back to article Hot chips crashed servers, but were still delicious

Welcome again to festive On-Call, in which we delve into the mailbag of not-quite-worthy-as-standalone contributions to keep the site busy as the world runs out of tech news before Christmas. Today: Sparky tales of electrical issues. Such as one from reader "Zeke", a sysadmin for a fleet of a few hundred PCs. One of Zeke's …

  1. GlenP Silver badge

    Power Cables...

    I've had a few power cables not properly plugged in over the years. I always used to ask them to unplug them and plug them back in, try a different cable, etc. warning them that an engineer call would be chargeable if it was just that. They still wouldn't listen!

    Years ago when working for a small software house selling Apricots we always knew from the symptoms when a computer had been switched off or unplugged without being shut down. I had one user who insisted that this couldn't possibly have been the case, she'd left her desk for a few minutes and the data had spontaneously become corrupted. A couple of hours later she phoned back, very apologetic, her boss had managed to dislodge the power cable and plugged it back in hoping she wouldn't notice.

    1. John Riddoch

      Re: Power Cables...

      Yup, had one when I was at uni. One of the students reported a PC wasn't working, so I followed her to the room. Sure enough, it wouldn't turn on. Went to check power socket, the plug was slightly out. Pushed it in, powered on the machine gave her a bit of a look as she was looking sheepish and wandered out without saying another word.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Power Cables...

          "Use latching IEC power cables!"

          It is surprising to me how iffy the standard ones are . Many times I've arrived at someones desk ( who's brilliant diagnosis of "I cant do my timesheet" turns out to be lack of 240v to base or screen ) and started swapping the leads around from screen to base to pc at next desk in order to establish if it the lead , the fuse or an actual fault with the Equipment. 9 times out of 10 , after a bit of swapping around the fault disappears and everythings working! Its kinda frustrating and a relief at the same time.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Power Cables...

          (latching IEC cables)

          Unfortunately these don't hold the plug in, but they do stop stuff coming out of the back of the computer.

          You can get PDUs with latching IEC sockets too:

          There are also friction sleeves for PDU C13 sockets to stop them popping out (APC ones are terrible for this) - - they're a bitch to use but they do stop accidental unplugging and they're cheap.

          Click-locks grab onto the earth pin and don't require a special plug or other malarky like virtually every other kind of locking connector does. They can be pulled out without releasing the grip, but it takes a hell of a pull.

          These really are bloody useful when fitted to a PDU in the back of a rack or other cramped enclosure. It's just a pity you can't get locking 13A UK sockets.

    2. Richard Gray 1

      Re: Power Cables...

      When it won't start up and I suspect the power cable, that is ALWAYS plugged in, I ask them to unplug the cable from the wall and the computer / monitor etc, "check it" and plug it back in... usually works then

    3. Unicornpiss

      Re: Power Cables...

      A classic is with the last couple of generations of Dell laptops. If the power cable is about 1-2mm from being fully plugged into the machine or dock, the machine will operate on AC power, but no battery charging will occur. Drove us crazy until we realized what the cause was. Apparently the pin that provides telemetry doesn't quite make contact.

      1. Dave K

        Re: Power Cables...

        >> "A classic is with the last couple of generations of Dell laptops. If the power cable is about 1-2mm from being fully plugged into the machine or dock, the machine will operate on AC power, but no battery charging will occur."

        Yep, had the same thing a couple of times at my site. Also had to deal with a couple of cases where other techs had replaced the docking station (with the not-quite-plugged-in power cable), then declared the dock as dead when the replacement one worked with charging.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Power Cables...

      My favorite was always when they had managed to plug a power strip back into itself. *FacePalm*

      1. Mark M.

        Re: Power Cables...

        Or though plugging in a power strip into another power strip that in itself was plugged into the latter power strip.

        The mains cables themselves was a huge spaghetti mess under the desk so unless the entire lot was pulled out, untangled and tidied up, the user had no way of knowing what was plugged into what.

      2. Servman

        Re: Power Cables...

        I always love when someone calls the Hell Desk to complain that their laptop isn't charging only to find out it's at 98%.

