back to article A flash of inspiration sees techie get dirty to fix hospital's woes

The end of the week is upon us, which of course means another instalment of On Call, El Reg’s column where our dear readers share their tech support crises. And this time, we hear from “Barry”, who ignored some sage career advice not to follow his teenage heart into electronics “because it was a hobby”. Instead, he started …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Upsetting non-techies can be hard

    My old Fluid Dynamics lecturer used to tell the story of his time testing aircraft models at the Royal Aircraft Establishment as an example of how geometric similarity (all dimensions exactly scaled down in models) and physical similarity (model should produce the same aerodynamic results as the real thing) were very different.

    He used to be presented with beautiful models in velvet lined cases by master machinists, whom he would then profusely thank...and promptly get out the sandpaper to roughen up all the leading edges: the flow behaviour was otherwise unrepresentative. On the occasion of one of the machinists seeing the model in the wind tunnel, he was quite upset!

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

      Ahh yes, sandpaper and shiny surfaces. I can say from experience it hurts a little deep down if you're the one doing the roughing up too.

      1. Dr Dan Holdsworth

        Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

        I am reminded of the time a lawyers' office decided to try and speed up their secretarial work, by getting the lawyers to do some of the text processing themselves. Given that they had an office full of luddites and two-finger typists, this was a non-starter until someone had the inspired idea of using speech-to-text software. Most people had their own private offices so noise wasn't an issue.

        After initial training of the software, everything seemed fine. The senior secretaries found the system effective, but some preferred typing. The lawyers were more of a mixed bag. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't and no amount of training changed this. Until a pattern slowly started to emerge...

        Failures to recognise speech were much rarer in the mornings and late afternoons, and commonest right after lunch. Eventually the fault was discovered to be that whilst humans can understand almost any other accent best out of three, machine speech recognition software really struggles with "Lawyer after lunchtime drinkies".

        Short of training the system on lawyers both sober and tipsy and thus having to admit that lawyers drank physiologically effective amounts of alcohol over lunch, there was very little that could be done, and eventually the matter was dropped in favour of trying to teach lawyers to type.

        1. kain preacher

          Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

          Um drunken typing. Giggles. Yeah that's going to work real well.

        2. defiler Silver badge

          Lawyers and speech-to-text

          There was a senior partner at a law firm in Edinburgh in the mid-late 90s who didn't bother with the typing pool. Used Dragon Dictate with a long cable on his microphone so he could watch the world out of his office window. It did a great job too - he was delighted.

          One day we upgraded him to Dragon Naturally Speaking, which would process fluid speech, rather than having to halt briefly at each word. (He was very practiced with Dragon Dictate, so this style of speech was no problem, but newer is better and all...) It choked every time he said 'notwithstanding', which (as a solicitor) was rather a lot. Every time it would enter 'not with standing'.

          Took a week before he gave up and went back to Dragon Dictate. Until he retired, to my knowledge.

          I understand the minutes of their monthly partner meetings became quite hazy part-way through. And don't bother trying to get anything near the end of the agenda actioned...

        3. Andytug

          Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

          I got a call from a user a fair while ago panicking that she had a virus - "Random words keep appearing on the screen!!". So went to see her, and sure enough they were, when it started typing "sheep Obama" and the like was when she panicked.

          Turned out she had somehow enabled dictation in Windows XP (and reduced it to a single pixel hidden toolbar at the top of the screen - no idea how) and it was making a very poor fist of translating her conversation with her colleagues into text. Laptop built in mics are pretty poor though.....

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

            Turned out she had somehow enabled dictation in Windows XP (and reduced it to a single pixel hidden toolbar at the top of the screen - no idea how)

            I do , colleague did it while she was chatting at the water cooler

            1. DuchessofDukeStreet

              Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

              Can I have the instructions on how to do it.....? :-)

          2. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

            There were and are too f-ing many bits of Windows that do this. Stuff happens, because a random key combination gets knocked and there is no visible way of getting things back to normal. Ideally there ought to be a button that reveals status of various options, so that users can see what has been set.

            BUT, mostly the real problem is that Help in Windows is and has always been total crap. Usually if you go and search for anything unusual that's happening it won't actually be mentioned. These are settings ffs.

            1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

              Re Terry 6: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

              "Ideally there ought to be a button that reveals status of various options, so that users can see what has been set."

              You can always make a God Mode folder, which gets you close to that.

              Create a new folder on your desktop--or anywhere you'd like--and name it: GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}. Don't include the final period. The resulting folder will contain 270 items, representing virtually every configurable option in Windows.

              1. John Gamble

                Re: Re Terry 6: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

                "You can always make a God Mode folder..."

                And this is why I read the comments. Thanks.

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: Re Terry 6: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

                  So-called "GodMode" has been around since 2006 or thereabouts (when Win7 was in pre-Beta). It has been one of the first things I do when forced to evaluate a Win7/8/10 system[0] ... or when blackmailed into fixing a b0rken one. You can change "GodMode" to "HideThisRedmond" if you like.

                  Note that Win2K and Vista have their own variation on the theme, which is why I went searching for it when Win7 came out in pre-Beta.

                  [0] Can't sell a FOSS system to CorporateAmerica unless you can thoroughly debunk the Redmond marketing hype with facts ... it's not that I don't know how to use Windows, it's that I really, really don't like the way it does things.

              2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

                Thanks for the God Mode tip

                Most impressive.

                Now someone please explain why it is 2018 and Windows still has this kind of bullshit instead of a regular Administration panel like that.

