back to article Boss helped sysadmin take down horrible client with swift kick to the nether regions

Welcome once more to On-Call, in which Register readers share their stories of silly tech support incidents. This week meet “Jay” who told us that “Long ago, in a career far away, I worked in Field Service for Wang Laboratories in the Philadelphia, PA, area.” Among the products that Jay tended was the model 702 plotter. Jay …

  1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

    Good luck in your new adventures... It's been fun reading some of these over the last year.

    1. Andrew Moore

      Yeah, thanks for all the effort Simon.

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Yep, one of my favourite columns in this Esteemed Organ

      Have a pint of some Australian beery goodness -->

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      Booo! Booooooo!

      You can't leave Simon! Where's the BOFH when you need him??

      Best of luck with whatever comes next!

      1. Nick Kew

        Re: Booo! Booooooo!

        The acid test will be whether Simon cares enough to stay on as a commentard. I hope he will: to disappear completely would seem a bit dismissive both to his successor and his community.

        Raise a glass to Simon as I see his future self: a scurrilous backseat driver as Rebecca takes the column on to new excitements.

        1. earl grey

          Re: Booo! Booooooo!

          Rebecca takes the column on to new excitements...

          Oh, i thought you said excrements... never mind.

          1. Nick Kew

            Re: Booo! Booooooo!

            Oh, i thought you said excrements... never mind.

            *Shrug*. Whatever turns you on.

            Though now you mention it, I expect the Reg's other Simon could do excrement. Talking of which, have I missed a BOFH or has it just been a long time?

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I wonder if Simon will be remembered, many, many years from now, in the way today we celebrate the life of Steve Ditko, on his death last month, aged 90, the creator of Spiderman and Dr Strange. Funny how people we never get to meet and often don't even know the names of, can have such an affect on our lives.

    5. big_D Silver badge

      Yes, good luck.

      As someone who has had an On Call story published by you, I can say it was fun and a privilege.

      I wish you all the best in the future.

  2. sandman

    Thanks Simon, it's been fun - hope the new job is great :-)

  3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    Thanks Simon! Very best of luck in your new endeavours.

  4. Olivier2553

    Thank you Simon and good luck with your new life, you will sure be regretted.

    And welcome to Rebecca too.

    1. Adam 1

      > you will sure be regretted

      That has got to be one of the best backhanded compliments that I've ever heard. I will be sure to use it on one of those oversized farewell cards that periodically frequents my desk.

  5. Joe Werner Silver badge

    Good luck!

    I took a new job recently - so I know the feeling. I hope you have some rounds of ---> before you leave. Great column you started, thanks for (all the fish ;p )

    The story goes that a guy with a car gets towed into a mechanic's. The shop owner looks at the car, takes a hammer, hits it. The car springs to life again, and the mechanic demands 100 quid for the fix. "But you only hit it with a hammer!" goes the customer, "please write me a proper bill for what you did!". The bill read: "hit car with hammer: 5. Know where to hit: 95."

    (I guess most of you know that one...)

    1. DropBear

      Re: Good luck!

      Heard that one in various forms, it's one of my major pet peeves. I for one much prefer that other anecdote where the hungry traveller being asked to pay for the smell of the food from an inn pays the innkeeper fittingly with the sound of his coins.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good luck!

      > The bill read: "hit car with hammer: 5. Know where to hit: 95."

      Some years back, the viscous coupled fan on my Landie froze, so I decided to replace it with an electric one. Removing the old fan seemed really hard. Some people spoke of having to buy a special tool, others that it could be done but only if you were a contortionist. I took it down to my local old-style garage, and asked f he could help. He said "Pull it in closer," and while i was doing that got an air line and a percussion attachment. He opened the bonnet, had a good look, aimed the tool carefully, and there was a short "PRRFT, and then he simply hand-spun the fan off the now-loosened bolt. As he closed the bonnet, I said to him "That took 10 seconds and 25 years." He smiled, understanding me perfectly.

      He wouldn't charge me either.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good luck!

        Thanks for all the good columns.

        > "got an air line and a percussion attachment. He opened the bonnet, had a good look, aimed the tool carefully, and there was a short "PRRFT, and then he simply hand-spun the fan off the now-loosened bolt."

