back to article We know it's hard to get your kicks at work – just do it away from a wall switch powering anything important

It seems that hardly anyone is flying these days. Handy because in today's On Call, one false move interrupts the monitoring of air traffic. The tale, from "Chris", takes us back 30 years to a helpdesk tasked with supporting the mainframes and PCs for an unnamed air traffic control centre. On the day in question, he received …

  1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    One of my earliest IT gigs as a contractor, involved a lady repeatedly, killing the power for a line of dumb terminals by puling on the lead & pulling the plug out by extension (Pun intended).

    A year or so later another gig, there was this lady lets call her Paris (Icon) that liked to give out train timetable information, with one of her feet tucked up under her lady parts & rubbing\bouncing herself off on it as she gave out the required info.

    1. RockBurner
      Gimp

      Got any recordings of said announcements??

      1. Symon
        Coat

        Perhaps for the train from Penistone to Scunthorpe?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Ah that would that be part of the

          Scunthorpe > Penistone > Clitheroe line then.

          1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
            Trollface

            Re:

            Never went to Clitheroe.

            Couldn't find it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Got any recordings of said announcements??

        "Attention please. The train approaching platform four is the two-ooo!-oooo!-oooooooo!-ooooooooooooooooh! fifty five from Paddington, stopping at..."

  2. simonlb

    Reminds me of an odd thing I came across many years ago with the PC for one of the office admins. It was a HP Vectra running NT4 Desktop with a 17" CRT sat on top, both of which were plugged into a power strip on the back of the desk. The admin would turn the PC on every morning and shut it down every night, just like everyone else in the office.

    Every couple of months though, the PC would refuse to power on and appear completely dead. Swap the power plugs over at the back of the PC and monitor and the monitor would power on but the PC would remain completely dead. However, unplug the power cables at the power strip at the back of the desk and swap them over there and the PC would power on, boot up and run fine with the monitor also working fine! And it would do this every two months or so. People thought I was joking when I told them, until it happened the next time and I'd let them swap the power cables over and see for themselves. No-one could explain it.

    1. nintendoeats Bronze badge

      ...Could it not just have been that the act of swapping the cables took long enough to properly power-cycle the computer?...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Being off all night should have been long enough.

        But it might be possible if it was some sort of power on not always working. If it fails you have to try 3 times? Or maybe a cable had an iffy connection on the plug end.

        But I would ask did they ever try to swap out the power strip?

    2. Solviva

      Had a similar inexplicable power-loss with a Supermicro machine not so long ago. Can't remember how it started, I think occasionally it would just reboot. It then progressed to simply dying completely, like there was no power into the machine. It had IPMI and even that was dead.

      Unplugged both PSUs, replugged them, nothing. Something made me think to try a wall socket rather than the rack power (which obviously was working since other machines were happy with it). As soon as it tasted power from a different UPS it sprung back to life. Then sometime later it died again, this time no amount of trying different power sources would wake it up, so I pulled it out the rack (still plugged in) and popped the lid for it to spring back to life. Now the lid-closed switch seemed to have an effect. After enough of these shenanigans a new machine was acquired to replace it and I pulled the odd machine out and sat it in the corner for a year or so.

      Came round to try it again, and strangely it seemed to be fine and worked for a good few months with no issues... then it started again as before!

      1. witchy

        Several years ago we got a Supermicro in to repair. It would keep randomly powering off and if you left it alone it would randomly power up again. No reason, no logic. Power switch was OK on a DMM test, and in the end I had all the components separated as much as cables would allow to test ground leakage. The power module/CDROM etc were in their own enclosure so that was removed, motherboard etc up on cardboard but as soon as you took a long screwdriver and touched the metal chassis of the case with the metal box the CDROM was in the thing would power off.

        I discovered there was a hidden reset switch on the power module, same type as the main switch so I swapped them over and the problem went away. It seemed that while the power switch itself tested ok for making contact while pressed there was JUST enough GND leakage going on to make the ACPI think someone was pressing the button.

        That's 4 days of my life I won't get back.

      2. rototype

        Sounds a bit like a PC I was working on in the late 80s - fairly modern spec PC clone for the time but it just kept rebooting. No logic behind it - just rebooted seemingly whenever it felt like it. Then - a breakthrough (of sorts) knocked the bench getting up to see someone else and it rebooted again - Hmmm, Soon got to tapping it with the back end of a screwdriver and around the power socket Bingo! Cover off, more tapping -tap - reboot, tap - reboot. dodgy jooint in the Power On Reset circuitry of the power supply, changed the PSU and all was good from then on (I think the boss put the old one in the 50p bucket and some mug bought it - didn't come back though).

    3. SuperGeek

      It sounds like the contacts in the plugboard were not making contact properly? Unplugging them was jiggling the connection. The leaf connectors in the board were likely burnt/worn.

      I have one here that occasionally crackles. Dismantling it I sanded all the contacts with wire wool, problem solved!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    She should have been sacked

    But users never get sacked for IT crapitude do they?

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: She should have been sacked

      In her defense, that switch should have been above the desk (within easy manual reach just in case) and out of reach of her foot.

      1. riffrafff

        Re: She should have been sacked

        Why would any important PC (or any PC at all) be on a switched outlet?

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: She should have been sacked

          Because just about all outlets are switched in the UK.

          1. Nightkiller

            Re: She should have been sacked

            I don't get this. Desks are about 34" inches high. This desk had an open back and the operator was flailing about enough to hit the switch? Is the Genesis "Get 'em out by Friday" solution of halving the room's height to increase capacity implemented here?

            Oh. You mean in Britain, electrical outlets have switches beside them to control them.