        Since Lenovo won't charge if it's above 95%, it's an easy answer.

    5. macjules

      Re: Power Cables...

      My favourites:

      Condom used as a SCSI terminator (amazingly it worked for a while)

      Chewing gum used as 10Base2 terminators (did not work)

      RJ-11 plugged into RJ-45 ports (Tech Support get in here NOW!)

      Spending 2 hours explaining to a graphics designer that a RasterOps display required a RasterOps graphics card, not "any one will do"

      Likewise "no you can't just throw any type of memory into a computer, especially the one you bought on holiday" - this when a 16Mb 30pin SIMM came in at around £1,000

      1. Baldrickk

        Re: Power Cables...

        You can throw *almost* any memory into a computer (dependant on space).

        It may rattle around though.

      2. Andy Taylor

        Re: Power Cables...

        RJ-11 plugged into RJ-45 ports (Tech Support get in here NOW!)

        That's usually OK provided the other end of the structured wiring connects to a suitable device.

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: Power Cables...

          That's usually OK provided the other end of the structured wiring connects to a suitable device.

          Quite. USOC and T-568A are quite coimpatible for even two phone lines (assuming RJ11 in this case is for POTS). This is not a coincidence. Of course plugging RJ11 into RJ-45 is not too kind on the outer pins and may well up damaging them.

        2. Servman

          Re: Power Cables...

          If you're running 10 or 100Mbps, the equipment may not even notice if that analog line rings ("line 1" would be on pins 4 & 5 - the blue pair - which is theoretically not even connected. Never thought I could plug 89V into an interface designed for 5V and get away with it.

    6. Andrew Moore

      Re: Power Cables...

      Got a callout to a remote site- machine not powering on. User insisted that they had checked the power cables and everything. I drove down (2 hours), walked into the office, and in full view of everyone picked the plug off of the floor and plugged it back in the socket. A quick check with the operator that everything was now working and I left for another 2 hour drive. The bastards even tried disputing my callout charge claiming that all I did was plug the computer back in.

  2. Herby

    The first question you ALWAYS ask...

    Is the power plugged in?

    Second question:

    Is the On/Off switch in the proper position.

    Funny how this cures quite a bit of user (1d10t) problems.

    If you want to go further you can always ask:

    Are the lights on?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The first question you ALWAYS ask...

      "Are the lights on?"

      Yes, but nobody's home....

    2. DJ Smiley

      Re: The first question you ALWAYS ask...

      Had a pharamcist one ring me, 'We can't dispense, the computer isn't working!' - after collecting the store details, asking is the computer on at all (no), they then decide to tell me the store is 6 inches deep in water due to a main that burst, and all the electrics are turned off, but they thought they should be able to power on this machine and dispense anyway!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The first question you ALWAYS ask...

        A colleague had similar from another pharmacist; she was locked out of her shop, and as a result "I can't dispense", which made it our problem as we supplied the dispensing software...

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The first question you ALWAYS ask...

          "I can't dispense"

          With thinking like that it might have been for the best.

      2. macjules

        Re: The first question you ALWAYS ask...

        That should have made the short list - Mr Sharwood could do worse than read through the comments and select the best ones, which are often far more witty than the original post.

  3. Fihart

    My keyboard stupidity.

    Friend reported that her Sony laptop's keyboard was playing up. I too couldn't access certain letters on the keyboard and feared the worst because it persisted even after rebooting the machine. After some head scratching, turned out that this Sony's Num Lock remained on despite restarting the computer.

    Lesson learned -- though I never got round to testing whether this was normal for all brands as I avoid using laptops because the keyboards are, generally, so awful.

    In my defence, I should add that the Sony's Num Lock LED was particularly small.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: My keyboard stupidity.

      I've had a few times where people ask why Excel is asking oddly when they try and select cells with the arrow keys. They never explain it that way, of course; they just say that it's acting weird.

      Upon seeing the problem, I'll press the scroll lock key, smile and walk off.

      1. GerryMC

        Re: My keyboard stupidity.

        Had this recently on my wife's laptop. Of course, being a laptop it wasn't obvious how to toggle it - or how it got turned on in the first place.

