back to article The Police Chief's photo library mixed business, pleasure and flesh

Welcome to 2015's final edition of On-Call, our regular feature in which readers share tales of technological tedium, tantrums and terror, often in weird places at unsociable times. To wrap up the year we're going to rifle through the On-Call inbox to share stories that weren't quite long enough for their own story, but should …

  1. Alister

    Merry Christmas

    To you Simon, and all at the Reg.

    1. John G Imrie

      Re: Merry Christmas

      Merry Christmas. Why am I posting this from work? :-(

  2. Streaker

    Merry Christmas to all and sundry and to those in El Reg that gives us the a bit of light and cynicism.... Magic. I love it


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There was also the case of someone who printed a list of the disk's contents - then stapled it to the floppy.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      You should see what a nice, steaming hot coffee mug does to the actual disk inside a 3.5 inch floppy when the user is in the habit of using it as a coaster to protect their eye-wateringly expensive mahogany desk from the heat.......(!)

      No, I didn't get the important spreadsheet data back..... although I was moved to enquire as to what it was that had led them to believe that diskettes were less vulnerable in this regard than legendarily robust hardwoods.

      1. Chris Miller

        Yes, stapling floppies was a relatively frequent event in the days of 5¼" beasties. Actually, if you stuck the staple near the corner, it could easily be removed without damaging the disk contents, but anywhere near the middle ...

        I once asked someone at a suboffice to send a copy of a floppy disk and we got a nice photocopy in next day's post.

        1. Little Mouse

          I once slid back the metal cover of someone's faulty 3½" disk and found a piece of sweetcorn inside.

          Some things are best left unexplained...

          1. Captain Scarlet
            Paris Hilton

            Maybe they tried to use their corn on a cob as a diskette reader?

        2. Michael Thibault

          3 1/2" disk wouldn't read, wouldn't even show. Took a minute or two of puzzling, some of which was spent testing other diskettes to verify the drive, eventually to get around to flipping the diskette case over, to find the label stuck, neatly and squarely, to the backside.

          1. Old Handle

            I remember those extra large labels. They were meant to to wrap around one edge, but exactly the right size to completely cover one side of the disk, I'm sure many a noob made exactly that mistake. They were almost asking to be misused.

          2. Michael Thibault

            >3 1/2" disk wouldn't read, wouldn't even show. Took a minute or two of puzzling, some of which was spent testing other diskettes to verify the drive, eventually to get around to flipping the diskette case over, to find the label stuck, neatly and squarely, to the backside.

            Who, rationally, would downvote the above? Methinks truly petty individuals with a hate-on. You know who you are, I suppose. How sad your existence!

    2. Unicornpiss


      I had something similar when I worked my POS admin job years ago. Yes, I was a POS administrator :) I visited a location that complained that a receipt printer quit working. They had neatened up the area by stapling the cable to the wall in about 15 places with the staples going through, not around the cable. Fortunately for them the staple gun was not wide enough to staple the power cable.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: staplers...

        5-1/4 floppies, backed up religiously, carefully stored in a binder after using a punch to make the requisite holes... we won't even mention the probably apocryphal tale of someone who thought that photocopying the discs was sufficient.

        1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Outer Depth

          Hard to believe but I'll bet some of those puddings were actually delivered by horse early on in their careers.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            I have come across several users who used the office phone (rotary) as a floppy disk weight.

  4. TeeCee Gold badge

    Ah yes, spaces and phone support.

    Had this one firsthand from a bloke at a software house who was called by a customer who'd installed their product (we'll call it the "XYZ" system here) to find it didn't work:

    "Who were you logged in as when you ran the installation?"

    "Er, me."

    "Ah, that'll be the problem. It is clearly stated in the installation guide that the installation process must be run as root. Can you get the root password?"

    "Yes, of course. Hang on a tick."

    [a couple of minutes pass]

    "Right. Got it. Shall I run the installation again?"

    "Before you do that, we should probably tidy up the remains of the invalid one, just to be on the safe side. Could you cd to slash bin for me?" (yes, this is some considerable time prior to the POSIX directory merry-go-round)

    "Done that."

    "Great. Now type rm -rf XYZ* and press enter."

    "Done that."

    "Okay. Now we'll....."

    "....Wait, it hasn't come back yet."

    "Is it back now?"


    [cold sweaty feeling]

    "Could you read back what you typed on the command line please?"

    "rm minus rf XYZ star"

    "Can I have that with the spaces please?"

    "rm space minus rf space XYZ space star."

    "Ooooooookaaaaayyyyyyy. Do you have a recent backup of the server....?"

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Ah yes, spaces and phone support.

      What sort of idiot tech support lets a user type a line like that anyway?

      I was in a teleconference a while back, sitting next to a few users, while we phoned tech support and others. I was only supposed to be there for tech stuff and they were on line to solve a problem with a database not being up-to-date (nothing techy at all, just them not entering data), so I was basically reading whatever was on their desk while the tech guy on the phone blathered out and pointed out the obvious to the users.