            Silly me.

            1. Richard Pennington 1
              Coat

              Not always the power switch ...

              ... or perhaps she got her kicks

              On Router 66 ...

  4. RockBurner

    I've actually suffered this myself in the past: accidentally kicking the wall-socket switch and powering down the pc right in the middle of writing fiddly code. (or, more likely, browsing El Reg, I don't remember completely, boss).

    Obviously: it only happened the once because a piece of duct tape was duly commandeered to serve as a switch movement prevention device, because I knew that:

    a) the desk was never going to be moved, and the plug never removed, (at least while I sat there)

    b) I'd not be able to remember to not kick my leg out occasionally, and

    c) Duct tape holds the universe together.

    1. Symon
      Thumb Up

      Ah, the home made molly-guard. Bravo!

      https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/molly-guard

      https://www.google.com/search?q=molly+guard

    2. don't you hate it when you lose your account Silver badge

      Dodgy power strip

      Finally got to the bonus level in bubble bobble, stamp feet in joy. All goes off. Never did get there again.

    3. IHateWearingATie

      I have duct tape (or gaffer tape) over a switch under my desk for the very same reason. That only got applied after the third unexpected power off incident, as I overestimated my ability to not kick my feet around under my desk when I read some stupid email that's arrived!

    4. Mast1

      Why have the switch ?

      I often wondered why UK sockets sometimes come without a switch. Seemed a bit cheapskate, until I lobbed a lightweight holdall under the counter into a space beside the freezer. Two days later I noticed a puddle on the floor in front of the freezer. Yup, complete de-frost. Had managed to hit the rocker with the holdall: so then I "cheapskated" and went for a switchless socket.

      1. John Arthur

        Re: Why have the switch ?

        Exactly that. Our fridge is built-in and was powered from a switched socket at the back of the adjoining cupboard. Which has various pots and pans in. So one day I notice the light in the fridge does not come on. No noise from motor. So I guess, correctly, what has happened. The socket has now been changed out for an unswitched one.

      2. David Nash

        Re: Why have the switch ?

        "I often wondered why UK sockets sometimes come without a switch"

        Elsewhere on this website you will find people arguing vehemently that having a switch is pointless.

        1. nintendoeats Bronze badge

          Re: Why have the switch ?

          We certainly don't need them in north america. Thinking...when would I have found this useful...nope...nothing.

          1. keith_w Bronze badge

            Re: Why have the switch ?

            Yes we do. We have one that controls the outlet near the front door. During the summer it powers the window air conditioner, although the switch does not purposely get used, During the Christmas season it controls the Christmas lights on the tree and in the window. However, that switch is at the normal level, not at a level that is easily kicked or otherwise inappropriately accessed. Also, a lot of rooms without ceiling lights have switched outlets to turn on lamps as you enter.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              In other words, the OUTLET doesn't have a built-in switch, but is powered by a regular light switch.

            2. Godgifu

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              We have a few of such switches in the US too. Long ago (fifty years or thereabouts) my apartment had a switch that powered a wall socket on or off. But it was maybe four feet off the floor, just at hand level as I walked through the front door. I assume it was to power a floor-stand lamp, but I didn't have one of those, so I hung an overhead light (I forget just not how I managed to hang it from the ceiling). A friend of mine visited once, looked at my rigged ceiling light and my used-graduate-student furniture (including brick-and-board bookcases) and said, "Oh, I see. You're just camping."

          2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: Why have the switch ?

            If you had switched sockets, you'd soon discover that they are often very useful. A bit like garbage disposal units - ubiquitous in the USA but few people in the UK consider them to be useful. (In fact they are very useful, especially for the rats living in the sewers).

          3. NorthIowan

            Re: Why have the switch ?

            Well if you can reach the switch on the outlet you can pull the plug. Most of the time. What if the plug only has bare wires coming out of it? I never saw a UK outlet so I don't know if the switch would help with that case.

            1. ibmalone Silver badge

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              Feast your eyes: https://cpc.farnell.com/pro-elec/9798/socket-twin-switched-dp/dp/PL09216

              A UK plug with bare wire coming out is unlikely. I don't think sockets are required to be switched, however it's useful if you need to turn something off in a hurry. When things start smoking pulling plugs is good for ratcheting up the tension, just flicking all switches off is much less dramatic. It's also somewhat tidier to be able to leave something plugged in but switched off. End of the world either way? Not really.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Why have the switch ?

                As any fule know, UK mains plugs, when not in a socket, always end up on the floor with the prongs standing up. Having a switched socket so you don't need to remove the plug is a safety feature for those night time bare foot adventures around the house.

                Most other countries tend to have plugs that are not designed to maim you so have less reason to discourage unplugging them.

                1. ibmalone Silver badge
                  Joke

                  Re: Why have the switch ?

                  This is actually an anti-intruder feature.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              According to a Youtube video I watched some time ago, one of the safety features is that the cable is at right ages to the plug/prongs so that it hangs down. This is to stop you unplugging it by yanking* on the cable.

              * I presume you are from the US - unintentional pun!

            3. the hatter

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              That may be part of the difference - US plugs will fall out of the socket if you so much as glance at them, whether you like it or not, a UK plug stays where you plugged it, and needs a bit of a wiggle and a proper grip to remove it. That said, no need to then relocate the plug and replug it when there's a switch. Handy for instance if you don't trust the 'off'/low power mode of many modern devices. And would stop all those sparks that rather scare visitors to the US when they plug in those flimsy plugs.

            4. CountCadaver

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              Avoids arcing when you pull a plug thats "on load" i.e. when something is drawing current and goes "on the fritz" (and yes I've seen some decent blue flashes when yanking plugs in Canada)

              You also get sockets that either switch only the line or both line and neutral at the same time.