    2. Baldrickk

      Re: My keyboard stupidity.

      It's a bios setting, usually.

      1. Aladdin Sane

        Re: My keyboard stupidity.

        Number of times I've had to show people how to switch from US to UK keyboard settings or show them how to switch off shift-lock (caps lock is the worst thing ever to be put on a keyboard).

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: My keyboard stupidity.

          (caps lock is the worst thing ever to be put on a keyboard).

          Its surprising how many people use it as a shift key - both I.T. literate and the muggles

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. usbac

            Re: My keyboard stupidity.

            "(caps lock is the worst thing ever to be put on a keyboard)."

            Agreed! At our company I have a number of users that do everything in all-caps. I sit at their computer and try to log in, only to find their Caps-Lock on! When I comment, the answer is always "x system requires everything to be in capitals". My answer is always "there is not a single system in our company that requires all capitals". Doesn't change anything.

            I swear, one evening I'm going to take a screwdriver and break all of the Caps-Lock keys off of every keyboard in the company. I wonder if anyone makes a keyboard without Caps-Lock? I could be a product idea?

            1. Donn Bly

              Re: My keyboard stupidity.

              Superglue is your friend. Been there, done that, and blamed the stuck key on "it most be something you spilled into the keyboard, if you can live with it I won't tell the boss why we have to replace it"

            2. Julian Bradfield

              Re: My keyboard stupidity.

              You can't break off the caps lock key - where else does Control go!

            3. patrickstar

              Re: My keyboard stupidity.

              This is why God's greatest gift to Windows users is Ctrl2Cap.

              (You'll find it at Sysinternals and not your local church though)

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: My keyboard stupidity.

            "(caps lock is the worst thing ever to be put on a keyboard)."

            A tie, I fear, between Capslock and Numlock on laptops where it used to take over the right hand side of the keyboard.

            Although back when I got paid a bonus per fix, I used to love getting the jobs of "letter keys keep typing numbers". A five quid keypress, and try not to make the job card back to the customer too sarcastic.

        2. druck Silver badge

          Re: My keyboard stupidity.

          The BBC Micro had a CAPs lock and a Shift lock. Didn't seem odd a the time as it was my first micro, but very confusing if I try to use one now.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: My keyboard stupidity.

          If only caps lock on a PC worked the way it did on (many? most?) manual typewriters and pressing shift would release caps lock. In a lot of cases that would self-correct the error reasonably quickly.

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

            Re: My keyboard stupidity.

            The one I always fall over when using French colleagues machines (with their keyboards) as the numbers are on the shifted keys there, with the punctuation etc being the "normal" keypress.

            Apparently it's designed that the users use the number pad for the numbers and so having them directly on the row above the letters on the keyboard is redundant. But of course this does not consider that a) they're the only ones that do this, so everyone else just gets confused and b) the laptops we have don't have number pads, although the external keyboards do.

            Hence when they're doing a lot of number work they use caps-lock (which puts the number row into number mode) and then tend to leave it that way.

            These days I just switch the thing over to UK language/keyboard mode, touch-type and be done with it. And of course get moaned at if I forget to switch it back when I finish.

            1. My Coat

              Re: Hunt to blame for NHS attack

              Back when I programmed in perl, I used to use xmodmap to remap the row of number keys to the symbols (!, @, #, ...), and shifted press to the numeral (1, 2, 3, ...). Programmed perl in emacs for years without getting RSI, so it was worth the ten minutes to set up.

            2. macjules

              Re: My keyboard stupidity.

              Try Swiss keyboards with multiple options for French, German and Italian layouts. I never understood the need for Alt Gr until I went there.

        4. Naselus

          Re: My keyboard stupidity.

          "Number of times I've had to show people how to switch from US to UK keyboard settings..."

          Though this has allowed me to 'magically' guess when a user has a dollar/pound symbol in their password and yet mysteriously can't get it to log them in...

          1. Mage

            Re: guess when a user has a dollar/pound symbol in their password

            I thought it was only £ and # that swapped (# is called pound some places rather than hash) also @ and " but never $. There are some other changes with ~# key and |\ key.