      There was a bit of back and forth and one user was just typing what the tech guy said into their software at our end and clicking where they were told to. Until, at one point, to fix a problem, the tech guy on the other end just said:

      "Okay, now go into Script Runner."

      Our user responded "Okay"

      "Now type 'DELETE * FROM..."

      It was at this point that I realised Script Runner was, in fact, just a hidden direct admin-level SQL interface to our database via the program, and I rugby-tackled the user to the floor to perform some damage limitation because they could start to type.

      After berating the tech guy for such a dangerous command, and allowing users to have an interface to such a dangerous command, and reading out such a dangerous command, and not even bothering to check there was a tech guy this end who had taken a backup before he started playing like that, and not even bothering to do this in a transaction or similar that we could roll-back, I typed the command for them and told the users to NEVER go into that menu again (removing the menu from the user's lists shortly afterwards).

      I don't blame the user's. I had backups but for sure I wasn't going to take blame if that command had gone wrong. Nobody knew what SQL syntax was but me and the tech guy the other end, and I damn well was never told that "Script Runner" was just a direct SQL interface. If that had gone wrong, whether I was present or not, that's ENTIRELY the fault of the tech guy on the other end.

      More importantly? It's been two years and they STILL haven't managed to get their "remote application support" working for us either, so they still can't perform those things themselves. I'm both glad, and disappointed by that. It means they can't tinker without our co-operation, but it does mean every tiny data change needs phone-based hand-holding rather than a click done for them.

  5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Its popular

    because we've all had 'those' users and its nice to see that other tech people have had to deal with the nightmare customer from hell.

    Like arriving at a new job years ago, looking at the program database containing 100s of hrs of machine tool programming and asking "when was the last backup done?"

    "We've got these floppy discs from 5 years ago....."

    Cue buying some new ones.....


    .. on holiday and trying to forget the day of the lightning strike.. which resembled the icon

  6. 27escape

    Ah floppy disk stories

    I used to write software for pharmacies, in the old days and this all ran along with the data on 5.25 inch floppies.

    When asked to send in a copy of their disks we often got photocopies of the disks or a floppy disk stapled to a covering letter, obviously right through the disk itself, just to make sure! Other disks came in glued together with paint, glue and who knows what, also the backup disks that have never been used and so blank were sent in to be used for data recovery and disks stored next to their TVs or CRT screens.

    USB drives are not as much fun.

    Getting my coat cos its almost knocking off time

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah floppy disk stories

      There was also the possibly apocryphal story of backup floppies stored in a ring binder by two neatly punched holes.

      1. Alien8n

        Re: Ah floppy disk stories

        We had a girl who worked in the engineering department at a telecoms company, decided to check what was on her old floppy disk from University. Needless to say the anti-virus system lit up like a Christmas tree when it was put in the PC.

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: floppy disks in ring binders

        Probably true, this sort of thing did happen... the first big court case over illegal copies of software in Germany folded because the guy who was in charge of doing an inventory of seized evidence did just that: used a hole punch and filed a big, big stack of 5.25" floppies neatly into binders. They were listed in the inventory as "square objects made out of plastic, lenth of a side 13,335 cm". (By then, a lot of people thought all computer data was stored on tapes or punch cards. If they made the connection 'computer', 'data' and 'storage' at all...)

    2. Stoneshop

      Re: Ah floppy disk stories

      A colleague went to fix a customer's harddisk, back when they were physically large and storage-wise small. After getting the drive going again, he asked for the backup, and was presented with three 8" floppies.

      Figuring that this was insufficient to hold even a small part of what had been on the disk, he asked if that was all or maybe just the latest incremental, and when was it made? Yes, that was all, and it was last week's one. That last bit sounded good, the first did not, because even back then harddisks tended to hold at least several hundred floppies' worth of data. So he inquired how they were actually making those backups?

      "Like the manual says, @SYS$UPDATE:STABACKIT, and then we just follow the prompts"

      They had made a floppy set for their VAX to boot off so that a backup of their system disk could be made without having all kinds of files open. And had done so faithfully every week for the past couple of years. Unfortunately they didn't do the actual backup bit.

    3. Tom 13

      Re: Ah floppy disk stories

      Yes indeed. My favorite question is, what are the ten (10 but not base 2) ways to insert a floppy disk into a drive?

      Most people can figure out 8, but have trouble with the last two. If you are as well, remember one of my favorite puns: nothing is ever foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Many years ago a computer salesman in South Africa was the very personification of the Dad's Army spiv character.

    He used to tell of the time he had a sideline in showing "blue" films. One evening someone switched the projector off in the middle of a show. He protested - to find he had been raided by the vice squad. He had hired a hall next door to the local police station - relying either on their legendary incompetence or vested interest***.

    On his trips to Rhodesia he apparently had a talent for getting computer spares past the South African customs checks by saying they were just inexpensive electrical things. On his return one day the border police did an unusually thorough search of his car. He was concerned about the Playboy magazine stuffed down the back of his trousers.

