back to article Yes, there's nothing quite like braving the M4 into London on the eve of a bank holiday just to eject a non-bootable floppy

A classic case of a user punching themselves in the face via the medium of technology awaits in this week's column dedicated to those brave professionals at the other end of the phone. Welcome to On Call. Our story takes us back to the eve of chocolate egg day at some point in the 1990s. Our hero, Regomised as "Sean", was …

  1. tip pc Silver badge


    many many idiots in my time, i've probably been that idiot more than a few times too.

    Growing up at a time of "Happy Days" reruns it was often fun to roll up, snap the fingers tap something say "hey" as everyone watches the thing that wasn't working despite best efforts suddenly start to work.

    sadly & thankfully the days of strategic box slapping, cable reattaching, powering down until you hear that magical sound so can immediately turn on are coming to a close.

    We need a Fonz icon, the up thumb doesn't do it justice.

    1. Imhotep

      Sotto Voce

      In my earlier days, I found out that the louder and angrier I got - the wronger I was going to be.

      I'm still often wrong, but I allow for the possibility.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I caused controversy at work by claiming users were incompetent.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      I got into even more trouble by claiming they were incontinent!

      Oh! My bad! That's my cat I'm thinking of!

      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        Hence the secretary's fast exit to the loo?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Which continent?

        1. TRT Silver badge

          The future holds for all of use the discovery of the lost continence.

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge


            Oh, and have one of these too ->

        2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

          Must have been Fourecks, if it was clearly so terrifying

    2. Dave K

      Incompetency isn't always a major problem by itself. I get that some users make mistakes and are not computer literate. What I do expect however is that a user will try the steps I suggest over the phone to fix an issue - even if a troubleshooting step sounds basic and/or obvious.

      My patience and sympathy disappear when a user insists they've tried something when they haven't, or when they argue with me about "no it cannot be that", despite not having a shred of evidence to support their opinion here. Rocking up in person, doing exactly what I'd told them to do over the phone and watching as the issue magically disappears almost always leads to either a red face, or a burbling and fake excuse - "it wasn't like that before" etc.

      1. ClockworkOwl

        This in spades my friend!

        It's not someones incompetence that make helping them difficult, it's someones incompetent awareness of their own competence...

      2. Empty1

        It's even more frustrating when the person involved is a fellow field engineer who swears blind he's done as asked.

        1. Lon24

          The opposite of the above was when, as a user I, had those calls from BT/Microsoft engineers claiming a fault had been detected with my computer.

          If it was after booze'o'clock on a Friday afternoon I'd be all concerned and follow every instruction to cure the fault and allow them to root my machine. Reading back the consequent result from my Linux desktop never quite fitted their Windows script. But they would always plough on insisting I was wrong without considering I could possibly be right - just too stupid to follow their instructions properly. If their enthusiasm waned I would plead I didn't want my PC to bring the internet down so please help because I hadn't a clue. Stringing them along was fun and a service to kill time the 'engineer' could be using to root the more vulnerable.

          How I miss them now. Or have I just been taken off their calling lists for time-wasting?

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Such selfless public service in the face of adversity, deserves 1 or more of these --->

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Wasting their time is the only way to get off their call lists.

            1. Rich 11

              Wasting their time

              Getting them arrested also has a few advantages, but unfortunately it's sodding difficult to do.

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Wasting their time

                The classic of getting one to set a boot password without making a note of it was pretty good.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I like stringing along the current crop of spam / fraudulent callers. Especially the "HMRC have opened a fraud case against you" ones. I convinced the last one that I was a big drug smuggler and that I had people in Kolkata who would hunt him down and kill him.

            1. Tom 7 Silver badge

              I got one last week "We are processing a £480 charge to your Master Card press 1 to cancel" and strung the poor sod on for about 10 minutes before he became abusive. They ask for your credit card details so they can cancel the charge so you have to go find the card and then when you return start making up some number and then go "Oh hang on it cant be this one it expired last year I'll go find the new one" He seemed quite interested in the clothes I had to go through to try and find the imaginary card. You did say it was a Master Card didn't you I dont seem to have one of those, I've got a library card if that helps" Tirade imcoming while I piss myself laughing at him complaining about me wasting his time.

              The old MS scams were great because you could keep them going for 30 minutes waiting for the computer to boot and then waiting for it to do an update and reboot and then searching for all the MS shit on a linux box before the cracked.

          4. Friendly Neighbourhood Coder Dan

            Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

            I do believe that scammers have some sort of database of people they cannot con which they all share.

            My own experience is with people who were trying to sell me some kind of disaster recovery strategy plan - the door to door jesus people:

            I used to receive the occasional visit from people who had clear ideas on the steps to follow in order to transfer my consciousness to a place they considered super safe once my wetware would give up the ghost.

            I never was a vegetarian ( back then ) campaigner, as I do what I believe is right for me and don't share opinions unless asked. But I was confronted by people who were offering opinions I had never asked for, so hey...

            I had a lot of time that day, and nothing better to do, so I took a lot of time to explain that they would go to hell too, together with their favourite mythological characters, as they were probably consuming meat. A very polite conversation I could tell they didn't know how to get out of :-)

            That was the last ever visit of final destination merchants at that address, from any kind of vendors. Imagine being blacklisted by one of the most annoying categories of human beings!

            1. MisterHappy

              Re: Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

              I once fell foul of the 'bait & switch' whereby a very attractive lady asks if you have a moment & then introduces her colleague (usually male) to ask about religion...