        5. Mage

          Re: Caps Lock

          I set dual shift to be caps lock (either cancels) and Caps Lock to be the Compose key. Mårvəll°ŭß…

          Keyboard US, paper size Letter, dates "wrong" etc. Default on Windows used to be USA regional Settings. Linux Mint asks at install time. Maybe Windows 10 does now? I forget.

          The numlock on laptops is a menace. Who uses it?

      2. VinceH

        Re: My keyboard stupidity.

        "It's a bios setting, usually."

        But not the worst one I've encountered, on a laptop from a couple of years ago.

        It's common on laptops for the F1-F12 keys double up as system functions; press 'fn' and one of them to turn up/down the volume, brightness, whatever. But on this laptop, they defaulted to those system functions, and 'fn' had to be pressed to use them as F1-F12.

        I use a piece of software A LOT that uses certain of those keys, so it was bloody annoying until I found the relevant BIOS setting.

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Re: My keyboard stupidity.

          'fn' had to be pressed to use them as F1-F12.

          That seems to be the latest trend. I guess the old Alt-F4 to close, F5 to refresh, F1 for help (only pressed by accident!) are not so much used these days and people are more likely to want to adjust the brightness, volume etc.

          But I hate that trend, and wherever possible switch it back.

  4. Mugwump7

    Monitor weirdness

    I have three monitors on my Office PC. Shortly after I moved to my present location I found that one of them randomly goes black and mostly comes straight back on. Occasionally though it stays black and it is necessary to switch it off and leave it perhaps 10 minutes before I can get it back to life.

    Eventually I realised that this flicker only occurs when someone uses the shredder. It doesn't happen every time the shredder is used and it's better than it was now I have a surge protector extension lead on it, but it is still an annoyance.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Monitor weirdness

        "I have three monitors on my Office PC"

        Golly you must be busy :P

        I'd have 3 if I opened the laptop lid , but I find it's too many . I end up staring at one screen waiting for an app or dialogue box to open , only to find it popped up on a different screen !

    2. Baldrickk

      Re: Monitor weirdness

      I found that using a spark igniter (the sort you can extract from a handheld gas firelighter) within about four or five metres of my keyboard causes it to instantly cease operation. No contact required. Even the backlight fails (I thought that the static backlight would be more resilient).

      It needs to be unplugged and re-inserted before it will work again.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A neighbour said her PC wasn't working properly. The mouse worked but the keyboard didn't. The keyboard was wireless - and then she said her son had just sent it to her. Had she put batteries in it? Yes she said. I opened it up anyway - and sure enough two brand new AA batteries in place - nose to nose.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Had she put batteries in it? Yes she said. I opened it up anyway - and sure enough two brand new AA batteries in place - nose to nose."

      Had a similar issue. Batteries were in the correct way around, but although removed from the main packaging, had each been individually shrink wrapped, which was still in place.

    2. Andrew Moore

      I once had a customer complain to my boss because I "made her feel stupid"- by removing the batteries from her device and then reinserting them the right way round, as shown by the little pictures at the back of the battery compartment.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Electrical noise spikes were always a good reason for being on site and chatting to people who are not responsible for sorting the problem. Several times someone apparently unconnected with the problem would say something like "It always goes down when I'm on my coffee break" (kettle); "It always goes down when I go to the toilet" (macerator).

    One memorable problem wasn't electrical. The software development mainframe crashed. Every time it was brought up it would last a few minutes before crashing again. That was not long enough to print the diagnostic whole memory dump that had been written to tape. Eventually we resorted to printing directly from the crash state - which kept the service off for quite a long time.

    With the diagnostic dump secured the operators tried to bring the mainframe back into service - with another crash after a longer period. Meanwhile I looked at the dump and diagnosed a software bug caused by a terminal's input. There were terminal rooms all over the tall building but fortunately the dump identified the device's position.

    Trotted off to find a woman sitting at that terminal. She immediately complained that the service breaks were interfering with her work - writing a BASIC program. "Every time I enter this line the service goes down".