              When South Africa introduced their new socket design, their papers were talking about the way it was leap forward because there were "no dangerous switches".....

          4. Daedalus Silver badge

            Re: Why have the switch ?

            It's common in the USA to wire a wall switch to a nearby socket to turn lights on and off, given that few modern houses have ceiling lights except in the kitchen. There's even a colo(u)r code convention on the wire. Black (live) goes from the socket to the switch and Red (secondary live) is supposed to come back, but if you only have cable with Black and White (neutral) you're supposed to put black tape or marker on the returning white wire. I like to break the bridge on a dual socket so that one of the pair can be switched and the other always on.

            That said, you can buy a socket/switch combo that fits in the same place as the ubiquitous dual socket. What you do after that is limited only by your imagination.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              "It's common in the USA to wire a wall switch to a nearby socket to turn lights on and off, given that few modern houses have ceiling lights except in the kitchen."

              Ah, that explains a lot. From TV, I often wondered why so many US houses seemed to have a wall switch to turn on all the standing and table lamps instead of a central room light. It probably also explains why US hotel chains bedrooms always seem so dull at night. As you stated, there's no ceiling light, just side lamps.

              1. Rich 11 Silver badge

                Re: Why have the switch ?

                It probably also explains why US hotel chains bedrooms always seem so dull at night.

                That's so you can't see the stains on the bed linen.

                1. $till$kint
                  Facepalm

                  Re: Why have the switch ?

                  For reasons that escape me, I decided it was a good idea to buy a cheap UV torch as I spend so much time in hotels on various contracts.

                  That was a mistake. Ignorance, as they say, is not knowing just how far up the walls "splatter batter" can go.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Why have the switch ?

                I don't understand the need to have a switch on the socket (outlet). I am 81 years old and never have I seen an outlet with a switch on it. Also, anything plugged into the socket will have a switch. Before I retired I traveled to many states as part of my job. I was never in a hotel/motel room that did not have an overhead light. Granted, the overhead light was near the entrance to the room and the other lamps in the room had a switch on the lamp itself. I currently live in a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with 2 hallways. Every room in the house, including closets and hallways, have overhead lights.

                1. rototype

                  Re: Why have the switch ?

                  If you'd seen some of the machines I've seen (mostly for shop use) you'd not ask that - the rtaditional method for turning the power on or off was pulling the plug out of the socket and vice versa - having a switch on the socket means a lot less wear on the plug (and consequenty the cable). Whenever I've had a piece of kit like this the first thing I've done is fot a NVR switch to it (it usually involves some spinning thing that can cause serious injury) but still you see them on ebay with nothing between the motor and plug except an unbroken length of cable.

                  Another reasdon for te switch I think is the fact that we use 240V AC as opposed to the much tamer 115V you get on that side of the pond - trust me, 240V hurts more, if you can switch it off before unplugging you reduce the risks a bit. (and for the past 40+ years, all live/neutral pins have had to be shrouded 1/2 way up so you can't accidentally touch a live pin - got to think of the kiddies you know...)

            2. CountCadaver

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              We do similar here, instead of buying dual brown (brown being line and blue being neutral (at least post 2006) we instead sleeve the blue with brown or in a pinch tape the blue end with brown electrical tape,

              We don't mark the switched live in a different colour (well not yet, the IET might see this and think its a great idea...)

              Something similar can be done here, using the old BS546 5Amp round pin plugs to power lamps that are wall switched (so people don't try and use them for other purposes)

        2. Hairy Scary

          Re: Why have the switch ?

          Where I worked a lot of sockets were unswitched, one morning I heard a loud shout from the next room. Went to investigate an found the cleaner had tried to unplug her vacuum cleaner and the top had come off the 13A plug resulting in her hand coming across the live an neutral pins.

          As the socket was unswitched there was no way to isolate it, the distribution board was in a locked storeroom and only caretakers had a key -- they were not available at the time.

          I removed the plug by gripping the earth pin with insulated pliers and holding the flex close to where it entered the plug, eased it out of the socket.

          All the unswitched sockets in the building were replaced with switched ones after that.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Why have the switch ?

            The correct solution is making sure the top can't come off that easily (screw it on properly). And (assuming it is in the UK, as indicated by the 13A socket), that socket also had a fuse, so cutting the power would have been as easy as shorting it, safety first and damn the cost of one fuse.

            1. Hairy Scary

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              No, the socket would not have a fuse -- the fuse is in the plug, the only fuse in circuit would be the 30 amp (or bigger) one in the dist board supplying the ring circuit -- fancy shorting that out?-- no, didn't think so!

              Yes the cleaner's vac should have been checked regularly for obvious faults / cable damage but this was years before PAT came in so it probably wasn't checked that often, the plug top had probably been loose for long enough and she had continued to use it like that without getting it seen to until it came apart.

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: Why have the switch ?

                I see I misunderstood, I thought the top of the socket had come of.

            2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              Re: Why have the switch ?

              UK sockets do NOT have their own fuse, only the plug has a fuse (which would still be unsafe with the top off after the fuse has blown) - but even if the socket did have a fuse, how would you recommend *safely* shorting out the plug in the situation described? And do *you* check the plug top of every appliance you use to ensure that the screw that holds it together is not loose or has partially stripped threads?

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Why have the switch ?

                "And do *you* check the plug top of every appliance you use to ensure that the screw that holds it together is not loose or has partially stripped threads?"

