back to article Let me PLUG that up there, love. It’s perfectly standaAAARGH!

Want a new driveway? No problem, mate. Fix your garage door? Sorted. Oh, what, you want the the garage door to open on to the driveway? Oh no no no no, no can do, pal, that’s not done, they is sep’rate. Tell you what, though, I got a mate who could build you a shortcut so you can get the car from the drive to the garage through …

  1. Dr_N

    The Rise of IT Consultants...

    The outbreak of Mad Cow disease...


    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

      Mad Cow disease? No problem mate. I don't see many ladies in IT.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

        Mad Cow disease? No problem mate. I don't see many ladies in IT.

        I'd be careful - apparently, that sort of humour is grounds for dismissal

        1. Richard Jones 1

          Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

          No problem here the cow is gender neutral and should really be a COW.

          It is the TLA for Clerk of Works.

          Since most Clerks of Works are driven mad by user changes, obstructions and nit picking it is normal to have issues over Mad COWs.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

            No problem here the cow is gender neutral and should really be a COW.

            As in Mad Cow disease? Not really, prior to the Mad Cow disease outbreak 80%+ of meat for human consumption was from bulls, now due to the age restriction on slaughter it is 100%. So the gender neutral cow which is to be made into a "cowburger" is definitely male. Unless it is a horse of course.

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

              You know why they call it PMS right?

              Cause Mad Cow Disease was already taken

              1. x 7

                Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

                when interviewing female staff one should always ask how many burgers they eat in an average week

            2. John 62

              Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

              I'm in my 30s and I've never heard of bulls going for meat. Beef cattle are either bullocks (castrated bulls) or heifers (females not in calf).

              1. x 7

                Re: The Rise of IT Consultants...

                "I've never heard of bulls going for meat."

                then you don't know as much as you think you do, Some - not many - farmers grow on the bull calves from dairy herds without castration to try to give the meat a better texture and flavour, They tend to get slaughtered young enough to not become too much of a handling problem,

                The reason is that most modern dairy cattle make poor steers - the body conformation is all wrong. Letting the animals keep their tackle muscles them up a bit better, The alternative is to kill them at birth as useless

  2. Mystic Megabyte


    AFAIK it is perfectly safe and will comply with the regs. to run a single 2.5mm spur to a *single* socket. Then just put a 3 amp fuse in the plug and your hob is good to go.

    1. JulieM Silver badge

      Re: Spurs

      Cutting through the insulation of the Twin and Earth cable right through to the inner cores and then wrapping the bared ends of the appliance flex around, twisting tightly and liberally covering with insulating tape probably doesn't count as complying strictly with the regulations.

      Not saying this is exactly how the author's hob was wired up, but I've encountered such an installation in real life. I distracted the owner's attention for a moment ..... and ran.

      (Also, it seems that in Wales especially they have a fondness for positioning electric cooker isolating switches centrally above and behind the cooker. Which is fine -- until you need to cut the power to a chip pan that is on fire, and risk setting fire to yourself by having to reach over said blazing pan to switch it off.)

      1. Elmer Phud

        Re: Spurs

        ", and risk setting fire to yourself by having to reach over said blazing pan to switch it off"

        Hah, it's now half melted . . .

      2. AMBxx Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Spurs - In Wales

        Was there just one electrician covering the whole of Wales doing this stuff? I lived in North Wales as a child (Llandudno area) and lived in 5 different houses. From memory, they all had the isolator above the hob.


        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Spurs - In Wales

          It does seem common. When I was a self-employed electrician (Valleys area) I saw a lot of these. It really annoys a householder if you tell them their installation wouldn't pass modern regulations because their cooker switch needs moving 18 inches to the left (or whatever), especially when the cable is plastered into the wall and because of having-to-run-directly regulations, moving the switch would mean redecorating the kitchen, not to mention probably lifting the floor in a bedroom in order to get at the cable.

          Not so much a problem if all you are doing is fitting a new cooker, because there isn't (or wasn't then) an absolute requirement to bring the thing up to the latest spec, just because you are renewing the appliance.

          The people who got most annoyed were those who had been told by their insurers (or whoever) to have a new consumer unit fitted in place of the rewireable one from 1953, priced up a new unit at Screwfix and thought they could get the whole job done in a day for £150. Then I'd come in and price the CU at £60, labour at £150 a day (so far so good) but then quote three days or more because of upgrading the earth (also involved a visit from Western Power), carrying out bonding work, replacing complete lighting circuits due to a lack of earth conductor (because householder can't go back to plastic fittings), re-jigging the sockets to remove spurs-on-spurs, tracing and fixing a broken ring (or converting to radial by downgrading and disconnecting) and completely re-wiring the kitchen because the fitters had (among other things) moved the cooker point by dint of burying a chocolate block in the wall where the old point was, running at 90 degrees to the new location and then plastering and tiling over the lot.

          And I'm not remembering one particularly bad job there - in the five years I did this work barely a month went by when I didn't meet something like the above and in at least half the cases the reply I got to my quote was either "I won't bother then" or "my mate says he'll do it for fifty quid".

          The sad thing is that the fitters will often get away with it:

          BBC News 12 October 2004

          Telegraph, 12 October 2004

          A clear case of kitchen fitters bodging the job but if you read the articles it is the householder who is blamed and the death is "accidental" not "negligence".


          1. JulieM Silver badge

            Re: Spurs - In Wales

            Hmm ..... this seems to be suspiciously close, timing-wise to the introduction of Part P .....

            Not that the installation as it was described in those articles would even have met the regulations that were already in force at the time, mind you ..... why was there no RCD? ..... and what did her husband think he was doing in the first place, drilling into a wall without first using a live wire detector that had first been tested against a known live wire to show that the battery wasn't spent from having become accidentally turned on in the tool box? And that utensil rack would surely have given out a tingle to anyone not soundly earthed via something like an open dishwasher door, as a warning that something may be amiss.

            But hey, why enforce an adequate existing law, when you can pass a shiny new one to stop something that was already illegal? It's almost as if they were trying to abuse their own personal tragedy in order to garner public support for scrapping the concept of nulla poena sine lege or something (even although it was very much cum legis ergo poena anyway) .....

          2. Muscleguy

            Re: Spurs - In Wales

            Bought this 3 Bed Betts Semi here in Scotland, there was a convenient socket in the corner of the lounge where we wished to site the telly, except it didn't work. Cue long cabled junction boxes. While waiting for the cable installation guy with everything pulled out of the way I pulled the relevant fuse for the downstairs sockets and had a look, cue a flash bang and the lights fused WTF?

            A later crawl around under the floor and what they had done was run a spur to that socket from a standard light fitting, Doh! So, I tried unsuccessfully to insert the now disconnected cable end into a convenient double socket but it would not go. Bugger. However, there was a four way junction box screwed to a rafter with only two filled positions, on the downstairs ring. The cable reached nicely.

            Then all I had to do was chase out the space for a double socket and we are long cable run of power cables at least free.

            Best bit? Grey cable, so pre part P regs, into old style box. So it looks original. Sorted.

            Oh and just pre part P I replaced the grey flex cable feed to the garage with an armoured cable. The grey flex had of course perished in the UV rays and should not have been surface mounted above the garden gate in the first place.

          3. SolidSquid

            Re: Spurs - In Wales

            The "verdict" from the RSPA in that first one seems bizarre. How does hanging a pot rack on the wall and accidentally hitting wiring which wasn't fitted to standard by the builders (ie the experts) highlight that any electrical work in the house needs to be done by experts? Second article even mentions that the husband had made a point of keeping it clear of where he expected the cable to run (because the cables are supposed to run either horizontally or vertically, and these were diagonal and not even consistant)

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Spurs

        "it seems that in Wales especially they have a fondness for positioning electric cooker isolating switches centrally above and behind the cooker."

        Not just Wales.

        Every single one I encountered in New Zealand was located there and most of the ones I encountered here in Surrey are too.

        The simple solution is to buy a self-contained enclosed deepfryer and not let anyone do chips on the stove.

    2. PNGuinn

      Re: Spurs @ MM

      In theory, yes, but if you've seen as many inventive ways of accomplishing that objective while studiously breaking as many of the regs as possible...

      There appear to be an army of "Electricians" out there whose skills I am unworthy to attempt to emulate. The best of them seem to be kitchen fitters.