    She had decided to number the lines in a new subroutine starting at 1000000. The BASIC interpreter had never been validated against such high line numbers.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      It just begged me to try and see if you can have any line number larger than 9999 on a Speccy - and it is not possible.

      However, with some gePOKEry, you can have a line number 0....

      1. JaimieV

        Used for various things, as the BASIC editor rightly woudn't let a user select/edit line 0. Protecting copyright notices, avoiding anyone adding an earlier line with pokes in, having line 0 be a decryption routine or indeed the whole program... all clever stuff, admittedly in a "security through obscurity" manner.

  7. muddysteve

    Many years ago we polled sales data from stores overnight using Kermit over a modem - I said it was years ago. We had one store that would always fail, and then work on the retry, some hours later. Eventually we put someone in to watch what was happening, and, at the time we should have been polling, the cleaner was in, and unplugged the modem to plug the vacuum cleaner in. When finished, the modem was plugged back in, hence it worked on the retry.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "[...] the cleaner was in, and unplugged the modem to plug the vacuum cleaner in. "

      The Deuce computer had mercury delay lines as part of its operation. These looked liked large mushrooms dotted round the room. They had heater jackets to maintain the mercury at a stable temperature. Each heater's cable was visible and plugged into an adjacent 13A power socket embedded in the false floor surface.

      Instead of using their vacuum cleaners on an extension cable - the cleaners found these heater sockets were more convenient. All they had to do was unplug the heater plug and remember to replace it when they had finished.

      1. Admiral Grace Hopper

        "[...] the cleaner was in, and unplugged the modem to plug the vacuum cleaner in. "

        In our DC in the 80s it was the HSXC controller that got unplugged every night.

        The tale of the cleaner looking for a plug always sounds like an urban myth until it happens to you.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "The tale of the cleaner looking for a plug always sounds like an urban myth until it happens to you."

          Eventually computer rooms were equipped with special 13A plugs and sockets by the simple expedient of slightly rotating the earth pin by a few degrees. That allowed for several variants. Wall sockets on the "dirty earth" were left as standard ones.

          That then caused delays when we had to set up a test rig on the "clean earth" - and no one knew what plug to get from where.

          1. Wensleydale Cheese

            "That then caused delays when we had to set up a test rig on the "clean earth" - and no one knew what plug to get from where."

            That reminds me of the company which used a UK contractor for the computer room and immediately surrounding offices, a German contractor for another building, and a French contractor for the Honeywell Bull setup.

            Each contractor used the mains plugs standard in their home country.

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          "The tale of the cleaner looking for a plug always sounds like an urban myth until it happens to you."

          Place I worked in the '90s had red sockets and white sockets. Any damaged caused by unplugging a red socket would be invoiced to the person that unplugged the thing, and if nobody owned up the CCTV tapes would be used and it would get legal.

          When people realised that "damage" included losses from system downtime calculated from the previous week's activity, and said losses would read like a list of phone numbers, the red sockets were left very well alone.

          1. albegadeep

            Re: tale of the cleaner

            Had a contractor replace the windows in my house a few years ago. Wife was home but I wasn't. When done in the study (where the desktop and server are), he plugged his big, high-power shop vac into the only available outlet he spotted - and when the vac wouldn't start and the "power strip" started beeping, told my wife it was faulty. Of course, it wasn't a power strip - it was a UPS designed to handle one computer... Sure enough, power dropped enough to reboot the server.

        3. royprime

          I always love cleaners. I remember going in to an office where everyone was complaining that the displays suddenly were streaky and horrible to look at.

          After visiting and having a look it turned out that the cleaner decided to go above and beyond and clean everyone's screen, with abrasive cleaner damaging the screen surface. They didn't look too bad turned off, however as soon as you turned them on they resembled a Pollock painting.

    2. J. R. Hartley

      That old chestnut.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Ah.... cleaners (and building services) the bane of IT everywhere. Our BS department actually told the cleaners to unplug anything when they needed power for the vacuums. We eventually had to change the lock on the computer room and adjacent areas (the IT group) to keep the cleaners out. And no, BS didn't get the keypad lock combination. We had to empty our own trash and someone got delegated to vacuum the rugs once a week, but it stopped the pain.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EMP crashes

    I have experienced a number of these and have only been able to isolate them by being physically present.