                If the plug top is loose, that's almost always immediately obvious. The other failure mode tends not to be stripped threads, but the plastic the threaded "nut" is embedded in. If that's weakened, eg the older style Bakelite and similar plugs where that can crack with usage and/or age.

      3. Diogenes

        Re: Why have the switch ?

        At home, SWMBO & I turn all our devices off using the wall switch rather than using the button on the device (or using a remote to leave them on standby). I got sick of replacing expensive devices because the device switch failed and could not be repaired. I have only ever had fewer than a handful of switches fail in 60 years on this earth, and if it should fail I get can easily get a new one from Bunnings (our big box hardware store) for a few $$$s

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      One of my cats managed to power off my computer this week. Since I'm now destined to work from home for the foreseeable, I built a high performance desktop (or deskside) machine. It's plugged into a switched power strip, and my eldest cat who likes to lurk under the desk switched it off. I've now ordered an unswitched power strip.

    6. JimboSmith Silver badge

      An electrician I once worked with told me he'd found a perfect mollyguard for the 13Amp sockests he used. It was a hard plastic oblong cap that covered the switch perfectly with semi flexible plastic strips at either end. It was part of the packaging from something else so otherwise just waste. A small amount of sticky backed velcro top & bottom kept them in place. He'd installed a few over the years with little if any problems. Then one day a customer said called him and said they had certain equipment being turned off overnight probably accidentally. They asked if he could fit guards as a result. It was a retrofit but easy enough to do and quite cheap.

      Customer less impressed as the guards keep 'falling off' so he paid a visit one morning and the Velcro was still there on both the guide and the guard. He stuck the 'fallen' ones off back on and they're fine which is baffling. Everything's fine when the staff leave at night but not the next morning.

      Intrigued he made enquiries and it's only happened on certain nights. Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday nights are the culprits. After sabotage can't be ruled out he installed a camera linked to a long play VCR. As some of you will have already guessed the cleaner came three nights a week. Despite there being clearly labelled 'Cleaning Sockets' the cleaner wasn't using them. So they just used the closest socket pulling off the guard as they did so. The cleaner was a little Italian lady who didn't understand why some idiot had put things over the switches or indeed why you shouldn't unplug something.l

      1. matt38

        We had those modified plugs and sockets where the earth pin was a T shape, so cleaners couldn't use the regular sockets. Didn't stop new cleaners unplugging things occasionally only to find out they wouldn't fit, or enterprising IT staff wiring a regular power strip to a cleaner plug ;-)

        Plus ça change, these days the cleaners unplug USB devices to charge their phones...

  5. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Facepalm

    NoNo! You can't do that.

    Never let the users think anything they do is justified. They will take it to mean everything they do is!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I posted she should have been sacked and yet had a couple downvotes.

      She sounds unprofessional and a liability. Though also sack the moron who put the switch at that height AND the moron who put a desk there

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        You want someone fired for moving their feet? Now she should have noticed the switch, but from the sound of it she didn't. I occasionally tap my desk when thinking about a refactor. Am I unprofessional now too? If she ignored people telling her not to do that or if she did it deliberately, that would be a case for discipline, although immediate firing seems extreme. Doing it accidentally and reportedly not even knowing she was doing it seems a lot more innocent.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used to work at a rather large airport.

    I remember talking to someone not long after they joined and they complained about the phones having some weird interference. I smiled, asked them to pick up the phone and I would 'predict' when it would buzz for them. They picked up the phone, and I just said "buzz......buzz......buzz.....buzz" as I watched the very large radar dish spin round not far from the office window......

    Maybe that's why I turned out the way I am now. :)

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Boffin

      One of my earliest memories (going back almost half a century) is something similar.

      Sitting in the back seat of the car at Heathrow, with the (AM - I said it was a long time ago) radio on. Every few seconds there was a beep-like tone overriding the music, in perfect sync to the large ATC radar dish that was visible out of the windscreen.

      The kinda thing that sticks in a young mind, and likewise may explain a bit of how I turned out all these decades later as well...

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        One of the radars at Heathrow would sometimes interfere with car immobilisers in a car park (Terminal 3?) that meant it was no longer possible to arm/disarm. Road side assistance would tow the vehicles out of the car park and well away from that area to a quiet spot and all would be well.

        No idea if it was the 23cm radar or the one in the radome next to the old control tower (both now decommissioned) that caused the interference.

        1. Bogbody

          French TV tranmitters did swamp the reciever circuit of certain British market imobilisers/alarms used on motorbikes.

          Mate was stranded 3 hours from Calais by the signal from a TV transmitter. Its only when the bike was recovered and put inside a panel van (Faraday cage) that the alarm would re-set and the bike would then start.

          He was still charged €90 and just made it too the ferry on time. :-)

          The bike was made before imobilisers were factory fitted. In those days insurance companies would insist on an alarm or there was no theft cover.

          Still happens now, locals carry a tin and foil to shield the aftermarket alarm. Factory ones sometimes fail too. Can happen here too :-)

          1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

            Yes, my aftermarket alarm would invariably exhibit the same behaviour - one of the regular spots was a car park where with a nearby building with mobile phone masts in the roof. Luckily, knowing where the control unit was, opening the door manually (and triggering the alarm), and pressing the keyfob disarm button in the vicinity of the control unit usually did the trick.

            Once I got a call from a friend who mentioned that other people in the car park appeared to be having problems with their car alarms as well - I asked where she was at the time - she was not far from a certain establishment in the south coast with naval radars and communications masts - I said to get inside the car and try to disarm - it worked.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "Still happens now, locals carry a tin and foil to shield the aftermarket alarm. Factory ones sometimes fail too. Can happen here too :-)"

            And yet, the rules on RFI in products is that they should not produce RFI that interferes with other devices and should be able to cope with RFI from other devices. I wonder if consumer law would define such failures as a design fault?