        If any of you have a suitably size air compressor and air tank. I can say an impact wrench is wonderful to have. I don't know if the electric ones work as good, but they don't make the cool air tool sound.

        I was replacing an alternator in a car. I thought I lucked out as the new one came with a pulley already attached. But alas, it had a slightly smaller diameter and I couldn't get the belt tight enough. I couldn't loosen the nut on the old alternator as the pulley just spun even clamped between two boards. Finally went and bought an air impact wrench for my compressor. The nut came loose in a jiffy with me holding the pulley in my gloved hand.

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Good luck!

          I've got an electric impact driver (the impact wrench's baby brother), and.... it's just not the same, especially if the nut is rusted on. If it is, it's gonna take either the air driven wrench, or a large breaker bar with a length of pipe to increase the amount of leverage, AND possibly a couple well-aimed blows from a large dead-blow hammer. And at that point, you are getting very close to breaking the bolt, which makes the problem worse. :)

          1. Montreal Sean

            Re: Good luck!

            @J. Cook

            I've got two electric impact wrenches. They work really well, about as well as their air brethren.

            The downside is that they are bulkier, both bigger and heavier than an air driven one.

            I have one that is corded and does 250 foot pounds of torque which I use to remove nuts and bolts from cars, and a 20V cordless that is rated at 116 foot pounds of torque that I use to put nuts and bolts back on.

            I've used them for exhaust systems, suspension work, brake work over several years and they haven't let me down yet.

            For the super rusted nyts and bolts that I worried would snap, I would start with a propane torch and get them nice and hot.

            I do miss the compressor and air impact noises though.

    3. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Good luck!

      That story (slightly different) was actually in one of my school books, around 1970 or so, to instil the importance of education in us kids.

    4. John II

      Re: Good luck!

      In the 1960s, in the days before fuel injection, my Dad did exactly that sort of thing (tapped on the carburetor) on a Sunday to a car that had stopped running near his apartment. He did not charge for it, but told the driver to have it properly repaired before it happened again. There was a small crowd, and I was proud of the Old Man.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Magical policing

    I once heard, and I can't promise it isn't apocryphal, of a police sergeant who used to deal with cases of paranoid old ladies - the ones who went into the station telling them, for instance, that there was a black man with a knife lurking outside their house - by going round to their house, drawing occult symbols with chalk on the doorstep, and telling them their house was now magically protected. It apparently had a high success rate both in lack of police time wasting and knifing of little old ladies.

    Oh, and best wishes Simon.

    1. Olivier2553

      Re: Magical policing

      That's called exorcism. Churches have sold the same oil for centuries...

      1. Killfalcon Silver badge

        Re: Magical policing

        I've heard tell, more than once, of social services thinking "okay, this poor sod's got some bad paranoia and some clear religious leanings: maybe the local priest would be willing to do a blessing or something to calm them down?".

        The local priest might do, or they might give the diocesan exorcist a call. CoE exorcists are generally trained in mental health issues, because, well, Anglicans are generally inclined towards being Sensible about things.

        And so, a meeting is arranged. the priest talks to the poor soul that social services are worried about, and with appropriate due diligence decides that maybe they should go with the ritual route. Social Services attend because they need to be sure nothing untoward is happening, and honestly who would turn down a chance to see an actual exorcism? They don't exactly happen three times a day at the Odeon.

        The usual result is a calmer client, the priests comfortably convinced there was nothing demonic going on and happy to have helped, and at least one social worker now 100% certain ghosts are real and they just saw one banished.

        1. Wensleydale Cheese

          Re: Magical policing

          "The usual result is a calmer client, the priests comfortably convinced there was nothing demonic going on and happy to have helped, and at least one social worker now 100% certain ghosts are real and they just saw one banished."

          I once had the misfortune to live next to a pair of social workers, who appeared to live on a different planet.

          It wasn't just me; all my normal neighbours were of the same opinion.

          1. Stratman

            Re: Magical policing

            Another apocryphal social worker story.

            A little old lady was mugged after collecting her pension. As she lay on the ground, battered and beaten, a social worker happened by. He looked at the old lady, shook his head and said "Whoever did this needs help".

      2. Jemma

        Re: Magical policing

        Fully synthetic I hope? Just like the rest of the garbage they peddle.

