back to article There's an epidemic of idiots who can't find power switches

If it's nearly Christmas and there's not much news about, it must be time for some extra inbox-clearing On-Call columns, in which we share tales of the things readers are asked to do at unpleasant times and/or out-of-the-way places. Today, we're again riffing on our November story about the politician who had a techie drive …

  1. Hans 1

    Eject ?

    I was working next to a colleague who was trying to install Oracle onto a Solaris box. He had inserted CD1 about an hour ago and was bitching, quietly, in his corner, typing stuff into a terminal, looking at man pages, and typing some more. I asked if I could help but he just turned me the cold shoulder. After what was probably another hour, I asked him again and he gave in and explained: "I cannot get CD1 out! The button doesn't work, I have unmounted the drive ...". I asked if he had tried "eject" on the command line, seconds later, the CD tray came out ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Total threadjack and completely irrelevant rant

      FUCK power outlets controlled by light switches and the havoc they wreck when your shit doesn't or quits charging.

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      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        since I am on a roll

        In fact, the National Electrical Code, or NEC, requires a switched outlet in a habitable room without an overhead light.

        I knew it. Fscking bureaucrat asshats ruin everything. Half the time this ends up being a bedroom which does have a ceiling fan with lights on its own switch but I guess that doesn't count. Assholes.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: since I am on a roll

          Odds are the ceiling fan light came after the fan itself, which in turn came after the switched outlet, which BTW is in the Code so that a room can always be lit from the doorway (which can be important at night, which IIRC is also why the NEC requires any such illumination switch be within arm's reach of the doorway).

  2. joeldillon

    I've babysat plenty of Microsoft software installs, but if something goes wrong they usually just sit there indefinitely with an error message. It's not a matter of having to swoop in and type something instantly or it all falls over, surely.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Depends on the duration of the change window...

    2. AustinTX

      Oh, but sometimes, you get a lot of "blah failed", "skipping such and such", etc., and you want to be there to cancel so you don't waste several more hours waiting for it to finish. And the messages don't stay on the screen, so you have to be there when it happens.

      1. Wensleydale Cheese

        The case of the MSIE upgrade

        Back in 2010/2011 as I recall, a new version of MSIE would arrive as part of a normal update and pop up a window asking for confirmation.

        The trouble was that it popped that window up behind the current one, and apart from the lack of progress it wasn't obvious what was going on.

        The trick was to look for an extra icon in the taskbar.

    3. AIBailey

      I think the problem is that sometimes, even when going right, they sit there indefinitely. I can recall several package installs that seemed to go in stages (so presenting you with a "Done" type prompt part way through, before asking for further details to apply to the next stage), rather than asking for all information up front and then going way to complete the whole install.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Vaguely on topic.

      Just been called to look at PC by a colleague who'd received note from our courier that the ActiveX for printing via their website needed to be updated. Courier's IT dept had supplied slim leaflet as pdf via email.

      Do the install instructions help when the install fails? Do they [redacted]! Apart from referring to non-existent sections (one on "Legacy ActiveX" setup and more worryingly one on "Troubleshooting") there's no date nor document version number.

      So even with a manual that swore blind the install would proceed unattended, for an important install I'd be sitting watching that blue line in case an intervention was required.

    5. Benno


      When the storage requirements aren't clearly explained, or just described as 'space for the install, not all the temporary crap I do before I've finished'.

      I recall a few Exchange upgrades (admittedly _many_ years ago!), that needed some hasty data relocations to be performed while the installation was running, lest it ran out of space!

  3. sandman

    More than one plug

    My favourite was being called over by an irate user with the classic "My computer doesn't work"! We know the next step, inquire if it was turned on and get abusive confirmation ending in "do you think I'm stupid?" (DO NOT ANSWER, really, just don't). Machine is whirring and lights are blinking, but no picture. Diffidently enquire if they have turned the thing that looks like a TV on at the mains. Relish sight of scarlet-faced user and confirm opinion (silently, obviously) that they are indeed a bear of little brain.

  4. AustinTX

    Am i stupid? or am I smart?

    I've done something like kicking a plug out of the socket. Or to be more precise, I apparently tapped the power button on a UPS I didn't know was under my desk. I was a new employee in a call center, and we sat at different desks each shift. To be honest, the reason I called for a supervisor was because we were trained not to do anything outside our role or we'd be reprimanded.

    If you've ever been in this kind of training, you tend to feel like whatever happens your first few weeks could be a stealth test... I could easily see this being the concern of anyone working with "sensitive" data. I didn't know how they felt about us rummaging around with cables and things. [At a previous CC job, I'd been admonished for simply tilting my monitor a bit and pulling my keyboard closer. They liked all of these things to look identical all up and down the rows of desks. Ugh.] I'm pretty sure they also told us not to mess with our work PCs, due to people stealing parts and bringing unauthorized peripherals.

    I didn't know if my PC had a known issue, and if it did, thought it was best to have IT in the loop on it. Well, whatever. Someone dragged the huge bundle of filthy cables out from under the desk, pushed the UPS button, started my PC booting and let me at it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Am i stupid? or am I smart?

      To be honest, the reason I called for a supervisor was because we were trained not to do anything outside our role or we'd be reprimanded

      We often refer to call centre employees insultingly as drones, but the big problem of call centres really seems to be that they somehow end up with complete @rse-wipes for managers. People who think that grown ups should both ask permission to go to the toilet, and then have the frequency and duration recorded.