    1) Sales dept printer started printing random stuff in the middle of a run. Caused by faulty socket nearby when another device was used.

    2) Warehouse office PC's crashing "randomly" with associated loss of work. Turns out caused by industrial sized shrink wrap machine for wrapping pallets of parts behind office wall. (that was more than a "hum" so straightforward to locate...)

    Neither of these were on the same ring main though, just close by proximity.

    Now I just get whirrs and clicks on my speakers when my phone is doing something but I don't see so many real crashes nowadays. Maybe things are better built ...

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: industrial sized shrink wrap machine

      Used one in my warehouse days. Great for building up a massive static charge and then zapping your mates.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EMP crashes

      I get a call from one of our satelite offices complaining that "everything's gone black & won't turn on". I do the standard troubleshooting steps but nothing fixes the issue. Then there's a noise in the background that I can hear through the phone & ask "Was that thunder?"

      The caller says "Yeah. There's a massive storm going on. We even had a lightning strike a car in the carpark".

      O.O? O.O! Stop trying to turn electronics on in a T&L storm you twit! Unplug everything from the mains so it doesn't die when the power comes back on!

      "Is that what those ghastly yellowish light panels glowing in the ceiling mean, that we've lost power?"

      ARGH! You fekkin muppet. Please step outside & hold up a cast iron rod, hug a flag pole, or climb a power tower...


      On the plus side I wasn't required to go out to the site to further troubleshoot the issue. Unfortunately I had to go out once the storm was over & fix all the stuff that had fried. UPS? What's one of those Guvna?


  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      "the rules are mirrored by the BSI!"

      Well now. Messrs Gove and Johnson are wanting to see divergence from EU rules. That ought to be an easy place to start.

      1. VinceH

        Nah, eroding workers rights should be easier, so they're going to do that first. Then they can loosen up rules on electrical stuff, because as well as stopping it interfering with other things, they can also take away any safety regulations at the same time.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "Nah, eroding workers rights should be easier, so they're going to do that first."

          Or all those tight banking regulations.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Or all those tight banking regulations."

            and hormone enriched Trump steaks.

          2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Not forgetting all the environmental ones as well.

      2. Wensleydale Cheese

        "Well now. Messrs Gove and Johnson are wanting to see divergence from EU rules. That ought to be an easy place to start."

        Can we please reward them by getting them to switch on the new, dodgy standards, Christmas Lights...

  10. juice

    Laptop function keys are fun...

    Pretty much all models have special actions assigned to the function keys - volume controls, external screen controls, etc. Usually you have to press a key (e.g. "Fn") to activate these special actions.

    However, on one particular model, these "alterative" actions were enabled by default *and* one function key controlled the wireless functionality.

    I'm sure you can guess the rest. "My laptop isn't working - it's the end of the world!". And then I reached over and tapped the function key...

  11. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    a bit off topic , not electrical fault based , but while we're having a go at users ....

    I find that if a user requests something , hardware , software , or merely how to do something , you will usually find that they are trying to do something idiotic and pointless that could be far more easily achieved using resources and techniques they already have such as email . or renaming a file.

    For example if a user requests a printer , make sure its not purely to feed the scanner they ordered last week.

    I once met a "technology" (oh the irony) lecturer who thought printing 100 pages of A4 text (with drawings) was a good document storage technique and if it needed altering in the future it could be scanned in again.

    Right now im listening to a colleague explaining why a pdf cant easily be converted to a word document - you gotta wonder whats wrong with the work flow there.

    Surely theres a career to be made explaining to users what can and cant be done and the easiest way of getting from a to b ? or would that be "serial meddler" , or "Business analyst" or architect?

    one more from the old days: "I want to purchase 15 modems so my team can all get on the internet"

    The trick is to recognise these whacko plans early on before you've wasted a lot of time and money setting something up and assuming they had a legitimate use for it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      SAS "Programmers" who export a data set into a csv, import it back and then wonder why errors creep in? Not to mention the steaming turd that is Enterprise Guide.