        Interesting recipe for the old ladies - 50% voudoun & 50% racism - and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turned out to be completely true.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Magical policing

          "Interesting recipe for the old ladies - 50% voudoun & 50% racism"

          When it comes to old ladies and black men with big knives, Sigmund Freud is your go-to.

          1. Cpt Blue Bear

            Re: Magical policing

            "When it comes to old ladies and black men with big knives, Sigmund Freud is your go-to."

            Ah, the good Dr Freud. Someone once summed up his career as having started out in animal husbandry until someone caught him at it, at which point he switched to diseases of the rich. The first part sounds more like Jung but I can't fault the second.

            1. Richard Pennington 1

              Re: Magical policing

              That quote was from Tom Lehrer (actually in a Spiel about Dr. Samuel Gall, inventor of the gall-bladder).

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Magical policing...That's called exorcism.

        No, it isn't. As the derivation suggests, exorcism is the removal of evil spirits, not magical protection against imaginary dangers. Also note that the first is approved of by the Catholic church and some Anglicans while the latter is disapproved of by both.

        1. Chris 244

          Re: Catholic and Anglican Churches

          I would argue the fundamental premise of both is provision of "magical protection against imaginary dangers".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Catholic and Anglican Churches - @Chris 244

            Argue it as much as you like, I merely reported on the positions of the Catholic churches. The fact that it is all woo is neither here nor there; and if you tried to argue it in public against a Jesuit I fear you'd come a very poor second.

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: Catholic and Anglican Churches - @Chris 244

              if you tried to argue it in public against a Jesuit I fear you'd come a very poor second.

              Jesuits are one's you'll never win against. Doesn't matter the topic and they don't need in depth knowledge. On the up side, many do know the best local brews.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Catholic and Anglican Churches - @Chris 244

                To paraphrase Dr Johnson, a man is never more innocently employed than in trying to convert a Jehovah's Witness. An excellent way to spend a wet winter's afternoon. But the game is rather like cricket: one does not play to win, but merely to draw.

      4. Dr. Ellen

        Re: Magical policing

        So all the Little Old Lady needed was a bit of exorcise?

  7. wolfetone Silver badge

    Admit it

    You're leaving because you've ran out of ways to say "It's Friday welcome to On Call".

    Good luck in the future, thanks for the section and the fish.

    And welcome Rebecca!

    1. ssharwood

      Re: Admit it

      Damn. You saw straight thru me

  8. muddysteve

    So long, and thanks for all the columns

    Good luck with your new job, Simon.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All the best, enjoyed reading your articles.

  10. Dave K

    Many thanks for adding further smiles to Fridays, and enjoy your future position. On-Call, BOFH etc. are a great way to wind down to the weekend, glad to see it's continuing under Rebecca's watchful eye!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So long, Simon

    ...and thanks for all the fsssssssshhh of halon releases and power supply failures in these and other articles.

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: So long, Simon

      Are we sure he's not the BOFH?

  12. Khaptain Silver badge

    A must read on Fridays

    I always read this column due to it's lighthearted, yet terribly real, content. It's always refreshing to know that the Mad Bosses and Psychos that we encouter on a daily basis are not just within our own offices...

    Thanks for all the good work and best of luck for the new adventure...

  13. SeanEllis
    Thumb Up

    Good luck with the new job, Simon. And good luck with the new job, Rebecca!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Not IT, but many years ago, back when I was in school, I had a part time job in a coffee bar. One day the customers started complaining that the jukebox had stopped working. I walked up to it and held my hand, palm vertical, above the front panel. I moved my hand slowly to the left and then to the right and when I got back to the centre did a light 'karate' chop on the panel. The machine suddenly burst into life and the customers gave a great cheer as I pretended to be nonchalant while I walked back behind the counter.

    I got the sack a while later, but that might have been to do with the other incident of balancing about 30 glasses stacked one inside the other.

    p.s. thanks for the articles Simon and good luck!

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: Jukebox

      Easy there, Fonzie.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: Jukebox

        Nah, he would have just snapped his fingers to resolve it...

        1. Montreal Sean

          Re: Jukebox

          I seem to recall Fonzie walked over, closed his fist and struck the song selection panel in downward motion...