    He was something of an amateur photographer too. His collection was apparently stored in the roof space of his bungalow by being nailed to the rafters. He said that if he died the first thing his wife said she would do was make a bonfire of them.

    *** Tom Sharpe's two novels - "Riotous Assembly" and "Indecent Exposure" are not an exaggeration of the police's reputation at that time - nor of the hypocrisy that existed at all levels of society.

    1. romanempire

      Re: Pr0n

      Ah, Tom Sharpe's first two novels - "Riotous Assembly" and "Indecent Exposure" were the first ones of his I read. Had me in stitches. Re-read them recently and the scenes they conjure still had me laughing out loud :-) Not very PC but then apartheid South Africa wasn't very PC (tell the young 'un that and they won't believe you ;-) ).

      1. Alien8n

        Re: Pr0n

        Amazing how many stories I have from the same telecoms company...

        Senior manager came in complaining his laptop was running Outlook slowly. Knowing that certain staff members had a habit of sending funny pictures and videos we immediately guessed (correctly) that he was storing a horde of attachments in his emails. What we weren't expecting was every single picture to be of a fleshy nature (including a rather tasteful tattoo of butterfly wings either side of you know what). A quick select and delete fixed his speed issues and it was decided that neither the machine operator who had been emailing the manager the pictures, nor the manager would be reported to the HR department on the grounds that they were being made redundant and only had a couple of months left at the company (redundancy payouts at that company were 4 to 5 figures)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pr0n

        "Not very PC but then apartheid South Africa wasn't very PC [...]"

        What surprised me was that those novels were on sale in the local equivalent of W H Smiths in a very conservative city in the 1970s. It's hard to believe the censors failed to understand the satire aimed at them and their society. The paperbacks' covers' artworks alone were inviting being torn off by customs - as happened to Amateur Photographer on a regular basis. However they did seem to miss the verbal and visual double entendres in the popular "Carry On" films.

        A interesting problem for the film censors was "The Love Ban" (1973). Usually even any partial nudity was ruthlessly excised - even if that shredded the story line or plot. This film raised audible gasps when the audience saw their first full frontal of a woman. The reasoning was that the censors religiously decided that the film's apparently anti-Roman Catholic message took priority.

      3. BebopWeBop

        Re: Pr0n

        Tom Sharpe was deported from SA after about 10 years for sedition. You really are barking up the wrong tree by criticising him for being non PC!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pr0n

          "You really are barking up the wrong tree by criticising him for being non PC!"

          I don't think the comment was about Tom Sharpe being non-PC. It is more about how his books would be regarded by modern audiences. Even at the time people who had not experienced South Africa's apartheid regime regarded them as hilariously over the top.

          In the later novel "Wilt" he did a similar satire on English police and further education academia that many recognised as being rather too close to the truth. Leslie Thomas covered some of the same ground on English suburban hypocrisy with his novel "Tropic of Ruislip".

          A friend who was an academic at Cambridge said that "Porterhouse Blue" upset many by again being too recognisable as the way some organisations functioned.

          It would be interesting to speculate on what the young Tom Sharpe would have written about the current situations in the UK. Too often it reminds me of living in South Africa in the 1970s when one automatically self-censored what you said on certain subjects and to whom you said it.

  8. chivo243 Silver badge

    Ug, photo libraries

    On one support call, I've seen more than I wanted to see. Hubby liked chubby... wifey wasn't. Ya know, I almost forgot that one, Thanks El Reg - Merry X-mas Everyone!

  9. jake Silver badge

    Starting in roughly 1984 ...

    ... doing support for college kids at Berkeley & Stanford, most of the support (other than the obvious "I'm totally clueless about computers, please help me!") was "I downloaded some porn from (FIDO, USENET, whathaveyou), and my computer broke! Help, please!"

    Nothing has changed. Nor will it.

  10. Andrew K Jones

    Not NT 4.0

    Merry Christmas and all that... also posting from work :(

    Inquiring minds want to know what they were running that wasn't NT 4.0 that their 'techie' thought was more or less the same?

    1. Ben Tasker

      Re: Not NT 4.0

      Knowing some users, Warp.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not NT 4.0

      System 7

  11. fran 2

    had a call to reset a locked out user account:

    "I have forgotten my username"

    Me: "ok, your username is X and the password will be the same, you will be prompted to change it at login"

    5 Minutes later, another call: "I'm still locked out"

    Another rested

    "I am still locked out"

    Eventually discovered user was typing in "the same" for the password

    Merry Christmas all us on call support gnomes!

    1. DropBear

      Yes, well, that's why it's a smart thing to use "invalid" as your password - you get automatically reminded every time you forget it...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

    Not on call as such, but I remember a visit to an MoD base who wanted to replace an aging PDP-11 system used as part of an armament stores system. The chap running the system proudly showed me the set of operating manuals that they followed to the letter, including the weekly backups. When I asked about these he opened a ceiling-height storage rack full of tapes, in the next room to the computer. OKaaay, I thought. He explained these tapes were written in some kind of ICL mainframe format so they could be read onto the system in a second nearby base if needed. How often did they test this process ? Oh they hadn't done that for a couple of years, since the other base got rid of their ICL mainframe.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

      Was that the same stores that did a stock take in the 1970/80s - and discovered they had a large quantity of mule shoes?