              My question of "How do I know you are the right one?" caused concern, especially when I pointed out that statistically they were worshipping incorrectly due to the plethora of beliefs & most (if not all) belief systems state that people not of that system are not going to heaven. Apostasy was ruled out as that's also a no-no, so no hedging your bets.

              All in all, a fun discussion... I enjoyed it anyway.

              1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

                Re: Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

                I had an "entertaining" conversation about what the lion would eat. After, all when the lion lies down next to the lamb, as their pamphlet clearly stated in words and pictures, surely it's going to eat the lamb? Oh, the lion has become a vegetarian? Does that mean that we all have to become vegetarians, and are they? How much of a vegetarian are they, do they consume any animal products at all? Fish are animals, disprove this. And of course, the lion doesn't have a digestive tract that can survive on plant matter, just look at the ridiculous panda bear (a carnivore so stupid that it deserves to be extinct), and while they could change and have much longer digestive trats, wouldn't that make them a bit round and silly looking and unless their legs grew they'd just roll around, give them longer legs and would they even still be lions? So how wrong is the picture?

                Well, I entertained myself by throwing absolutely simple logic at them... I didn't let them leave either, despite their subtle hints. :) I understand that they might not even be allowed to leave on their own accord which possibly explained a different occasions when they stuck around for hours when they rudely woke up the human debris (myself included) the morning after a large house party.

                1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                  Re: Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

                  I have a friend blessed with a near perfect memory and it was an utter delight to watch him invite in the Jehovas Witlesses on their rounds and give them a thorough schooling in their own religion and then decimate it by going through the inconsistencies and contradictions without once mentioning the possibility that it was all made up.

                  1. Richard Pennington 1

                    Re: Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

                    My late father claimed the record for the fastest demolition of a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses. His opening line was "Hi, I'm Jehovah. How are we doing?"

                    There wasn't a second line.

                    It helped that he looked the part - big, and with a beard. And he saw them coming.

                2. Electronics'R'Us

                  Re: Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

                  Quite a few years ago when I was living in the USA, I would get the occasional pamphlet (a dreadful end those came to).

                  One day, a pair of the JWs knocked on the door and I decided to have a bit of fun.

                  Many years before, I was working in the middle east and I was taught how to speak, read and write Arabic, so I picked up a copy of the Q'ran (in Arabic, of course) to see what all the fuss was about; interesting book, for certain values of interesting.

                  Anyway, I still had that copy so I said they could tell me about their religion if I could tell them about mine* - the look on their faces when I produced the Q'ran was priceless - after I had translated the name of the book for them which was, after all, in Arabic.

                  They never called again.

                  * Not really my religion.

            2. Cynical Pie

              Re: Scammers and time wasters do blacklist people...

              My MiL who is a lay reader in the C of E has great fun with the Jehovah's Publishers when they call, tearing their knowledge of the scriptures to bits, piece by tint piece.

              Even for a non-religious type such as myself its great sport to watch and I often end up feeling sorry for the JW.

              I just resort to more blunt tactics if I'm accosted, 'cant stop I'm off to give blood'

          5. A____B

            I recall one colleague's way of handling this (phone + open plan office = much merriment).

            It was in slightly poor taste then**, and definitely would be now but...

            On getting the call, he responded in a slightly panicky voice, which got increasingly agitated with time.

            "A virus? ... from my PC? ... It's not Ebola is it? ... I was emailing a business contact in Nigeria yesterday!... I'd better tell him in case he gets sick before he can go to the bank! ... should I soak my keyboard and mouse in disinfectant? ... should I unplug it first?.... no,no don't you try and access it, you could catch it too!..." and so on.

            The scammer at the other end was getting increasingly worried that he'd cause someone to have a heart attack or get electrocuted.

            Most entertaining 20 mins or so on that whole project!!

            ** a few years ago, as the ebola reference suggests.

          6. Ethangar

            I pleaded with one to stay on the phone while I called the cops. Since they could trace the location of my "stolen" computer and give it to the police.

            My wife's favorite line is that she is a sgt. in the internet fraud squad of the RCMP. :)

      3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        user insists they've tried something when they haven't

        At this point the user just becomes part of the system and is possibly a faulty component misreporting results and needs to be treated as such.

        I've written a lot of scripts to remotely do stuff rather than talk the user through it - that should be kept to an absolutle minimum as the user is the least predictable component.

        I've also written scripts to diagnose user feedback and detect incorrect answers to , for instance, "have you turned it off and on again?"


        You have? well WMI says machine has been on for a week - which button are you using? the one on the telly thing?

        1. chivo243 Silver badge

          which button are you using? the one on the telly thing?

          Of course, that way my computer boots up faster!

        2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          (which button are you using? the one on the telly thing?!)

          Which might sound like taking the piss, but is actually offering the user a way out of being caught in blatent lie - i gotz people skillz too see!

          Diplomacy that is

          comes from the same section of the user comms manual as

          "it could happen to anyone"

          "we've all done that"

        3. Terry 6 Silver badge

          the one on the telly thing?

          This still happens. I've not done school support since I retired from actual teaching, but I do still do some other work in schools, and I have seen staff turn off the monitor when they'd been asked to turn off the PC, within the last couple of years.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            the one on the telly thing?

            My wife found two colleagues puzzled that the LED on the screen was lit, but waggling the mouse didn't cause anything to happen. She had to point out that this was a laptop docking station, and you needed to attach a laptop.....

            1. SuperGeek

              Re: the one on the telly thing?

