back to article You'll never select all and mark as read again after this tale of peril... Oh, who are we kidding? Of course you will

Hurrah! It's Friday, which means it's time for another recollection from readers lucky enough to have support tickets assigned to them. Welcome to On Call. Today's tale of technological turdishness comes from "Graham". No, that is not his name, but you knew that already, didn't you? Graham's story dates back a mere five years …

  1. Muscleguy Silver badge

    Takes me back

    I used to work at the NIMR in Mill Hill before some silly soul decided a large greenfield site wasn't a patch on a skyscraper in the centre of London and it became The Crick Institute. I can imagine how that boffin missed the stairs being removed.

    I used to do make transgenic mice, the animal facility was entirely windowless, anything could happen while you were over there.

    During my PhD I spent a lot of time in the basement. My mice were down there, the electron microscope suite including the room where we cut ultrathin sections on ultramicrotomes. There was even a cryo-ultramicrotome. People would cut frozen ultrathins then label things with antibody's tagged with tiny bits of gold big enough to be seen in the electron microscope (gold looks dark in the EM).

    I was never down there in an earthquake or at least not a significant one. I was just up in the lab one Saturday. It's an 'interesting' experience being surrounded by chemicals, solvents, biological agents, the radiolabelled stuff behind the lead bricks in the fume cupboard in an old stone building with room to fall into the basement and have the floors above come down on you.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: transgenic mice

      Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: transgenic mice

        I think so, Brain... Last one to the pub buys the first round! Narrrrrf!

        *Sprints for the door*

        =-)p

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: transgenic mice

          Which proves once and for all that Pinky is the genius.

      2. Steve Todd

        Re: transgenic mice

        Many moons ago I wrote a dating program for transgenic mice. Scientists want rodents that are prone to particular diseases (cancers in this particular case), so they could use them when developing treatments for the disease in question. I thus had to create software that tracked individual animals, their lineage and which other(s) they had been bred with.

    2. Dr Dan Holdsworth
      FAIL

      Re: Takes me back

      Far, far back in the mists of time I was a humble PhD student in a certain exceedingly old research station in Hertfordshire and, one night having signed into the buildings I was going to be working in, went perambulating from Entomology/Nematology over the road to Insecticides/Fungicides.

      I let myself in via the outside door, locked but the general key did the trick, and stepped forwards into the dark corridor. I took perhaps three steps, then the next one simply wasn't there.

      It was an open manhole, and I was lucky to have been striding forwards, since I fell over the thing and could scramble out again. This I did, and forgot all about whatever research I was doing and merely reported back to Security, reported the accident and handed in my key.

      Next morning, instant bollocking from Head of Department. It seemed that Security had quietly doctored the sign-in records so I didn't look to have signed into the second building, thus in their tiny minds making it my fault that I fell down a hole, not theirs for not having barriers up and the door deadlocked.

  2. cheb

    But did he find a 'Beware of the Leopard' sign?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      It is more fun if you find the 'Beware of the Cougar' sign.

      Not quite there yet =>

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Pint

        It is more fun if you find the 'Beware of the Cougar' sign.

        Not quite there yet =>

        A surprising number of downvotes.. Have one up, and one on me!

    2. Martin Summers Silver badge

      By the sounds of it he'd have removed that and continued to walk through anyway!

      1. Gnoitall
        Happy

        Removing the stairs was a necessary step in assuring that the leopard stayed in the basement.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          assuring that the leopard stayed in the basement

          Leopards can climb *really* well. Don't ever climb up a tree to escape one..

          (House cats can climb really well too[1] - it helps to have built-in climbing spikes. Their main problem is that they don't have the joints needed to climb down forwards which is why they get stuck up trees[2]).

          [1] As we discovered with our first set of cats - 3-month old kittens. We'd left our bedroom window open a little bit to get some fresh air in while we were out. Came home to discover no cats in the house. They had got out of the window and climbed down the brickwork to frolic in the back garden.

          [2] Oldest brother no longer takes calls to get cats out of trees after one decided to sink its teeth into his hand (through his tree-climbing gloves). He's a cat-lover like me but said cat quickly discovered that it did in fact have the ability to free-fall from about 20m up.