      As an aside - I well remember looking over a property many years ago with a view to doing a rewire. For some reason I knelt on the bend of the stairs and copped a belt off a carpet tack. It turned out that the tack had penetrated the insulation of a bit of bell wire which fed a 13 A double socket on the living room off a 30 A fuse. Earth? what do I need one of them for - it works. Oh well...

      Icon for obvious reasons.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A friend became a consultant for a high powered international consultancy. When he wrote his first report for a customer his boss went through it with a blue pencil. He explained to my friend that when a high up in a company commissions a report then several things are expected.

    1) the conclusions must agree with whatever political axe the commissioner is sharpening.

    2) there should be no measurable targets against which the commissioner can be judged to have failed in the future.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      the conclusions must agree with whatever political axe the commissioner is sharpening.

      From what I heard through contacts, the draft report on the effectiveness of speed cameras originally didn't come to the conclusion that they work, so those who drew it up were told that that conclusion was unacceptable. That's why it came to use such convoluted maths - once that passed unchallenged, it became rule and the next reports simply built on that ethereal foundation.

      That report has determined policy for well over a decade, so the results of efforts to make conclusions match politics instead of the facts can last remarkably long. I heard of that because one specific camera was tagged with "saving lives" where in reality there had no variance in accidents whatsoever (this also alludes to your second point - if you can derive "facts" from negatives and get away with it, you can prove anything).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        " if you can derive "facts" from negatives and get away with it, you can prove anything"

        The Sexual Offences Bill in 2002 went into public consultation after it had been drafted by a committee. Some of the members had been co-opted on the strength of their academic research into related subjects.

        Reducing the threshold of evidence against men was very evident in the wording of several clauses of the bill about public nudity. One pivotal submission was an academic survey that said that women were afraid to go out at night.

        Suspecting a single-issue bias a sceptical critic unearthed the survey and read it thoroughly. The survey did say that - and was backed up by impeccable statistics.

        He then reported those conclusions - together with a generally unknown piece of information. The survey had apparently been conducted in Leeds at the height of the "Yorkshire Ripper" murders investigation.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        from what i heard

        Anonymous internet bullshit is bullshit.

        So my mate heard down the pub, anyway...

    2. JulieM Silver badge

      Indeed :(

      Yes, indeed. While on a temporary work placement many years ago, I was tasked with testing and writing a report on some cheap imported relays. In my first draft, I told the truth: they were not half as good as the ones they were being evaluated as possible replacements for, and retooling could prove to be an expensive mistake. On handing it in, I was told to remember who I worked for and talk up the new relays. So I rewrote it as a glowing praise piece -- and was later rewarded with a full-time job at the company.

      If the top brass had accepted the first version of that report, they might have evaluated other options including the relays that would eventually be specified to replace the cheap ones that were found to be no good, and only had to bear the cost of retooling once. Then they might have been able to afford to pay their staff more.

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: Indeed :(

        "Then they might have been able to afford to pay their staff more."

        But why would anyone want to do that? [confused]

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is that time is money. In many cases they know how much they want to make from a particular quote - and will cut corners if that margin looks like it is being eroded by problems. Even a "time and materials" contract doesn't guarantee a considered piece of work - bad habits are hard to forget.

    I once re-plumbed part of the house. The water board came to do the inspection and at one point paid a compliment - "That is how that tank pipework should be connected - most plumbers don't bother". The only fault they found was that the expensive B&Q mixer tap outlets were not quite the statutory 25 mm above the bath top surface. So I had to retrofit anti-syphon valves in the tap supply pipes. The fact that they noticed that problem suggests many components sold by plumbing suppliers don't meet the spec.

  5. Bronek Kozicki

    bullshitter with his 3D kitchen design

    ... hmm, I have this nice idea ...

  6. StevieB

    A cunning schema

    They say XML is like violence - if it's not working, you aren't using enough.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    XML is so 1990's

    Then along came SOAP (anything but Simple if you ask me)

    And now the Bullshitters are selling REST and JSON.

    We had one come visit us last week right in the middle of an big system upgrade. Hats off to him though. He'd flown (at vast expense) to the nearest Airport which is 200+ miles away. Then got some local to drive him out into the vastness of the local desert and still he turned up looking like he'd just bought his suit on Saville Row.

    Yours truly was rather grumpy when called into the IT directors office to hear this total bollocks of a presentation.

    When I asked how his wonderful world of JSON in our world where some kit we have to talk to can't even speak XML but lives in the world of flat files he didn't bat an eyelid before replying,

    you write something that converts the JSON to the flat file format.

    'You mean like what we already do with XML'?


    I shook my head in disbelief.

    The IT manager who for an Arab is pretty well switched on added,

    'And then the whole plant blows up we are to blame this person called JASON?'

    Sorta made my day really.

    1. JulieM Silver badge

      Re: XML is so 1990's

      JSON isn't actually that hard to deal with. I find it far preferrable to XML.

      Just keep in the back of your mind that you may well one day have to refactor your code to import a full JSON parsing library, when the API changes upstream and breaks the quick and dirty regular expression match you were doing to extract one piece of information from the JSON string.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: XML is so 1990's

        Times I have to send a couple of values through a TCP/IP connection across a local network or just on the same server, I'm developing both the server and the client, and I send something this as text...


        And then someone comes up and says I should do a fucking JSON or XML parser. Why stop there, if we're going to over-engineer it let's do full-on SGML for all the difference it'll make.

        1. tin 2

          Re: XML is so 1990's

          I am genuinely at a loss why you don't have 50 million upvotes for this post. If you have to parse into and out of the latest new format why not stick with the one thats worked forever and just parse that?

        2. JulieM Silver badge

          Re: XML is so 1990's

          You bother with the CR? Anytime I know that the far end will be Unix-like and thus not care, I just send bare LFs .....

          For a CGI-script that does the backend stuff for AJAX, and so only ever talks to one external applicaton -- the JavaScript in the browser -- there's usually little reason to use anything besides raw text, parsed by means of regular expression matches. Maybe JSON if the structure of the data calls for it.

          It's like using an associative array when a numeric one would do (i.e. anytime the same columns will always be present in every row). Define constants for your indexes so you can address the array like a hash, if you must .....

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: XML is so 1990's


            I've read too many RFCs and the network newline convention got stuck in my head if nothing else did. That way I can point it out to whoever my boss is this time and say, "See, I care about standards. It's got a network newline at the end."

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: XML is so 1990's - version|value|value<CRLF>

          Now that's the case where I completely agree with you. The someone has spent years at university learning XML and/or JSON, they have a big electric screwdriver, they are going to thread that nail if it kills them.

          Because? Because they lack the confidence to engineer a simpler solution.

          1. GBE

            Re: XML is so 1990's - version|value|value<CRLF>

            "The someone has spent years at university learning XML and/or JSON,"

            Somebody who spent years learning JSON? It's hard to even imagine somebody that stupid writing software. Or even getting to the office without hurting themselves.

      2. Linker3000

        Re: XML is so 1990's

        Having just written a full JSON string parsing routine in bash, and then done the same in DOS BATCH to produce a pair of Linux and Windows plugins for Nagios that need no additional support libraries or installed tools or apps, I am getting a kick...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: XML is so 1990's

        "and breaks the quick and dirty regular expression match you were doing to extract one piece of information from the JSON string."

        JSON has Python libraries which mean that doing it the proper way is quicker than messing around with regexes. And more maintainable. I actually like JSON, so perhaps it's just as well I'm not allowed near any production code nowadays.

        1. Orv Silver badge

          Re: XML is so 1990's

          I like JSON, but I'd like it better if it allowed comments. The lack of comments makes it unsuitable for configuration files, IMHO.

          Mind you, for configuration files I really like INI format...

        2. JulieM Silver badge

          Re: XML is so 1990's

          Well, if you are using a language where regular expression support is obtained by importing a library, then I agree: you may as well import a JSON library and do it properly, as import a regex library and bodge it.

          If, on the other hand, you're using a language where regular expressions are treated as a comparison operator, sometimes you use a screwdriver instead of walking all the way to the shed just to fetch a chisel.

  8. Shadow Systems

    A four-switch panel to control two lights?

    Bah, that's nothing.

    Back when I was knee high to an Arcturan MegaCricket, my dad did some "home improvements" to the living room. Installed a central ceiling fan with four bulb light in the "frosted glass fish bowl" beneath. The switch plate that came with it had one switch for the light (off|on), one switch for the fan (off|on), and a rheostadt to control the speed of the fan.