            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              I think that means home electricals like your wi fi and a microwave oven (which still are reputed not to get on well, but this may be fantasy unless you are leaving the door open). It would not be your car electronics and an Early Warning radar station - both of which probably are regulated differently.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Twenty-odd years ago I worked for a company that was building the first digital cable TV (DVB-C) platform in their home country. The initial playout (converting analog to digital and putting it out on the network) was built quickly and by trial-and-error, so it wasn't the prettiest build I've seen (not the worst one either). The goal was always to, once they got it working properly, build an proper version next to the first one and cut over services.

        Everything on the service was working as expected, except that some lower-interest channels at irregular intervals would show three-second bursts of pixellation/blocking, recurring some five-to-fifteen times, before clearing up. This happened a number of times per day, pretty much always within working hours, very rarely during evenings/nights (we had people watching 24x7, recording every instance to find a pattern). A lot of work was put into figuring this out, ranging from tightening / replacing all connectors, switching between primary and backup feeds, up- and downgrading encoder software, looking at incoming satellite signals and anything you can think of. Since it was only a handful of not-very-essential channels it was decided that they'd go ahead with the launch and planned rebuild of the playout farm, albeit slightly delayed due to the troubleshooting.

        After cutting over the services, everything worked fine - no pixellation on any channels. It was only when they dismantled the first build that they found one of the engineers' missing DECT phone that was jammed behind one of the encoders. Apparently, everytime someone tried to call it the actual ringing induced some form of noise into that particular part of the rack. How that phone kept its charge for three weeks is anyone's guess, since the identical ones us mortals used wouldn't last past lunch on a regular day.

        (Anonymous to avoid finger pointing.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Probably Nokia phone! I had a 6310i and the battery life was amazing. I had a faulty battery - had to charge it up every two weeks!

          edit - my bad, you said DECT, that's basically a cordless phone, not mobile

      3. CuChulainn

        When I was a kid (well, teenager), the guy in the house that backed on to our garden installed the radio ham equivalent of Jodrell Bank on the roof of his conservatory. A huge thing on a motorised rotator.

        From that moment on, we were getting TV and radio interference, clearly of a non-white noise variety. It was always at night, and always when his back upstairs bedroom light was on.

        Having just got into the same kind of thing myself, I went round to politely mention it to him. And he denied having anything! At first. But then it turned out he'd been getting complaints from the local authority by disgruntled residents in a half mile radius.

        When I pointed out the hardware on his roof, he changed tack and showed me his set up. And he fitted noise suppression, which improved things a bit.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          If it was a large dish, he was probably doing moon-bounce.

        2. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

          Ham interference....

          In the mid-1960s, we had a neighbor with a ham rig. Every now and again, we could hear his transmission on one TV channel. My father told him he need to shield his rig, and got brushed off. Since my father had tapped into the audio circuits of the TV to feed a tape recorder (reel to reel 1/4", for you youngsters), he caught the guy on tape, complete with call letters. My father made a copy of the tape and mailed it to the FCC. Next thing you know, a bunch of guys in suits turned up on his doorstep telling him, "Shield it NOW or lose your license."

          1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: Ham interference....

            These days it's two way - Amateur Radio enthusiasts get clobbered by kit that signal through mains and interference from DSL. It's not all one way, as the following discussion illustrates

            https://forums.thinkbroadband.com/technical/3692418-amateur-radio-interfering-with-adsl.html?fpart=all

            http://www.arrl.org/dsl-interference

          2. ICPurvis47
            Devil

            Re: Ham interference....

            We moved next door to an older couple, who were very nice at first. Then the old lady was made to retire from her job at the local school, and became very bitter. One day she complained (amongst other things) that we were causing interference to her television with our CB radio. We told her that we didn't have a CB radio, but that didn't make any difference. To punish us, she tuned a radio to a quiet station and placed it with the loudspeaker against the party wall with the volume turned up to 11, so that every ten minutes, we were subjected to a ten second roar of interference. One day her granddaughter remarked "What's that awful noise in your front room?" Her reply was "I have to put up with that 24 hours a day". My brother in law, an electronics engineer, brought a Radio Direction Finder round and plotted where the signal was coming from. It appeared to be coming from halfway along the wall in their front hall, so I informed her husband and son, but she didn't believe them, and continued to rant at us. One day, we received a visit from an inspector from the Environment Agency, apparently she had made an official complaint, and they had sent him round to remonstrate with us. He was very surprised to be cordially invited into our house and offered a cup of tea. I explained what was going on, and where the interference was being generated, and I demonstrated that, even with our incomer main switch switched off, and the house electrically dead, we were still getting the roaring noise every ten minutes, so it couldn't have been generated by anything we were doing. He went round and told her that she was breaking the law by having the radio so positioned, and made her disconnect it and remove it from the wall. He then told her that it was her thermostat that was the culprit, and he then left. We then heard her say in a very loud voice "You may have been able to pull the wool over his eyes, but you can't fool me". Some while later, while she was in town, her son surreptitiously replaced the thermostat with a new one, and the interference ceased. Her comment was "Thank goodness you've stopped using that %*&^%$ CB radio".

      4. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Similar story. I was parked listening to the car's cassette player (decades ago) and was puzzled by the very loud buzz it emitted every second or so. Then I realised that it may have something to do with the fact that I was waiting for a friend in an airport carpark, and there was a ground radar spinning away on a nearby building.

        1. Diogenes

          Apocryphal?