              "My wife found two colleagues puzzled that the LED on the screen was lit, but waggling the mouse didn't cause anything to happen. She had to point out that this was a laptop docking station, and you needed to attach a laptop....."

              And turn it on! Don't forget some people won't even do that! Baby steps FTW!

            2. TSM

              Re: the one on the telly thing?

              In all fairness, I have myself turned up to work with my laptop, sat down at my desk, and pressed buttons on the keyboard to wake the system up so I can log in - before remembering that I need to actually take the laptop out of the bag and connect it to the dock first.

              1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

                Re: the one on the telly thing?

                me too.

                it was pre coffee

          2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

            Sort related, and I've said this before, but I used to support a University computer lab.

            Ten of the machines in the lab were dedicated to video editing. Standard Definition, but this was the late 90s, so outside Japan, HD wasn't an option. They were proper broadcast quality editing machines though.

            They each had a £5k video editing card, that was essentially a high end PC on two cards, that had it's own external SCSI drive, and video monitor. So, each machine had two monitors, one dedicated to Video work.

            One of the lecturers had booked those machines for his lectures. Now, the fact that he'd done this was annoying as he taught database design, so didn't need a high end machine, but while I could (and did) complain, it was my job to support the users of those machines, so I did that. He came in my office really panicking one day. Apparently someone had broken into the lab, and stolen a load of computers, keyboard and mice.

            Being slightly concerned, as we had expensive computers in that lab, and the only entrance/exit to the lab was visible from my office, so one of us should have noticed any theft, I asked him to show me where the PCs were missing from. He took me to the video editing computers, pointed to one of the video monitors, and said look, there is no PC.

            I gently explained that there were no computers missing, and that these were video monitors attached to the PCs that were there.

            The thing is, while beyond the fact they had a screen, these monitors did not look at all like PC monitors (they actually looked like 14inch portable colour TVs with the tuning and sound circuitry removed, which is essentially what they were). The lecturer had also been using those computer for months.

            The other thing I remember from those computers was that these cards generated a *lot* of heat, and whoever specced the computer to hold them came up with an amazingly powerful (and therefore hot) spec for the time, then decided they needed to into tiny desktop cases, with almost no ventillation. When I took over supporting them, I put my hand on the top of the case, and burned my hand.

            Shortly after that, after I made the point the University was destroying computers worth over £6,000 each, by putting them in tiny cases. They were due an upgrade soon, and when they were upgrade, the University specified full size towers with plenty of ventillation.

        4. n10cities

          Lying users...

          I LOVED to point out to end users that they were lying about rebooting the PC. During my helpdesk days with a local bank, I would ask the user if they had restarted their PC when I knew full well they didn't.

          I would proceed to then remote into their system, bring up Task Manager, click the 'Performance' tab and circle my mouse cursor around the uptime indicator (which would usually show uptime in days or months).

          They'd mumble that they swore they had restarted, after which I would restart the machine anyway and all was well....SMH.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Lying users...

            "I would proceed to then remote into their system, bring up Task Manager, click the 'Performance' tab and circle my mouse cursor around the uptime indicator (which would usually show uptime in days or months)."

            Knowing some users either have no clue or will lie to cover their ignorance, why didn't you just remote in check the issue is as described and if required, reboot it for them?

        5. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Remote Scipts - GMTA

          Have a pint & a copy of PsExec.

        6. Tom 7 Silver badge

          You have to be careful with scripts. I spent ages creating a bullet proof script I'd written for helping do something over the phone and the boss called asking for help and we'd worked through it three time with no success before I notice the scroll bar and realised we missed two important lines at the top. My only defence was I was not on call, I was pissed and he was bloody lucky I answered the call at all and he was doing a foreigner out of his depth as usual!

          1. Yes Me Silver badge

            Careful with scripts (pro tip)

            realised we missed two important lines at the top

            The correct ploy after that realisation is "OK, now we'll try the more powerful method that I normally hold in reserve for tricky cases."

        7. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          > WMI says machine has been on for a week

          There is a stupid default in new Windows 10 installation, I don't know with which build it came in. When you shut down your machine it does not really shut down. I've seen uptimes of 30 days on such machines, just by looking at the task manager. Even when I shut down and turned them back on by myself.

          Only a reboot does the real thing, including the real reboot of windows updates - which explains I never saw more than 30 days on machines within my (temporary) command. The way to get rid of the nonsense is:

          powercfg.exe -h off

          So, before you accuse a user next that that he/she "did not shut down", check for that and execute above mentioned command before playing the a-hole role and accusing the user not doing what told when the user might have done exactly what you told.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            This Win10 not-really-shutdown nonsense is made worse by the fact that, in old computers, "reboot" would sometimes leave power on to the motherboard during the reboot, preventing memory from being cleared. The smart thing to do at the time was a proper full-power-off shutdown, then startup. Now MS has made that be the "wrong" thing to do...

      4. Alan Brown Silver badge

        If you're going to rockup in person, it's usually a good idea to get them to demonstrate the problem

        That way you get to see whatever brain-dead behaviour is causing it

        I've seen the floppy issue - and the user had a floppy disk on her desk. The fact that there might be more than ONE floppy disk (ie: another one in the drive) was a new concept

        I've also seen 360k floppies sent with notes stapled to them. Surprisingly the data almost always survived (one case of a "faulty disk" was that the note had been removed, but not the staple, therefore disk had a hard time spinning)

        A few impromptu sessions cuttting old disks open and explaining how they were just like cassette tape (only wider and flatter) tended to make them appreciate safer handling practices and not use fridge magnets to hold the things to the filing cabinet (lots of disks survived that too)

        1. A K Stiles

          ...get them to demonstrate the problem...