          Little did people know, their super cool guy was actually a very early IT guy. :)

  15. Tim Seventh

    Good Luck!

    And come back anytime to the on-call comment page when you're free!

  16. Sam Therapy
    Thumb Up

    Good luck

    All the best in your future activities and many thanks for a great column.

  17. Andrew Moore

    Have you used deception to solve a customer problem?

    Who hasn't. Especially when having to deal with management and you have to be careful not to hurt their feelings no matter how fuckwittingly stupid the "issue" is.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Have you used deception to solve a customer problem?

      Ah! That's were I've been going wrong, I must remember to be nice to management fuckwitts :)

      Good Luck for the future Simon.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Have you used deception to solve a customer problem?

      The most intentionally deceptive I've been is when I knew the problem was actually at my end, but I needed a few minutes for a service to restart (or something similar), so I told the user to reboot their computer, knowing that by the time it came back up that the server side would be working again.

      I might also have falsely implied that it was the user's fault that things were broken in the first place...

      1. Giovani Tapini

        Re: Have you used deception to solve a customer problem?

        Do you work for a well known, two letter telecoms company by any chance?

        1. You Need To Raise A Ticket

          Re: Have you used deception to solve a customer problem?

          Whenever im on the phone with said telecomms company i no longer restart my router. I too pretend.

          1. John H Woods

            Re: Have you used deception to solve a customer problem?

            Subtly removing a lens cap on a projector that "wasn't working"...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Have you used deception to solve a customer problem?

      I remember a note in the maintenance log book tied to a notoriously unreliable communal printer in the Zoology department of a redbrick university which shall remain Anonymous. After each reported fault was the repair technician's explanation of how he fixed it. But this particular note said "No fault found. Try treating it gently. I have found warm orange juice helps."

  18. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Best of luck Simon.

    Thanks for both the laughs this column has provided. Best of luck in your new endeavours.

  19. Edwin

    Hang on!

    The very best Simon, but before you go, I believe you still owe some of us northern hemisphere MAMILS a Vulture Velo shirt!

  20. imanidiot Silver badge

    Best whishes Simon

    Enjoy the new job!

  21. cavac

    Best wished

    Good luck in your new job!

  22. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    So Long

    and thanks for all the fish tales.

    And the current tale?

    Here's one I was told by my boss (I'll call him Fred) from when he was a humble service engineer in the 1970s.

    He was forever going to the same place, because one of the operators kept messing about with machine settings. Eventually he caught the guy in action and sort of casually asked what he was doing. He was informed that the machine was 'unstable' and the guy was trying find the controls to correct it. Fred then wandered off and found the manager. Between them they cooked up a little ruse. Fred goes back to the machine and pokes about for a bit, then the manager turns up and asks Fred what model the machine is, and on being told swears and says they've been swindled and given the older model without a stability control. Operator is now looking pretty smug, and Fred is 'instructed' to fit one ASAP.

    Later a new control is fitted while the same operator is on-shift, and wiring threaded through the machine to an obscure point, where a note is left telling others to call the office before touching it. The 'control' was apparently a broken potentiometer that would go round and round, with a click where the end stop used to be.

    They never heard from that place again, but did occasionally get puzzled phone calls from other service engineers.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: So Long

      Sounds like the "wonderful" button some field service guys attached to system power controller many years ago. Customer had complained endlessly about the equipment even though nothing was ever found to be amiss. They installed the "wonderful" button, told him to make things "wonderful" again, rotate it clockwise and never ever counter-clockwise. After that, no more service calls until the power supply finally died.

  23. Giovani Tapini


    [write sysadmins and developers as wise, tolerant, patient and never, ever smug once they’re proved right.]

    You are correct only on the smug element, although it didn't need the qualifier. I believe you have confused the rest of the definitions with some other role...

  24. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    good luck simon

    Ye shall be missed (If only because the PFY missed the timing)

  25. Dabooka

    All the best old bean

    Hell of a legacy you leave behind here, I'm sure Rebecca will do a grand job and it'll continue to thrive.

  26. Morphology

    So long and thanks for all the Phish.

  27. HPCJohn

    Geat column

    Great column and some great stories. Brightened up my Fridays as beer o'clock approaches.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I missing something?

    Maybe I am being stupid and missing something obvious (hence AC) but how did this help?