          There is a 80's tale that IBM installed a System 34/36/38 (one of those) in an open room with lots of windows in a building near Mascot (Sydney Airport). It would start booting then within a few seconds crash, swapped out, the new machine crashed.

          SE looks out the window notices the radar dish nearby & that the machine crashes as it rotates towards the computer room. He lines the window facing the dish with aluminium foil and all is now well. IIRC the permanent fix was to get a purpose-built windowless room built to house the machine.

    2. Sam not the Viking

      Uses of Radar

      Some time ago, an even older colleague, who had operated radars in the last conflict with the Hun, advised that they used to heat sausages on this new-fangled device. I always imagine Biggin Hill scrambling to intercept his breakfast.

      1. Stuart Moore
        Joke

        Re: Uses of Radar

        Surely that only happened if he had scrambled eggs too...

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: Uses of Radar

          "Rumoured to have made men in CAA SRG Aviation House sterile when turning (the radar not men). "

          https://www.pprune.org/atc-issues/478925-gatwick-radar-antenna-gone.html#post7090112

          They should have worn tinfoil underwear

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Uses of Radar

          I was never in the military, but i know if you see scrambled eggs, you need to look busy.

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Uses of Radar

            'Scrambled eggs" being worn by senior officers, not eaten? (I got this from "Biggles" First World War stories.)

      2. not.known@this.address Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Uses of Radar

        I had it on good authority that the Top Gear play track in Surrey may have experienced the odd meal or two cooked in a similar manner during the time messyBeAst and their forebears used to build fighters there... and allegedly the same result can be obtained at over half-a-mile using the air-search radar modes of the MiG-29.

        I cannot possibly comment on the veracity of these stories...

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Uses of Radar

          I cannot possibly comment on the veracity of these stories.

          It is not unlikely, radar uses the same frequency/wave length as microwave ovens (and yes, microwave ovens are derived pretty directly from radar).

          1. Hero Protagonist

            Re: Uses of Radar

            Not for no reason was the first microwave oven called the Radarange, sold by Amana, a subsidiary of Raytheon where the heating effect was discovered

            1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              Re: Uses of Radar

              The whole idea of the microwave oven came about because a radar operator noticed the heating effect on food placed in front of the radar dish.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: heating effect on food placed in front of the radar dish

                I remember the story as one guy noticed his chocolate candy bars would melt when he was near the radar equipment.

              2. Diogenes

                Re: Uses of Radar

                The story I heard was that soldiers were accidentally being cooked when serving radars on Pacific Islands during that unpleasantness with Japan.

              3. RuffianXion

                Re: Uses of Radar

                The story I heard, from a school Physics teacher, was that a young couple had chosen a secluded spot on restricted MOD land (that turned out to be a radar testing site) for a bit of canoodling. They were discovered shortly afterwards, lightly cooked on the inside.

        2. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Uses of Radar

          and allegedly the same result can be obtained at over half-a-mile using the air-search radar modes of the MiG-29.

          There's a story from the Czech Air Force that the MiG-23's radar was capable of killing rabbits from a kilometre away. They used to test the scan/lock on a ground range; any bunny nibbling grass just in front of the target shed would end up in the evening meal.

      3. CuChulainn

        Re: Uses of Radar

        I remember back in the 80s during the Falklands conflict, when the BBC broadcast from a ship, that there was a regular 'noise' band on the video/audio because of the ship's radar.

        There's also a big array of antennas/antennae somewhere along the A1 (around Bedfordshire, I think), and when you drove through those (80s/90s) you could hear a regular pinging or chirping sound on the radio.

    3. Andytug

      Back in the days when cars had cassette players....

      Can remember driving past RAF Fylingdales (missile early warning radar station in Yorkshire) and the music being drowned out by a loud brrrrrrrtttttt for most of the way past. Think the radar interfered with the playback head in the cassette deck.

      1. Andy A
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Back in the days when cars had cassette players....

        Stories are told of vehicles in that vicinity having engines stop completely. Usually, fancy German-built vehicles were involved.

        A recovery company using a vehicle with less reliance on electronics would tow them clear, and claim the appropriate fee.

        1. eionmac

          Re: Back in the days when cars had cassette players....

          Car (not German) stopped many times on M6 at certain points in early 1970s. Engine just cut out. Learned to always at that point drive in left hand lane. Occurred for about 6 months, I never found out what transmitting device cut the engine. I thought peculiar to my car, but on an inter company meeting I found about three other folk with same problem and same model of company cars. Maker and service folk said 'it could not occur'.

  7. OveS

    This could only happen in the UK I suppose with power switches for each socket :)

    1. C R Mudgeon

      Au contraire. This left-pondian has improvised mollyguards for the switches on at least a couple of sub-desk power bars. And at least one of those was under my own desk...

      1. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

        Four legged switch operation

        My problem isn't my--or any other person's--feet. It is the cats walking across the switches on power bars. I try to position them on their sides to minimize the chances.

        1. C R Mudgeon

          Re: Four legged switch operation

          They're easy enough to protect. Some stiff cardboard bent to shape, or better, stiff plastic cut to shape (the bottom half of of a pill bottle, say); in either case, securely duct taped to the power bar.

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Four legged switch operation

            I expect that Health and Safety will frown, and rightly, on do-it-yourself modifications on electrical equipment. And if you conceivably may need to switch off the strip in a hurry (although usually there will be a wall plug or a wall switch), then preventing access to the switch is a no-no. But you could just get an extension with no switch.

            Cats are curious: if a spider crawls into your improvised switch cover, they may want to get it out. In an emergency or a careless moment, putting your own body weight through your foot onto the power bar probably will defeat any construction. Unless you're only barefooted or socked.