      I work for a company whose call centres arre managed like this, and then they wonder why they have sky high compliance costs, high staff turnover, and dissatisfied customers....

      1. 's water music

        Re: Am i stupid? or am I smart?

        Indeed. I had a gig at a company with lots of uk call centres recently. Some sites where quite pleasant with "wind down" leisure facilities and others were like a custody suite because the staff would vandalise anything that wasn't hardened. Treat your staff like arseholes and they'll rise to the challenge

    2. druck Silver badge

      Re: Am i stupid? or am I smart?

      You wouldn't have a problem kicking out plugs if you had a decent UK 3 pin plug, rather than the useless 2 pin ones used in other parts of the world such as the US or Australia, which will part contact with the socket just by looking at them.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Am i stupid? or am I smart?

        Excuse me, but computer plugs in the US are THREE-pin, not two, because they insist on dedicated grounding/earthing pins. As for the plug getting knocked out, that's usually a function of how old the socket is. A fresh socket usually has enough grip that you risk tearing the cord off before the plug comes out. If a socket is getting loose enough that plugs can get knocked off (which usually takes a number of years, especially if plugs aren't moved often), it's usually time to see about getting the socket replaced.

  5. Commswonk

    On the plus side...

    How many fewer IT support staff would be needed if Id10t problems didn't exist? Surely the last thing needed is a bunch of IT - savvy users.

    1. Alister

      Re: On the plus side...

      Surely the last thing needed is a bunch of IT - savvy users.

      Oh Gods! There is nothing worse than a user who thinks they are IT - savvy,

      They will wilfully ignore advice or instructions, as they think they know better, and swear blind they never touched anything, when it's obvious they have.

      1. TitterYeNot

        Re: On the plus side...

        "They will wilfully ignore advice or instructions, as they think they know better, and swear blind they never touched anything, when it's obvious they have."

        But at least when you come across this species of user, you can have the satisfaction of letting them know what you think of them, albeit in a rather sideways manner.

        "Oh, of course it wasn't you who deliberately deleted that config file and renamed the bin directory, but you'd better be more careful about who else has access to your PC in future. I mean the person who broke your app must be a total cockwomble who shouldn't be allowed near a stapler let alone a PC, you know, a proper fuckwit moron, probably the office's only living brain donor..."

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: On the plus side...

        Oh Gods! There is nothing worse than a user who thinks they are IT - savvy,

        Yes there is. There is the user who thinks her husband is IT savvy.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: On the plus side...

          Also, your dad. If you're his 'tech support'.

          (To be fair, they plonked his first PC on his desk in 1985 when he was 50 and got the hang of it quite fast, mostly self-taught trial-and-error style. He had to use some software developed in-house by the firm he was with, both for internal use and marketed comercially. Pretty soon he was inofficially part of the development team - he actually knew what the software was supposed to do and was able to give the coders error reports they could actually use when it didn't. Every now and then he manageged to make the software do things it wasn't supposed to, which also helped with the coding. And he had a knack of triggering bugs like no other, so after a while he was a combination of beta tester and quality control. Well, he's been in retirement for 15 years now and still uses a PC on a daily basis. Usually he does just fine, but every now and then he screws up, like we all do. And when he does, it's mostly in a very creative and totally unsuspected way that is a challenge. Talk about a learning curve...)

        2. Marshalltown

          Husband - heh

          There are worse things, like inarticulate IT folks who can't explain a fix. Then you, standing in the middle of no where, not a road in sight, let alone a building or a computer, gets a cell call from said wife asking for translation. Worse, you haven't done tech support in five years and are glad to be doing completely different kinds of work. Even worse, the explanation requested has to do with a custom interface written by a lunatic whose only previous experience programming was modifying Colossal Cave, for hospital personnel to use as a centralised patient-charting system. It is based, strangely enough, on a customizable, accounting and sales package. It retains odd usages like "shopping cart" and "customer ID." The users (nurses) are lost in a maze of twisty passages all alike. Happily, only the jackrabbits can hear you scream.

        3. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Re: Evil Graham Re: On the plus side...

          "......Yes there is. There is the user who thinks her husband is IT savvy." Better yet, the newly-installed CIO whose hubby thinks they know IT!

          A long time ago in a land (not so) far, far away, the CIO got his FOAD fund to fruition and made for the exit. The CFO took the opportunity to slide one of his evil minions, Darth Clueless, into the role in the hope of extending Finance's Dark Side over IT, and the minion relied on her hubby for purchasing advice. He worked for a well-known IT insultants in the City but not in a technical role.

          This was the days when IBM had real problems with power in their blades chassis design, but Darth Clueless's hubby went with "no-one's ever been fired for buying IBM". The CFO was delighted as IBM were cheaper than the hp kit we already used, and no-one listened to the IT department's protests. Darth Clueless's hubby also advised that we could save money by putting less power sockets in each rack (have you guessed where this is going?). Cue the overnight install when the engineers wanted a rack socket so they could plug a strip in for their laptops, and had the bright idea of using "one of the redundant power leads" from the chassis running Finance's reporting apps..... No pretty graphs were available for the CFO's morning briefing. So, yes, as Darth Clueless found out, you can get fired/scapegoated for buying IBM!

        4. TheFatMan

          Re: On the plus side...

          "Yes there is. There is the user who thinks her husband is IT savvy."