          I found that, nine times out of ten, getting them to show me what they were doing caused the problem to not be a problem any more. So frequently, the users thought they were doing the thing correctly, but were mis-typing or mis-clicking as can happen when a task becomes quite repetitive and it was the act of my standing there and watching what they were doing that made them be a little more careful and conscious of their actions.

      5. Muppet Boss

        >Incompetency isn't always a major problem by itself.

        If it is their job that they are incompetent at, that's *always* a major problem!

        Self-proclaimed experts are surely annoying but incompetents are much worse.

        I find it particularly amusing when a client is first getting properly marinated by the first line support or some sort of automated response, then the 2nd line waits for them to come to a boil, and then they serve the client (sometimes cooked but mostly fuming) to whoever is actually capable of solving the problem, like myself. I think we've all been through that, some from both ends of this hole.

        The client by then looks at me as just another one from a bunch of incompetent [whatever] and I have to solve the original problem (which is probably not so infuriating by then as going through the process of solving it) while calming down the client and trying not to insult anyone along the way. Yup, I am that compassionate, probably should have chosen a career of an emotional support animal.

        By the time I fix the problem, we are usually the best friends against whomever made them jump through these hoops.

        I remember a rather tricky IT problem with just one site of a very, very large company. By the time they passed it to me (on the very bottom of a long corporate support food chain), the problem was on the weekly report to the CIO, for 1 month. I had no options but to solve it right now, which I did but only by going deep into health, swearing and celebratory beer overdraft.

        Such firefighting lifestyle was just becoming too emotional, I had to quit and find something differently interesting and positively less stressful.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "Self-proclaimed experts are surely annoying but incompetents are much worse."

          Personally, I've found the opposite is more likely. The incompetent can be trained. The self-proclaimed experts already thinks they know it all and can be far more dangerous and won't listen to advice or training.

          1. G.Y.

            I"t's not the things you don't know that make you an ignoramus, but the things you know that ain't so"

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Your users were lucky in that they were dealing with a business that would - eventually - escalate the problem. All too often that's an unknown concept.

      6. ITMA Silver badge

        What always causes my "user empathy" to be drained rapidly is being asked for help and being provided with virtually no information. Then my requesst for more substantial information goiing unanswered.

        It is this palpable attitude of "Just fix it!" with not even the slightly effort to try and help.

        Oddly, this tends to come from users who are highly qualified in very specific areas (PhDs at times) none of which have anything to do with IT. It is almost as if you are just some "minion" on a par with the cleaners (no offence meant to office cleaners who do a wonderful job, my mum was one for years) who they treat with equal inequality.

        As for stuff "just working" when the IT person turns up. It's called "influence". Almost as if the errant bit of kit knows you will take no sh*t from it and the game is up. So it behaves.

        Carrying one of those organge plastic mallets than come with certain steel self-assembly warehouse shelving systems often seems to help. Particularly is waved about near the errant equipment in a threatening (to the equipment) manner.

      7. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        To take the users side. I worked from home - small network of 5 PCs, used to be a IT Consultant, IT Manager and still "enjoy" myself writing software. On one occasion whilst I was still using BT for phone & internet (my logic was faults would be fixed in a better timeframe than if I used one of their resellers) my internet connection went out. Being halfway competent I tried the standard stuff:

        - different microfilter

        - different PC

        - different browser

        - different router

        - etc

        Since nothing worked I phoned BT helpdesk. Naturally I explained what I'd done but the heklpful person at the other end of the phone wanted me to do it all again. I refused. The call was escalated (much repetition of "can I speak to your manager please"). Much the same process. I insisted I was transferred to someone who understood what I was talking about. I achieved that. Roughly 30 seconds after starting talking to that person I was informed by him that the whole of Caithness was out as someone had separated the cable.

        As I say - the users side <G>

    3. Mooseman Silver badge

      I have no problem with incompetent users - it keeps me employed for one thing. My nightmare is the users who call up to report an issue and add the dreaded phrase "I had a go at fixing it.."

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Is that better or worse than "I had a buddy who's good with computers look at it..." ?

      2. TeraTelnet

        I'd be an even bigger nightmare for you - I'm the self-taught PC 'expert' who has a go before calling in the professionals!

        (Self-taught since the Commodore 64 days, mind you.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I've been the self-taught expert many times. When I have to call IT, I really want to talk to someone who will listen - because if they're reading off of a script, I know more than they do!

          Best example: Call up ISP. Me - "Internet access isn't working. Neither the DSL nor Internet lights on the modem are on. I've power-cycled it twice, but no effect." Tech - "Please reboot your computer..."

          On the other end of things, my employer's local support will stop and think through any problem I bring them. Possibly because I've taken the time to stop and chat with them in passing many times (and drop off a few goodies, like cookies, on Sysadmin Appreciation Day). They know if I'm asking, it's not going to be in the usual troubleshooting guide. Great folks, and really know their stuff.

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            Tech - "Please reboot your computer..."

            I had that when going through the mandatory process to report a fault with my Livebox.

            Orange tech support wanted me to reboot it. I shook it, told them (again) that a lightning strike destroyed it, there were bits rattling around inside, the ports were blackened and the power supply brick was broken and bulging. I'm surprised that I managed to say all of that in French, not words one commonly needs to know.

            "Yes, but we need you to..."

            "Are you willing to accept liability for any damages resulting from attempting to plug in a clearly badly damaged device?"