                1. FlippingGerman

                  Re: Thanks for the God Mode tip

                  I find the biggest problem to be the glued-together piece of crap that is settings on Win10. There's there Settings app, in which individual settings are in the most bizarre places (notifications are in "system", app permissions are in "privacy" instead of in "apps"). Then there's still the old control panel we know and love, with a few things removed, or even still there but disabled. (startup in msconfig is now in Task Manager, but with the tab still there and a helpful link - why move it then?)

                2. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. The Boojum

              Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

              Too right!

              My cat has discovered this to great effect. The record is 45 minutes undoing what she did in about 5 seconds.

            3. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge

              Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

              "because a random key combination gets knocked and there is no visible way of getting things back to normal."

              Oh yesss.... let me get that bit and run with it.

              Try hitting Ctrl or Shift 5 times or more (even in Windows 10 perhaps?) and Windows WILL freak out, if you have updated from the previous Winz... enter the accessibility options to disable and all that...

              Now mix it with old-school Quake and Doom gameplay, that used to involve several presses of these keys... and disabling it becomes your top priority.

              Adding insult to injury, some Intel Graphics also had keyboard shortcuts to rotate the screen, something like ctrl+alt+arrow keys. The single monitor ever that would pivot 90 degrees was a Dell one, one that not many people still have these days...

              ...and I have seen more than one monitor upside-down, almost making me spill my coffee every time I was called to solve THAT...

              1. jcitron

                A panicking user because of a rotated desktop!

                Yes That CTRL+ALT+arrow-key inadvertently sent a user in my office into a total panic. I was out at lunch, across the parking lot at the local sandwich shop and got a call on my cell phone. The shear panic in her voice at first made me think her PC caught on fire...

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

                "The single monitor ever that would pivot 90 degrees was a Dell one"

                Aside from the archetypal Radius Pivot Display attached to the ancient Mac that my Wife uses as a dedicated word processor[0], we also have newer pivoting displays from Samsung, HP and NEC. So no, the Dell wasn't the only one.

                [0] She still uses Pagemaker on it, too ... Aldus, not Adobe. It's retro, but it's her "brand", and she likes it. Who am I to argue? Don't worry, it's airgapped.

        4. Nick Kew

          @Dan Holdsworth

          That after-lunch period is the siesta hour, when the body naturally slows down and wants to sleep. Lunchtime booze might reinforce that effect, but is unlikely to be the primary cause of what you saw.

          And I say that as someone who doesn't touch booze until evening (not even free booze) so no personal position to defend.

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: @Dan Holdsworth

            Have to agree with Nick Kew here. Two reasons why:

            1. A friend of mine has some severe hand problems and as such, before she was diagnosed, typing became a real problem. She invested in Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS), and in fact is now a premium dealer for Nuance (who make it) because of her extensive expertise in it (and everything around it). She deals with lawyers a lot, and they seem to have similar issues (mostly morning or really late evenings). She hersef has said that when she gets tired, DNS doesn't quite understand her and she *really* has to work hard as clearly enunciating her words to get it to recognise what she is saying.

            2. I used to have to transcribe interviews a lot, often late into the night after a long day on a race track. Following my friend above's advice, I invested in DNS and during the day (the day *after* an event), the transcription would be ok, but after a long day? Forget it. It would truly make a hash of it. It was mostly the inflection that changed sufficiently for DNS to understand slightly different words (not garbled, but slight misunderstanding), which in the end turned out to be more work to correct than the original typing I did. So... just like the lawyers, I canned that investment. :-/

        5. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

          A lawyer I know was working on a case years ago involving technology. They hired an expert to help explain the complex nature of the case in court. The case was to do with the security of WiFi and how something might have been intercepted. The expert they were using was a new one because the previous bloke had "blotted his copybook". Apparently he was asked in a meeting how far away we were from 100% accurate voice recognition and he replied "By the year 2000 people won't be using a physical keyboard anymore you'll talk to your devices.

          Well the millennium arrived and this was still not even on the distant horizon so they gave him the elbow. That and the expert on the other side in the case had proved to be a more expert expert and had virtually won the case for the other side.

    2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: beautiful models in velvet lined cases

      What kind of fluids was he a Fluid Dynamics lecturer of?

      Did he have pointed teeth and have a penchant for rare steaks, by any chance?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: beautiful models in velvet lined cases

        Newtonian fluids, of course :-)

        Mind you, he did have a pointed beard!

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Upsetting non-techies can be hard

      I heard of a newish and innocent member at Booker Gliding Club who was persuaded that, when he borrowed a club glider for a competition, he should sandpaper the leading edges to improve boundary layer retention. He had to pay the £20k refinishing bill himself.

  2. Richard Gray 1

    Noisy phone lines in building

    While I was fixing specific things in West Africa, I would always try to find if they had any other problems I could fix at the same time.

    Turns out the phone lines were noisy. I checked our internal cabling.. all fine. I then looked where the cable came into the building, about 2 m from where the cable landed from the pole. However that was not the route the cable took.

    It went all the way around the building, with countless "expert" joins (the wires kind of twisted together). Some of them even had tape on!

    One proper join later and the cable length had been reduced by a good 2-300 m, and call quality significantly improved.

    Pint because I deserved it going up the REALLY dodgy ladders.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Noisy phone lines in building

      Its more obvious with Ethernet.