    Still with me? Good. Now hang on, the Stupidity starts to get thick.

    He managed to wire both switches to the lights, so you flipped one (whichever one was Up) to the other position to turn it on, then flip the other switch from whichever position it HAD been in to the other.

    Why? Because it picked which of the four bulbs to illuminate depending on which switch had started in the Up position. Left was Up & right down? Then bulbs 1 & 2 might come on, or 1 & 3, or 1 & 4, or 2 & 3, or 2 & 4, or 3 & 4. Left one down & right one up? Pick a different two to illuminate first, wait a few ticks, and watch as the other pair of bulbs would flicker into life as if finally getting the message.

    Still with me? Ok, now put on the HazMat AntiStupid suit, cause here's where Mr BumbleFuck got *really* going.

    The rheostadt would start at the 50% "Twelve O'Clock High" position in order to turn the fan Off. This was not the default configuration of the component, it was DESIGNED to start all the way over to one side or the other as Off, the halfway mark be half power, & all the way over being Full Power.

    But he managed to wire it up so it started in the middle, & if you turned it one way the fan would start to spin... in that direction. Turn it the other way & it would try to spin the blades that way. He'd wired the normally operated via the pull chain, Reverse Switch into the rheostadt so that you controlled the direction of the spin depending on which way you turned the knob.

    This *might* have been useful IF he had made it so it would stop the motor once the knob was returned to the straight up position. But he didn't. So if you had it cranked over all the way in one direction (Full Speed) & then spun the knob all the way to the other side, the sparks & smoke that crazy fucker would send everywhere as it tried to reverse direction on a spinning motor was just amazing.

    When Mom found out & threatened to call the Inspector on his ass herself (Go Mom!), he decided to Read The Fucking Manual & "hook it up right". That debaucle resulted in him wiring it up wrong THREE TIMES, starting a small fire, and us eventually having to hire a Licensed Professional to make it right. The Contractor couldn't believe the place hadn't exploded from the massive cluster fuck my Dad did on the wiring. It took two days to rip it all out, rewire the wall/switch, & then put in a new (non burnt) fan.

    Mom thanked the guy, paid him, & once he'd left told pop that if he EVER pulled another bullshit stunt like that, she wouldn't need a Divorce "because they'll never find your fucking corpse".

    O.O Woo HOO!

    And that was just a ceiling fan. If you ask nicely & bribe me with sufficient amounts of caffeine & pizza, I'll tell you about the time he "fixed" the fax machine to spray flaming toner on you for daring to hit SEND.


    1. Mark 85

      Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

      I am surprised any of us made it through childhood. There is something about our parent's generation that is scary.. they felt they could do anything even the stuff they had no idea about.

      My dad has an expression he uses often about if they could do the Manhattan Project* under the stands of a football stadium then he could certainly do <fill in the blank>. Every time I hear that, I have a mental image of mushroom cloud over Chicago.

      *Yes, his info is wrong. It was the first sustained chain reaction and not the bomb that was done in Chicago.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

        My favourite home improvement is knocking through the downstairs rooms to make single room running from front to back. It turns out this was a very popular thing to do 30-odd years ago. A few years ago we decided to get a builder in to put back the internal wall; he starts by stripping off the existing plaster so he can see what was used to bridge the gap when the wall was removed, and then rushes off to get some vertical steel supports (the adjustable ones) before he does anything else.

        Apparently planks of wood are no longer recommended for holding up walls.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

          "Apparently planks of wood are no longer recommended for holding up walls."

          A friend's house had a bouncy feeling as you walked across the upstairs landing. When he investigated it was found that someone had cut all the way through some joists - and only the floorboards were holding the joists up.

          1. x 7

            Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

            a problem in older buildings with solid - or non rain-proof - walls. The ends of the joists get wet and rot away. Could be what happened in your case

            1. tony2heads

              Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

              I once rented a house with an extension out to the front. Both the original and extension had pitched roofs running in parallel with the original gutter left in between like


              and a ceiling placed underneath. It left about 15 feet of gutter you could not inspect with climbing up and crawling along in the "V" shape left between the roofs.

              When heavy rain came it could fill up the central gutter -which had inevitably corroded- which was filled with leaves,and it created a damp patch in the ceiling.

              After a week of heavy rain the ceiling sagged dramatically and, after switching off all electrical circuits going the extension, I had place a large bucket under the sag and pierce the ceiling. I then had a broom on some wooden boxes holding up the ceiling

              Several gallons of water later I managed to contract the landlord and arrange for new (wider) guttering and a ceiling.

              The whole extension was clearly not thought through. We left before the following winter but warned the next tenant.

              Lots of software 'upgrades' are like that. They work in normal circumstances but buckle under heavy load or unusual circumstances.

        2. x 7

          Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

          they're called akros.

          and I can think of at least two pubs locally where the wall between the bars was knocked through without replacement both cases requiring emergency work as the building began to sag

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

        You guys are obviously on drinking terms with my grandad.

        He "works on cars" - and you can tell if he worked on yours if it stalls the moment you put it in reverse.

    2. GrumpenKraut

      Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

      I definitely want to learn about that fax machine!

      But I can only offer a virtual beer =----------->

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

      You have my sympathy Shadows Systems.

      I used to remodel houses when I was younger. I would tell people that most of my work was spent "un-fucking" someone else's DIY stupidity.

      Many, MANY people really shouldn't be allowed near any type of machinery, ever. That they have cars is the biggest mistake the human race ever made.

      1. Shadow Systems

        @Ecofeco & others.

        The truely scary part is that dad was working in the U.S. Military as what he euphamisticly called a "Maintenence Monkey" position at a now defunct Air Force Base. He was tasked with various electrical, electronic, & mechanical repair duties on things like the robotic "picker drones" that would follow a guide wire in the floor to $AisleX|$PositionY & use the robotic arm to pull $Item off the shelves. The drone would then follow the wire back, drop $Item in the bin for the Human to apply to whatever was being repaired. These drones were only supposed to go about a walking pace for safety reasons (something about a One Tonne Tracked Vehicle moving VERY FAST and how it didn't Give A Fuck about us squishy Humans), but because his supervisors wanted things faster, dad removed the goveners that limited their speed. The result being "MiniTanks" roaring around the warehouse on crash courses with everything unable to get the hell out of the way, many injuries, and drones arriving at the final bin missing their $Item because $Item had been flung from the drone during a near-90-degree "rebound corner" turning maneuver.

        Once the Safety Department learned of all the accidents such "improvements" caused, the fact that my dad had Kept A Paper Trail (the Orders from above instructing him to do said "improvement"), he got to keep his job, but had to spend the next six months putting all the goveners back, repairing all the wear & tear on mechanical bits never designed for "Drone Racing", and had to attend various "Workplace Safety" classes to show him why what he did was wrong.

        He'd take that "I can fix anything!" attitude from work to home & keep going as if he were Invincible.

        Thus it should come as _NO_ surprise that the first thing Mom did after she divorced his ass was call the Professionals to completely fix the house. Rip out the walls, the wiring, every switch & light fixture, replacing it all with Code Approved stuff. New Central Heating & Air (air conditioning that worked? *Faints in shock*), attic insulation with an "R" value not measured in hours of greedy glee on the part of the Energy Company come meter reading time, dual pane insulated windows (Did you know that windows DON'T let breezes through them when closed? NEAT!), doors that actually closed and STAYED closed rather than needing an upward yank on the knob (Fnar!) to lift it into the latch plate & a sharp smack of the palm to get the lock to latch, appliances that didn't flip a coin to see if they Worked or Caught Fire that time, blah blah blah. It cost nearly twice what the place was worth to have it all done, but once it WAS done the house was appraised at nearly *Four Times* it's highest value in the ~three decades my dad was there.

        His dad (my Paternal GrandFather) was a literal Rocket Scientist for AeroJet GenCorp, he did Classified stuff that he refused to talk about even when drunk, so you would think "like Father like Son" right? Nope. Gramp got the brains, Dad got the shaft. I'm at least smart enough to know "I'm not qualified to do that, let's call a Pro" which works quite well in Covering My Ass when the shit hits the fan because something didn't get done right.

        And now for the flaming fax machine story... (See next post)

        1. x 7

          Re: @Ecofeco & others.

          you didn't get on with your dad, did you?

          1. Shadow Systems

            @X7 re: my dad.

            Didn't get along with him? You deserve a cookie only slightly smaller than the orbit of PLUTO for that.