            "Uh... where would you like the replacement to be sent to, sir?"

            At least she had the sense to realise we were so far off script that the only sensible thing to do would be to just swap it out.

            1. heyrick Silver badge

              Re: Tech - "Please reboot your computer..."

              I should add, I normally unplug stuff when there's a risk of lightning (paranoid, as lightning bites). It was a completely clear sky, and I heard the single crack from a town twenty miles away. Never imagined it'd be me that got hit.

              Still, I got off lightly. The weird clear sky storm made two massive bolts of lighting. One hit my ADSL box, and one hit a beach full of people (remember those days?) a hundred miles away.

          2. Martin
            Thumb Up

            When I have to call IT, I really want to talk to someone who will listen - because if they're reading off of a script, I know more than they do!

            Obligatory xkcd.

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            I've power-cycled it twice, but no effect." Tech - "Please reboot your computer..."

            Your fault for using a term they didn't understand: "power-cycled".

          4. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            I've had similar calling my ISP (Virgin Media at the time), to report that their DNS servers were down.

            Blah, blah, reboot PC (I just waited 30s and said that I had), blah, blah, reboot router (did it, again, just because), blah, blah, cable modem test shows that it's fine. I know, but the Internet connection is not fully working because your DNS servers are not responding. Blah, blah, but the cable modem test shows an Internet connection. At this point it's like talking to a parrot, a particularly stupid parrot. Eventually I get escalated and put through to the next line who go through all the same stupid process, with the same stupid responses. After getting through to them that I really would like to speak to someone competent I eventually get passed through to someone who had a clue... Naturally, they had to follow the script but bored of this, I just cut them short and told them that I'd done this multiple times with their previous support staff and nothing that I can do from my end will fix their DNS server issues. I finally got a sensible response back... how do you know that it's a DNS issue? Simple, I say, your DNS servers are not responding on the network (no PING or DNS check response), which tends to make Internet connections routed through Virgin Media not work very well. I know that it was just a DNS issue because changing the local DNS on my PC to an alternative DNS server,, fixed everything therefore it's a Virgin Media issue with their DNS servers. The tech support made a few quick checks and confirmed that they indeed were not working, apologised for the time taken to report it and promised to report it internally and get them working ASAP. We had a little laugh about how stupid the scripts are but that they had to follow them anyway, and that was that. I kept my DNS settings on and had a lovely high speed Internet all to myself for the next hour or so... it was obvious when they had fixed it the speed took a noticeable drop due to the high contention ratio for domestic connections.

            1. Diogenes

              Reverse "Have you tried restarting your computer"

              Had the same with my ISP, which will remain anonymous, except I was trying to tell them their webmail server had lost its connection to the database (I haven't programmed in PHP for a while, but I recognised the error). I went through their stupid script, and when, as I expected, that didn't fix the problem (duh!) suggested they contact their systems admins to try and restart THEIR computer, the phone monkey put me on hold for a moment, and said he had passed the message on, and they had restarted the server, could I please try again - and it worked.

            2. adam 40 Silver badge

     blocked by Virgin

              These days I find that they slow down their DNS and also block access to to throttle bandwidth demand, presumably.

              I don't go through their customer support any more, because of the same script issues, I tweet the problem, and use the forums instead.

          5. TSM

            Similar when my ADSL modem/router died. They insisted that I had to swap cables, etc., and even went as far as sending a tech out to check the line, despite my objections that no sort of problem with the line would explain why the power light wasn't coming on, or why it wasn't routing traffic across the LAN.

            They did eventually replace it, though initially they were going to charge me full price for it, until I pointed out that they were offering the kit free with new contracts, and as a customer of 10+ years standing I was more than happy to sign up for a further two years...

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Sort of me too. Being fair ( to myself) I was taught coding and how computers worked in the 70s. And as a teacher, when PCs arrived in schools I was taught how to use MSDoS and sort out problems by the guy who'd been training school staff to use computers until he went on to a headship and left me to take his place. And I learned the hardware part of the craft by taking machines apart and putting them back together- a lot. (And reading a lot). And for many years I was the official schools part time tech support because there were no pros. In later years I worked alongside the proper techies once we had some, being trusted by them to do much of the routine stuff.

          I still have weak areas of knowledge. I'm rubbish on network stuff and servers. But I do know enough to know when I don't know enough - which is more than I can say for some of the tech support staff, especially in the early days.

          Like the guy from tech support who brought our first laser printer, started to set it up, got toner powder everywhere (God knows how or what he'd done), left the drum in bright sunlight while he vacuumed the inside with the cleaner's vac...............

        3. ITMA Silver badge

          Nothing wrong with "self-taught".

          IT as a subject is too broad and fast changing to stay up to date with everything, unless one specialises in a very narrow field. Providing you have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, much of the rest one learns as and when you need it.

          It's called "experience".

      3. Mr Sceptical

        "I had a go at fixing it..."

        Do they follow that with, "Good news, the fire is out now"?

        Could have been either the fire OR murshroom cloud depending on level of incompetence -->

    4. DailyLlama

      I think you'd cause more controversy by claiming they were competent!

    5. HammerOn1024

      And I've cuased Controversy...

      By coining the alternative definition of 'IT' due to the complete lack of rollout planning, testing, fault detection, poor product layout and the classic e-mail server down/access 'We sent you an e-mail' response:

      Idiots in Transition

      Yes, there are a whole lot of moronic end users. There are plenty of rocks and glass houses everywhere. Be careful where you throw yours, you'll probably take it in the face when it comes around.