      1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

        > Was that the same stores that did a stock take in the 1970/80s - and discovered they had a large quantity of mule shoes?

        Last used for the Chindits because when we lost Borneo the likely use of "Shoes, mules for the use of" lessened.

        But at what price would they go away at?

        Can anyone see the sense of getting rid of mule shoes when storage costs are nearly nill?

        Whilst I can imagine the US military getting rid of punch cards without checking their data was no longer required, I somehow doubt the British Government would ever be so FBI in its commitment to information.

        ......Ah hang on... I Just remembered who is in charge of the Home Office. Please disregard everything I just said including everything related to what I was thinking about and someone punch me in the face too, please.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

          Not apocryphal. Stores are not run by people who necessarily know what they are looking after. A certain waveguide, used by certain surface to air missile defences in the Falklands was chucked - reportedly because it was obviously not required as a spare - bit of squareish rectangularish squarish metal. Indistructible! A squaddy misfire created a real spares problem.

          1. peter 45

            Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

            I worked for a defence company which had not made a particular item for many years, and we had thought that it had been withdrawn from servicebut we suddenly recieved an order. The costs were going to enormous as the drawigs had to be entire production line had to be started up from scratch. That was until one guy mentioned he had seen a pile of them down an Army Surplus store. They were all bought up and put through a refurb programme and delivered at a fraction of the cost.

            We later heard that a storeman had thrown them out because he knew they were obsolete, but the 'system' had not yet cought up so an order for replacements was placed. The stores ended up with the exact ones thrown out.

            6 months later we saw them back in the Army Surplus store again.

      2. peter 45

        Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

        Would that also be the same (very large) stores site being sold off in the 80s. There was a warehouse which had not been opened for many years because everyone knew was empty. The buyers insisted on it being opened before they would take it over, so the doors were cut open.

        Inside was just one item, an armoured vehicle.

      3. The First Dave

        Re: Many years ago, in a world not far enough away...

        They are called "Stores" for a reason - not "Issues".

        Most such places have elaborate systems for those rare occasions when they are forced to issue something, but never have a procedure for throwing things away.

  13. Holleritho

    Not once but twice

    I worked for a very small charity and one of my jobs was the daily and weekly backup. Dailies got stored in a secure place on the premises, weekly had a second copy (floppy) that came home with me.

    When I quit, I wrote out the back-up process, showed the people in the office the very clearly-labelled floppies (sets of five so we actually had Monday-Friday for five weeks before re-using them) and the weekly back-ups (again, used five sets, plus a Q1-Q4 set of disks), and stressed the importance of this job.

    Several months later, they were burgled and I got a panicked call. All computers stolen, secure closet broken into, floppies gone or trashed, wot to do. I advised them to back up from the old-site weekly as soon as they had bought their new machines. Silence. "You have been backing up daily and weekly and quarterly, haven't you, given that you are a research charity and data is uber important?" Silence.

    Absolutely nothing I can do except to give them the last clone-of-a-clone weekly I took because I just had this sense...

    What was especially fun is that about seven months later they had a burglary once again (I suspect the same tealeaves) and the same stuff stolen again (although the equipment was much newer, of course). Floppies gone or trashed. Panicked call. Had they learned from the first debacle? No. Not one backup ever had been made.

    The charity went to the wall about a year later, and I thought it was funders' money well-saved, because they were truly too stupid to live.

    Ad on that cheerful note, happy Christmas to El Reg and my fellow commentards.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Not once but twice

      Ah charities. I will never make the mistake to work for one again.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: Not once but twice

      Reminds me of a well know commercial outfit (I think they even still make regular appearances in El Reg stories) our very, very small screw driver shop one supported. As it was a smallish local office, corporate let them sub out support for them as they were too small to be part of their normal process. We dutifully installed the appropriate tape back up software for their Novell 3.12 network on the desk for the receptionist (she was one of the only two people who were almost always in the office). One of the things they did was sell high quality optics to a customer who was even larger than their company. One day they had a problem with their customer database. After fiddling with it for a bit, the manager for the receptionist hit on a brilliant idea. Since rebooting computers fixed so many problems they'd delete the database and let it start again from scratch to fix the problem. Upon discovering this didn't actually work we got a panicked call about the database. "No worries," reassured the Senior Pilot Fish. "I'll be right over and we'll restore it from your backup." He arrived on site and asked for the tapes, then put them in the machine and ... There was no data on the tape. So he tried the other set. Then he noticed the blinking light on the tape machine. "How long has this light been on?" he inquired. "Oh a couple of months now. Why? Is it important?" answered the receptionist (and yes, she was blonde).

      Remember that network system? Yeah, it was a good thing too. Fortunately for Receptionist and Boss, SPF had turned on the Novell recover system and all the database files were still there. So he painfully rebuilt it over the next three hours. Still, at $450 it was a cheap fix. They'd wiped out at least 10 years of data and one of the cheaper items in their catalog priced out a $100K.