            I often wondered if I were either Adopted or otherwise Not His Biological Child. If it weren't for my "having his nose" (yuck!) I would never have believed we were related.

            He would do things that to my "untrained, immature, unskilled" eye would be Dumb As Hell & I'd ask him why he did $This instead of $That. I'd make suggestions on how I thought it might work better if it was reworked to do $X rather than $Y, and might be more efficient. His reply was always "Go Away. I'm the Engineer around here."

            Fine, I'll go away, and I'll remember that I suggested what turned out to be The Right Way when we end up having a Professional come around to make things right because the County Code Inspector came by & had an utter shit fit.


            One example of his DumbFuckery was we had a Subaru hatchback with a five speed manual transmission. The clutch plate started to go wonky & he insisted he could fix it, that it would save money, and be faster than taking it to a Dealer. Three engines later, four clutch plates later, nearly two THOUSAND dollars, & three months later with still no working car, Mom grabbed the keys, called a flat bed wrecker, & had it towed to the nearest auto shop.

            It turned out to have been a part on the clutch plate, not the plate itself, that had been failing. Cost to repair it if it had been Done Right The First Time? A couple hundred for the labor, twenty for the part, & the car would be back in our hands the same afternoon.

            Cost after dad got ahold of it? Twenty-Five hundred bucks to remount the engine correctly, install a new clutch plate (plus the twenty dollar part that needed replacing), and a WEEK in the shop for all the labor.

            When mom got the car back & had keys in hand, she punched dad in the face with them & told him "This is now MY car. You are not allowed to touch MY car. If I catch you beneath the (Hood|Bonnet) of MY car, I will RUN YOU OVER WITH IT."

            I do believe dad never touched it again, and consequentially it lasted another decade before mom sold it to get something else.

            In the mean time dad went through no fewer than three cars, buying used junkers, "fixing" them, ruining them even farther, & leaving them in such condition that they had to be hauled away on flat bed wreckers to the junk yard because they no longer were capable of moving under their own power.

            This was just one of the many reasons why mom divorced him. When she finally decided to do so & came to me to see how I would react, I gave her a massive happy hug, danced around the house with her, & asked her "Do you need help hiding the body?"

            She nearly laughed her tits off in relief & amusement.

            Unfortunately she Let Him Live, but that was a turning point in both our lives. She got a fresh start with a man whom *ACTUALLY* can fix things (he's a licensed Contractor with many years of a successful business to his credit) and I got to attend a Community College with StepDad's help rather than trying to find a scholarship to cover it all.

            No, I didn't get along with BioDad. I may have been related to him by blood, but I tried *very* hard NOT to turn out like him. I can only hope I succeed.

            (If nothing else, never setting myself on fire is a big step in that direction! Narf!)


            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: @X7 re: my dad.

              I do get the impression that his emotional intelligence may have been on a par with his technical

              (My background in Psychology) Since he seemed pretty adept at breaking relationships as well as clutches.

              You can be a klutz and still keep a family together ( I know a few).

    4. JetSetJim

      Re: A four-switch panel to control two lights?

      Part of the problem may well be the information sources to hand. When constructing a man cave in the garden (ostentatiously calling it a summer house, but secretly digging a beer/wine cellar underneath it), my dad naturally ran an armoured power cable to it underground, and from then into its own fuse box to distribute some power & lighting. To read up on this, he purchased a "DIY bible" from some store - B&Q probably, and pored over the electrical section.

      The next day he went back to the store and asked why they were recommending connecting the earth to the live terminal, or some such blunder of epic proportions.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " It was the first sustained chain reaction and not the bomb that was done in Chicago."

    There was still a lingering doubt in some minds as to whether a chain reaction would be as controllable as they thought.

    To be fair - in the 1950s most things in daily use could be repaired by someone with a modicum of knowledge. Make do and mend was essential for most households. Valve radios were easy to repair compared to the later miniature transistor portables. They often came with the circuit diagram pasted inside. Car maintenance and repairs were generally straightforward with scrapyard spares.

    On the other hand many household jobs that became DIY in the 1960s were previously the preserve of professionals. Polyfilla and Contiboard were a revolution.

    Nowadays there is very little that is amenable to repair without some specialist tools or even legal training certificates. Even opening something can require the right sort of screwdriver variant. Things which can be repaired may be uneconomical to have done by a professional organisation - it is often cheaper to buy a replacement.

    On the other hand many people generally seem to be unable to do even the simplest jobs. They pay £10 to have a watch battery changed - when the simple tool costs about £1 and the battery not much more.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "They often came with the circuit diagram pasted inside."

      Not that they really needed it. The 5 valve superhet was pretty standard. The only problem was if a component was so badly burnt that you had to guess the value.

    2. DropBear

      I'll be sure to remember to call a licensed electrician to replace that not-quite-broken light switch in the hallway. I've heard I could get electrocuted / spontaneously combust / catch both HIV and Ebola / create a tiny black hole that could destroy the known universe if I tried to do it myself... Maybe I'll call two of them, just to be on the safe side - or better yet: three, plus a safety inspector...!

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        As a student I spent a year in a house where apparently innocent electrical items seemed to be a bit tingly.

        Early on I got a serious shock, so decided to investigate. After the circuit testing screwdriver lit up on a light switch I turned off the mains and started to look inside the sockets and switches. Several had live wires in the wrong holes.

        A few years later, I had my own flat and needed to do something minor to the light switch near the front door..

        I turned off the mains. But being paranoid checked the inside with that same old tester. It was live.

        Turned out it was wired to the flat upstairs, from when the last owner's mother had lived there.

        1. Ben Bonsall

          Spent a number of years in a rented house where the electric power shower isolator switch was switching the neutral instead of the live. So when you switched it off, the shower wouldn't work, but it could still kill you...

          The landlord couldn't see why this was a problem.

          1. damian Kelly

            Showers ought to be isolated with a DP switch that switches Live and Neutral.....

  10. Alistair Dabbs

    Microwave recipes

    Still without a hob and getting rather fed up of laboriously cooking separate ingredients in the microwave in sequence, then finishing them off in the oven or under the grill. I have even learnt how to make frittatas in the microwave, and I have been told how to poach an egg in there (will try this over the weekend). The day I get the new hob fitted, I will cook something that requires me to use all four rings simultaneously. (Ooh matron etc)

    1. Shadow Systems

      @Alistair Dabbs, Re Cooking.

      If you're going to use all four rings, may I have a plate of "Floppy Bacon" please?

      ("Cooked but not Crisp" is another way to call it. As long as it doesn't go crunch it should be fine.)

      I hate it when folks turn bacon into charcoal. What is it about bacon that prompts an otherwise talented cook to utterly ruin what amounts to a hunk of meat? If you went to a restaurant & ordered a steak, and the thing that was eventually laid before you were cooked like that bacon, you'd send it back as inedible & probably refuse to pay for it. But the moment it goes from beef to pork, it becomes ok to do unspeakable things to it?

      Dang it, cook the bacon the same way you would cook Filet Mignon: tender, juicy, and delicious, not burnt, crunchy, & the gustatorial equivelent of gnawing on your galoshes!

      *Shakes a palsied fist*

      Danged WhipperSnappers! Bring me my floppy bacon & get off my Lawn!


      1. Old69

        Re: @Alistair Dabbs, Re Cooking.

        "[...] not burnt, crunchy, [...]"

        There are several dishes that require crunchy bacon - for texture contrasts as well as taste. A crumbled topping to an avocado salad; a halved avocado topping - or indeed an avocado open sandwich or a BLT. The problem is choosing a bacon that will cook to that crisp finish - without charring. Luckily our supermarket sells packets of it ready cooked - but it's not as delicious as freshly cooked.

        1. Shadow Systems

          @Old69 re: bacon.

          Cooked & crumbled bacon ("Bacon Bits") are fine over salads & in some foods, but part of breakfast (like Scrambled Eggs & Bacon for example) it shouldn't go crunch.

          I thought "avacado" was just another name for the fuzzy green testicles of kangaroos?

          *Runs away laughing*

        2. Kiwi

          Re: @Alistair Dabbs, Re Cooking. @ Old69

          There are several dishes that require crunchy bacon - for texture contrasts as well as taste. A crumbled topping to an avocado salad; a halved avocado topping

          The problem is not the crunchyness of the bacon (may such an abhorrent phrase never pass my lips again!) but the existence of avocado (may such an abhorrent food never pass my lips again!).