    The user frequently forgot to flip the switch, and on this occasion the tech secretly flipped the switch while drawing attention to the kick instead.

    How would that help the user remember to flip the switch next time?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Am I missing something?

      Because the user kept proving himself incapable of figuring it out or being told, this lead to the assumption that the user was too much of a fool to release he was such. Thus needed a big show of effort to somehow be convinced that the problem was solved by some elaborate process than by throwing a simple switch.

      Think people pressing the start button in an electric car and upon hearing nothing go 'is that it?' The sort that think progress bars actually reflect the work undertaken... or that thinks using a CLI is the very essence of doing clever things (fire up a maven java build through a script and you too can impress most of your superiors).

      Annon because I quite like the job still.

      1. albegadeep

        Re: Am I missing something?

        "The sort that think progress bars actually reflect the work undertaken... or that thinks using a CLI is the very essence of doing clever things"

        I really do expect the progress bar to reflect what's going on in the background. It's kind of the point of having it in the first place - if it's wrong, why have it at all?

        Using a CLI requires a certain amount of knowledge and cleverness that most users don't seem to have. As a result, people who can use a CLI tend to be the more knowledgeable and technical ones. (Though thinking you're clever because you use a CLI is a bad sign.)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Am I missing something?

          "I really do expect the progress bar to reflect what's going on in the background. It's kind of the point of having it in the first place - if it's wrong, why have it at all?"

          Because it soothes the users into thinking something useful and important is happening when the reality is the bloody thing is just cleaning up some old files or waiting for a server connection or something equally as boring. And it's a lot less confusing for them than having console messages scrolling by.

          1. Paul Shirley

            Re: Am I missing something?

            Because it soothes the users into thinking something useful and important is happening

            Even if you know someone just guessed what % of the total time each phase of whatever you're showing progress for should take, completely ignoring wildly different phase times because computers aren't prescient. Yet a wildly jerky loading bar is still more reassuring than a smoothly spinning 'I'm working, don't bother me' spinner.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Am I missing something?

          "Using a CLI requires a certain amount of knowledge and cleverness that most users don't seem to have."

          Must be a dumbing down of users. Not so many years ago, a CLI is all they had and many users were happy with booting up a PC and loading WordStar/WordPerfect, SuperCalc or whatever, copying files around and all sorts of "clever" stuff.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Am I missing something?

            Er, longer ago than you think, Mr Brown.

      2. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        I believe the progress bar may be a hangover from mainframe/mini terminals (IBM?). Apparently customer behavioural research had shown that if nothing appeared to be happening within ~4 seconds after the punter had initiated an action, they would repeat the action (often several times) causing “all sorts of problems”. With a VDU it was easy to echo something back to the user - For teletypes the carriage was programmed to move, showing that something was happening...

      3. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        Progress bars: One app of mine had a spinning cursor that turned a bit beach time a bit of work was done, so it wasn’t turning smooth. Management insisted the turning had to be smooth, so it was run from a timer. It backfired. Customers were very annoyed about the “fake” cursor pretending to show progress.

    2. Chris King

      Re: Am I missing something?

      "How would that help the user remember to flip the switch next time?"

      Because the next time he calls out field circus, HE's the one that gets the kicking ?

  29. Alistair

    Good luck out there Simon.

    Hope you enjoy your new endeavour. I'll be honest, I'll kinda miss your work. It's always nice to have some perspective from the 'lower' commonwealth. ;}

  30. psychonaut


    wang labs....snnnerk!!

    1. Spacedinvader

      Re: johnson

      Also sniggered.

      All the best Simon!


      one for the road :)

  31. SonofRojBlake

    Reminds me of an old engineer's story

    From the papermaking industry - huge machines a quarter mile long, running at 70mph or more, hot, noisy, and very very expensive if they're not running all the time.

    The machine stops, and nobody from the company can work out what's wrong. The old fella who used to be their chief mechanical engineer has just retired, so they call and beg him to come in "as a consultant". They promise to pay him pretty much anything he can justify, as long as he comes in RIGHT NOW. So he comes in.

    Wanders up and down the machine for an hour, tapping this, twisting that. Eventually he takes a bit of chalk out of his pocket and draws an X on a part, saying "Replace that", and pops off home. The part is replaced, and lo, the machine runs like a Swiss watch.