  14. Stuart Castle Silver badge


    I was only a lowly admin assistant, but as I knew a little about computers I wad called in to deal with this.

    One of the PAs was having trouble. She was PA to my manager's manager, so I got sent in quickly. She was a lovely lady, and had come up with a novel solution to DOSs 8 character file name limit. She numbered all the files, then created a document in WordPerfect to act as an index.. That file had, of course, corrupted and she, of course, had no backups..

    Thankfully, after spending an afternoon mucking around with the disk, I was able to retrieve most of the document, but she still had to spend several days checking it was up to date..

    When I had finished, I had the pleasure of reminding both her and her manager of the importance of good and up to date backups..

    1. G.Y.

      Re: Indexing

      The Wang word-processor had files named 3756j etc. (case-sensitive, of course). I was told "this is a system for secretaries, not for computniks!" ...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Thaumaturge

    My favorite floppy story...

    Back in the days of 5 1/4, was given an old 486. Figured I'd fix it up for a friends kids. Floppy didn't work... because it had an AOL CD stuffed into it.

    I really miss those AOL CDs... Came in such a nice little can and were so entertaining to simply toss into the microwave (after removing from cans).

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: My favorite floppy story...

      And they made pretty decent... coasters!

      Merry Christmas one and all, and a Happy New Year.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My favorite floppy story...

        ... was being told to accompany our lead salesman on a pre-sales visit that involved a long train journey and sitting opposite him when he got some see-how-important-I-am papers out of his super-stylish briefcase and then slammed it shut onto the middle of the floppy holding the demo software.

      2. BebopWeBop

        Re: My favorite floppy story...

        And they made pretty decent... coasters!

        Merry Christmas one and all, and a Happy New Year.

        Came back to bite me. We liberally distributed surplus CDs to staff as coasters. I came home to find my kids had taken this on board and had repurposed a number of my (music) on the kitchen table. They still remember my reaction and assure me that they were simply putting my music out of its misery.

      3. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: My favorite floppy story...

        > And they made pretty decent... coasters!

        That saying has always fascinated me. What use is a smooth, non absorbent coaster that just lets your spilled coffee/beer/whatever runs straight off onto your desk? An absorbent paper beer mat seems like a much better idea to me.

        1. robmobz

          Re: My favorite floppy story...

          Thermal insulation to protect the table underneath from the heat.

          1. Steve Aubrey

            Re: My favorite floppy story...

            Form follows function. They look like coasters, so they *MUST* be coasters.

            1. 404

              Re: My favorite floppy story...


              Also, if you carefully cut saw edges into them, IT throwing stars.

              pfffht!....STICK! 'Get your hand away from the mouse...'

              1. Rob Daglish

                Re: My favorite floppy story...

                My personal favourite for AOL cds, hanging behind white christmas lights outside a friend's house, so they reflected the lights, and you got some lovely rainbow effects as the wind blew...

          2. Dick Kennedy

            Re: My favorite floppy story...

            Back in the 1980s, MicroPro was so sick of people pirating WordStar that they had an amnesty. You could send in a copy of the program and it would be issued with a licence for a nominal fee. One person sent in a 5.25in floppy with a note *stapled* to it: "Please take care of this - it's my only copy of the program". Which is dumb on several levels...

  16. channel extended

    5 1/4 magnets

    The 5 1/4 floppies did not have the level of magnetic strength to hold themselves up on a fridge. But they could be held there by a fridge magnet. This seemed a prefect way to show off that you had just spent a bundle on those personal computer thingys to your friends.

  17. Keith Oborn

    Not a floppy story

    I heard of an old ICL site where one user complained of her terminal randomly inserting spaces into text.

    After several fruitless engineer visits, the next guy who arrived observed the user at her desk and said 'OK love, if you go and get a cup of tea I'll see what I can do".

    She left, and he screwed her chair up a couple of inches.

    Problem solved. She was very well endowed, a bit short sighted, and had a tendency to lean forwards while typing--.

    1. G.Y.

      Re: Not a floppy story

      Rather, _TOO_ floppy ...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not a floppy story

      We replaced motherboard, keyboard, reformatted and reinstalled the system (MS-DOS) for a rather comely lady who had almost exaclty the same issue at a company in Trafford Park.

      It was only when the PC arrived back at the workshop for the fourth time that we asked if we could see the work environment to check for 'external influences' that we realised what the problem was.

      Repositioning the copy holder so she didn't have to lean forward to change pages resolved the issue.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    World's largest brewery: Help Desk called me and said I had to go see CEO's PA right away for a "problem".

    Turns out the PA had been working all day on a PowerPoint for a board meeting needed for the next day. Tried to save the file and couldn't - just got a message each time she tried.

    Help Desk told her to reboot the PC.

    Turns out the world's largest brewery was out of hard disk space on that department's network drive - it had been a problem for months. Someone from their department IT would manually hunt through and delete files in the evening.