      At a company where I used to work, they were moving machines in one of the manufacturing areas, and they didn't tell us (IT) beforehand. After they'd been moved, they called and reported that their network connections weren't working. We asked for and got the line numbers from the jacks, and after suiting-up and entering the clean room, we discovered that the cables no longer terminated where our database said that they did. After calling back, we were able to find where they'd move the equipment. We tested the lines, and while they had patched them correctly, they shouldn't have patched them because they added 100m to each of the cables taking them well over-spec, and making them completely unusable for anything other than analog telephones...

      This was one of the events that ended up with IT working more closely with building engineering to prevent this type of screwup in the future. We provided them with some guidelines like:

      no cable runs over 100m

      if you can't reach a wiring closet in 100m it means that you're in new territory and we need a new closet

      cables should only run towards the destination wiring closet, even if that means a new hole has to be drilled in the ceiling

      no splicing of cables

      if you move jacks, you must tell us

      We had it down to a science. We'd test and label every cable on installation and unless there was a suspected fault in the wiring at a later date, we totally eliminated having to use a tone generator to locate cables. This was a huge cost-savings since it meant that 99% of issues could be resolved by a single wiring tech in a single trip; whereas previously, it took two techs and a tone generator before anything could be fixed.

      1. Christoph

        Re: Noisy phone lines in building

        It is possible to make sure they tell you when they change things.

        I gave the fitters a dump of the data table that told the controlling computer which ports did what in the machine they were building. When they changed the wiring on-the-fly they could copy the table into RAM, use the machine code monitor to edit it, and blow it to a new EPROM. They could then write the amendments on the print-out so I knew what had changed.

        I explained that each time I gave them a new version of the code I would first come and get that print-out and copy all the changes they had written on it into the new version.

        And that if they had missed writing any changes it was Not My Problem when their machine no longer worked.

        They were very careful, and didn't miss any.

      2. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: Noisy phone lines in building

        Ahh the problems when people don't take into account cable lengths. Couple of years ago we had some major building work done at one of our sites. As part of this, they shifted the access gate for the car park and planned to move the security hut (small building with a couple of PCs and IP phones in it). Everything was planned to shift the hut and have a cabling firm in the same day to run new data feeds.

        Except that later that day, the site called to say that the connectors looked different. Upon investigating, the old location for the hut was 80m from the nearest comms room, so just had a couple of lengths of CAT5e run to it. New location is 125m away, so the cabling firm ran a fibre feed instead.

        And of course, nobody had budgeted or planned for an extra switch. The hut was without phones and PCs for a couple of weeks whilst everyone scrabbled around for more budget to purchase a switch and fibre GBIC for it...

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Noisy phone lines in building

          "The hut was without phones and PCs for a couple of weeks whilst everyone scrabbled around for more budget to purchase a switch and fibre GBIC for it..."

          It must've been more than a couple of years, given that 1GB/s SFP GBICs run about $5 each and switches to plug them into about $60 - and have been around that figure for a decade.

      3. Olivier2553 Silver badge

        Re: Noisy phone lines in building

        I would add a couple of comments.

        You don't move jacks, you add some at the new position when it is needed. The old ones should remain untouched as they will be used very soon by the new user of the premises.

        IT is a support service, like finance is. No department would think about running their own finance, why would they run their own IT? Network infra belongs to IT and can only be managed/maintained by IT.

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Noisy phone lines in building

      When I started at a previous company as IS manager the DP Manager, who became my junior, had previously had a free hand at IT. We still had mainly dumb terminals on an AS/400 connected via Twinax (it ran from the concentrator then terminal to terminal with a terminator on the last connection). No real problem, except that every time a new terminal had been added he'd simply run two new cables from/to the nearest two terminals even if they were across the room. The end result was that the cable runs in the main office zigzagged across the floor.

      It took about 20 minutes after hours to recable the entire office so that the runs went down each side. I've hated cable covers in offices ever since!

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Noisy phone lines in building

        Here's an old post of mine from 2009, originally titled "That's just the switch, they do that!" ...

        The scene: Old house in Mountain View, converted to Vet clinic.

        The time: Late 1999.

        The job: Convert the Vet's database from non-Y2K compliant PSI/Idexx on HP/UX to Cornerstone on Win98 (I know, I know, but that was what the Vet wanted).

        Considering that Cornerstone included the database conversion in the cost of the 8 hour staff training session, my job was basically setting up the Windows boxes, installing software, and pulling wire. Easy. In fact, I did the complete network setup back in my lab, so all I had to do was make space for the computers, printers, label makers etc., plug it all in, and turn it on.

        Unfortunately, the house was built in the post-war building boom, and originally had 2 prong plugs for mains power. Some had been converted to three prong, but not all. I had to convert the six locations where the Vet wanted the computers installed. Three new breakers, pull some wire ... Again, pretty easy.

        Day of install, the Saturday afternoon before the Sunday the Cornerstone rep was to hold the staff training session. The Vet wanted me to plug a scanner into her personal machine. The floppies that came with the scanner didn't come with Win98 compatible drivers, so I used the new-fangled V.92 modem to dial into my ISP ... But the connection speed reported as 2400 baud instead of the expected 56K (or so). I broke the connection, redialed, same result. And again. Now, I had already used the modem from my lab, just to verify it worked, so I knew it wasn't my hardware ... I picked up the phone. Line noise. 60hz line noise, to be precise.

        I turned to the Vet and asked how long the phones had been buzzing ... she brightly answered that "That's just the switch, they do that!" ... WTF? After further questioning, it turned out that instead of having six phone lines coming in, she had a small switch with six extensions. It was installed when she took over the practice about a decade earlier. (You can probably see where this is going ...).