    6. Alan Brown Silver badge

      I did something similar by suggesting they be issued with an etch-a-sketch as appropriate for their abilities

      1. Daedalus

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's not a controversial claim though, users generally are objectively incompetent.

      I'm not complaining though, if people weren't as dim as they are, I'd have to get an actual job and do actual work.

      1. ITMA Silver badge

        Ah but not all user "issues" are because users are "incompetent".

        Take the situation where a very, very experienced secretary is trying to do something in (say) Word but can't get it to do what she/he wants.

        On quite a number of occasions I've found it very beneficial to explain it like this:

        "You're not being stupid. The person who wrote the software obviously never has to do this for a living and wrote it to work in this stupid way. So, to get it to do what you need you have to 'tell it' in this stupid way...."

        Secretary can get done what they need to and feels good about themselves. They also remember how to do it next time.

        Nothing annoys me more than "tech support" that believe in "get out of the way and let me fix it" without a word of explanation. This may be fine in some situations. However, in many it does nothing to prevent the same situation arising again. Help the user understand what has happened, why and what they need to do (not suitable for all situations) and you go a long way to prevent "ticket bounce".

  3. GlenP Silver badge

    Too Many...

    Far too many stories from the last 40 years or so to recount them all.

    There was the user who was adamant she'd unplugged and replugged the power cable, that cost her boss a full call-out charge from IBM as the cable was half out of the PC..

    MD of a customer insisted on a visit when I knew a reboot would fix the problem and told him so. They were only a few miles away, fortunately, but it still delayed them getting away on holiday (hence the panic) when they could have sorted it themselves in a couple of minutes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too Many...

      Slightly related, but I've lost count over the years of how many times I had to do the 'straightened paperclip' thing on stuck CD drives for clients. And maybe as many as 10% of those revealed two CDs in the platter once the drawer was teased open. Usually, the CD had just been thrown in any old how and had wedged the drawer shut. And occasionally, someone had used a piece of duct tape (or something else quite thick) as a label.

      At least one had damaged the read head, and at least another had shattered the disc/disk.

      On tech support, the worst part was trying to get people to do it for themselves - first of all, to locate the little hole, and - often - secondly to get them to turn the bloody bedroom light on so they could see, because honestly, it really was there if you looked carefully. There was often a third issue: 'I haven't got a paperclip'.

      We were not allowed to send engineers out until they'd one it. That rule came in after far too many cases of engineers being sent out for just that.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Too Many...

        There was often a third issue: 'I haven't got a paperclip'.

        That's the paper-less office for you.

        The HP tape drive needed a half straightened paperclip. When it forgot how to load tapes it had to be reset by using one as a jumper between two holes on the PCB next to the tape spool.

      2. Sudosu Bronze badge

        Re: Too Many...

        I still have a large paperclip on my keychain for that exact purpose...though it was mainly for a batch of LG DVD drives several years back that I had.

        They seemed to fail to open due to a buildup of crud in the track grease where the eject cog worked (or failed to work) its magic.

        I just didn't care enough to disassemble them all and clean them, so paperclip it was.

    2. Andy A

      Re: Too Many...

      While I was incapacitated with a knee problem and so unable to visit the servers I was employed to fix, I spent a while on the "vetting desk".

      Many's the time a "computer won't turn on" fault was resolved without an engineer visit by getting the user to check the power cables. "Maybe the cleaner has dislodged something" enables them to save face, although you know that the last time their hole in the ground was visited by a cleaner was in 1937.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A near weekly occurrence

    Happens FAR too often with teachers, especially if the school still has those clapped out old interactive whiteboards. Far too often I get the call of:

    "The board's not working again"

    "have you rebooted the PC like we need to do every time this happens?"


    and when you get there a quick Ctrl+Shift+Esc shows an uptime measured in weeks.

    Not that the touchscreen TVs we replaced the boards with are much better. They randomly stop playing any audio until you unplug them at the wall, but of course the teachers have "tried that" until you get to the room and do it yourself and suddenly "it didn't work when I did it".

    Or just the old Winkey+P with the screen not being set to duplicate, but it was definitely set to duplicate when they looked, honest.

    It's shocking how people whose job it is to teach are so unwilling to learn.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A near weekly occurrence

      "It's shocking how people whose job it is to teach are so unwilling to learn."

      Hear Hear!

      When I worked Education IT there were two broad camps of teachers:

      The first would say "I need to play this DVD/Video/youtube stream for a class at the end of the week. Can you help me test it?"

      The second would say "I can't get this DVD/Video/Youtube steam to work, the class started 10 minutes ago..."

      1. onemark03


        'S obvious: like anybody else, teachers don't like feeling that they're being shown up when their own stupid mistakes are rubbed into their faces (not that they don't deserve it!).

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Teachers

          had similar in boardrooms

          more than once its been "it just died mid meeting. very important people . come now!"

          usually very important well paid person has plugged laptop into a switched off socket and ignored low battery warnings

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Teachers

            Board room. Everything worked including the projector. The PC and its keyboard and mouse were locked in a cupboard.

        2. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: Teachers

          What I learned is that teachers are by profession always right. And if they are not right, then in countries like the UK they are right because they have the authority. Except obviously they are not. My teachers (not in the UK) knew that with 17 year olds there was just a chance that sometimes a pupil would know better, so “I’m right because I say so” wasn’t happening that much.

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: Teachers

            "And if they are not right, then in countries like the UK they are right because they have the authority."