            I think that fire officers, and multi-device users like myself, favour the vertical pillar design of multi-socket extension, with ten sockets not unusual. What cats think of it, I don't know. Nowadays you'll also consider the inclusion of USB charging.

        2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: Four legged switch operation

          It is the cats walking across the switches on power bars.

          That could have catastrophic consequences

        3. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Four legged switch operation

          I try to position them on their sides to minimize the chances.

          I bet the cats don't stay like that for very long.

          1. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

            Re: Four legged switch operation

            They do if you pet them.

            1. RuffianXion

              Re: Four legged switch operation

              Or duct tape them in place.

  8. GlenP Silver badge

    Confession

    My home office desk* has an open back. When stretching my legs the other week I did succeed in unplugging the power cable from the back of the docking station! Fortunately no work was harmed during this incident as the laptop was still running OK. I must get to work with the cable ties sometime.

    *A huge corner desk and drawer units combo that I bought from MFI** around 30 years ago. It's amazingly solid and has had a hand made (by me) monitor stand come bookshelf added more recently. Good that I was ready for the pandemic!

    **Commonly known as Made For Idiots, for youngsters and non-UK residents they were a seller of cheap melamine-and-chipboard furniture before we'd ever heard of Ikea.

    1. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Confession

      Also known as Major Faults Included or they round my way

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Confession

        I always knew them as Motherf**kers International. Probably just my puerile mind though.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Confession

      I've still got the cheap wardrobe and chest of drawers I bought when I bought this house 29 years ago. I'd intended to replace them after a few years because they were all I could afford at the time, but they're still going strong. They look like tat but they still function, so I don't see any point in replacing them.

      And before you can ask, no, I'm not married. Probably because most of my furniture is second-hand tat!

      1. rototype

        Re: Confession

        When I was 16 I got a nice new shiny bedroom suite from MFI, over 35 years later my brother now has the wardrobe (no, he's not married) and the drawers are in the spare room - still going strong. Think the trick was to glue the joints as you assemble them, same goes for Ikea stuff now - makes them much more rigid and less likely to wobble (which is what breaks the joints and ultimately makes them colapse).

    3. ICPurvis47
      Boffin

      Re: MFI, was Confession

      When I was at school back in the 60s, my parents bought an old Trojan Rural Bus and converted it to a camper van. In order to carry the 25 litre water container from the toilet block to the caravan, Dad bought a tubular sack truck from MFI, (£5 IIRC). Some years later, whilst at college, I bought an identical one for carrying my welding equipment and bottles around. I still have mine, but Dad accidentally left his outside the caravan over one winter, and it went rusty. I have since (but not recently) seen someone loading snacks into a vending machine using an identical truck with a wire basket attached to the front.

  9. Andytug

    My favourite one....

    A staff member who suspended herself at the login stage and couldn't understand why.....until we discovered that her nice electric rise/fall desk was pushing her keyboard (particularly the enter key far right) into the underside of her bosom. The embarrased IT person explained....the lady in question fell about laughing!

    There is also a special level of hell reserved for whoever thought that Ethernet sockets at skirting board level were a good idea, when they are exactly the same height as the ends of the legs on a standard office chair........so many broken/pushed into the socket box :((((((

    1. BigBadAl
      Paris Hilton

      Re: My favourite one....

      Your comments remind me of a story my late father told me in the late 70's. I was 12 years old and it was the first funny 'risky' work story he told me. he worked for a council in the accounts dept, back then no computers... yet. the typists were using high end IBM electric typewriters. There was a particularly fierce women in charge of the typists. She started complaining to my father that two of these 'IBM' units were faulty. Then that they were all faulty. They had about 20 of them in this one dept - so it was a big deal. The IBM sales rep duly pushed for the engineer to visit - repeatedly with no fault found each time. Tempers flared and the poor support tech was dispatched with the order 'don't come back until it is fixed'. The issue was a simple one - the typewriters would randomly add spaces to the text - back then that meant the whole letter needed to be re-written. What no one had bothered to tell my father or the support guy was that this only happened with one user - 'a rather large buxom girl' as my dad told me! When it happened to her she would just change desks and the same thing would happen. The poor engineer pulled my dad out of the room once he had seen this happen and was very red faced as he knew the issue but couldn't fix it with the user at her desk. Turns out... yup that a part of her body was hitting the space bar and causing the issue. The teams tea break was due (yes they did all leave at 10.15am for a break) and my dad and the poor red faced support tech had to explain to the fierce boss what was going on. The solution was elegant - the typewriters were heavy and came with IBM desks - the desks had adjustable feet in the legs so the engineer dropped the desk by 2 inches and the issue went away. Needless to say no one had the courage to explain the issue to the operator. Different times indeed!!

      1. David Nash

        Re: My favourite one....

        Just say "you're leaning on it". No need to mention which bits are doing the leaning.

      2. Commswonk Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: My favourite one....

        I was 12 years old and it was the first funny 'risky' work story he told me.

        I think you mean risqué.

        Good story though. :)

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: My favourite one....

          Oh I don't know. Sounds like telling the supervisor, or indeed perhaps the good lady in question, could very well class as risky business...

      3. Richard Gray 1
        Facepalm

        Re: My favourite one....

        Oh the number of times when I did support for secretaries that had a problem with their keyboard...

        Me : "There is something on your keyboard"

        Secretary: "No there isn't"

        Me: "Yes there is.."

        (repeat above several times)

        S: "Oh there is a folder touching my keyboard"

        Me: "can you move it? fixed? great thanks"

        1. GlenP Silver badge

          Re: My favourite one....

          Oh the number of times when I did support for secretaries that had a problem with their keyboard...