        She lead me to a storage and washing machine room in the back, and pointed at the wall. Hanging there was a dusty, cobweb covered, slightly sad looking $TELCO supplied switch. It had a three-prong cord ... plugged into a two prong socket. The $TELCO tech who did the install had cut the ground pin off the power cord to fit the availabe mains power. I asked her to go get me a cordless 'phone and grabbed a wire coathanger. With phone to ear, I grounded the case of the switch to the cold water pipe with the coathanger ... No more AC hum.

        I explained the situation to her, and she went ballistic. After she calmed down a little, I asked if she wanted me to call $TELCO for her. (I could have put a new cord on it myself, and put in another 3-prong socket, but if you touch $TELCO gear, they will refuse to fix it if anything goes wrong in the future.) On further questioning, she allowed as to how in the last decade she had had techs out half a dozen times or so to service her telephones, including what sounded like a firmware upgrade to the switch itself.

        Long and short of it, we had a $TELCO tech out 45 minutes after I hung up the phone.

        1. jcitron

          Re: Noisy phone lines in building

          This sounds like a bigger nightmare coming with the old wiring and cut-off grounds. We purchased a house that had wiring like that and we hired an electrician to update the wiring for us. After pulling about 10,000 feet (not exaggerating) of dead lines out of the ceiling, and finding some cut-off live ones too, we're finally safely wired up. That wasn't all. To add insult to injury, the basement wiring was a single lamp cord wired to the wrong side of the fuse box!

          But the telephone issues were interesting. When we first moved in, we used modems for internet service. We would dial out only to be kicked back, as you noted above, from 56K to 2400, or other times we couldn't get out at all. One day while the modem was dialing, we heard a local radio station interference on the modem! We called the local phone company office and the tech came out and did something on the pole to fix the problem, which I don't recall. In the end he said that it didn't surprise him, and was shocked that we got anything to work at all given the age of the phone lines in the city.

    3. Old Used Programmer

      Re: Noisy phone lines in building

      At a company I worked for, we couldn't successfully download data files to the in-store server at night. After a lot of hair pulling and looking at various things, someone finally realized that the DSL line came into the building right next the neon sign.... Move the cable to get it away from the transformer that drove the sign and, no problem.

      1. Jeffrey Nonken

        Re: Noisy phone lines in building

        One of our worker bees came to me with 60Hz interference on his CRT monitor. Different monitor didn't help. Could not find the source. He didn't have anything that would generate interference like that.

        I guess I finally beat my head against the desk enough to shake something loose in my brain, because I suddenly remembered that the main distribution box for that entire floor of the factory (...ok, half of it) was on the other side of the wall that end of the desk was pushed up against. Well... Technically it was inside the wall, of course. What was in the corridor was just access. But you get what I mean.

        A quick test confirmed it. Next morning I reported the diagnosis and the victim happily rearranged his desk in mirror image. Problem solved.

        It only took two monitor swaps and three nights of frustrating diagnosis.

        1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          Re: Noisy phone lines in building

          One of our worker bees came to me with 60Hz interference on his CRT monitor

          Had a couple of those (albeit 50Hz in the UK).

          First was most of the CRT terminals (Wyse 60) in the accounts dept with shimmering screens that all came/went at random times. I guessed magnetic field and asked the sparkies if they'd been doing anything recently. Turns out they'd been working on the sockets ring in the shop downstairs and a wire has slipped out of one of the terminals. Result was that when the electric heater came on, the live current went two ways round the ring, but the neutral current went one way - creating enough field to affect the CRTs. Finding the loose wire and fixing it banished the problem.

          More entertaining was when they were extending the offices - steel frame that was bolted and welded together, and I bet some of you are ahead of me already. They'd just stuck the welding earth clamp where it was handy and were roaming around welding the joints - thus creating a rather large and complicated network of steelwork carrying heavy duty welding currents and thus creating magnetic fields. The effect on the CRTs (still Wyse 60s mostly) was "quite interesting" to say the least - enough "shimmer" to take the image completely off the side of the screen !

          1. H in The Hague Silver badge

            Re: Noisy phone lines in building

            "They'd just stuck the welding earth clamp where it was handy and were roaming around welding the joints ..."

            A process plant a friend used to work at suffered more serious effects. During a shutdown the welders extended the steelwork and also didn't bother to attach the earth clamp close to where they were welding. The resulting stray currents burned out a rack of instrumentation and the start-up was delayed by a few weeks, at a cost of millions of lost production per day.

        2. jcitron

          Re: Noisy phone lines in building

          I had that issue as well caused by an elevator (lift). The office admin's desk was located just to the side of the elevator and every time the elevator was called, and the motor kicked in, her display would wobble and bounce. It was interesting to watch, but probably annoying for her. We moved her to the other side of the lobby and away from the motors and that solved the problem. The phenomenon was quite fascinating actually and made me wonder white kind of effects the EMF was having on other things around nearby beside her NEC monitor.

          Having worked with CRT video terminals in the past, I saw a rather interesting thing with displays not mounted properly in the chassis for the destination country. Due to the earth's magnetic poles and pull, the image on the CRT can be off kilter if, for example, the image is aligned for somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, but the display is sent to somewhere below the Equator. The good thing is today this is all obsolete due to CRTs going away and being replaced by LEDs. Still way cool how the magnetic fields can affect them.

    4. swm Silver badge

      Re: Noisy phone lines in building

      We once had our group moved to a trailer while renovations were being done. The image on some of the computer monitors would jitter. It seems that there was a 60 Hz magnetic field causing this. I built a coil of wire, amplifier, attached earphones. Finally discovered one of the fluorescent lights had switched the neutral and ground and that there was about 5 amperes of current running through the safety ground. Fixing that solved the problem.