          With the exception of my wife - you are spot on!

      3. Huw D

        Re: On the plus side...

        Do you have a differentiation between these and the "Knows enough to be dangerous" user?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: On the plus side...

        Nick here :)

        Or immediately click a pop-up window. [OK]. when you get there "What did it say?"; "I don't know, I didn't read read it" arrghhh. Or with a software issue: "Does it happen all the time when you do (whatever)?"; "Yes. Well sometimes. No, maybe it doesn't. I don't know" (head pops over the partition "Poor old Nick, you gave him three answers then". Ha bloody har. Thank god I went back to my roots in engineering.

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: On the plus side...

      It's a sign of how immature parts of the IT industry are that we call our users "Id10t" like giggling teenagers.

      We've all made mistakes, I've kicked enough power leads, accidently deleted files etc.

      The AA man doesn't give you abuse for leaving your lights on, the doctor doesn't berate you for catching that embarrassing rash and your lawyer will defend you regardless of how drunk you were.

      1. Darryl

        Re: On the plus side...

        "The AA man doesn't give you abuse for leaving your lights on, the doctor doesn't berate you for catching that embarrassing rash and your lawyer will defend you regardless of how drunk you were."

        Yes, but I'll bet you don't call the doctor and treat him to a 20 minute tirade on how shit this body he gave you is and how even your 5 year old kid can do that surgery faster than he can.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Having good logs can be painful

    a couple of years ago I got called on a weekend to provide support for a system failure. No-one really knew where the problem was but I could straight away see from our logs that it wasn't with my system, but was further downstream as we were getting errors back from a call.

    I informed the huge call full of people this, and they then started looking at it, but wouldn't let me leave the call, or my laptop. Every hour or so they asked me if I was still seeing the error in my logs, while they investigated and tweaked things.

    After about 4 hours I broke out a bottle of wine and started on it. About 11 hours into the problem I'd polished off 2 bottles and was hoping to hell everyone had forgotten about me being on and didn't ask me to slur out any answers, so I switched to just replying on the instant messaging. :)

    In the end it was one of those really annoying problems where an "application" is hosted inside another technology and the support team have a blind spot about it's existance. The application support team were insisting everything was fine, even though everyone on could see that the problem firmly pointed in their direction. Eventually they had to admit that there wasn't any sort of problem with their application, but they weren't actually seeing anything arrive so the hosting technology might have a problem and maybe they should check that. A couple of minutes later after re-starting the listener it all started working again.

    in the end, 12 hours of doubletime pay to drink a lot of wine.

    1. Alistair

      Re: Having good logs can be painful

      I think I was on that call. Rum on my end thanks.

  7. Mr Templedene

    Amazes me how many ID 10 T users don't associate "my foot caught something" with "my computer suddenly went off"

    Would they be the same if it were something like a desk light or radio? is it "dummy mode" kicking in simply because it's a computer?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      "Would they be the same if it were something like a desk light or radio? is it "dummy mode" kicking in simply because it's a computer?"

      I really think you're on to something here... now that I think about it, it's now some 35 years I keep seeing intelligent, educated professionals being totally confused by a box of, well wires and stuff, acting like they have been zapped by a 1950ies B-movie MoronRay or something. Even so-called 'digital natives' (buzzword alert! buzzword alert!). It's just a bloody machine, not some kind of voodoo thingy from dimension Z. That needs electricity to run.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge


        Simple as that. many users really see a computer as a magic box that (if they are lucky) makes their work easier.

        But the more they rely on the box the more they are worried that the magic may go wrong.

        In training beginners I always start with the "You are not going to be able to break this machine with any normal action." type comments. ( Though I don't use these precise words - it's amazing how in 2015 there are still people who think typing, saving and logging off are supernatural activities)

      2. John H Woods

        " it's now some 35 years I keep seeing intelligent, educated professionals being totally confused by a box of, well wires and stuff, acting like they have been zapped by a 1950ies B-movie MoronRay or something"

        Precisely --- they are operating so far out of their comfort zone that they regress intellectually. People who would never dream of phoning up their garage and saying "my car doesn't work" routinely tell me "my computer doesn't work" and I have to play 20 questions, getting only "yes", "no" and "i don't know" answers to each question.

        Even when people are specific "I've got a ghost post on Facebook I can't delete" you have to play the game: question 1) "is it the app or in a browser?" (usually answered by "I don't know" or, worse "how should I know?")

        So the problem isn't idiots, it's intelligent people behaving like it. However, even that is forgiveable --- the real issue begins when they start to treat *you* like an idiot when you're trying to help them.

        1. Mayhem

          Epidemic of idiots?

          Well, it does help to know when you are outside your area of expertise.

          I'm quite happy to ring my mechanic and say My Car Doesn't Work. He'll ask a few basic questions, and then usually ask if we can get the car to his garage. Which is exactly the same as IT collecting a faulty PC and checking it in their office. He sometimes has a loan car, but usually it's shanks pony time.

          I'm highly technical, but I'd much rather someone who knows what they are doing fixes the damn thing, it's quicker and much much cleaner. Especially CV boots. Moly grease is a right pain to deal with.

          For a friend of mine though who collects and races classic cars, his mechanic is willing to jump on a plane and fly down to wherever he is in order to get it running again if they can't diagnose the fault over the phone to where my friend can fix it. Costs a fair bit more than my guy, but then he can easily afford it.