      Anon because this particularly bit of bitchiness about other SAS users might get me identified.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "if a user requests something , hardware , software , or merely how to do something"

      The first response is almost always "What are you actually trying to do?".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Anon because...

      My bro just told me he has an expensive work pc sitting under his desk. Just sitting there. Because the boss okayed the expense of buying it... but not the software required to actually use it.

    4. Andy A

      I've noticed recently that Google are doing OCR on the content of PDF files - not just the ones which contain proper text, but the content which started out in picture form.

      It was quite disconcerting when I first encountered a file where Find didn't locate the text that Google had indexed.

  12. RockBurner

    I used to be called anal at my last place because I was forever attempting to clean up the cables from just lying on the floor under my colleagues desks - yes we did have the occasional issue with monitors or iMacs just 'not working' for no reason - until you pushed the cord back in properly.

    Saved the best for myself though: located onto a new set of desks, my feet were exactly inline with the double socket powering my own PC/monitor combo.... yes I did manage to tap the switches with my toe.

  13. PB90210

    Many moons ago we had a customer, a wine dealer by trade, with a leased-line modem link to his head office.Periodically he would report an intermittent fault that had cleared by the time one of our guys turned up. Just about everything got changed out, but the intermittent problem kept occurring. Then one day he phoned up and said he thought he had the answer. He was next to a coffee shop and the problem seemed to occur just when they were opening. We turn up at the crack of dawn with a test set and some very expensive main monitoring kit from our research people, set the kit up to run round a loopback on the remote modem and sat back sipping a very agreeable sherry at 8:30am. Nothing!! The odd error and minor flicker on the mains, but nothing worthy of crashing the modem link... that was until he got out of his chair and walked around the desk... the error counter went haywire!! Yes folks, the cable between the modem and his terminal ran under the carpet and as he walked over to get the same ledger at the same time every day he was treading on the cable. (pint'o'beer icon 'cos yer out of sherry... the vicar must have been round again!)

  14. trevorde Silver badge

    Clean keyboards

    Worked in a place the early 90s where the managing director's PA got a bee in her bonnet about 'unhygenic keyboards spreading disease'. This resulted in a cleaning company coming in every few months to clean the keyboards and mice. Only problem was the cleaners were more used to mopping floors. Their usual method was to dunk said mouse and keyboard into a bucket of warm, soapy water and scrub vigorously! Needless to say, we had a few problems after every visit (but sparkling clean hardware).

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: Clean keyboards

      Must've arrived on the B Ark.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You want fun try having a batch of bad power cables. Oh those are so fun. Asking the end user is it plugged in. I'm not a fucking idiot. The question was why couldn't we use the cables that cable with the computers. Answer because they have not been certified. I think this changed when a high end server blew up because the hot and neutral were swapped.

    AC while I don't work there any more they are a client of my new company

  16. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Call came in from remote site. Server dieded. Walked the tech through all tribbleshooting steps with no success.

    Server was shippes to us for testing and repair. With it came a new motherboard and new hotswap PSU's.

    Motherboard was the wrong model. Hotswap PSU's ditto.

    Oh, and it was mentioned they have zippo on backups, and I should be verra, verra careful with the RAID....

    Then I noticed my appy had the same model of the server we're trying to troubleshoot. Whipped out his working PSU, plonked it into the dead server.... nothing. Then it was eaay to deduct the cause of the dead server - PSU redundancy board failed.

    Transferred all the hardware (RAID cage, mobo etc over to the appy's server chassis, fired it up and up she came. Lovely.

    Did a few initial tests and all was OK, no database corruption or nasty RAID borkage. Just for kicks we queried the date of the last transaction, and found the server dieded two days before it was reported.

    Appy was not happy with a stripped server, but he took it well. Bless him.

    Client was super chuffed that we could resolve this issue on short notice.

    In the meantime I have ordered a replacement redundancy board, still waiting. Meh.

  17. bl0ke

    Server (Not) Hacked!