      The site electricians found out about the device and wanted it so I gave it to them. Very useful for tracking buried power wires.

  3. frank ly

    Falling on hard times

    A young engineer (not me) was working on microwave propagation and got permission to work in a disused section of an old part of the site on the second floor. It had lots of empty space over long distances and he could move stuff if it was in the way and so it was ideal for his work.

    He needed a strong sheet of wood to set up a bench and had noticed a large old interior-grade wooden door lying on the floor so he decided to lift it and move it and use it. He was careful to bend his knees and not his back, etc and he lifted, shuffled and pushed the door towards where he wanted it to be.

    A short time later, he fell through the hole in the floor that the door had been covering.

  4. phuzz Silver badge


    I have learnt the hard way, that if you're opening up and old computer to give it a clean, it's best to take it outside first, if possible.

    Breaking out the canned air and blowing chunks of dust throughout the entire office will not make you any friends.

    Oh, and while we're on the subject of cleaning, take my advice and treat keyboards and mice as consumables and just hand over new ones when they get old. Other people are disgusting, filthy, animals when it comes to what they'll do on and around their keyboards *shudder*.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Dirty

      Remember the old cans of cleaning solvent marked "non-inflammable"? The senior tech when I got started in support used to demonstrate them with a match in front of the can - shooting a stream of flame halfway across the room.

      His lesson was that the solvent was non-inflammable ... but the propellant wasn't. It's not a lesson that you forget.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dirty


        Well, "flammable" means "easily set on fire" so the double-negative "non-in" still means "easily set on fire"!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Dirty

          "inflammable" and "flammable" both mean the same thing, so "non-in" in this case is not a double negative.

          1. Johndoe888

            Re: Dirty

            "inflammable" and "flammable" both mean the same thing, so "non-in" in this case is not a double negative.

            Either it flams or it doesn't, simples :)

          2. swm Silver badge

            Re: Dirty

            Actually the proper word is inflammable but some safety people thought that sounded like "not burnable" so they coined the word "flammable".

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Dirty

        but the propellant wasn't. It's not a lesson that you forget.

        You've never watched Live And Let Die?

    2. jcitron

      Re: Dirty

      Yes absolutely spot on here!

      I had splits in my fingertips from using antibacterial goop on my hands when I was working from cleaning my hands after working with user's PCs. Yuck is beyond describing that. I've since retired and don't miss that!

      Oh to save a few bucks/quid, get a Rocket. They're about $20.00 US on B&H or even Amazon. It's a squeeze-bulb in the shape of a rocket and it's a lot cheaper in the long run and nicer for the environment too. I've got one and it does a nice job getting the dust clumps out of fans and the crevices inside the case.

      Definitely do this outside as you recommend.

  5. Nick Kew

    Crossover Columns?

    Shouldn't Jason have been one for Monday's column?

  6. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Whatever gets the job done

    A user said to me "The annual appraisal website doesnt work on this PC"

    This is no ordinary website , it requires dozens of runtimes of various vintages and versions to be carefully mixed and installed on the client pc , along with half a dozen apps to make the smartcard work.

    My response:

    "you do this once a year right? use one of the other computers."

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Whatever gets the job done

      Fifteen years or so ago I worked in a place that required a semi-annual Health and Safety workstation assessment, long before they became, ahem, popular. The software on my PC was sufficiently non-standard due to the requirements of my job that the assessment software (which only worked in POS IE6 and used a Shockwave plugin or something) wouldn't run due to compatibility issues. I'd just go and log in on one of the test PCs in the corner to carry out the assessment. Box ticked. Workstation unadjusted. H&S never noticed.

    2. MrBanana

      Re: Whatever gets the job done

      "you do this once a year right? use one of the other computers."

      You don't work from home do you - where is this 'other computer' of which you speak? Oh yes, it's a 4hr round trip to the nearest office. Even once a year is an unnecessary pain in the arse compared to actually getting your IT to work for everyone in the company, no matter where they worked.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Whatever gets the job done

        You don't work from home do you - where is this 'other computer' of which you speak? Oh yes, it's a 4hr round trip to the nearest office. Even once a year is an unnecessary pain in the arse compared to actually getting your IT to work for everyone in the company, no matter where they worked.

        You dont work in the real world do you?

        When you have several "legacy" systems that that are a bitch to get working on a modern pc , there is no point in making all the system work on all the pcs when most of the pcs will not use that system , and indeed , making one thing work might stop another working if the systems are shitty enough.

        *obviously* i wasnt taliking about a lone home computer, which would be remotly repaired , pain in the arse though it is - even harder in fact than the rebuild i avoided in the forst post .


        you could VPN in and RDP a machine that would run the software.

        If you take a 4 hour round trip when you could do that its on your own time!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Whatever gets the job done

      HR droids should never be allowed within 50 meters of a PC

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Whatever gets the job done

        "HR droids should never be allowed."


  7. Flakk

    Poor Barry

    The same electric floor buffer that polished the floor to a mirror sheen probably also had a bristle pad that could have chewed the paste wax right off of the tiles.

    1. Richard Gray 1

      Re: Poor Barry

      You need training on them..

      When I was doing my offshore course, they showed us pictures of fingers.

      Polished up a treat, shame about the lack of any skin on them.

      I won't say it was gruesome, but when a secretary came in to give him a message he covered up the projector lens.