      3. BebopWeBop

        Acting as a lab assistant to first year EE students, the lecturer IC in his first briefing reminded everyone that the solution to oscilloscope was not working/displaying waveforms was 'have you turned it on yet' 9 times out of ten (and the tenth was due to brightness and or other controls set to their extremes). Very few student had to be asked twice given the ribbing they got from their friends.

  8. djack

    Turn them all off

    I had one many moons ago with a user over the phone. It became clear that the user had managed to lock the BIOS password necessitating him turn it off and on again. This is where the fun began

    Aside from him not knowing if he had a laptop or a desktop - finally realised it was a desktop yet he seemed totally incapable of turning off anything other than his monitor. As the chap had his own office I finally solved it by getting him to turn off every power socket in the room and then back on again.

  9. ADJB

    My usual response to the inevitable question of what was wrong with it is to answer in a load enough voice for all the office to hear "You have to switch it on / have it plugged in for it to work.

    The making people look like idiots system works well for cutting down on repeat calls.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Of course, you have to know who those people know, since they may relay your lack of human relations skills to someone they know who happens to be above you. That's IMO the most dangerous kind of people in the workplace, people who aren't above you but are good friends with someone who is.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Predates computing...

    "I know the secret of the boomerang, and to you I'm gonna show it

    If you want your boomerang to come back, then first you gotta throw it"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Predates computing...

      That song was recently banned by the ABC. Which is not relevant to the topic in any way

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Predates computing...

      Bloody Charlie Drake.

      I stunned a few people in my office for knowing that song… given I'm not yet 0x20 years of age.

  11. Dave P 1


    I once bought a dual-CPU motherboard off of eBay, and got it very cheap because the company engineers could not get it to work. Upon receipt I found that it would not boot up either. A quick bit of servicing (replace the onboard coin cell battery) and everything was sorted. This board also required parity RAM which the previous owner did not realize.

    A brand new computer was delivered to me, and thankfully I checked out the guts before running it. The CPU fan had a loop of wire though the blade preventing it from spinning. Also, the board had dual channel RAM capability, but the RAM had been installed improperly to enable this feature.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Batteries?

      I used to work a a company building computers (hey there Evesham Micros!) and trust me, if you think your PC was bad, you're just lucky you didn't get any of the ones we sent out when we were bored.

      Some days we'd see how few cable ties we could use (zero), some days we'd tie everything down so tight that all the sockets were bending, some days we'd hide stuff behind the motherboards.

      It was a really dull, low paying job, so if you could build a computer that would last through QC (who were paid the same as the builders, and the job was no more fulfilling) then it would be shipped to the customer.

      (Also, as anyone who's built PCs knows, it's quite easy to cut or gouge yourself on a sharp corner, so more than a few computers would have gone out with my blood stains on the inside)

      Still, I did learn that motherboards don't require all their capacitors to be present, or at least, Intel server boards don't. I occasionally wonder who ended up with that one, and how long it lasted after delivery.

      1. Martin Summers

        Re: Batteries?

        Low paid or not. Deliberately screwing up the quality of a product someone has spent their hard earned on is disgraceful. How would you like it if you were on the receiving end? If you do a crap job then the company gets a bad reputation and then strangely enough they stop existing and you and your colleagues are out of a job. I wonder what company that might have happened to... I'll be honest. I have no idea whether Evesham management was crap and mistreated their staff but still.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Batteries?

          I have no idea whether Evesham management was crap and mistreated their staff

          In my experience, most companies create their own culture, and the behaviours of the staff at the bottom are driven by those rippling down from the top. So if we take the OP's comments at face value we can infer that both production and QC were poorly supervised. If you're running a business without having competent management and processes for those, what's the implications for the rest of it?

          Having said that, Evesham Micros built me and the family several machines, and we had no complaints.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Eeet waz YOOOOOO

        [opens fire]

      3. x 7

        Re: Batteries?

        and its due to twats like you that Evesham went bust

        yes, the owner was a shark, but thats insignificant compared with your antics

      4. Joe User

        Re: Batteries?

        @phuzz: You are the kind of asshole that I swear at when I have to fix a brand-new computer because it was assembled by a brain-dead monkey.

        1. Cpt Blue Bear

          @Joe User

          Let me guess: you buy the cheapest? I worked hard to keep my system builders on the straight and narrow, make sure they know what I expect and shouldn't have to ask for and that there will be hell to pay if they mess me around. I really don't miss that end of this business.

          You seem to expect more than brain-dead monkeys when you pay peanuts. Anyway, you shouldn't be fixing a brand-new computer, you just warranty the bastard.

          1. Joe User

            Re: @Cpt Blue Bear

            "Let me guess: you buy the cheapest?"

            Talk to Dell and Lenovo. It's their respective OptiPlex and ThinkCentre machines that I have to clean up before use.

            At least they don't employ some ass-hat like Phuzz who rips capacitors off circuit boards....

      5. Cpt Blue Bear

        Re: Batteries?

        Heh, heh, heh. Spot the people who've never worked minimum wage at a thankless task for management who regard any second you aren't flat out as time wasting and treat you like shit.

        I built PCs for six months or so after leaving uni. It wasn't a bad job on the whole - the pay was crap but the hours were flexible, conditions better than picking fruit in winter and the warehouse manager let me park my motorbike inside the roller door where it was safe and dry. I don't recall ever knowingly sending out a dud machine but one did go out with quite a lot of my blood on the inside of the case. A "colleague" also send a Windows 3.1 machine out with the high score table in Minesweeper full of near unbeatable scores.