    3. Snake Silver badge
      Terminator

      Actually

      It's the perfect place to install the alligator pit, where you (politely) point all the fscking difficult clients to visit after putting up with their grief. Only 1 access "panel" to seal, several thousand gallons of water, and a few toothy "guests", and all your dreams of client retribution are hereby granted.

  3. LDS Silver badge
    Happy

    Was that an anechoic chamber?

    And the guy was sleeping with a noise-cancelling headphones over a vibration-cancelling table?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Was that an anechoic chamber?

      If they were in there all night, they were probably playing music really loud to stay awake.

  4. brotherelf
    Coat

    User problem: needed to be escalated.

    Happy friday, I'm just here for the bad puns.

    1. A K Stiles Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

      That's just taking it a step to far!

      1. Chunky Munky

        Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

        I think you guys need to tread carefully

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

          I think we could lift the mood and elevate the conversation by simply ramping things up.

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

            Come on, I'm not falling for that one. Steps will be taken!

            Oh, hang on...

            1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge
              Facepalm

              Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

              Can I be the sole survivor of these puns?

              1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

                Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

                Nope, you're treading on old ground.

                Maybe it's time to take a leap of faith?

              2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

                Can I be the sole survivor of these puns?

                Nope, you will be severely pun-ished for your lack of punning.

            2. Marcelo Rodrigues
              Angel

              Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

              "Come on, I'm not falling for that one. Steps will be taken!"

              Well, steps were taken!

              1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
                Happy

                Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

                And no doubt at some point HSE too steps too.

            3. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
              Black Helicopters

              Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

              Hang on, indeed.

              Need one of these ---->

      2. Montreal Sean

        Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

        @A K Stiles

        All the necessary steps were taken.

    2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

      Happy friday, I'm just here for the bad puns.

      What other types of puns are there?

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

        Worse ones?

      2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

        What other types of puns are there?

        Pun-ishingly bad ones of course ;)

    3. Terje
      Headmaster

      Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

      Bad puns, I beg to disagree, they are at least average puns!

    4. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

      >Happy friday, I'm just here for the bad puns.

      A cold hard stair from me until you stop...

    5. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

      There's a lad 'er two that came here for the same reason.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

        of all these, none really made me laugh.

        Indeed, no pun intended.

        1. Z80

          Re: User problem: needed to be escalated.

          The quality is definitely diminishing so I think much like the workers in the basement I'll take flight.

  5. thosrtanner
    Paris Hilton

    I'd have to say I'd have thought it'd be SOP to check that, if the stairs were the only exit from a room, there was no one actually in the room before removing the stairs.

    1. A K Stiles Silver badge

      Doors possibly 'air-locked' and access controlled? But yes, it does seem like a sensible sort of approach to have a last check before commencing demolition!

    2. chuBb. Bronze badge

      Its not uncommon for keys to be lent to researchers who pull all nighters, saves finding and bothering security every time you want a fag/fresh air, and if you have blagged a key, why would you use the main enterence which usually adds .5 miles of additional walking to get to where you need to be, of course by doing so you bypass any of the people counting mechanisms the place may have, so wont be missed and "shouldnt" be there....

    3. John Sturdy
      WTF?

      If the contractors had the key to that door, that is.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "I'd have to say I'd have thought it'd be SOP to check"

      I'd have thought it would have been SOP to hold a site meeting well beforehand with the users of the rooms that might have been affect. And to put up large warning notices in advance. Relying on emails for something like that is just silly. Even if the meeting invites were sent out by emails that were missed there'd have been time to take other steps to let people know.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Holmes

        Colleague of mine at Glacto Smut Klim, had a ticket in a building, went in, front desk unattended, so went & put all his clean room kit on & went in search of the PC with the issue when came forth a very loud.

        "What the fuck are you doing here?"

        "Investigating a issue with this PC & keyboard, Why?"

        I'm on the final walk through to check the building is empty, we are going to start fumigating it in the next 4 mins, didn't you see the signs at the front!"

        "What signs?"

        Indeed there was a complete lack of signage as all the regular staff were away, having been told it's a shutdown day & was deemed to be not required as the only people supposed to be there were the gassing team!