      1. Robert Sneddon

        My Site Induction Safety Briefing

        They showed us a map of the bits they had been able to find[1] after someone dropped a large slab of high explosive on a concrete walkway. Apparently from eye-witnesses some distance away, it didn't go off until it was picked up -- the post-mortem (so to speak) engineering analysis suggested the edge of the slab scraped along the concrete and that was sufficient.

        [1]There were two people involved, they only found one head.

  8. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I do all my own stunts?

    Perhaps even the most apparently simple tasks really are best left to the pros.

    Yes but how much is the standard rate to employ a professional stuntman/woman/person/being to fall through the ceiling on your behalf?

    Paris, for many reasons...

    1. Jeffrey Nonken

      Re: I do all my own stunts?

      Comically Missing the Point, one uptick. :)

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: I do all my own stunts?

        It was a choice between the Paris and joke alert icons.

        But y'know, Paris always wins...

  9. H in The Hague Silver badge

    Interfering with ceiling tiles can be dangerous

    Jason's story reminds me of a tale a colleague once told me (paraphrased as this was a few years ago):

    "I got an on-site gig at XXX (sensitive government site). Four of us working in a room meant for twenty, so a bit chilly due to the assertive mechanical ventilation system. Figured I could just go into the corridor, pop up a few ceiling tiles, stick my head up the void/plenum and adjust the damper in the ventilation duct. Then decided against this, might give the security guards patrolling the corridors the wrong idea. I did mention they were assertive, armed security guards, didn't I?"

    Time for a G&T or other adult beverage. A good weekend to all Commentards and good luck to all of you on call this weekend (I'm not), may we read about your exploits in these columns.

    1. Jeffrey Nonken

      Re: Interfering with ceiling tiles can be dangerous

      Sure, but ask me a hard one. Clear it with security first, invite them to have a guard stand by if they want. At worst they'll say no.

  10. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

    Ceiling Tiles

    One time I was stopped by the head of security in the hallway of one of the buildings about how secure Kensington locks were, during the course of the discussion he informed me that someone had got into a locked office over the weekend, by getting into the unlocked office\lab next door lifting up the ceiling tiles to climb over the dividing wall & drop down to get the laptop of their desire.

    They knew that was the MO as the individual did not clean his foot marks off the desks he landed on (unsure if he left the same way as he entered).

  11. Strebortrebor

    Well... Inflammable is the original word, from the Latin, I think, meaning "capable of becoming inflamed, a.k.a. being set afire". The "in" part is not a negative in this context. So non-inflammable is only a single negative. But the poorly-educated didn't understand this, so the back formation "flammable" was created (by the lawyers, I suspect). Perhaps if the original had been spelled "enflammable" the confusion would not have existed in the first place. I blame the Académie Anglaise for not properly instructing (by analogy, structing?) us in the first place.

    Mine's the Nomex one.

    1. Steve Aubrey
      Thumb Up

      Thumbs up for "structing". Gotta be logical, no matter where it leads.

    2. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

      > "But the poorly-educated didn't understand this, so the back formation "flammable" was created (by the lawyers, I suspect"

      Not so much "poorly-educated" as "not familiar with this exact word". Given that "in-" is almost always a negating prefix in English, it's quite reasonable to assume it would be in this context as well, which is why the US National Fire Protection Association pushed to have it snuffed out as a safety hazard. Whether they recoined the term or continued it from its previous existence isn't an answer I'm familiar with, though.

  12. cb7

    And then someone polished it up again, just in time for the demo.

  13. jake Silver badge

    All that glitters ...

    When I was at SAIL, we had problems with the VAX disk drives going walkabout during overnight, disk intensive runs. I had lunch with a colleague at SLAC and the subject came up. He allowed as to how they had had a similar problem, but the fix was simple: First, ban floor wax[0] from the glass room (that wasn't glass). Pull the floor tiles a few at a time and take them outside. Scuff the Formica with 120 grit on an orbital sander. Dust off tiles with a tack-cloth. Reinstall. No more walkies.

    Took almost three more months to ban the cleaning staff entirely, but that's a story for another day.

    [0] Yes, kiddies, janitorial staff had the keys to the data center. The stories of cleaning staff unplugging servers (and other critical kit) either on purpose or accidentally aren't apocryphal.

    1. The Pi Man

      Re: All that glitters ...

      I used to work for a company that processed things like newspaper coupons, details keyed in by large banks of key to disc operators. The supervisor always bitched and moaned about the cleaners plugging the vacuums into the “clean sockets” that the data capture terminals were plugged into. She couldn’t grasp the concept that telling the cleaners which were the “clean sockets” was spectacularly unhelpful....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Low level disk cabinets

      ICL Launched a low level mainframe in the 80's. Shortly after rolling out the first few machines we started receiving automated alerts of disk drives switching repeatedly from channel A to B and back repetitively.

      This indicated a serious issue with the disk controller cards and the error logs being transmitted back showed large numbers of failed reads and writes but the disk controller, the disks themselves and the optical controller which managed communications between them passed all diagnostic tests. We swapped out components on several machines (a hideous job due to poor internal design) but nothing made any difference. One evening an engineer was working on site when he noticed te cleaner enter the data centre and proceed to polish everything in view. The disk interface switches were on a bevel on the edge of the desk high cabinet, the cleaners cloth was catching the stalk switches with every wipe.

