the server room floor where there was a missing floor tile. Instinctively reaching out to catch himself from a nasty fall, he very unfortunately happened to slap his hand right on emergency power shutoff button with catastrophic results...

  138. Nick Pettefar

    Floppies and the Off-Switch man.

    Has everyone forgotten the fiasco of PCs not booting up because of the punter leaving a floppy in the drive? Maybe I am too old...

    A bit off-topic but in my youth I repaired people's motorbikes at their homes to supplement my income. I received a call from a rather eloquent gent saying that he had given up trying to fix his trial bike and could I come and have a look. Probably something electrical, he said. I arrived and looked at the bike - a nice little Yamaha trial bike. The guy told me he ran a firm of solicitors in the town and he certainly had a nice house and car to match. He said the bike wouldn't start one day and he had eventually ascertained that it had no spark. He had then changed the sparking plug, HT lead, coil and battery.

    I wheeled the bike out of the large garage, checked the fuel and the fuel taps, checked it was in neutral, put the kill switch in the run position, checked the brakes, put the choke on, switched the ignition on and kicked on the kick-starter a couple of times wherupon the machine burst into life. I let the engine warm up and took the choke off and it idled quite nicely. I checked the lights and horn and found everything working OK. I switched it off and then saw the man was standing in amazement with his mouth open.

    It turned out he had accidentally knocked the engine run-switch to the off position.

    From then on (I did more work for him) he was known as the Off-Switch man...

    PS Ditto the OS=Word for my mother.

    PPS Ditto the plugging speakers into the mains for my sister!

    PPS Someone saw my teacher sister "power-cycling" the school's electronic whiteboard to reset it and made her head of I(C)T!

  139. Rodrigo Valenzuela

    Re: Nick Pettefar

    now the floppies have been replaced by forgotten usb pendrives.


  140. Jesthar

    Playing 'piggy in the middle'

    I'm the sole sys and tech admin for a business critical system with over 2,500 users on it (some our own company workers, others contractors). As this system is (thankfully) independent from our IT department, our overseas helldesk has no access at all to it (and long may it stay that way!), so I am also the top level system support, giving me a user base of technical abilities from techno-whizz to techno-luddite to handle.

    However, whilst most users know to call me directly for support, some inevitably call the helldesk instead, who have instructions to pass them on to me. This gives me dual potential sources of 'amusement':

    1. Clueless Users - nuff said!

    2. Incompetent Helldesk drones - let's just say that my standard cut'n'paste e-mail to users following an e-mail ticket from the helldesk begins "Hi, xxxx here - I have had a rather content free e-mail from the helpdesk saying you have a problem with System Y, can you fill me in on the details?" - knowing full well the poor person would have spent ages trying to explain the problem in the first place. Assuming the helldesk e-mail actually bothers to give me any contact details in the first place...

    And now an example of each:

    1. I had a request in for a new user account, which I duly created and dispatched. Having logged in successfully, next day the user called me asking for an account reset, which I did - new user, new password mislaid, it happens - or so I figured. Reset done, user logs in, all OK.

    Next morning, a e-mail from the same user - their password had 'stopped working again since yesterday', could I reset it? Bit of eye rolling at my end, but one reset my end and everything is OK again.

    The following morning they're back again! By now I'm suspicious, so I don't reset the password and try the login details I supplied to them yesterday. Hey presto, they work, and the Sys Admin spider sense tingles with a suspicion as to what is going on. Ten minutes and one phone call to the user later, suspicion confirmed - the system asks new users to type in their full name when they log in for the first time, and somehow this user believed (contrary to their experience with EVERY other system we have) that putting in their full name also changed their login name... Had inspiration not struck, goodness knows how many resets we would have gone through!

    2. Not specifically related to my system, but I once spent about 15 minutes trying to explain to helldesk drone (who appeared to have left his brains in his sock drawer) in ever more simple terms that no, we couldn't confirm whether someone had access to a specific secure folder on the network because the user's main computer login was not working, and therefore they couldn't even get into the machine let alone that folder! My 'favourite' part of the conversation went as follows:

    Drone: The user cannot log in?