    So I was the guy deputized to go to the PA, hear her story, see if there was anything recoverable - and then tell God's Right Hand to start over.

    Thankfully, she had gotten to be God's Right Hand by merit/competence/intelligence, so she didn't shoot the messenger.

    And IT decided to finally spring for a larger hard drive.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I didn't do that

    Got an email filled with gibberish, but could tell the crux of the matter was that the user's keyboard was acting up.

    Ran over with a new keyboard, unplugged the old one, picked it up - and water poured out.

    "I didn't do that", she said.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beep Beep

    Urgent call - user was trying to teach a class and his computer wouldn't stop beeping.

    Went to the classroom, pulled the chair away from the desk so its arms weren't pressing down on the keyboard.

    1. Ivan Headache

      Re: Beep Beep

      Had something similar.

      "I've been working on this document and all of the sudden the text just vanished"

      Looked at the doc on the screen and sure enough no text. Then noticed it said page 134.

      133 page deletes later the text miraculously reappeared.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: 133 page deletes later the text miraculously reappeared.

        Ugh! That reminds me of one of the worst delayed bug problems MS ever issued. I forget the exact version of Office now, but one of them had the Journal which would get a one-line entry every time you opened any office document. It would sit their getting bigger one line at a time until ... BOOM! When you tried to do almost anything the app would blue screen. What you could do was delete ONE line. Not a page, not even a group, just ONE line. Then it would re-index the whole damn thing. So after about 20 minutes of deleting one line at a time I got brave and deleted 2. Then I tried 4. And so on until I got up to the point where I could mark a couple of pages. Four hours later the user could use their Office programs again.

    2. Ivan Headache

      Re: Beep Beep

      Just remembered anothe.r

      Got a call to say that the keyboard was typing weird stuff, strange characters, lots of little squares or nothing at all.

      Turned out to be the corner of a book resting on the Alt & Control keys (mac).

      1. LaeMing

        Re: Beep Beep

        I had a haunted wireless keyboard that turned out to to be a case of extreme bad luck. The person in a another department officed on the other side of the wall had the same keyboard and their ID numbers happened to be the same (I assume that was a 1:256 or even 1:65536 chance).

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Everyone Wakeup!

    Quarterly meeting being held in one of the computer training classes, lights dimmed for the projected presentation which goes on and on and on and I see one of my friends in the first row dozing off.

    Net Send "Wake Up!" - Oh God, did I not specify a user name or PC?

    Every computer in the room dings, everyone jerks back awake and looks around guiltily.

    And I had a real bad moment until I remembered the training building was on its own router and I hadn't actually told everyone in the company to wake up.

    1. Christopher W

      Re: Everyone Wakeup!

      Ah, when networks were simpler things...

      Many years ago, winpopup and net sends were a commonly employed tactic for clandestine comms between users, particularly for students during lessons. One morning, a domain-wide net send was issued, as occasionally happened through boredom, using a (foolishly unlocked) generic domain account on a PC adjacent to our zone in the IT room.

      Little did the issuer know that at that moment, the moderately-IT-literate Business Studies teacher, in a nearby classroom, was presenting one of his prized projector PowerPoints. This was abruptly and unceremoniously interrupted - much to his annoyance, and amusement of the class - by a cheery "good morning!" alert dialog and full-blast ding.wav through the room's PA.

      Said teacher stormed in to the IT suite and made a beeline for our area; the machine which issued it was of course sat on a login prompt as it was not being used. The IT admin subsequently decided to learn about group policy management.

      Later that summer, mouse balls suddenly started going for a swim in the pond...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So who was to blame?

    Problem with some stories is that they're one sided. Take PJ's; it may seem funny that the customer typed out s-p-a-c-e instead of using space (as in the spacebar) but who is to blame? How was the password sent to the user? By phone? Sounds to me as if that could also have been a clear case of not being explicit enough and doing a poor job at sending in the password. If PJ would have billed me for that he'd have gotten a nasty surprise.

    How hard can it be? For example; I always send in passwords within quotes to make sure that the other side understands that this includes the whole password.But I also always mention: (without "") or (""'s not included) or (without the quotes). Small effort, maximum effect.

    Which is my main issue with some of the "customer stories". Most people assume the customer is at fault but in many cases I can't help wonder if the support guy didn't do a lousy job instead by not being explicit enough or with making sure that the customer actually understood what he was saying.

    Just my 2 cents obviously.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So who was to blame?

      "[...] I can't help wonder if the support guy didn't do a lousy job instead by not being explicit enough [...]"

      People hear/read what they expect to hear/read. I have learned over the years to be very, very pedantic when giving or receiving instructions - especially verbally. Even then the other person can make an unexpected assumption based on their own personal context. One of the most common is them inserting unnecessary spaces, punctuation, or case shifts - which they don't verbalise when you ask them to read it back to you as a validation check.

      Quite often the instruction on a payment web page says "Enter your card number exactly as it is on the card". Then it validates it as a purely numeric string - and fails on the spaces that the card does indeed have to separate groups.