      The company had to design a perspex cover which covered the entire edge of the cabinet to resolve the issue. As an aside the lower level cabinets were not well liked as they took up so much floor space and a cabinet stacking system was produced to save space.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dragon dictate

    We set this up for a team which worked for most. One exception was the obviously deaf guy who spoke very loudly at all times, in an open plan office it would confuse his neighbours dictation efforts.

  15. Danny 2 Silver badge

    I've a more applicable anecdote but I think this one is more telling.

    I was unemployed after a long and illustrious career, and forced by the DWP to take a "work experience" placement. They first asked me any place I would refuse to work, and I said I wouldn't work in the Salvation Army. ( Bunch of C words, and the C word isn't Christian. )

    Then the DWP asked me where I would like to work unpaid, and I said the NHS, I would be happy to clean toilets in any hospital or clinic, or do something more useful too.

    The DWP told me I couldn't volunteer for the NHS because it had to be somewhere "useful for society, and some NHS trusts were private". The DWP told me that the NHS wasn't useful for society - honestly!

    Guess where the DWP sent me - the Salvation Army! I didn't go of course, and haven't claimed JSA since.

    I am unemployed because I was blacklisted irrationally, and initially I had a lot of money and spare time so I started filling potholes on country roads to keep myself busy. I bought the filler and did the work the best I could, but was collared by the local council who ordered me to dig up every repair I'd done. They could be sued by any motorist if one of my repairs failed. So I literally had to dig potholes to cover a councils arse.

    A school acquaintance became the first head of web development at the Forestry Commission in Scotland. He now drives a top end BMW. He had no experience of computers beyond playing FIFA on our friends Amiga. He is a moron, but he is chatty and cheeky and that is what counts.

  16. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Dead kids

    I once worked for an ICR/OCR "workflow" company in the mid 90s. Mostly it was fun, light work, interesting too.

    Two of my worst working days were there though. They went after an NHS contract and wanted to prove they could scan in and record and label any type of NHS document, and a huge folder of sample material was dumped on my desk. I had to scan it all and then proof check the results.

    90% of the material was dead children. A catalogue of their diagnosis, treatment, and death, with accompanying X Rays etc.

    You all know what it feels like to pass a car crash and try not to look. This was 18 hours of that because I had to look to check for errors. I have no idea why the NHS was permitted to share those incredibly private details with an outside company, and I regret not just quitting on the spot rather than do that.

    I guess NHS staff are just inured to that, death is in their face everyday. It just toppled me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dead kids

      I am a system manager for a NHS medical specialty.

      One of my saddest jobs is codding the cause of Death for patients, some of whom I have known and cared for for 10+ years.

      In some ways coding properly and accurately their cause of death is the last bit of care I can give to the patient.

  17. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Hey! I earned a badge again for posting too much. Sorry!

    The badges should really be linked to upvotes to stop spraffers like me being rewarded for spraffing.

    I was contracting for an English insurance company doing some fairly technical jobs but also filling in for mundane roles like swapping out a better VDU for user who happened to be totally blind.

    I don't know why a totally blind guy needed a better display, but he was the first blind person I'd ever met to this day. I was under his desk beside his seeing eye Labrador connecting the cable.

    He thanked me for the upgrade and I held out my hand to shake his hand. He couldn't see my hand of course. All of his co-workers saw that stupid error, but all of them turned a blind eye.

    I like to think of myself as an informed, rational adult, but I am obviously not, expecting a handshake from a blind person is an unforced admission of stupidity.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Hey! I earned a badge again for posting too much. Sorry!

      "I like to think of myself as an informed, rational adult, but I am obviously not, expecting a handshake from a blind person is an unforced admission of stupidity."

      No, it's social convention overriding your inexperience in that situation. I have met a number of blind and otherwise visually impair people over the years. You know what's the most difficult? Broaching the subject of what they can actually see when trying to sort out whatever issue you are there for.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Hey! I earned a badge again for posting too much. Sorry!

        If the quality/quantity of eyesight is germane to the situation, I just ask. Otherwise I mind my own business. I've had no complaints so far. As a techie, you can say "Sometimes it's helpful to have somebody on the other side of the box to tell me what the blinkenlights are doing", should you feel the need.

        For the handshake thing, a simple "put 'er there" seems to work. They stick out a mitt, you provide the guidance for docking.

        1. Alien8n

          Re: Hey! I earned a badge again for posting too much. Sorry!

          Most blind people see something, even if just different shades of grey. So they can usually tell which direction a light is for example. Singer for a band I shot not that long ago is legally blind and uses a white stick, but actually has pretty good forward vision. The stick is more to do with the complete lack of any peripheral vision. At a guess it's classic tunnel vision, so like staring down a cardboard tube.

  18. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    RE. Re. $Deity mode

    GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}. (remove final period) does work.

    What I don't understand is why it shows SDR# is causing 90% of the errors.

    Anyone have a theory? machine is pretty old but program does work fine most of the time.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: RE. Re. $Deity mode

      SDR#? I haven't even heard that mentioned in four or five years ... Probably Redmond is busy "fixing" Windows to break it, as they do so often when it comes to FOSS.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: RE. Re. $Deity mode

        Its 32 bit, as the drivers are *very* finicky.

        I believe there is a 64 bit version now.

  19. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Slightly similar situation.

    We were kitting out a lab with those new fangled optical mouse. Lab is sterile and must remain so. Lab benches are as perfect a white smooth surface as possible and are cleaned after every use. Switching to optical mice instead of ball mice which can accumulate dirt and bacteria which could put lives at risk was seen as a fantastic option, no matter the cost. Except they didn't work. After a lot of head scratching, we eventually realised the optical mice needed to "see" some sort of texture to actually work at all. In our defence, they were also getting new PCs at the same time, so we weren't too sure if we had cabling, connection or driver issue on the first pilot install.