          Get rid of the avo and have your bacon cooked properly - nice and tender.

          (Personally I prefer to cook the eggs on top of the bacon, that way the whites absorb some of the flavour and don't need extra salt)

    2. Justicesays

      Re: Microwave recipes

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: Microwave recipes


        I kid you not, we owned a little gas camping stove right up until a couple of years ago, when I finally disposed of it. It had never been used. It had been sitting on a shelf in the garage ever since I bought it at the end of December 1999, "just in case".

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Microwave recipes

          That's the source of your problem. Never dispose of anything you're hanging onto just in case. If you do the case will eventuate.

  11. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    XML meets SQL

    Sometimes the bodges are mandated by the client.

    Client ran a digital print service. They got flat files, usually CSV to print. The printers were driven by a package which took in flat files with one line per field in the document together with a formatting in file which told where & how the field was printed. The normal work-flow was to store the contents of the incoming files in a relational database & then pull the data out in the field-per-line format. Having the stuff in the database helped manage batching, remakes etc & also made the conversion from one flat file format to another fairly transparent. The normal IT work-flow had been to write a system for this more or less from scratch for every contract. I'll draw a veil over the contract where the data came via EDI...

    Along came a contract which needed this new-fangled XML stuff. The document was way more complex than the usual stuff and flat files wouldn't have handled it. I put myself up to handle the XML end & did some training on the subject. The obvious route was take the original XML & apply XSLT to convert it into the field-per-line format. To handle the usual work-flow requirements the incoming XML could be split into fragments, one per printed document, stored as text elements in the database and reassembled for a batch job. Client said 'No'.

    They wanted the XML taken apart and stored in relational form just like all the others except this time it would require a whole hierarchy of tables and it quickly became clear that for performance reasons surrogate keys would have to be used to tie stuff together. I ended up with XSL to convert the XML to SQL with a series of macros to act as place-holders for the keys and a macro-processor to handle the tying together. Inevitably more sections were added to the document format and hence to the XML over the life of the contract. The database design was tied to the document structure and chunks of the code were tied to the schema so the client had committed themselves to changing both at intervals through the life of the contract.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: XML meets SQL

      The last time I was given XML from a client - ummm, this year - it wasn't even proper XML. Embedded in it were chunks of unescaped invalid HTML. I had to parse it with adhoc regexes.

      And then there's JSON, which would be OK if everything consisted of arrays, dicts, floats, and strings; if JSON serializers were all 100% bug-free; and if it didn't have to flow through a pipeline of cloudy REST APIs and database layers that don't know whether to escape it as SQL, JSON, XML, HTML, urlencoded, PHP-serialized, or what have you. This includes gems like WordPress's maybe_unserialize().

      Just to be safe, better use a custom text format and base64 it....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: XML meets SQL

        "Just to be safe, better use a custom text format and base64 it"

        Done that.

        Sent the application to the customer "security team" for evaluation. They used a MITM attack to get through the SSL. Then they complained that the data was further encrypted with a proprietary system that they couldn't recognise.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: XML meets SQL

        "The last time I was given XML from a client - ummm, this year - it wasn't even proper XML."

        The way we set things up was that the XML schema was agreed with the client (i.e. my client's client, the main project contractor). I'm not sure whether it was part of the actual contract but every new product or product change was documented in a version controlled spec and in a DTD or schema (which I usually maintained). Nothing went live until we had test data from the client validated against the current schema, processed and the sample product signed off by the main contractor's client. In production any file received which was not a well-formed XML document would be refused. This happened from time to time because the sometimes the latest devs at the other end hadn't grasped the use of entities to handle certain characters. As the devs rotated when their visas ran out I occasionally had to do a bit of education...

        We didn't validate the whole XML document but validated the individual fragments representing an order printed document. IIRC we had an arrangement to simply discard and report a particular order that failed validation rather than bounce several hundred good ones.

        Although it's fashionable to decry XML as over-engineered it came with a selection of tools to do the heavy lifting and if you made proper use of them it was vastly better than having a system gamely soldier on and do the wrong thing or fall flat on its face when encountering bad data. I can't comment on JSON as I've never used it; does it have the same support for data integrity?

  12. AdamK

    "Over the years, I have come across corporate print servers that route your print jobs around the globe and back again before reluctantly spewing the data to the laser five feet away from your own desk."

    Yup. It's called cloud printing. Became quite popular I hear.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Years ago (back before Ms windows and even MS DOS) I was intalling phones in the Xerox building in London.

      In the secretary's office was this black and white screen with icons on it.

      'Wossat?' says I

      "Oh, it lets me print this document at any printer in any office, anywhere."

      and yes, with a little bit of work she could indeed send the document around the world to the printer next door.

      (It was a little bit slower with everything on private circuits in them days of steam-driven relays)

      1. Warm Braw

        Probably even longer ago using IBM's Remote Spooling Communications Subsystem you could send a message from your own virtual card punch to your own virtual card reader using what you might term "loose source routing" and get a report from the intermediate systems en route as they relayed the virtual card deck. I think Hawaii was the furthest place I managed to hop through.

        The things we did to avoid work in the days before sinister cat pictures...

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          We used RSCS In college. We also had an Ada compiler and an SNA implementation that would routinely collaborate to hang anything 3270-like so we had a routine where we'd call the sysop to force (kill) the offending VM. You'd give her the VM name.

          So there was a VM handing the RSCS protocol named RSCSN.

          One of the bright sparks called the sysop and said "Hi! my login is rscsn and I've just been SNAed. Can you force it?"

          Suddenly the dozens of VERY LARGE printers became ominously quiet.

        2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          "Probably even longer ago using IBM's Remote Spooling Communications Subsystem you could send a message from your own virtual card punch to your own virtual card reader using what you might term "loose source routing" and get a report from the intermediate systems en route as they relayed the virtual card deck. I think Hawaii was the furthest place I managed to hop through."

          Reminds me of the "good old days", where every janet/cbs and internet/smtp servers were what today would be called 'open relays'.

          To the youngster here, this was by design - back then, many different networks weren't "virtually" connected, so you'd have to deliberately route mail via a mail relay that was connected to both networks you wanted to traverse.

          We would have 'reverse races' - picking 20 or so servers at random, and seeing who could get an email to take the longest time to come back to us. E.G.:

          To really delay things you'd use a bunch of servers that only connected once a day via UUCP...

          Happy days

          [Old fart icon]

          1. launcap Silver badge


            Looks a lot like the old BBS ! field settings..

            1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

              " Looks a lot like the old BBS ! field settings.."

              Ah yeah, UUCP. Same sort of thing, where the network routing information path is contained as part of the mail address, but of course, with UUCP , many paths were a requirement due to host-to-host network!

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Cpt Blue Bear

      Many years ago at the Aussie tentacle of an international agricultural equipment company, the company accountant printed a very confidential report relating to the impending merger of local agents into one Ozwide organisation and the parent company's planned but as yet unannounced buy out of same to create a local subsidiary. Highly confidential, one copy for the local MD, potential to affect the stock price, etc. Also not on the output tray of his printer.

      Where was it?

      Check the printer settings and find its gone to a printer identified only by a string of apparently random digits (in retrospect the "deu" should have given us a clue). We send another print job with the words "if you find this please call this phone number" in 24 point type. With ten minutes his extension rings and a voice says "Halloo, zis iz Gunter from Haamboourg..."

  13. The Axe

    XML to store settings

    What about the demand to store settings for a program in an XML file. Yes, you can open it in IE (other browsers exist) and view it with pretty colours. But what's wrong with an INI file? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Depth is the issue of INI

      The "standard" INI format has only two levels - section and key/value pair.

      If your configuration needs a third level then you have to "fake" it, either by adding subsection start/finish (and sub-subsection) or by adding a different type of formatting to indicate a subsection.

      Which essentially means turning it into a really bad copy of XML.

      Might as well use XML or JSON to start with.

  14. Phuq Witt

    Re: Who needs fuses, anyway?

    Whoever wired that hob was simply ahead of his/her time. Any devotee of those documentaries about the future known as 'SciFi' will be aware that –in the bright, shining, technologically advanced world of tomorrow– there is no place for fuses in electrical circuits.

    Otherwise how would the hunky hero be able to start a chain reaction that destroys the villain's entire Underground Lair/Death Star/Planet, by the simple expedient of smashing a blunt object [a silver spray-painted swivel chair is ideal] into a control console?