      Telephone numbers are easier to read and check visually if you separate them into groups with spaces or hyphens/dashes. Unfortunately form validation invariably expects a pure numeric string in the field.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So who was to blame?

        All good and fine until you get someone who thinks that:

        1. Salespeople are *somebody* (only gatekeepers ((frontline secretary, check cutters in finance, and senior management)) are *somebody* in my world- always keep them happy* and rewards will flow)

        2. Is delighted in the idea of finally 'getting rid of the last computer in their house'.

        3. Refuses to follow instructions because they evidently change every day.

        4. They shouldn't have to learn something they disagree with even though it's required to do their job.

        5. After months of fighting his remote access issues (fat finger, damn cheapass Walmart Belkin router, lack of user awareness or basic laptop operation ((yes, just close the lid, it will go to sleep and save your battery, you don't have to shut the OS down every time)), one fine day decides to curse you out because they are 'tired of being talked down to' and hang up.

        Now, I've been accused of being 'non-confrontational', by my wife when she decides I'm not as batshit crazy as she would like me to be over something and by friends over the same issues. I'm not that excitable except when caught in my personal trigger environment I call 'Stupid Shit'. I cannot stand stupid shit and you're *not* going to curse *me* out over *your* stupid shit. Period.

        I walked in to that client's business and created a bow wave - I didn't rant and rave but they knew - the issue was sorted out, I've never seen nor heard of that salesperson since, and even got a nice Christmas bonus from the client this year.

        I guess the point is, you can't fix stupid, no matter how clearly or correctly you crayon the instructions.

        *Private contractor with morals (if you can believe that) - I take great care of my clients and life is too short for bad clients, they don't appreciate it so why bother? The money sometimes is not worth it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So who was to blame?

        "Unfortunately form validation invariably expects a pure numeric string in the field."

        Fire the programmer. There are plenty of phone number validators that do the job properly in just about any language going - if you don't like putting the user into the strait-jacket of comprehensive validation then just strip out non-numerics.

  23. John Brown (no body) Silver badge


    Back in the day when keyboards were worth fixing instead of being disposable items I got sent to a remotish location to sort a keyboard "issue".

    It turns out some of the keys don't work and others take real effort to make them work. The lady of the office wanders off while I get started and remover the umpty-ump number of screws holding it together and very VERY carefully open it in case it's one of those where 83 springs all go SPOING!! as you separate the case. Thankfully, it's not. Cleaned and fixed in a few minutes.

    Office lady comes back and asks what the problem was. So I ask her if it's cold in the office in wintertime. "Yes", she says.

    And you always wear a nice warm wooly red jumper too?

    "Yes", she says, eye's wide, "how did you know that?"

    Most of it was inside your keyboard, I say. Bloody Angora wool!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Keyboards

      "Bloody Angora wool!"

      Home workers sometimes have a similar problem with an accumulation of loose pubic hairs.

      A home-worker's ball-type mouse would not move the cursor horizontally. The reason was a neat band of felt on the ball that meant it would only rotate for the vertical direction. The felt was composed of hairs from the worker's dog - bound together with soft drink residues.

      1. Andy Taylor

        Re: Keyboards

        I can go one better than that. One of my users once glued the accumulated felt back on to the mouse rollers thinking it was part of the roller.

      2. Francis Boyle

        Re: Keyboards

        I almost miss ball mice. Cleaning the ball gave me something to do while Windows was updating.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Keyboards

          There were times when cleaning that ball was my greatest accomplishment of the day....

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Keyboards

          "Cleaning the ball gave me something to do while Windows was updating."

          An infra-red mouse has a similar felt problem with the "glide" feet. The low friction bits are usually stuck on and have a habit of falling off. Food crumbs can also get lodged under the buttons and make clicks erratic.

          1. Rob Daglish

            Re: Keyboards

            Had a user whose ir mouse didn't work on a new pc. Swapped it with another users mouse, and the dodgy one worked fine, but the borrowed one showed the same issue. Reinstalled windows just to be sure it wasn't a screwed install, and then got asked to replace the pc - eventually, we figured the boss whose mouse it was had a sheet of glass on the top of his office desk, which was otherwise identical to the others. One mouse mat later, sorted! Seems like the glass interfered with the reflection enough that the mouse couldn't work out what it was doing.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Keyboards

              'Reinstalled windows just to be sure'


            2. LaeMing

              Re: Keyboards

              Apple mice do this to this day, but with generic-beige laminate surfaces. When the Graphic Design school insisted we switch from PCs to Macs in our student labs, I had to go buy 32 mouse mats.

              No problem with $5 generic mice, whatever Dell issued last time my desk machine was refreshed or various other road-side rescue mice I use about the place.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: Bloody Angora wool!

      Be thankful it was bloody Angora wool.

      One of our work from home customers (deposition transcriptionist) was a chain smoker who'd owned the desktop she was using for 7+ years. The layer of crap that we peeled from the inside of the box was NOT something you really wanted to touch even when wearing latex gloves.

  24. 404

    This happened not three weeks ago

    Not an IT horror story per se, but so fucking hilarious I don't even care if he finds this some years from now...