    1. Swarthy

      Re: Slightly similar situation.

      Logitech Darkfield Mice would solve that problem. Mine will even work on clean (un-scratched/un-textured) glass.

  20. Sequin

    Legal typists

    At a previous employer I was asked to visit a solicitors' office to install and set up about 10 new PCs, for both the solicitors and their secretary/typists. I was employed as a developer, but our infrastructure team was so short handed I was regularly called upon to do hardware and software installs for them.

    The solicitors got their PC's first, and I installed various software packages, connected to the domain for the, set up local printers etc.

    I then got to do the others for the support staff and after setting up the first one I hit a problem. The solicitors used a software based dictation system that saved their musings to files on the server. The typists then used the software to play back the dictation while they typed the letters that would eventually cost their clients hundreds of pounds in solicitors fees! In a similar way to old analogue dictation machines, the secretaries had foot switches they could use to pause the playback as they were typing, to allow themselves to catch up. Unfortunately the foot switches plugged into a serial port, but the new PC's had only USB ports. The software could only handle serial devices too.

    This necessitated a trip to the local Maplin's electronics store, where I cleared out their stock of USB to serial converters.

  21. druck Silver badge

    Less scrubbing, more thinking.

    A polarised filter in the camera lens may have reduced the reflections, and saved an awful lot of scrubbing.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do the simple checks first

    About 40 years ago I worked as a "system programmer" for a company that in one line of business made video terminal controllers for IBM mainframes. One of our customers was having trouble with theirs and a series of "experts" was flown out to the customer to solve the problem. I was one of the people sent. The customer had an old IBM 360/50 in rather grungy shape, as they allowed smoking in the machine room. Their support contractor (3rd party, not IBM) and I agreed this was bad and the customer should be told to clean things up. But the problem seemed to be that the terminal controller kept randomly dropping offline. We went through all sorts of diagnostics and began to suspect an error in the mainframe's processing of peripheral interrupts. Luckily I had recently read Bell and Newell's book on computer architectures and the 360/50 was one of the case studies they presented, so I was familiar with the /50's inner workings. But I needed the book.

    A phone call back to the office told the next engineer who was flying out the next day to bring along the copy of this book I knew to be in the corporate library. With it in hand I was able to read the technical diagrams and microcode listings that IBM helpfully provides in big binders in a wheeled rack along with the computer. Turning to the relavant circuit diagram, I observed pencil notations around the suspected cicrcuitry. "Aha! Somebody has been here before! The plot thickens!" The support guy said it was not him. At one point I am reduced to not only single-stepping the 360/50 through its interrupt handler, but micro-single-stepping it and watching the blinking lights. Still could not catch the problem.

    Then taking a break, I am staring at our terminal controller, a short rack about 1 meter tall placed near the mainframe when all of a sudden its display panel shows it is restarting, all by itself. Huh? Why would it do that? A check with the design engineers tell me it would do that if it had a power interruption. Smelling a rat, we follow its power cord to see where it was plugged in. Turns out, whoever had installed it plugged it into a convenience outlet in the computer room that was intended for the janitorial staff to use with their vacuum cleaner. This outlet proved to have rather dirty power that would get particularly nasty spikes whenever the building elevator started moving.

    We had the side panels of the 360/50 open at this point and I observed a power outlet inside. I asked the support guy what this was for and he said, it is filtered power from the 360/50's internal power supply, and they use it to plug in test equipment. We unplugged the terminal controller from its dodgy outlet, we lifted some floor tiles, and rerouted the power cord over to the mainframe and plugged it into this filtered outlet. Problem solved.

    1. Pedigree-Pete

      Re: Do the simple checks first

      @AC. Ah.... the days before search engines, we had to use our brains and a decent library. PP

      Wanders off sobbing for lost youth.>>'coz. Friday.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. failed SDR

    Problem (maybe) solved: comms issues and failing AMS1117 regulator (finest fakium (tm) )

    This Sony laptop has some issues with USB2 on USB3 port, as expected.

    If you use the other port it works slightly better but looks more like a failing chipset.

    Yet USB3 works perfectly most if not all of the time.

  24. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Techies sometimes upset Techies though..

    Not sure If I mentioned this. If I have, sorry...

    But, I used to work in a student computer lab. We had three technicians in the office. Me, and two other guys. We each had an area of expertise, and were in charge of supporting the software/hardware for that area.

    Mine was the then trendy area of "multimedia". Everything was running fine, but students suddenly started complaining that some of the software I was supporting wasn't properly installed. I would dutifully re-install it, but over the next few weeks, I would find it happening again and again. Something was off, so I started digging round, and noticed that the software always had missing JPG or GIF files. I asked the other technicians if they knew what would cause JPG and GIF files to vanish and, TBH, thought it might be acts of vandalism by the students (this happened more often than you'd think), and they both said no.

    Then, after a little more digging round, I found that one of the technicians was running a script overnight to clear out student browser caches, and delete other sundry temporary files to clear space on the machine. It also made copies, in a share on his machine, of the JPGs and GIF, in case there were any "interesting" ones (for interesting read explicit), so I looked at the share. Sure enough, there were copies of the missing JPGs and GIFS.

    I pointed them out, and he did apologise. He said he would make the script a little more intelligent, and get it to exclude the program folders from the search. He did, but in his effort to try and clear off a little space on each machine, he caused me a lot of unnecessary work.

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