            Back when I was at school, it was a bunch of BBC Micros and an Econet FileStore.

            A teacher's favourite method of ending a class on time was to walk over to the door, reach up, and flick the breaker in the fusebox on the wall.

            Thankfully the FileStore was on a separate line pinched from the maths room next door.

            After two or three lessons, the poor FileStore would start reporting "Too many users" because, you know, it does matter if you don't log out, as would be the case if, say, some bloody giant twat decided to end a lesson by power cycling the machines...

            But could you tell that to the teacher? "I'm right, you're wrong, and that's the end of it." was pretty much the entire conversation.

            So he'd fix the problem by power cycling the server. Thank god harddiscs were too expensive for them to cough up for one. He only managed to bugger up floppies that got binned. Useful for me, my A3000 had a 3.5" drive so I hoiked them out of the bin and recycled once I'd learned about ADFS_SectorOp, it was pretty easy to read the data right off the disc, like, say, the Passwords file!

      2. keithpeter Silver badge

        Re: A near weekly occurrence

        "The first would say "I need to play this DVD/Video/youtube stream for a class at the end of the week. Can you help me test it?"

        The second would say "I can't get this DVD/Video/Youtube steam to work, the class started 10 minutes ago...""

        The former category are likely take an OFSTED visit in their stride. The latter might have a challenging time (something like two days notice now I think). Stress in teaching can be reduced considerably by forward planning. Don't ask me how I know that...

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: A near weekly occurrence

          Not just teachers, often Board and similar meetings too. It took a lot of repeated grief, sometimes more publicly than they would like, for people to learn to book the meeting rooms for at least half an hour before the meeting and to call for assistance at the beginning of that half hour if they were having problems. It got to the point that for particularly important meetings they would call me in, pretty much book me, at the start of their prep time just in case there were problems. I had no problem with that, it was sensible and those meetings started professionally and smoothly.

      3. ITMA Silver badge

        Re: A near weekly occurrence

        "It's shocking how people whose job it is to teach are so unwilling to learn."

        That comment is a double edged sword. Is it that they are unwilling to learn, or just that you may not be as good a "teacher" as you think.

        I used to work in education IT support back in the days of the BBC Micro. Had a primary school head teacher who just could not get a disk to "auto start". This is usually done using a key combination often vocalised as "<SHIFT> and <BREAK>". Four other people in the IT office tried to talk her through how to do this - all without success. All of them Advisory Teachers and Teacher Advisors (I never did work out what the difference is).

        The problem was NOT the head teacher. The problem was none of the others understood HOW to tell someone to do the key combination. She was trying to press both simultaneously in a way didn't work.

        They solution - very, very simple:

        "With your left hand press and hold the left SHIFT key. While holding it use your right hand to press and release the BREAK key, THEN release the SHIFT key". Worked correctly every time she tried it and was over the moon.

        Why did it fail for the others?

        Easy - trying to press both simultaneously she was buy chance always releasing SHIFT a fraction of a second before BREAK which (as those familiar with the BBC Micro) did a "soft reset" when pressed on its own.

        This has a modern(ish) day equivalent - the "three fingered salute".

        I've always thought the optimal way of telling someone HOW to do CTRL-ALT-DEL is this:

        "With your left hand press and hold both the left SHIFT and left ALT keys. While holding them use your other hand to press and release the DEL key, then relase SHIFT and ALT".

    2. Mooseman Silver badge

      Re: A near weekly occurrence

      "Happens FAR too often with teachers, especially if the school still has those clapped out old interactive whiteboards."

      Yup, this, 100%

      Although it does great things for my reputation when I can walk in to a classroom, press a couple of buttons and the problem goes away.

    3. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Uptime Measured In Weeks

      We used to get a lot of performance issues with machines that had allegedly been up for weeks & users (Already some of the densest it's ever been my misfortune to encounter) swearing blind they had power-cycled.

      Turns out W10 has a "Fast Boot" option, that uses cached data (Including last boot timestamp) & the only way to purge that data is to do a restart.

      Disabling that option in the build/local user setup was swiftly added to the checklist by myself.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Uptime Measured In Weeks

        "Turns out W10 has a "Fast Boot" option"

        thats just cheating on a par with the VW emissions scandal! (when on by default)

        Thats the Microsoft equivalent of the user rebooting using the power button on the monitor - super fast!

        1. Andy A

          Re: Uptime Measured In Weeks

          To be fair, Fast Boot does work OK for a typical home user, with a recent box for which there are fully supported drivers.

          With older boxes, problems abound. Typical is finding that the wireless won't connect, or the video is screwed. "Sleep" has similar problems, though "Hibernate" is usually OK. It appears that drivers now have to support a special "low power" mode to survive,

          So I still own an HP laptop from 2005 which runs fine on the current build of Win10 (32-bit).

          The "Enterprise" version of Windows ought to come with Fast Boot defaulting to OFF. It shouldn't be saving possibly confidential information to disc in any case.

          1. terrythetech

            Re: Uptime Measured In Weeks

            If you dual boot your PC and have shared partition it stays mounted too so the other OS can't access it. Turned off fast boot and I can now go and make a cuppa while Windows is booting, but at least I know it is a clean boot. Fortunately, I rarely have to do it :)

    4. Mr Sceptical

      "OLD interactive whiteboards"???

      Those things were pure science fiction when I was at school!

      I had an idea they'd make a brilliant product, but then did a 'Tension Sheet' and forgot to patent the damn things.

      Could have been drinking fresh mango juice, with goldfish shoals nibbling at my toes.