  6. Marco van de Voort

    NMR wiping.

    I did need to get a new ATM card due to the magnets of an NMR apparatus. There was tray for keys and wallets near the door that I forgot in my hurry.

    Usually it was fine, but occasionally (specially after servicing) a light imbalance could generate a card wiping field (and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers, but I never witnessed that).

    p.s., hydrochloric acid on your ATM card is also not very good for it. Just light acid on the hand and touched the magnetic strip of card at one end, but the card was finito, the strip got some green tinges at the end where the acid touched and refused to work a few days later . All in the nineties when the ATMs only had a magnetic script of course.

    1. richardcox13

      Re: NMR wiping.

      > p.s., hydrochloric acid on your ATM card is also not very good for it.

      One wonders what a HCl infected magnetic strip did to the readers...

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: NMR wiping.

        As in Hydrabad Computing Limited?

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

      Said by lab technicians no doubt.

      Unless your keys are made of steel (quite rare I imagine) I'd have to slap a big "DISBELIEVE" on this bit of folklore.

      They *might* cause mayhem in the spectrum as you swanned around the instrument tweeking veeblefetzers and adjusting the grunewallop. Depends on the instrument and how old it was.

      1. RM Mynez-Arefzlash

        Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

        I had to have an MRI scan a while back. Having heard the key-ripping stories I asked what would really happen if I had key on me. The operator gave me an ordinary looking Yale key to hold and told me to put it into the doughnut. I doubt it would be ripped from trousers but, clenched in my hand, I had to fight hard to stop my hand flying into the side of the machine.

        I'm actually surprised that I was allowed to do that.

        1. Hubert Cumberdale

          Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

          Yup. I can confirm this is definitely _not_ folklore. At a certain Midlands university, the actions of a careless workman led to several people needing to haul together on a rope to remove a ferrous tool (I think it was a spanner) from one of the superconducting magnets. The problem, of course, is that you can't just simply switch them off. It was only luck that meant the flying object didn't damage the magnet when it hit and cause a quench. Although that would at least have removed the need for the rope. Unless of course they decided it should instead be applied to the workman. Which may have been justified.

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: needing to haul together on a rope to remove a ferrous tool

            Keys not ferrous, as I said before.

            Non-ferrous metals can be affected by the magnetic field, but usually the problem is the heating from induced currents and the radio emissions in MRI machines.

            Wearing a key ring in the pocket while working an NMR machine (different beast, similar technology) would be, in my opinion, no risk to trouser material but likely ruinous to the spectrum being prepared.

            1. NotBob
              FAIL

              Re: needing to haul together on a rope to remove a ferrous tool

              I have ferrous keys, a ferrous key ring, and a ferrous keychain. None of which are unusual. What are you on about?

              1. Hubert Cumberdale

                Re: needing to haul together on a rope to remove a ferrous tool

                Stevie's got a point - I just tried sticking all the keys on my normal keyring to a magnet, and of the six, comprising four pin-tumbler (or "Yale") keys, one (clearly brass) 5-lever mortice key, and one (apparently steel) mortice key, only the latter was interested. Keyring stuck fine. Interesting.

              2. Kiwi Silver badge
                Boffin

                Re: needing to haul together on a rope to remove a ferrous tool

                Really? I've not seen a ferrous key in a long time! (not saying I disbelieve you, just that IME they're rare these days)

                I have a ferrous key ring, but I don't think any of my keys are. House keys are aluminium, garage and padlock keys are something that is supposed to be brass, the bike and car keys are... [goes off hunting a magnet] - not sure what they are but not magnetic so most likely non-ferrous (unless there's a tiny amount)

                [wanders off in hunt of more keys]..Ancient house key - aluminium. Pushbike pretend-lock key - oh, here's a surprise. This one actually IS ferrous.. I am quite surprised at that! Was a cheap crappy lock and I'm surprised they used something as expensive as plated steel!

                Some sciencey/engineering stuff... When stuff is plated, the plating solutions can gain an amount of iron that can be transferred to the item. I had an argument with a guy where I was telling him that both zinc and copper were not magnetic, and he demonstrated some headscratchyness on my part by holding up a zinc-plated copper rod with a magnet. very simple and effective way to prove your point! But after talking to the platers, the guy showed me some markings on the hook that he said were "iron contamination", ie the zinc solution needed IIRC hydrogen peroxide (to precipitate out the iron) and filtering.