    I once had a client whose machine was typing stuff and moving the mouse about. He immediately jumped to the conclusion that the (external) web/mail server had been hacked. No I don’t know either.

    After failing to make sense of “it’s just doing things on its own” and asking him to unplug the network cable to rule out a remote access attempt, I asked him if he was using a wireless keyboard.

    Turns out someone on the floor below was using the same make/model/frequency and operating both machines. At least it didn’t need a trip out.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Server (Not) Hacked!

      I wouldnt have seen that coming!

      I can barely make wireless mouse work over 4 feet .

    2. RockBurner

      Re: Server (Not) Hacked!

      Get that often with wireless mice, most recently with my Logitech M570 trackball, and my wife's identical product on two desks next to each other.

      I was not happy tbh, you'd think Logitech would have sorted that sort of issue out by now.

  18. Stevie


    Me and Rudy were a superteam. I did the server config and ticket resolution, he did the site survey and equipment installation. His job involved heavy lifting and swearing at people. Mine involved looking at screens and using my scary spidey senses to figure out WTF was going on.


    Ticket: "Server unresponsive between 8pm and 9:30pm"

    Me: "Rudy, nip over to 10 Drowning St and fit a screw-secured power outlet/cord so the office cleaners quit unplugging the server to run their vacuum".

    Ticket: "Server unresponsive between 11 am and 11:15 am."

    Me: "Rudy, nip over to 666 Lucifer Avenue and fit a screw-secured power-outlet/cord so the office workers quit unplugging the server so they can plug-in their coffee maker."

    Ticket: "Server unresponsive between 8:30 pm and 7:30 am"

    Me: "Rudy, nip over to 69 Rue de Remarques and move the server power cord to a power outlet on a different circuit to the office lights."

    Ticket: "All servers at 99 Wall St unresponsive"

    Me: "WTF?"

    Rudy: "The building manager had some work done. They took a sawzall to a non-supporting wall. The wall had the main optic fiber trunks running up and across it. You're gonna need a bigger engineering team."

    Ticket: "All servers at 404 Nosuch St offline."

    Me: "Can't be a sawzall. They have concrete walls ferfuggsake."

    Rudy:" Electrician needed to drill hole in main power distribution box to add a circuit and saved some time by not throwing off the main breakers. His burning corpse set the building on fire. F*** this for a game of soldiers, I'm going to the Brewer's Elbow for lunch."

  19. CentralCoasty
    Pint from the production line came in - one of the Sparc's had gone up in smoke.

    Attending the location I was informed there had been a nasty puff of smoke just as it stopped.

    Opening it up - yup - there was a deep-friend motherboard with a strange brown/burnt stain in the centre of the motherboard. Now on these babies the power supply was actually locked into the top-half of the case and came off with the case when you opened them up - so the initial thoughts were that something nasty had leaked out of the power supply.....

    Anyway, replaced the whole machine and took the dead one back for diagnostics. Curiosity caused us to plug it in - and the power supply came online... no issues..... thats strange. Motherboard was dead. Buts what caused that stain/burn mark?

    Later that day walking through the production line I see the same guy drinking a can of coke. Seeing me, he puts it down on a nice flat surface... yup... the lid of the Sparc (which has vents in the top).... uhmm.... a bit of questioning and he admitted that he had spilt a can earlier - but he mopped up the top of the computer so was sure it wasnt that that caused the problem.......

  20. Raphael

    coils and spiking

    "It turned out that this forklift had some sort of fault that caused its ignition coil to radiate excessive RF noise. The problem was corrected on the forklift and the crashes stopped."

    My old Mini had a slight short or something in it's distributor cap (can't remember the exact fault, over 20 years ago). And my girlfriend's family would know exactly when I was coming to visit as it would cause some static on their TV from about half a km out.

  21. leprejohn

    I remember once when I was working for a local council I had a similar issue, customers computer, their screen etc was off, came up with a few new power cables and that didn't fix the issue. Spoke with the user at their desk and asked if they had something I could plug in to see if the power bank sockets had failed, there was this heater she had under the desk and she switched it on and everything else came back to life.

    That one made me laugh

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