    1. 404

      Re: Who needs fuses, anyway?

      Phuq Witt:

      You sir, have a valid point.

  15. Terry 6 Silver badge


    As ever, anyone who has worked with the technical bits of education will have seen both sides of the f***up.

    Commonly, to save a few quid, a classroom might have only one mains point, which is next to the door.

    Being next to the door means that there is an immediate hazard as soon as you try to use it. Even a TV has to be put somewhere.

    And since these points weren't installed before the days of the VCR even a three year old could have worked out that you needed at least two sockets.

    But, computers have been in use since the 1980s in schools. SO by the time say, 1990 or so came around you'd have been able to work out that a classroom might need some electric supply that was accessible by the teachers. Not a bit of it. They were still putting the sodding things in the doorway.

    But then, with the shiny new interactive whiteboards, maybe, just maybe they'd put some points near the best place for the IWB and install it there. Like not facing into full sunlight/ or next to a window south facing to catch the full glare. You'd be lucky.

    So maybe they get older technology right? Like making sure that the drainage from the sinks in two adjacent classrooms was adequate to cope with both being emptied at the same time. They couldn't forget to allow for that could they? Well, yes they could.

    How about heat management?

    They wouldn't forget to make sure that one side of the building wasn't made entirely of south facing windows would they? Well often enough they did. On the other hand, sometimes they did put blinds in place. So that you had a choice of being baked and dazzled or sitting with the lights on in July. Assuming that the blinds were fit for purpose. Like not breaking, jamming or just plain failing to keep the light out. My favourite was a very tall primary school with some kind of external canopy blinds that were operated with a kind of internal pulley device. At least I think that was how they were meant to work. No one in living memory had seen them in use. The canopies had been torn to shreds by the elements years before. The pulleys had been jammed the first time anyone tried to paint the frames, anyway. Which was also why none of the windows opened . School windows never open, once they've been painted -except for sometimes when they are just too inadequate to make a difference. (I think that's where Bill Gates got the idea from).

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Education

      School designs are total copy-paste.

      I've had to meet many specifications for new-build schools that called out multiple systems and products (both specific and general types) that were obsolete before I went to school, and these days can only be found in specialist museums.

      PFI was interesting.

    2. megalomaniacs4u

      Re: Education

      Please that single socket was put there for the benefit of the cleaners not to be used for any other reason.

    3. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Education

      >> School windows never open

      The ones at my school did. In fact, they remained open, sun or rain. I remember our Latin teacher had a habit of casually tossing our marked exercise books, frisbee-style, to us from his desk at the front. If you were lucky enough to sit by a window, there was a chance that your exercise book might fly outside before you had a chance to catch it. That meant you were allowed to go outside (two floors down, in the playground) to fetch it. If you were unlucky, it would be raining and your book would be a pulpy lump by the time you retrieved it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Education

        "The ones at my school did. In fact, they remained open, sun or rain."

        Our French lessons were in a ground floor (USA 1st floor) classroom. In the summer the lower part of the sash window would be open. Our teacher would sit by the window and have round-the-class question tests. If you gave the right answer he would ring a bell on one of the bicycles that were parked against the windowsill.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Education - Latin

        "If you were unlucky, it would be raining and your book would be a pulpy lump by the time you retrieved it."

        In my case I'd have called that lucky.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Education

      Like making sure that the drainage from the sinks in two adjacent classrooms was adequate to cope with both being emptied at the same time.

      This reminds me of a very amusing anecdote from when I was at school and our science labs had a gas tap for a Bunsen burner on every desk. Due to the fact that the gas pressure was lower than the water pressure and non-return valves were not fitted, a few of us soon figured out that a short length of rubber hose between the water and gas taps would turn every Bunsen burner in the classroom block into a water fountain. Those were the days ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Education

        [...] science labs had a gas tap for a Bunsen burner on every desk."

        Wasn't there also a trick of introducing air into your bunsen's supply by blowing - and the temporary airlock would extinguish a neighbour's flame?

    5. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Education

      They wouldn't forget to make sure that one side of the building wasn't made entirely of south facing windows would they? Well often enough they did. On the other hand, sometimes they did put blinds in place.

      Or the school around here, built in the 1990s, where the nice-looking be-windowed "front", designed to be south-ish, facing the road and to provide a posh main entrance was instead built facing into the side of a hill, meaning that the classrooms were gloomy, the back door became the main entrance, and all you could see from the road was a vast expanse of roof, the toilet windows and the kitchen extractor.

      It appears that the Wayback Machine has broken the last paragraph on this site. Darn:

      Cwm Aber Juniors


    6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Education

      "Commonly, to save a few quid, a classroom might have only one mains point"

      What do you think adapters are for. You just plug one into another until you have as many outlets as you need.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Education

        Oh yes.

        It's almost a kind of artwork.

        The double adaptor with each point having a 4/6 point socket strip trailling on the floor.

        I've seen a few of those. (Shudders at the memory)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Like making sure that the drainage from the sinks in two adjacent classrooms was adequate to cope with both being emptied at the same time."

    There is always a better class of idiot. Our school's Chemistry laboratory had a smaller one attached to it - which was used by the VIth Form for advanced practical work.

    One experiment involved making nylon by heating compounds (amines?) and passing nitrogen through the reaction tube. As it proceeded a foul-smelling vapour came from the rubber tube attached to the end of the tube. Quick thinking involved shoving the loose end of the tube down the sink plughole. Solved!

    A few minutes later the main lab was hurriedly evacuated as the foul miasma exited out of their sinks' plug holes.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Well yes.

      Sums it up. You don't need a PhD to work this one out.

      At any given time one class will be using one kind of nasty noxious reagents.

      In the other room they are likely to be using another kind of nasty reagents.

      So at any one time, if you don't think a divided outlet is essential when you plan the installation, there are likely to be any random kinds of reaction taking place in the pipes.

    2. Dr Dan Holdsworth

      At a university somewhere near you

      At a university situated in Wales somewhere between Gymru and Cymru there was (and still is) a very traditional biology department. It has all the things one would normally associate with uni biology departments: lab assistants that make Pratchett's Igors look sane, equally deranged staff and a curiously lackadaisical take on health and safety.

      This attitude came back to bite them one day, when it was decided that as a particular project was over, the bulk of the particularly vile and smelly thiol compound they'd been using really ought to be gotten rid of rather than merely leave it to fester on a shelf somewhere (this gem of wisdom being dictated by someone finding the best part of a three-pound jar of picric acid on a shelf in a store room; dry picric acid at that meaning a good kilo of sensitive high explosive needed getting rid of).

      So, it was decided to find the nearest sluice to the main sewer and flush it down there, rather than pay for proper disposal. Unfortunately this particular thiol was rather oily, hydrophobic and had a high vapour pressure, and smelled very like rotting fish multiplied several thousand times. It flushed away easily enough, and was followed by a bucket or two of hot Decon-90 detergent, and that was that, or so they thought (wrongly).

      The stuff apparently stuck to the inside of the sewer and over the following months evaporated off and crept back up into the lab drains, which had no water lock system. Everybody knew which genius had decided to dispose of things that way, and he spent those months as the Least Popular Man Ever.

      1. x 7

        Re: At a university somewhere near you

        in the days before health and safety it wasn't unknown for small-scale chemists to run manufacturing businesses from their homes.....

        back in the 1970's there was one case of a chap in Yorkshire (Pontefract maybe) who specialised in phosgenations.........he carried out the reactions in his basement, pulling the waste vapours down the drain using a water vacuum. All went well until one night the phosgene fumes in the sewer built up and blew back into the next-door basement, where it killed a young couple as they slept.

        The chemist eventually was jailed for manslaughter, but not before he tried to bribe a farmer to bury the phosgene bottles to hide the evidence.....the farmer smelt a rat and informed the police.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So true...

    "Over the years, I have come across corporate print servers that route your print jobs around the globe and back again before reluctantly spewing the data to the laser five feet away from your own desk."


    It's odd how every peripheral you can think of nowadays seems to have a local wifi or Bt option - but the corporate fear of people misusing printers causes convoluted systems which probably end up costing more than any possible savings. I'm not going to name any of the more horrible examples so this post doesn't have to be deleted, but anyone who has come across them and didn't have a vested interest in selling them will surely agree. Printer makers try to make them user friendly, corporations try to make them hard to use.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've seen these so called consultants selling into the publishing industry... I worked out that one of them I worked with about ten years ago cost as much to the organisation as the CEO's base salary (for a public quoted international company), all for managing what amounted to an intranet site with a SQL Server back end...