    Me: No

    Drone: Well, can you get them to log in then, please? We need to close the case down.

    Me: Well, it wasn't working this morning, but we'll try...

    Drone: Please to try, we need to close the case down.

    <one failed login attempt later>

    Me: Sorry, they still can't log in?

    Drone: They cannot log in?

    Me: No.

    Drone: Well, can they see xxxx folder, we need to close the case down?

    Me: *here-we-go-again-sigh*

  141. james4765

    Tales from the other side

    Company I used to work at is still running Windows 95 on all their desktops. A few years ago, some of the machines had corrupted the antivirus installs, and I called to get a disk to re-install. Now, I was a fleet mechanic, but was well on my way into transitioning to a unix admin, and had more than enough of a clue to do this simple task. It turned out the software required access to a central FTP server to pull updates, so I called the hell desk.

    Me: "I'd like to get the user name and password for the antivirus update server, so the software can pull updates."

    Helpdesk: "We don't have an FTP server."

    Me: "Actually, you do, I found the server IP for the update server on one of the installs that is still working. All I need is the access to do antivirus updates."

    ...time passes, and no progress is made...

    Helpdesk: "I'm sorry, I can't give you the password. You might hack the server."

    Me (after completely losing all sanity) "Motherf___er, I do not need a f___ing read-only FTP password to hack your g_dd__m server!"

    Things went downhill from there.

    I got written up, but it was worth it...

  142. Anonymous Coward

    I am that helldesk monkey!

    As per the title, I'm a helldesk analyst for a firm with around 2,500 LAN and WAN users. We have around 400 users each and deal with everything form software how tos to catastrophic hardware failure (e.g. terminals don't work very well when underwater for some unknown reason).

    A few stand out as truly memorable:

    1) The screen says "no video input" on it. What do I do? - try turning the PC on. Minimum half a dozen per week.

    2) I'm clicking on the picture on the screen but nothing happens - the picture that's in black and white with a notice saying "this is a screen shot" on it. Perhaps it needs a blinking message in neon pink and lime green, something subtle... A couple of these every week without fail.

    3) A one off, 20 minutes spent trying to guide someone to the single, solitary silver release catch located on the side of a black printer. They couldn't see it. At all. 20 minutes on the phone, 15 spent on mute screaming with frustration and literally beating my head on the desk. Having everyone else in the department crying with laughter REALLY helped my temper no end. Finding out that the user couldn't tell left from right and never thought to check the other side was truly, truly priceless.

    Flames 'cos I was positively incandescent then!

  143. Anonymous John

    @ Floppies and the Off-Switch man.

    " Has everyone forgotten the fiasco of PCs not booting up because of the punter leaving a floppy in the drive?"

    Oh yes!

    Where I worked 12 years ago, the on-site IT support role was given to three managers who knew little about PCs.

    Once, one was summoned to a PC. Five minutes later, another arrived, followed by a third shortly afterwards. My curiosity go the better of me, I approached them, ejected the floppy, pressed the return key, and walked away without saying anything.

    Some time later, one of them sat down at a W95 machine with a stack of floppies, Clearly intending to back up the 20MB database to restore it to the replacement W98 PC. I didn't have the heart to tell him it wouldn't work. Not until he'd finished the backup, that is.

  144. Ian Hodgetts

    Not a modern myth (this actually happened to me)

    Back when I was writing and supporting an old COBOL green-screen app, I had the following call.

    "I can't find the 'any' key."

    I had to explain to the bemused user (without laughing) that she could in fact press any of the keys on her keyboard.

    God's honest truth - it REALLY happened!

  145. Graysonn

    tech support.....

    "Hi, my mouse is broken. It's got no buttons and will only move up and down."

    after 5 minutes of confused conversation I figured it was a new user with an upsidedown wheely mouse.

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