    The old fella's invoice comes in... for fifty thousand quid. A letter goes back "We appreciate you saved us more than this fixing it so quickly, but can you justify this? i.e. can you itemise the invoice?"

    Letter comes back labelled "Itemised bill:

    1. Chalk Mark - one pound.

    2. Knowing where to put it - forty nine thousand....

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Reminds me of an old engineer's story

      Sadly this wouldn't happen these days. Engineering would have been outsourced along with the rest of the facilities. The Engineer onsite would be parachuted onto site for a bit and then moved off ensuring the "institutional knowledge" is never accumulated.

  32. Zippy's Sausage Factory
    Thumb Up

    Well, so long SImon and hello Rebecca. And good luck to both of you!

  33. iron Silver badge

    So long Simon, thanks for the insightful articles over the years.

    Hello and good luck to Rebecca.

  34. toffer99

    Did a good job. All the best.

  35. Paul Cooper

    Not exactly fooling a client, but in the same ball-park!

    I suppose every organization with a public face attracts its share of strange enquiries. I fielded some of them on behalf of our PR department. The best was someone who wanted to know when an iceberg had calved so he could verify a telepathic message from a penguin... (No, it wasn't Linus!)

    My technique was to explain calmly and logically why we couldn't provide the information (length of Antarctic coastline, scale differences between penguins and humans, icebergs calving at all scales from things the size of small countries down to stuff you could use in a drink).

  36. 2Nick3

    "Is there anything else I can do?"

    I always loved when a user would ask me "Is there anything else I can do to fix this?" during repeated reboots of OS/2 (ie - lots of dead time). If they were a fun user I'd tell them they could always click their heels together and chant "There's nothing like a working Thinkpad."

    The best was the gal who did that, then when the desktop came back up (corrupted INI files...) shouted "It worked, it worked!!"

  37. Jimathy

    I hear the Aussies liken visitors to meat left out of the fridge. They start to stink after a few days!

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Methinks they stole that from Benjamin Franklin.

      There's more links on this but that's the first one that popped up. Lazy Friday and nearly beer o'clock.

  38. earl grey

    Thank you

    Here's to you and your successor. May you both continue to have fun with your careers and with writing (from an old timer)... now get off my lawn!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Percussive maintenance

    We have a piece of specialized production equipment that used to on occasion refuse to start up without a bit of percussive maintenance (a.k.a. "Fonzie treatment"... ask your parents, kids). We discovered the fix accidentally. The first time the unit refused to start, we anticipated a breaker had tripped. To verify, we needed to open the access panel, which required the use of a coffin key style tool. Said tool was attached to the machine via a loop of 30AWG wire. While untying the key, I fumbled the key which (still attached to the wire) impacted the side of the machine, causing the lights to blink on.

    We spent months trying to find the root cause. The failure was very intermittent: the machine would work for days or weeks with no problem, then would fail randomly. We tried replacing relays, tightening screw terminals, etc. No luck. In all cases, once the machine was "Fonzied" it would work all day long.

    Eventually we discovered something: our plant wiring had essentially all our solder stations, heat guns, work table lighting, and this piece of equipment on one 20A circuit. If the right combination of equipment was on, the 120VAC was closer to 90 VAC at the outlets. The equipment in question had a step down transformer that generated 24VAC for the control circuits. Said control circuits included a start button that would pull in a 24VAC relay that allowed 120VAC to the motors and other main functions of the machine. That relay would hold just fine at about 18VAC (what you get if the input is about 90VAC), but wouldn't pull in (unless a physical jolt got the armature moving).

    Bummer, because I had just started to perfect my "Ehhhhhh" to the point that I was going to shop for a leather jacket.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Percussive maintenance

      Though I appreciate the story I would just mention that faced with mysteriously nonfunctional equipment, my first step has always been to pull out a multimeter and check all the power rails.

      This was after a piece of equipment was redesigned, and the DC/DC converters were moved from a corner of the instrument to the backplane, the logic being that they were then cooled by the large fans that blew air across the circuit boards from front to back.

      The PSUs ran cold but the cpu kept rebooting itself.