        Six months after I left, the company founder cashed out to a national level play (since gone bust) and things went down the toilet fast. A year later I heard exactly the Phuzz's sort of stories about their build quality, and worse.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Batteries?

          "but one did go out with quite a lot of my blood on the inside of the case"

          Because that's a really sensible thing to do.

          Even if the client was ready to sign off on the specs under "Contamination with bodily fluids - less than 15 cc blood" as OK, that you were able to slice yourself open is an H&S issue.

  12. Patry

    Screen flashing

    When I was still a student, i had to work on a small project in an hospital (analysis of electrocardiogram during effort test). We were a bit late on this project and were putting some extra hour. At 2am, the phone in our little room rang, and a doctor (none of us knew) asked one of us to come at once to help him with his computer. I went in, after remembering him that we were not the hospital hotline.

    His screen was flashing, changing colors... so he was afraid it would explode (this was in 1993, those were still big cathodic screens). It turns out that while adjusting his screen, he knocked a little bit the connection between the screen & PC, just enough that some pin where not touching firmly, and that mlerely touching the TV could result in small contacts (thus the changing colors).Pluggin it back in place did the trick.

    First result : a very red-faced doctor, even if i did not made any remarks (as young as i was, i knew better than that)

    Final result : We did get a box of chocolate with a thank-you note the next day, and later a small letter in our report to the school, indicating a "good attitude and willingness to help". Definitively a nice doctor.


    1. Christoph

      Re: Screen flashing

      Well done that doctor. If he's no idea what has gone wrong, especially with a machine with very high voltages inside (as CRTs had), much better to call in an expert right away than to say "Well it was doing really weird things so I poked and prodded and twiddled everything I could find and eventually it went SPAT and let some smoke out and stopped working, so I thought I should ask for help."

      I once had that happen with a fitter, who should know better. He just kept replacing the fuse, then when they ran out of 3 amp fuses tried a 5 amp, then finally called me in. Turns out that early, discrete component electronic counters don't work all that well when a separate fault means they are being handed 3-phase voltage. Several components and a few sections of track on the circuit board destroyed.

      1. Patry

        Re: Screen flashing

        It was clearly an honest and reasonnablke mistake. That's part of the reason I did not make any joke. People we interacted daily had some sort of verbal, non-official, "checklist" before calling for help, and checking plug was on it. The doctor did not think to check to connection bertween PC and screen (he did check the power cord).

        The reason I'm still thinking of it as funny is because of his face when I looked at the back of the screen, checked the plug, put it back and said "done". While I was happy to get this problem quickly finished, he was the one feeling stupid.

        On a side note, if I had not found a problem with the plugs/cord/connexion, my second option would have been to get him a spare screen and tell him to call hotline in the morning. I had zero knowledge in cathodic screen inner wortking, except that this was dangerous, I knew just enough to known I was out of my field.

      2. Wensleydale Cheese


        "I once had that happen with a fitter, who should know better. He just kept replacing the fuse, then when they ran out of 3 amp fuses tried a 5 amp, then finally called me in. "

        We once had a disk array fail. We checked the power and replaced the fuse in the 13 amp plug but still no joy, so we called out the hardware engineer.

        He put the old fuse back and hey presto it fired into life.

        We never did work out what had happened there.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “I plugged it back in again, swore at the manager for wasting my time, and made the sales guy look a twat.”

    Too many words in this sentence. Nick didn't make him a Twat as we can take it as red that the sales guy IS a Twat because, well just because they always are.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Too many words in this sentence. Nick didn't make him a Twat as we can take it as red that the sales guy IS a Twat because, well just because they always are.

      I once had an angry (and hungover) salesman ask me why I hadn't got some code ready for him for a demo when:

      1) He hadn't actually told me what the code was meant to do.

      2) He had gutted my development machine for a demo, removing the memory, VGA card and the I/O cards that I needed to develop the product he had in mind (for the demo).

      Twat doesn't really do that particular twerp justice.

    2. PNGuinn


      "as we can take it as red that the sales guy IS a Twat"

      Would you be terribly offended if I took it as poipel, Moitle?

  14. John Savard


    I found the image associated with the article evocative and easy to understand.

    However, seeing as I live in Canada, which uses the same style of outlet as the U.S., and this is the U.K. site for The Register, I suspect that most of your readers would have been served by an image of the style of electrical outlet used over there. Of course, for a worldwide audience, it's hard to say which type of electrical outlet would be most understandable - one of the Continental ones, or the one that China shares with Australia?

    1. Holleritho

      Re: Image

      As a Canuck over in Blighty, I can assure you that the Nordamericano style of outlet is universally recognised thanks to US TV and movies.

      IMHO, the American and the European styles of outlet both make sense, with the American one smaller, with a smaller plug required, and the European safer (plug needs to be nested in). The UK plug is a huge monster and the outlet therefore ditto.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Image

        The UK one is bigger principally because it houses a fuse (rated at 3A, 5A or 13A normally)

        Unless it's a dodgy import from China in which case...check your household insurance is up to date and be prepared to lie to the fire investigators.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Image


          (British plug and why!)

          1. graeme leggett

            Re: Image

            Bit disturbing that he turned the plug round on the extension lead to show how the earth pin opens the shutter on live and neutral.