    I can remember about the same time having to explain MSMQ to a Sharepoint consultant they'd employed at probably 2-3 times my daily rate.

    And don't get me started on JSON. I remember the good old days when you had a manual containing all the messages on the system and their permissible values. Optimisation was a skill which is mostly long lost now.

  19. Giles C Silver badge

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the monty python gasmen sketch. One of the first things that same to mind when I read about the kitchen....

    1. ChrisElvidge Bronze badge

      'Twas on a Monday morning when the gas man came to call

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        'Twas on a Monday morning when the gas man came to call

        Flanders and Swann, The Gas Man Cometh or a poor copy on YouTube.


  20. ecofeco Silver badge

    Great article

    Dead on. Been exposed to every one of those scenarios.

    But I can sum up all those words into just 3 letters: IBM.

    You have been warned.

  21. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Both's faults?

    Don't get me wrong, this is mainly the fault of the consultants. But, the client should have *some* responsibility.

    I mean (not to get into bad analogies), if a plumber came in and said they wanted to run pipes all over the building, stick this cistern over here, oh and pumps, lots of pumps, I would think SOMEONE would ask "Why? We just have this sink here, and a bathroom over here. What is the goal of all this?" See if the answer makes sense. But, for IT, someone can come in and propose virtually anything, and they will not necessarily be questioned about "what is the goal for all this?"

    Same thing here -- for ANY project I've proposed as a consultant... I ask what they want to get done, and how they expect to do it. I propose (even if just pen-on-paper ) some mockups to see if this is how they want this to work. I *DON'T* start out saying I'm going to use Python and this and that technology without even saying what the goal of this tech is. This would, for example, avoid the situation from the article where some group ended up with shared folders where they could not share anything with anyone else, and had to FTP to do so. I would have found either people want to share everything on there, and made all directories accesible to others... or found they want to share the odd file, and kept each user's directory private but added a "public to all" directory people could copy files in to to share them.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Both's faults?

      Too often, when I've had to accommodate a consultant, or live with the product of their recommendations ( not by any means just in the IT part of the job) they were appointed because they did a certain thing in a certain way that was all the rage. Whether or not that thing or that method made any sense in our context it was what some high-up exec wanted. So that's what we got. Because it was the "in" thing. Aforementioned exec types had of course made their reputations by being on the right bandwagons, but neither too soon nor too late. A skill in its own right as far as I can see.

      And I don't think any consultant has ever asked the front-line team how they worked or what they needed to do the job.

      Likewise, when the higher-ups decided that an activity needed to be computerised (usually because someone had belatedly worked out what we'd known for years - that it was a task well suited to using a computer ) the execs at the top never took any notice if we already had a method that worked well. Not even to tell us that they thought it wasn't good enough. Instead they'd purchase at some enormous cost some monolithic off-the-shelf package that required vast amounts of irrelevant or actually non-existent information in compulsory fields ( because it wasn't designed for small teams like ours or doing what we did), took ten times as long to enter data and twenty times as long to retrieve it. Usually in a form that made it useless for day to day work, so that we had to keep using the old system ( often just a simple WORD table) alongside the new one. One for show and one for use.

      In one such fiasco with an enormously complex computerised information and planning package, full of sections and sub-sections all with unhelpful or ambiguous names, and icons that were like no other icons we'd ever seen or been able to identify, and menus with titles that were as unhelpful as the section headings, requiring all sorts of information we'd never even heard of, let alone had any use for, and lots of other kinds of madness, like being forced to re-enter "up to date" data that actually never changed.

      But they allowed just enough enough training in it for managers to get a taster of how it worked, then were surprised when we weren't using it properly, if at all. So they appointed some temporary staff to come round and help the various teams to set it up and get used to using it. Which quickly turned into an extended contract so that they could enter the data for us. Which lead to them admitting that they didn't know what some of the sections were for themselves, then went on to them admitting to us that it was too complicated for even them to make any sense of it . And ended up with them telling us to try to keep the system up to date in certain more obvious parts, but to go back to our old system for actual usage.

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Both's faults?

      Sure they do... but in my experience, the bloke in the client company doing the WTF? WHY? is several layers down (which is why he knows what's going on) and totally ignored when he raises his points.

      The guys doing the actual contract work just nod knowingly because they have NO clue and don't want to risk being exposed.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Both's faults?

        "Likewise, when the higher-ups decided that an activity needed to be computerised (usually because someone had belatedly worked out what we'd known for years - that it was a task well suited to using a computer ) the execs at the top never took any notice if we already had a method that worked well. Not even to tell us that they thought it wasn't good enough. Instead they'd purchase at some enormous cost some monolithic off-the-shelf package that required vast amounts of irrelevant or actually non-existent information in compulsory fields ( because it wasn't designed for small teams like ours or doing what we did), took ten times as long to enter data and twenty times as long to retrieve it. Usually in a form that made it useless for day to day work, so that we had to keep using the old system ( often just a simple WORD table) alongside the new one. One for show and one for use."

        You worked for (the now defunct) ICL too? Sounds just like the SIAM replacement, and eventually the replacements replacement.

        Not to mention the replacement of working unix proxy servers with NT servers costing 20x more, and never working (the old PC I set up with a FreeBSD based proxy for the site was still live when I left...)

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Both's faults?

          Sorry, not ICL. I work in some specialised bits of education- which is why I could do the technical IT stuff as well as the technical teaching stuff. And get cr***ed on by the higher ups who had no clue what we did, from both angles.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Back to the story

    You know to me, it sounds as if you are a tiny bit pissed off that YOU didnt have the balls to wear the pink tie, do the bullshitting and get all the money!!.

    (Waits for the highest down vote total in El Reg history).

  23. Shadow Systems

    The Flaming Fax Machine...

    (Note: This is attempt Three to write this story. It is now much shorter & less amusing. Sigh.)

    My dad used to have an old fax machine that took a Butcher Paper sized roll of paper off the back, had the telephone number pad on top, the handset on the side, & the slot to spit out the incoming fax on the underside of the front. To send a fax you fed individual sheets into the funnel trough on the top behind the number pad, & prayed nothing jammed.

    One day he noticed that it was printing funny, fuzzy, zigzaggy lines everywhere, & the old trick of shaking the toner cart didn't help. So he unplugged it, disassembled it, cleaned everything, and put it back together.


    Did you know that if the print head is causing a short across it & the "warming up" phase now turns it into a not-quite-open-flame heating source, spraying ultra fine carbon through it is a great way to make it behave like a dragon breathing flame?

    Neither did he.

    So when he was sitting at his desk & a fax came in, his little girl scream of terror, thud as he hit the floor, & the FWHOOOSH of the curtains going up was rather impressive.

    He belly crawled across the floor to yank the power cord out of the wall, fumbled the Fire Extinguisher out of it's bracket, & rolled over to spray the wall with foam to put out the fire.

    Once the mess was all cleaned up & we were carrying the slagged machine out to the trash, I happened to read the remains of the fax that had triggered the whole mess.

    It was an ad for Fire Insurance.

    I nearly wet myself laughing.

    (The first two tries were much longer, funnier, and involved many vivid descriptions of what Mom did to him when she got home, smelled the burnt paint, noticed the missing curtains, & nearly beat him with the empty fire extinguisher.)

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: The Flaming Fax Machine...

      Thank you for these stories Shadow Systems. Highly entertaining indeed. Your mother sounds like a great lady! Gotta wonder how she managed to put up with your dad in the first place.

      1. Shadow Systems

        @Imanidiot, re: Flaming Fax.

        Thanks! Yeah, she's a Winner. Normally mild mannered, polite of speach, & an easy going woman, get on her bad side & she'll show you how much "fun" she can have with a knitting needle, a thimble, & various parts of your body.

        BioDad pissed her off in so many ways so many times that my quip to her upon hearing about her desire to divorce him (She asked me if I would think any less of her; I did a SnoopyHappyDance around the house & asked if she needed any help hiding the body; she laughed & cried in joy & relief, and turned the offer down on the basis that he needed to live long enough to sign the papers so she could collect on the Military Spousal Benefits... Sigh) I was only too happy for her & supported her fully.

        Dad asked me why I didn't "side with him" & I promptly let him have it with both proverbial barrels.