      The simple reason was that the backplane traces were inadequate and the voltage at the cpu was about 4 volts. Every time the offboard bus switched (this is TTL), the surge risked dropping the volts till the oscillator dropped out.

      The result was an ugly mess behind the backplane of big thick wires running from one end to the other of each power trace, soldered at every circuit board plug.

  40. Colonel Mad


    Be dull without you, all the best, hope the new person measures up.

  41. Gene Cash Silver badge

    URL is wrong?

    It points to a Wang 720 desk calculator instead of a 702 plotter?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: URL is wrong?

      "It points to a Wang 720 desk calculator instead of a 702 plotter?"

      That's completely irrelevant. The whole point of the story was for Simon to get his Wang on screen for his final swansong!

  42. eionmac

    Thanks for all your work. It enlivens my reading and stops ''productive'' work at my hobby of using computers.

    Ghosts can be real and seen in daylight by groups of non-drunken soldiers, where only one person thinks it is somewhat a 'wrong (injured) horse', we report said horse only to find police say ' Oh the ghost horse' and record the sighting as they had done for many decades. Trust your ghost will occasionally give us a contribution.

    Welcome Rebecca. Keep up the good work.

  43. This post has been deleted by its author

  44. Celeste Reinard

    Simon has left the building...

    ... having fondled his boss's equipment for such a wonderful time ... and after a kick in the X, and the window closed... the lights dim... There is an expectant thrush in the audience... as we wait for the entry of Miss Rebecca... And here she comes now! The audience bursts into spontaneous applause! (Bravo miss Rebecca, bravo, bravo!) She's seated now... and almost ready to begin.

    (Lead me in with a count of 17, miss Reinard, then wave your baton...)

  45. Stevie


    [Ragged old man with cataracts leaps out from behind some scenic feature and confronts the incoming columnist]


    Before ye edit the column of fate

    Ye must answer me these questions twenty eight ...

  46. Agamemnon

    Cheers To You, Sir.

    Best wishes and best of luck in the new execution of your craft.

    Thank You, and Be Well.

  47. Paul Shirley

    not seeing the switch for the forest

    I have a friend who gets paid large amounts to drive out to failed trains and get them moving before Network Rail fines get too bad. The number of times that ends with quickly looking at the drivers cabin then flipping one switch is frightening.

  48. Jason Hindle

    Good luck

    The weekly On Call has been a reliable laugh, so best of luck with what comes next.

  49. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    And from a cold and sunny South Africa I would like to wish Simon all of the best with his new Job, and at the same time welcome Rebecca.

    Let us now do a Shanbar Ritual toast.


    Excerpted from a treatise by Boos Myller, the traditional Shanbar Ritual Toast consists of four steps:

    1 - Here's to us!

    2 - Who's like us?

    3 - Damn few

    4 - And they're all dead.

    Before each sentence of the Shanbar Toast, the host offers the guest a glass of some drink (e.g. rye, wine, etc., but not Illumynade). The guest then suggests a toast. The host recites the next sentence in the toast and raises his glass. The guest drinks first while the host waits. Finally, the host drinks his glass, and begins the next step by offering another drink. The first two or three steps of this intricate drinking ritual with our highly potent local rye is enough to make you drunk. Getting past the third step is the key. Remember, don't drink and drive!

    1. Glenturret Single Malt


  50. shedied

    Thanks for On Call (which trained me to post from my cracked mobe and become a full-fledged commentard); best of luck!

    And welcome Rebecca!

  51. Shred

    A former colleague had a user complaining that he didn’t have permission to defragment the drive in his locked-down Windows XP laptop. It didn’t need defragmenting, but the user was convinced it had to be done regularly and kept logging Hell Desk tickets requesting a defrag.

    Some would have simply granted him the rights to do it, but no...where is the fun in that! An application was written that displayed a progress bar showing “Defragmentation Progress”, while performing random seeks on the hard drive. Never had another complaint from the user!

  52. Shred

    Have also caught a dodgy air conditioner mechanic trying to “fix” a problem by applying the placebo effect.

    Our office was hot and stuffy all the time. Middle of Winter, -3deg outside - hot and stuffy. Hot Summer day - it’s hot and stuffy. Many complaints were made to the building management, multiple visits by air conditioner mechanics, who hung anemometers from air vents and pronounced the system to be working correctly. It was still hot and stuffy.