            Which means that the extension lead doesn't meet specification.

            1. graeme leggett

              Re: Image

              Sorry. meant to write that "extension lead spec doesn't meet up with [rest of] specification"

      2. Unicornpiss

        Re: Image

        I think the US receptacle was used for the pic because they always look like a face that's surprised. Or maybe shocked is a better description :) I think I first noticed this many years ago in my misspent youth under the influence of some fine herb, laying on my bed and noticing the wall outlet.

    2. AustinTX

      Re: Image

      As an American, I did not expect to see a power outlet used as illustration for an article on power *switches*.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Image

        "As an American, I did not expect to see a power outlet used as illustration for an article on power *switches*."

        You need to look at it and see a face. What's the expression on the face?

    3. PNGuinn

      Re: Image @ John Savard

      I feel your pain. The image was probably used because of the ease with which the plug can part company with its socket.

      The UK "square pin" (actually rectangular, but we'll let that pass) BS1363 13 amp socket is actually very easy to insert and remove, has shielded live pins that disconnect before the unshielded live bit gets exposed and is quite difficult to accidentally disconnect, even if you yank at the cable. The live receptacles on the socket are also shielded until the plug is inserted. It's perfectly capable of providing a reliable connection even if mounted upside down on a ceiling. And 3kW (13A at 240V) is far more useful than 1 kW ( 10A at 110V). Having its own replaceable fuse also tends to limit disconnection to device supplied (unless you trigger an upstream RCD.)

      1. Number6

        Re: Image @ John Savard

        The UK power plug/socket is the safest system in the world with the shutters and tolerances to make sure the bits that bite are safely connected. To my way of thinking the US socket is upside down because if you've got a plug that is not completely inserted and you drop something conductive that slips between the plug and socket, it can land on the live terminal. If the socket was the other way up, it would hit the earth pin first.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Image @ John Savard

          Actually, there's no "right" way to orient a US socket, but some guides DO recommend installing it as you say, "upside down" so the ground pin is up. of course, in high-current (read: industrial) settings electrical codes usually require you use a different plug: sometimes even those plug that lock when you turn them.

          1. Number6

            Re: Image @ John Savard

            Yes, got a few of those. When I first saw one I was all "30A through that? Really?"

            You might guess I was unimpressed with the construction and general flimsy feel, given the high-current stuff I was used to from the UK.

        2. Hans 1

          Re: Image @ John Savard

          >The UK power plug/socket is the safest system in the world with the shutters and tolerances to make sure the bits that bite are safely connected.

          Type E and F are just as safe, the fuse is ueless in today's installations, the UK plug is way too big, the holes are way too wide, that is why you really needed a shutter safety system in the first place. The current sockets in EU have a shutter system as well that is not as easily fooled as the UK one (screwdriver in earth, live current wide open). Type F allows you to plug it in upside-down as well, handy, sometimes. The safety feature of the pins being "insulated" is not properly enforced, I have seen plugs that did not have that insulation!!! The grove in the type E and F sockets mean there is no need to insulate the pins, safer. The wall switch is handy, I grant you that, and you can get type F wall sockets with a switch, in a DIY store ...

          Just my two cents ...

          The Brit that lives on the continent. (Seen and used both systems)

          1. x 7

            Re: Image @ John Savard

            "the fuse is ueless in today's installations,"

            utter bollox

            having a fuse has saved me a few times

          2. Andy A Bronze badge

            Re: Image @ John Savard

            The arrangement used in continental Europe allows you to plug a device requiring earthing into an UNEARTHED socket.


            ** FAIL **


  15. Toltec

    How not to turn it off and on again

    The head of an organisation I worked at tried to turn off a projector by moving the input voltage selector from 240 to 110. He was certainly successful in turning it off.

    He must have gone to some effort as it was a recessed switch that normally needs the tip of a screwdriver to slide over.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How not to turn it off and on again

      Havn't we all done that?

    2. regadpellagru

      Re: How not to turn it off and on again

      "The head of an organisation I worked at tried to turn off a projector by moving the input voltage selector from 240 to 110. He was certainly successful in turning it off.

      He must have gone to some effort as it was a recessed switch that normally needs the tip of a screwdriver to slide over."

      Was certainly interesting to see any tech try to guess what went wrong and why the darn thing doesn't turn on again !

    3. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: How not to turn it off and on again

      Ah, the voltage selector. Problem ticket from days of yore:

      "Sorry, folks, I seem to have blown the power supply. I was lying in the bed, half awake. There was a computer nearby. Somehow I reached for that tempting red slider switch, and started to flip it. Oh boy. Was that a quick wake-up! Don't you just love a smell of freshly baked MOSFET in the morning."

      1. Jay 2

        Re: How not to turn it off and on again

        I recall when we got some Sun Ultra 10 workstations from the US (I think). At some point my boss plugged one in, and it was still set at 110v. One loud noise and interesting smell alter it was time to try and make a support call...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Current job, open floorplan offices that share production floorspace, and a steel roof with rubber overlay.

    One night, the roof leaks more than usual into the first shift plant supervisors keyboard.

    They steal the second shift supervisors keyboard, after heaving their desk 3 feet over so the drips won't hit.

    I come in, and get asked by second shift supervisor "Can you fix the keyboard on my computer? The replacement for the one that first snagged won't work."

    The power button to the monitor had been hit when the keyboard was swapped.