                Point of the above is there may be small amounts of iron in a key that your normal household magnets won't notice but an MRI machine would have a field day with!

                1. Martin-73 Silver badge

                  Re: needing to haul together on a rope to remove a ferrous tool

                  "field day". I see what you did there

      2. Donn Bly

        Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

        The keys generally aren't, but the key RINGS often are.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

          Normal people don't link more rings than keys.

          At this point I'm going to say "YouTube or didn't happen".

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

            "Normal people don't link more rings than keys."

            I've got a winding key on the end of my watch chain ...

      3. swm Silver badge

        Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

        I heard a story about a policeman who ignored signs and walked in to a room with an active NMR (nor MRI) machine. His service revolver was ripped from his holster.

        1. ricardian

          Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

          Policeman's revolver pulled into the machine AND fired a round

          https://www.ajronline.org/doi/full/10.2214/ajr.178.5.1781092

        2. No Yb

          Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

          NMR and MRI are the same technology. They removed "Nuclear" from the name because patients kept thinking (ionizing) radiation was involved.

      4. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
        Windows

        Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

        Many an old timer welding person will remind you of the time they had an MRI and during the process it removed a slither of steel from an eye.

        Heard it so many times that it's either true or something almost as drastic happened to someone and it became folklore.

        1. whitepines Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

          Many an old timer welding person will remind you of the time they had an MRI and during the process it removed a slither of steel from an eye.

          That's not so much folklore as a known (quite painful and potentially blinding) problem. Sliver of steel gets very hot best case, worst case tears through delicate eye structures cauterizing as it goes.

          They give X-rays of the head to steelworkers to avoid this. Any stories of removal would date from before that practice, but where do you think the requirement to X-ray came from?

        2. Kiwi Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

          Many an old timer welding person will remind you of the time they had an MRI and during the process it removed a slither of steel from an eye.

          I have my doubts about an eye (had fragments get in, trust me you don't wait around for that to be fixed!).

          But I can easily believe bits from hands or other places. I had an iron splinter break off inside my hand, and I could feel it there for a couple of years before it broke down (yes I did get it checked, Dr said if it wasn't too bad wasn't worth worrying about, cutting me open could be worse). Wish I'd've thought to ask the local hospital if they could let me sit inside the machine for a moment...

      5. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: and it was said to rip the keys from your trousers.

        And for all the thumbing down, the observant person will note no Youtube link or even a text link to a firsthand account of this happening has been posted.

        The only reference I could find was in I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein and that is a secondhand hearsay account of something a technician said to clear a room in a science fiction story, *not* a report of actual trouser ripping in an actual lab.

        More to the point, I've operated an NMR machine, and written of that here before.

        The (ferrous) retort stand claws required no heroic measures to remove, just one waggish lab tech.

        I stand by my disbelief in this magic Key-Ring Attractor of Trouser Destruction.

  7. jake Silver badge

    In somewhat the same vein ...

    ... one morning I rode my horse from Portola Valley Equestrian Center to SLAC. Got her into one of the buildings, and down the heavy goods lift into the basement, hitched her to my office door and got to work. I stopped there, but I could have taken her into the actual computer room down the hall.

    At lunch time, I rode her back to PVEC. Nobody seemed to even notice, except a janitor who poked his head into my office to say "Nice horse! Are you expecting me to clean up after her?", to which I replied that I'd take care of it if necessary.

    Why? To prove a point about lax security ... Neither the horse, nor myself, had our badge with us. Funny how video of a horse in a basement can light a fire under otherwise disinterested management ... security is much better at SLAC now. No, I wasn't arrested. Today, I'd probably get life without for even suggesting such a stunt ... Prior to this, I had been riding my panhead down the same path for about a week, including the trip down the lift, without anybody batting an eye.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: In somewhat the same vein ...

      >Funny how video of a horse in a basement can light a fire under otherwise disinterested management

      Did they have horse voices once they'd finished shouting at you?