    One day, with much fanfare, an adjustable thermostat was installed in a prominent location, to fix the problem once and for all. We were warned that it would only adjust the temperature +/- 3 degrees and that any change would take some time to be felt.

    It was still hit and stuffy. We turned the control as far down as it would go... a day later, still hot and stuffy. Turned it all the way up. Didn’t get any hotter.

    Our boss said: “this *$&*ing thing isn’t connected”. He grabbed the cable to the thermostat and started gently pulling on it. There no resistance and soon he had 10 metres of cable piled at his feet. The end was cut off cleanly, proving that it was a dummy control that had never been wired up.

    The actual problem, diagnosed and rectified by our junior tech, was that every air outlet had a butterfly valve in the back of it and every one was turned off. I’ve never trusted air conditioner mechanics since!

  53. Bob_O

    Best wishes!

    I have enjoyed all of the On-Calls I have read. Hope your new endeavor works for you. I also wish Rebecca the best and look forward to her first On-Call.

  54. Paddy

    So long

    And thanks for all the fish

  55. Scott 26

    Best of luck, Simon.

    You probably don't remember, but one vBeers prior to a Sydney vForum many years ago we met.

  56. Florida1920

    Owe you one

    Best of luck, Simon. You'll be missed.

  57. Clunking Fist

    So Long and Thanks for the Random Access Memories

    Raising that ==>

  58. Shugyosha

    Ah, that explains it

    I did wonder why there has been zero Register coverage of probably the biggest Australian IT story of 2018 - I.E. Optus's disastrous failure to deliver World Cup streaming. But all is now explained as Simon was clearly preoccupied with other things.

    Good luck with the new role, it's been great having your local coverage as well as these weekly On Call columns.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Boss's chalk cross

    During a summer job as a student back in the mid-1970s the Chief Engineer explained to me the difference among the Layman, the Technician and the Engineer. When his TV goes wrong (all valves in those days, remember), the Layman knew it could probably be fixed by giving it a hefty clout. The Technician knew exactly where to administer that clout. But only the Engineer knew how hard a clout was required.

    This rule has resolved many a problem ever since.

  60. Slabfondler

    A good bang never hurt anything!

    We had a early HDD in a PC at the college I attended (and eventually worked for), on cold mornings, it would not start up, until the case right over the drive was given a good hard thump to loosen it up.

    Sorry to see you go Simon, I do love reading this column - best to you in the future!

  61. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Clickbait headline?

    Thanks and bye and all that, but - this headline led us to expect something that wasn't delivered and was long wanted, namely, a kick to the user instead of ISIHAC used to call the "reproduction equipment" - and a lasting solution to the "Problem Exists between Chair and Keyboard" error when the user can't sit down for a while. Of course they would have to be very bad to deserve that.

    Something else occurred to me on Friday which may have been the reason I wasn't allowed to post the comment then, so I'll try it later to see.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Clickbait headline?

      Now I've forgotten what I was going to say. It may have concerned sexual harassment of IT workers and some improbability, although that wasn't what this story was about, either. Well, if not that, then whatever I meant may come back. By the way, I meant "what ISIHAC used to call", specifically, the late Humphrey Lyttelton's output device - not the trumpet but a record player. Or in this story, the output plotter.

  62. Graham 2

    All the best

    Enjoy the new job, we'll miss you... at least until next Friday!

  63. Reeder

    Farewell....but sorry to see you go

    I've always enjoyed your On Call column - definitely going to miss your quirky way of putting things. Hope your new endeavors go well and please let us know the links (if permitted) so we are able to follow...stalk??? as you write your new columns.

  64. Anomalous Cowturd

    So long...

    ...and thanks for all the fish.

  65. aelfheld

    Sorry to see you leave

    Congratulations & felicitations on the new situation.

  66. G Olson

    Get rid of that old thing

    You are leaving your replacement with "dodgy segues"? It's spelled Segway. And yes it is a dodgy piece of equipment -- especially for the other pedestrians. Save the shipping from down under to up over; buy Beki a new piece of dodgy equipment to commute to work.

  67. Clarecats


    Thanks and good luck!

  68. Clarecats


    Welcome Rebecca!

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