    Admittedly it was a hidden button on a nastily designed bargain basement monitor, but still...

    A day later, there was a 2" Iong split down the spacebar on the stolen keyboard, where someone went space-happy because the key force requirements were different to produce a character...

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. Jyve


    Had a user that every... 3 to 6 months, her pc would flat out die. Not just be odd, but mobo fried. Pop open the case to inspect and it was obvious something had blown. Replace mobo, reinstall, good to go. Using the same software as everyone else, not over clocked gaming hard, just regular PC. 3 months later, it'd pop again. Mobo blown.

    Pop under desk, check power, seem ok. 2 machines into a splitter, but other machine ok, they're not too much draw, nothing else on that same socket.

    Replace entire machine, maybe the psu faulty. 6 months later, blown Mobo.

    What the heck is she doing to the machine, those woolly jumpers she wears and static or something?

    Sheer fluke was sat opposite her one Friday afternoon working on someone else's machine and I hear 'rickitytickity' noises, like, power sparking. "Anyone hear that?" "hear what?" "that noise?" "no?" And to be fair, with the yelling going on in the office, printers/faxes blaring out, was fairly noisy for an office sometimes, especially the day before a sailing trying to get everything squared up. I pop under the desk to investigate the noise (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it), and I notice the girl who blows machines up every few months, the power cable, under her feet, and she's rolling it back and forth out of habit I guess. So it's everso slightly twisting in the psu and that's what's blowing it up. One cable run cover later, problem never came back though she moaned that she liked rolling the cable, helped her think.

  19. Kruzman

    Go Green!

    My first IT job was with the Public School system (just saying) and I once got called to fix an issue where half the PC's in a small computer lab would not turn on. The 1st thing I checked was the power. PC to Powerstrip good and switch was on. follow switch cord to another switch which also was on but no power. fallow that to ANOTHER switch which on with no power at the switch. At this point in thinking stupid computer teacher and breakers... follow the 3rd power switch cord just to be thorough, all the way back to switch 1... Apparently someone thought they could recycle power and save the planet...

  20. OzBob

    In the British Army,

    we had a tabbed Aide Memoir for Battlefield First Aid, including yes / no questions for triage and problem resolution. It was created by some PhD medical doctor. Apparently there is a need for one for IT First Response (or challenge and query on the user at the other end). Anyone up for the job of creating one?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In the British Army,

      Does it need to include things like

      1) Is your equipment in 1000+ little pieces?

      2) Is your equipment full of mud/sand/snow?

      3) Does your equipment have one or more bullet holes?

      4) Have your squad been watching porn from suspect sites?

      5) Has your equipment been inserted somewhere unmentionable by your commanding officer?

    2. Blank-Reg
      Thumb Up

      Re: In the British Army,

      Agreed, but I'd actually want this, tape reel and all:

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just had a close call!

    Had trouble getting an upgrade to a PCIe card to work under Win 10 all weekend for a neighbour. So popped over now with some new ideas. Basically took off every automatic setting in 10 and the UEFI restrictions. All was working perfectly, until I tried to boot up with the HDMI cable connected instead of the VGA...

    After a couple of seconds of me panicking, thinking it had crashed out again after all the effort, the neighbour says "oh, I just turned off the monitor for a second, I'll turn it back on". All was ok, and I laughed that "You had me worried there for a second!"

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Just had a close call!

      I had something similar with a media PC. Connected the vga socket to a tv and nothing happening. Swearing at the tv. Lugged a spare monitor down and all was fine. Connect back to the tv and all is gone again. Dispairing I did the old disconnect and reconnect minimal cables and it worked. Connected everything rebooted and it's dead again. Another couple of reboot cycles and I twigged that the HDMI output was also connected to the TV and Asus in their wisdom had decided that was the primary connection on a reboot. So everything was fine just the TV was on the wrong channel.

  22. a cynic writes...

    Back in the days of medes & persians...

    ...a mate of mine was first line support for a modem company.

    The first thing he would ask was "can you unplug it and then plug it back in ?" Funny how many times the user worked what the issue was...

  23. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Not SQL server but another RDBMS. I had a contract with the vendor & they gave me a job of upgrading a site in S London ( me being based in Yorks it's the best part of 200 miles each way). To give you some idea of how long ago the CD drive had a caddy. But it was a standard job I'd done many times and didn't really take long although for some reason the work had to be done on a Sunday and, of course, had to be ready to roll by Monday morning.

    During the week it turned out that the version supplied wasn't the one that was wanted so back again next week plus the accompanying 4GL was also to be upgraded. Again, not a long job but all the custom S/W had to be recompiled for this version of the 4GL. Two bods from the big name consultancy who wrote it were in attendance to do that.

    It quickly transpired that they had a problem in that there were some subtle differences in the way that menus were handled and in some cases it didn't work with some of the clever tricks they'd played with their menus. Clever tricks have this habit of working out as not being too clever. So the entire application code had to be gone through looking for instances where it didn't work. Cue another clever trick they'd used - macros in their code being run through cpp to generate the actual compiled 4GL. The menus were part of the macro set. And this on a Unix version where the standard C compiler didn't have a cpp pass, cpp had been retained on the box specifically for this.