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Today, I'd probably get life without for even suggesting such a stunt

      Depends. Was your horse wearing a test harness?

  8. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Assaulted

    Or had your way to the server room blocked by an impromptu assault course?

    Asbestos clearance from the ceiling of the main corridor. We hadn't missed the emails warning about the work that would take place that week, but we all just hoped nothing would go wrong in the secondary server room that we couldn't fix remotely. Naturally, it did, and it happened to be my kit. The clean-up squad made me wear a blue plastic suit with hood and respirator, escorted me through an airlock made from sheets of velcro-ed plastic, constructed another temporary airlock over the server room door and hoovered it out, then gave me a Ziploc bag containing a wet cloth to rub my suit down with before I could open the door. I don't know how much of it they did just to show their annoyance at having their work interrupted, but I was in no position to argue.

    1. PM from Hell
      Facepalm

      Re: Assaulted

      I spent the weekend in a diagnostic centre where two unrelated bits of work caused chaos and hell, luckily I was very fit at the time.

      There were 4 of us on shift covering the whole weekend in an office with 60+ desks. Some internal offices were in the process of being dismantled and the wall panels were being stacked in the aisle between unused areas of desks awaiting collection. it should have had no impact on us weekend workers other than a bit of noise and some banter with the contractors.

      Unfortunately a PBX config cock up turned our office into a single call group, rather than calls coming in going to our teams 4 phones they were hitting any phone in the office, ringing 6 times then transferring to another random phone.

      This lead to hours of trying to wait until a call hit a phone close to you then leaping over tools, piles of office bits or desks to grab the phone. It took several hours to get hold of some one who could get a telephone tech on site and several more while he worked out what had been done and backed it out. Thankfully the fault was fixed and Sunday was a quiet day. I seem to remember that was one of the rare occasions where we did nap in the office

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Assaulted

        I would probably have started disconnecting phones until only my teams 4 phones remained.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Assaulted

          Well, so would I, but then I'm old and don't understand modern networked electronics.

          At least, that's the working assumption of some of my colleagues.

  9. MAF
    Coat

    Makes a change from the usual hole that IT users dig themselves into...

  10. Stevie Silver badge

    "The doorway that led to the stairwell had been covered over with cardboard, newspaper and orange tape. [...] Undeterred, Graham swiftly dispensed with the obstruction"

    Was this place of higher education perhaps the University That is Very Difficult To See That Has A Very Big Tower?

    1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

      He may have forgotten to take his dried frog pills, which may explain a lot

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was a student at Oxford Polytechnic in the 70's and they recruited a bunch of us to refurbish the top floor of one of the buildings - it involved removing a corridor wall that ran about 30 feet along the rooms. We got stuck into it but it was a slow job so we started taking out every other block at the base of the wall and cleared the area behind it. Then we all got into the corridor and pushed the entire wall over ... the entire building (six floors I think) shook when the wall crashed over and the guy in charge came running up from his office in the ground floor, fired us all and called in a surveyor to check the rest of the building for damage.

    1. swm Silver badge

      At RPI they decided on year to match students by their habits: fastidious, tidy, cluttered, messy, war zone. They put all of the "war zone" students together in one wing of a dormitory. By the end of the term walls were missing from the dorm.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Alert

      "It seemed like a good idea at the time"

      Live (thankfully) and learn..."easy does it", next time, eh?

  12. TeeCee Gold badge
    Coat

    "We ended up sourcing a ladder to get him out,"

    Couldn't they have just given him a lift?

  13. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Oo.

    "...controlled by extremely slow, horribly dated, insecure..."

    Anybody else expecting "...PHB drones" or the like?

  14. David in NL
    Facepalm

    All funny jabs aside... this was a situation where I was working in the DR Data Centre of a healthcare organization that was located in a mental hospital... which, as you would expect, has pretty tight security. Took me 20 minutes of walking around the building looking for open doors to finally find an open ward and had the nice Nurse call security for me... (you see, I also needed them to lock up the building area I was in - it had a PHYSICAL lock on the department door that needed a key from the outside).

    Funniest part of the entire situation was the Nurse having to inform the Security Guard that, yes, it did appear that I was PERMITTED to leave the building.

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