          I could usually diagnose those over the phone for terminals. The beep - beep - beep... when eol was reached was fairly distinctive.

          On the other hand when I was programming using DEC VT-220s many years ago, and when compile times could be counted in minutes, it was handy after submitting the job to hit backspace a couple of times to generate a job finished beep.

          1. John 110
            Holmes

            Re: My favourite one....

            In my capacity as IT support in a Hospital lab, keyboard errors commonly occurred when medics answering the phone would perch on the edge of the desk... 3 seconds later the keyboard buffer would fill with spaces and start beeping...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: My favourite one....

              Best support call via email from a nurse

              Canyousendsomeonemyspacebarisbroken

      4. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: My favourite one....

        So this was a true PEBCAK.

      5. Ochib

        Re: My favourite one....

        Co-op apologises after shopper is overcharged because store assistant's breasts were resting on the scales

        https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1327966/Shopper-overcharged-Co-op-assistants-breasts-resting-scales.html

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: My favourite one....

          I see the picture editors found a suitable photograph to accompany the article. Would have done El Reg picture editors proud.

        2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: My favourite one....

          > Co-op apologises after shopper is overcharged because store assistant's breasts were resting on the scales

          How much was she overcharged? About a handful. :-)

          1. ICPurvis47
            Angel

            Re: My favourite one....

            A British Standard handful?

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: My favourite one....

      There's a special level in hell reserved for whoever designed the RJ45 plug, with the "handy removable tab for easier insertion/removal".

      1. David Roberts Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: My favourite one....RJ45

        Especially the ones with shrouds to protect the "easy release" tab.

        Had to cut all the flappy stuff off with wire cutters to get a cable out of my laptop the other week.

    3. Rtbcomp

      Re: My favourite one....

      The old "Tit one".

      This was caused by well endowed ladies leaning on the bottom left key on an adding machine, giving a total of multiples of 100,000 greater than it should be

  10. C R Mudgeon

    Reboot to POST

    Four servers (actually desktop-class PCs) which lived on a bank of industrial shelving -- steel, bolt-together, Meccano-set-looking stuff. There was a shelf at sit-down working height that held the row of four keyboard/monochrome-monitor pairs (no mice; this was all strictly text mode). The actual computers were on the next shelf up.

    They were running Xenix, which wasn't terribly stable, so crashes were a fact of life, but the rightmost of the four systems had a different failure mode. Instead of a Xenix crash's typical "Hit any key to reboot", it would snap right to POST. System load was the usual culprit, but this was the backup machine and so pretty much idle during work hours. No rhyme or reason to it...

    ... until I was doing some work on #3 next to it, hit Enter on the command to put the task I'd been working on into effect, and #4 instantly did its snap-to-POST thing...

    ... and it finally penetrated my hyperfocused-on-software brain that (a) it couldn't possibly have been the fault of the command I'd just typed, seeing as it was a different box that crashed, and (b) that sequence of events -- type a command, #4 crashes -- felt vaguely familiar.

    Having finally noticed the pattern, it was a matter of seconds to isolate the problem. (Given the context, I'm sure you've all guessed where this is going.) #4's power cable was loose in its IEC socket. It was fully seated, but even so, it wiggled a bit; and a vigorous Enter-key hit (as one does to "make it so" on a long bout of work) was enough to propagate through the shelves and wiggle it.

    One decapitated (to prevent reuse) and replaced power cable later, and problem solved. Fortunately it was the cable and not the socket that was faulty.

    [A "done and dusted!" icon would not be amiss.]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reboot to POST

      If you don't happen to have a replacement power cable handy in that situation, one wrap of black electrical tape on the end on the connector can provide enough friction to keep the plug seated. New cable is cheap and correct solution, but if you're on a callout, tape can be a quick fix.

      1. C R Mudgeon

        Re: Reboot to POST

        Indeed.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Reboot to POST

        temp fixes sometimes last for years!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Around 30 years ago I was a mainframe programmer using IBM 3270 terminals. One guy I worked with had cerebral palsy so his fine motor control wasn't very good. On the 3270 keyboard there was a particular key near the left side that would do something annoying when pressed causing lost work. He'd accidentally hit it a few times a day. I took a piece of card (may have even been an old punch card) and made a little box that sat over that key so it couldn't be pressed.

    Around 35 years ago I had installed an aftermarket tachometer on my car. Driving north north past one of those big golfball radar installations the needle would bounce clockwise every few seconds. Driving south it would bounce anticlockwise.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      I think I remember a "Reader's Digest" boss vs. secretary anecdote where the boss broke what they considered a habit of overuse of colons and semicolons in dictated correspondence, by pulling that key off the secretary's machine.

  12. msobkow Bronze badge

    Users.

    If they weren't paying the bills, IT would have shot them all years ago! *LOL*

  13. OFSO
    Alert

    An unfortunate misprint

    After one of a crowd of visitors hit the emergency power-off button on the wall in our Flight Dynamics room, a sign was put up which read "Please do not press the Bottom". Whether it had the desired effect I can't say but fair enough: we did have some lovely secretaries working there, and one was often tempted.

  14. Daniel Gould

    Microwaves and CRTs

    Many years ago, working for C&W (it had just recently changed from NYNEX at that point), desktop support. A user reported their screen (17" EIZO CRT) would wobble intermittently. Visited by a junior engineer a few times, replaced the screen, cables, etc. Couldn't get rid of it. I went along and saw it start and when it stopped there was a very soft ping noise. Turns out the works canteen was the other side of the partition wall and their commercial microwave was on that same wall. After we got the FM team to install a stainless splashback behind the oven, the screen was stable.

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