    I got roped in to help so that late on Sunday evening the three of us were still sitting there with multiple terminals - this was in the days of character terminals - finding out which menus were broken, finding the 4GL code and working back to the code with the macros to fix that. I suppose I could of told them it was their problem but I'd still have had to hand on, and probably for longer, to roll it back if it didn't work although my inclination would have been to run the whole lot through cpp, fix the processed version, take that as the definitive version & sling the macro infested lot as far as it deserved.

  24. Magani

    Rocky Memories

    "Dan had negotiated for two nights in [Rockhampton]..."

    He has my condolences. I had 3 years there in what was then a boys' school on The Range. There was an old joke:-

    In this raffle, first prize is a week in Rockhampton. Second prize is two weeks in Rockhampton...

  25. Syntax Error

    IT Support Robots

    I guess the sooner IT support can be done by robots the better.

    1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: IT Support Robots

      Only if we can have robot users to go with it. And a deathmatch set up between the two clans.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Everything's been working fine for me for a while. Nothing to report.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crappy Aussie plugs

    I can understand the power issue in Rockhampton, as Australian plugs are rubbish. I have had occasions where power adaptors for various devices have simply fallen out of the wall sockets due to the fact they are heavy and don't have an earth pin. The short angled pins don't hold the adaptor in properly.

    Never had a UK plug fall out.

    1. Chezstar

      Re: Crappy Aussie plugs

      That's why all of our Aussie wall plugs are installed at shin height, you are meant to push in the power brick, then shove the heaviest piece of furniture you can find against the plug. That never fails to hold those lazy bastard plugs in place for all eternity!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Crappy Aussie plugs

      The internet (well a certain user-edited resource) says "One of the reasons behind the adoption of [Austrialian plug/socket] design was that it was cheap to make"

      Payback for rejecting the mother country, and trying to do it on the cheap?

  28. Win H8

    Vasoline keyboard?

    Called out to a cable store in mid winter, I arrived to find none of the keyboards working. Used my spare which worked on all terminals. Checked each keyboard and it seemed that pressing any key it stuck down then slowly rose back to normal. Opened up one and it was loaded with vasoline! Then realised. It was a cable store, most of the larger cables were filled with vasoline jelly to prevent water ingress. Plus being mid winter the heating was in full. So combination of heat + jelly filled cable + user switching from cable cutting yo keyboard - a jelly filled keyboard. Removed case from said keyboards and hung board from its cable lead above heater. 30 mins later and jelly had stopped dripping from keys reassembled keyboards and all was well. Also keyboards were now almost waterproof.

  29. Win H8

    coffee anyone?

    Working as an IT manager in charge of various sites connected to a stores system. I was called out by a store that reported all their terminals were not working. Off I went but by the time I got there all was back working. Checked all the kit and wiring no issue at all. This happened a number of times all

    to the same result (working when I arrived, no issue found). It wasn't until, by chance, I was installing a new terminal on site when all the network access went off line. Then a voice shouted out - you want a coffee? Yes please, I replied and went into the cafe area. When I got there I realised the issue - the server was just the other side of the wall and had been plugged in by the fridge through a hole in wall (not my installation). Issue came that the fridge was also near the kettle, so tea break time - unplug server, plug in kettle.Use kettle, plug in server again. I arranged for the server to be fed from a different power source and never had the same issue again.

  30. ecofeco Silver badge

    Seen a few of those as well

    "Everything just stopped working!"

    Looks under desk. Power strip is off or unplugged or has tripped its breaker.

    "Yep, your turboencabulator has slipped a marf bearing. This might take a while."

  31. Catweazle666

    Fun with UPS's

    Sold a UPS to a small local company. A few days later, boss calls to say UPS has expired. Replaced UPS. A week later, that UPS expires too. And a week after that...

    Boss gets over-excited, etc. etc.

    Clue was, it always happened on the same day. A little research revealed that was the day the usual cleaner was off, and the boss vacuumed the office himself, plugging the vacuum cleaner into the spare socket on the power strip connected to the UPS that had the system box, monitor and printer plugged into it, because it was more accessible than the mains socket under the desk.


  32. Unicornpiss


    I once drove 30 miles through a horrible rainstorm to fix a POS system (in both senses of the term) that was down. Upon arriving I found that the manager had plugged the UPS into itself. A perpetual motion machine it was not.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Unicornpiss Re: UPS...

      ".....I found that the manager had plugged the UPS into itself....." Ah, the joys of "uninterruptable" power supplies! In days of yore, when IT budgets were a bit flusher, hosters used to wire up racks of "essential" kit with two UPSs, one for each side of the rack, and split each device so it had at least one feed from each UPS. That way, if the batteries in the UPS units started to die, you usually got a panicky call from the ops deck of systems browning-out before anything too bad happened (and no, they never monitored the UPS logs that actually warned them when the UPS batteries were dying!). Fast forward to the "optimised, efficiency-driven" today, and it's common for us to have one side of the rack off a mains loop and the other side on UPS. This almost guarantees that the UPS batteries will never be checked, and the first time anyone will think to check them is when the power goes and the UPS does not kick in, as (allegedly) recently happened at a well-known hoster in London.

  33. Number6

    Various embarrassing experiences in my early career mean that "is it plugged in?", "is it switched on?", "Do I have volts on the power source?" are automatic checks for me now, having spent time trying to diagnose faults while missing the bleeding obvious. If I'm working on it and expect it to be powered off then the power cord is either in my lap or at least in a highly visible place so I know it's not still live.

  34. x 7

    whats wrong with this picture?

    Another Bob Calvert idea..........

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