    I have this friend, 49 years old, who's been trying to get disability for what seems like forever (I think he can work, but thats just my opinion). For the last few years I drop in on him a few times a week, see if he needs a ride, food, etc. Pretty pathetic really, but he's shown signs of improvement in the last year, running 4 Obamaphones with FB on borrowed wifi. Well, he started trading baseball & football cards online, showing a profit, so much so that it was becoming difficult to keep track of.

    Enter me, with a surplus half-a-Gateway laptop that my lovely daughter stepped on weeks before, hook him up with an HDMI cable to his tv, wireless kb & mouse, borrow some more wifi, and show him the wonders of 1995 via a Windows 8.1 Pro half-a-laptop. Spreadsheets, tracking, getting a paypal account so he would leave me alone about it, better pics of the cards, etc, etc, etc.

    Three weeks later, I come by to see the laptop with a nice doily-type thing on it, kb and mouse turned off and tucked away under the sidetable, I ask him WTF? I was expecting Moneybucks here to be conquering the internet via collectible cards. Nope. Problems with the mouse, with the computer, Excel was tripping out, etc, etc. Mkay. Show Me. He then proceeded to log in and USE BOTH HANDS TO CONTROL THE WIRELESS MOUSE. < shellshock > Wait. What year is this? Who am I? What is this place? < I come to my senses > WTF are you doing Jr? "I can't make it work right'. I guess so. Sigh.

    I patiently explained/demonstrated/made-him-do-it operations with a two-button scroll mouse and started him on Minesweeper with a huge 3" icon in the middle of his tv.

    It is almost 2016, right?

    1. waldo kitty

      Re: This happened not three weeks ago

      I patiently explained/demonstrated/made-him-do-it operations with a two-button scroll mouse and started him on Minesweeper with a huge 3" icon in the middle of his tv.

      i generally start them off playing solitare... it works great for that necessary eye-hand coordination thing and then they can learn about double-clicking or maybe even pressing the scroll-wheel to do the double-click for them... but first they learn click'n'drag the old fashioned way...

      later instructions show them CTRL-C and CTRL-V for copy'n'paste when they've gotten their typing speed up and their mousing about down fairly well... this allows them to mouse with one hand and still do some keyboard things without driving the mouse 1000 miles a day ;)

      1. 404

        Re: This happened not three weeks ago

        Solitaire would be a bit advanced, I'm sorry to say. He knows it exists should he get adventurous.

      2. Rob Daglish

        Re: This happened not three weeks ago

        Glad I, not the only one to prescribe solitaire to new users!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This happened not three weeks ago

          I once had the idea of removing the games from the University's staff PC image. Training told me "Nope, we use those to teach mouse-skills".

  25. Dick Kennedy

    How could that happen?

    I was once asked by some friends to look at their computer, as its Internet connection was very slow. They'd left the machine with a mate who was house-sitting for them for a few months. I could see from the connection monitor that whenever the machine was online (this was dialup days) there was a *lot* of outgoing traffic. Sure enough, the machine was infected with a nasty virus, which took me the best part of a day to eradicate (lots of Registry editing). "How could this have happened?" they asked. I pointed to about a dozen icons on the desktop, all of them shortcuts to various porn sites. I didn't mention what I'd found in certain folders. Those I'd discreetly removed...

    1. Tom 13

      Re: shortcuts to various porn sites.

      One summer we were called in to help a local private middle school lock down all of their computers with something called Freeze. We didn't ask a lot of questions as we figured the kids were probably brighter than most if not all of their teachers. Then we got to the library and turned on one of the computers before they could wave us off. Wallpaper on the Windows 9x box was set to Kara's Adult Website (or some such if I've butchered the name after all these years).

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A very long time ago, I worked for one of the world's biggest banks. We had started to use the ACT Victor (MSDOS and/or DRDOS off floppy). These were expensive, around £2000 for the twin floppy version (no HDD) - maybe £7000 in today's money.

    So the IT director wanted to show off this exciting new technology to the board so they'd see the opportunities and provide budget. I gave him the step by step instruction sheet and took him through the demo then sat and watched as he did it himself right through from power-up. That went fine I was fairly confident in his understanding but I said I'd stay around in the office just in case... No he said, you've got a train to catch, off you go. Well I'd got a vested interest, my department wanted to grow, we needed that budget, we needed this to go well so I said I was happy to stay anyway. But he was adamant (and I'd got a 3 hour journey). Remember this is 1982, no mobile phones so when I was gone I'd be out of contact.

    Next day I got a call "it didn't work" - loss of face in front of the board, not a happy man. I got that support experience where you know the user think it's you or the computer at fault but can't actually work out why - while the support person knows full well the user screwed up somehow. When the user is mega-senior "helping them to reach the same conclusion" is a delicate task. Why didn't it work he wanted to know - and so did I. Diagnostics by phone from 200 miles away not easy but I eventually established that he didn't understand the distinction between Shift and Shift-Lock so the password was in the wrong case.

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