        "I've stopped counting the times I've wanted to off you in your sleep. I've stopped trying to remember all the times I've wanted to do it in broad daylight. I've even stopped writing down all the ways I've envisioned snuffing you out. But after this last stunt, I've revisited all those memories with a keen eye on which ones I can reasonably get away with & be back out of prison before my mom dies of old age."


        Needless to say he didn't come to me for moral support after that for SOME odd reason.

        *Evil Grin*

        I think the biggest reason she didn't strangle him in his sleep was because she would have needed help disposing of the corpse. That means Witnesses. That means more bodies. Which leads to more Witnesses. Which means more bodies...


        1. GrumpenKraut

          Re: @Imanidiot, re: Flaming Fax.

          Thanks! Reminds me of an ex mil among my friends who destroyed oh so many things, sometimes intentionally ("let's see what happens if I stick this length of copper into the fuse board...") and sometimes not (breaking his own bones). Nice guy, though.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: @Imanidiot, re: Flaming Fax.

          "I think the biggest reason she didn't strangle him in his sleep was because she would have needed help disposing of the corpse."

          Quicklime and a roll of carpet always seemed to work for the BOFH.

          1. x 7

            Re: @Imanidiot, re: Flaming Fax.

            need to be careful with quicklime.....wrong soil conditions and you end up cocooning the body in cement, not burning it away

  24. mathew42

    wiring through the gutter

    Going back a few years, a co-worker purchased a house and was intrigued as to how the garage was connected to power. Turned out the previous owner had run an extension cord from the house through the gutter. Not particularly bright, but using two extension cords and joining them in the gutter is another level of stupidity again.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: wiring through the gutter

      I once bought a house where the detached garage had a number of 13 amp sockets wired together. They were supposed to be powered by a flex with a 13 amp plug (that's P L U G) on each end plugged into one of the sockets & a socket in the kitchen.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: wiring through the gutter

        Once stayed in a hotel where the 13 amp socket was under the bed. Presumably to make it easier to use the vacuum cleaner they had put another 13 amp socket on the opposite wall. They were connected together with what appeared to be a long length of twisted-pair bell wire running along the skirting board..

  25. Iain

    Use all four switches...

    Wire two in series for one light, two in parallel for the other

    Bonus points for using nonadjacent pairs

  26. Deryk Barker

    I think you'll find Flanders and Swann had this sussed half a century ago:

    The Gasman Cometh:

    Twas on a Monday morning

    The Gas-Man came to call;

    The gas tap wouldn't turn - I wasn't getting gas at all.

    He tore out all the skirting boards

    To try and find the main,

    And I had to call a Carpenter to put them back again.

    Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do!

    'Twas on a Tuesday morning

    The Carpenter came round;

    He hammered and he chiselled and he said: 'Look what I've found!

    Your joists are full of dry-rot

    But I'll put it all to rights.'

    Then he nailed right through a cable and out went all the lights.

    Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do!

    'Twas on a Wednesday morning

    The Electrician came;

    He called me 'Mr Sanderson' (which isn't quite my name).

    He couldn't reach the fuse box

    Without standing on the bin

    And his foot went through a window - so I called a Glazier in.

    Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do!

    Twas on a Thursday morning

    The Glazier came along,

    With his blow-torch and his putty and his merry Glazier's song;

    He put another pane in -

    It took no time at all -

    But I had to get a Painter in to come and paint the wall.

    Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do!

    'Twas on a Friday morning

    The Painter made a start;

    With undercoats and overcoats he painted every part,

    Every nook and every cranny,

    But I found when he was gone

    He'd painted over the gas tap and I couldn't turn it on!

    Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do!

    On Saturday and Sunday they do no work at all:

    So 'twas on a Monday morning that the Gas-Man came to call!

  27. Camilla Smythe

    Nice to complain Alistair

    Now, serious question... What the Fuck Are You Going To Do About It?.. Other than taking ElReg coin and having a ming about stuff so you can pay a Flake to fix stuff.

  28. davemcwish

    Home Leccy

    Our issue stemmed from buying our house in the summer i.e. in daylight. One of the lights in the lounge didn't work so after the basic's (bulb - ok, supply to fitting - not ok), I discovered that the wiring (behind the horsehair plaster) was that nice mix of metal conduit, brass fittings and 2 core (live and neutral); you no earth.

    I never did find out where the failure was; I ripped the whole lot out, this was pre- Part P/harmonization, and started again.

    I suspect that the small sample on incompetence posted in the forum is the reason for Part P. If you take your time rewiring isn't *that* difficult; ok I had oversite from qualified father-in-law particularly with the 2 way lighting but putting the ring circuits in place wasn't that hard. The arse was the prep before and the £300 a wall the replastering cost; every room was wallpapered so big money there..

    Talking of kitchen fitters, I don't trust them either as the (Hygena) contractors that did this for the previous owners managed to tile/plaster around the boiler so the cover couldn't be removed if it needed to be serviced. The gas fitter who came to do the service wasn't that impressed and blamed me for being an idiot. Although the brand isn't in the UK these days, depressingly I suspect the sub-contractors that did the fitting are still active.

    1. launcap Silver badge

      Re: Home Leccy

      > Talking of kitchen fitters

      I read that as 'kitten fitters'..

      Which is an adequate summation of my day today. Ever tried writing business cases?

  29. Kubla Cant


    I remember in my first year trying to unblock a rainwater gutter at the front of my house and, having dug down to see if the drain had broken, discovered that there was no drain at all and that the guttering pipe simply poked directly into the solid clay under the paving stones.

    My understanding is that rainwater downspouts must not be connected into the foul sewer (assuming that's what you mean by "drain"). Rainwater is supposed to be directed into a soakaway, which generally means it just goes into the ground through the paving. Solid clay doesn't sound like a very effective soakaway, but it's conceivable that there was something more effective at the end of the downspout when it was installed, and that it's filled up with soil over time.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Drains

      My understanding is that rainwater downspouts must not be connected into the foul sewer (assuming that's what you mean by "drain")

      In the UK, generally in new builds they are not, but in a development they are usually connected to a separate drainage system that goes to a communal disposal system rather than individual soakaways at each house. It might be a giant soakaway, but in heavy clay areas that's not always possible so it might just go to a huge "interceptor" tank which releases the water at an agreed, controlled rate to whatever the water board provides.

      Older houses do often connect rainwater to the sewer. This is known as a "combined" system and new connections to it, even if it isn't overloaded, are usually discouraged. There is just such a combined drain running through our village but our 1960s houses have individual soakaways which, given that we are on heavy clay soil, are somewhat less than effective. In our case I intercept the downpipes into water butts and those overflow into a "stream" at the bottom of the garden, which may not be entirely what the waterboard wants but certainly beats our garden overflowing into next door's everytime there's a storm.

      When we rebuild I intend to install rainwater harvesting to feed the 5 toilets, but I will also have to re-build the soakaway for the overflow.

      Here's a point that not many are aware of; if your rain does go to a soakaway on your premises, and there is no runoff from your land onto (say) the road where someone else has to deal with it, then you can apply to have your water bill reduced. Last time we looked even though nearly all our rain runs off to the soakaway or the stream, the small amount that our road-sloping driveway collects counted against us getting this discount.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Drains

        A friend decided that the solution for his garden watering was to have a large underground tank to store the copious volume of rainwater that his roof provided. Apparently back in New Zealand that was a common practice. He then discovered that there are a lot of permissions and regulations in England that make it almost impossible.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Drains

        "Older houses do often connect rainwater to the sewer."

        When Stevenage New Town was built they decided it was too expensive to build a new sewage treatment works. The economical alternative was to lay a very long pipeline to share a sewage treatment plant with Harlow New Town.

        In the drought of 1976 the flow of sewage through the pipe was too slow - so they had to regularly flush it with fresh water.

  30. hatti

    Transporter Room

    Great article and some even funnier comments. A question as there's obviously some knowledge here.

    I'll be doing some DIY this weekend, if you wire up a hob wrongly, does it turn into a holodeck or transporter room?

    1. GrumpenKraut

      Re: Transporter Room

      Connecting the live wire to a metal casing may get you transported (into a hospital). At least it will enhance the "user experience". Icon for a more serious result.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Transporter Room

      A friend bought an electric hob in a well-known high street retailer's sale. After fitting it there was a problem with some of the plates not working - which may have been the reason it was a bargain price. After much deliberation he twigged that it was pre-configured internally for its alternative 3 phase supply option. A simple re-configure solved the problem.

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