  5. Little Mouse Silver badge

    HR's Disappearing Data

    We spent weeks getting abuse from HR about data regularly disappearing from their shared drive. Of course, they absolutely definitely were not deleting it themselves, it was all the fault of IT. They got all the top-nobs involved, demanding that we fix the "IT Issue". There were borderline threating emails & phone calls from directors & board members, promising dire repercussions if our mistakes weren't immediately identified & rectified, preferably served up with a sacrificial head or two.

    We monitored. We logged. We investigated.

    All the deletions were done by the same account - a member of HR. File activity even continued when that person was on holiday. Digging deeper, we found that because the HR dept had an annoyingly high turnover of temps and contractors, one user figured out that it was easier to simply share their own login details with them all, rather than get new accounts created. They also intentionally left a desktop unlocked and permanently logged in to that account, so that anyone passing through could sit down and use it without so much as even having to log in.

    We passed out conclusions up the chain, and heard literally nothing back. An apology would have been nice, but hey, HR.

    1. don't you hate it when you lose your account

      Re: HR's Disappearing Data

      I have come to expect nothing less from Human Rectum departments

    2. Antonius_Prime

      Re: HR's Disappearing Data

      Probably only one of the very few things S. Adams has said in recent years that people agree with is appropriate here:

      "There is no "I" in "Team", but you can't spell "Who Cares?" without HR..."

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: HR's Disappearing Data

        A suitable answer to the "No I in Team" crap:

        "Yes, but there is in intelligence, brilliant, profit, achievement - tell me when you want me to stop - genius, contribute ...."

        1. Kubla Cant

          Re: HR's Disappearing Data

          There is no I in Team, but there's a U in cockup.

        2. Uncle Slacky

          Re: HR's Disappearing Data

          There no "I" in "team", but there is "me".

        3. spuck

          Re: HR's Disappearing Data

          There is both an I and a U in Failure.

        4. Alumoi Silver badge

          Re: HR's Disappearing Data

          And there's a F and an U in HR.

          1. John H Woods Silver badge

            Re: HR's Disappearing Data

            There's no F in competent people round here

        5. pmb00cs

          Re: HR's Disappearing Data

          There's no I in team, but there are four in "platitude quoting idiot"

          Doesn't normally go down well when said to someone important, so use with caution.

      2. bpfh

        Re: HR's Disappearing Data

        There is no I in Team but there is a U in Cun*

  6. Fading

    I suspect there is a psychological explanation...

    Where the user has convinced themselves that only an expert can fix the problem. No matter how patiently you try to explain a solution, their conviction that they can't solve it is absolute. Time constraints and panic feed this conviction far beyond the place where reason can reach them.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: I suspect there is a psychological explanation...

      I have no doubt this is true.

      Where teachers are concerned there are the simple facts of having been given little or mostly no training in using the hardware, nor probably, the software. (Teacher inservice training is mostly about the latest govt initiative these days). Being faced with a Heath Robinson collection of different technologies -many of them well past their realistic end of life- that don't play well together. And knowing that they are expected to use this stuff to deliver the approved lesson to kids in a matter of minutes, (they may not have set foot in that room since the previous week).

    2. fireflies

      Re: I suspect there is a psychological explanation...

      Some people switch to "dumb" mode when speaking to someone they recognise as an "expert". This can be puzzling when someone is asking you questions about the OOBE and protestations to the nature of, "just fill in the questions" fall flat, and you get:

      "It's asking for a language" ... "Choose English"

      "It's asking what country I'm in" ... "Choose UK"..

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The glory that is remote access tech...

    ...Has saved many a wasted mile of technician time and rage. The problem is when said tech won't work, and the user on the other end of the phone will not listen to straightforward instructions without applying their own interpretation to them.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: The glory that is remote access tech...

      Remoting away...

      User on phone: I just need to pop out for a while

      Me: That's ok...

      tapitty tapitty tapitty... I'll just refresh their IP address.... ARGH!!!

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: The glory that is remote access tech...

        Even worse when the IP being refreshed is in a small cabin under a large tower on top of a faraway hill.

        Have done that...and made the subsequent trip.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: The glory that is remote access tech...

      " The problem is when said tech won't work, and the user on the other end of the phone will not listen to straightforward instructions without applying their own interpretation to them."

      if you ever want a demonstraion of how bad this can be

      Phone something in and ask someone to write things down EXACTLY as you tell them (because you'd already spoken to 2nd line and it's clear they were given gibberish including a completely bogus location for the fault - so they asked you to make sure what you logged is clear when filing a report, including getting a readback) - then ask them to read back what they wrote down - and what they read you back somehting is utterly different to what you've just dictated - so you go through the procedure again AND THEN THEY DO IT AGAIN - getting through to a supervisor at that point may involved being placed on hold for 45 minutes "because nobody is available" - to which the best response is "That's fine, the call is being recorded at both ends and I'm perfectly happy to wait until you find someone"

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To be fair...

    Sometimes stuff actually just doesn't sort itself when the user does it :-( My wife's work laptop is a particularly recalcitrant beast and I have watched her do the steps which haven't worked, only for them to work when I do them. Don't know if it's a magic touch or just a more brutal one...

    1. Martin

      Re: To be fair...

      I have a similar problem with my wife's overlocking sewing machine. It's a bit of a sod to thread, it must be admitted - four spools, each of which has to go round EXACTLY the right path.

      But I've sat and watched my wife do it, and checked what she's done, and it looks right, and it doesn't work properly. But if I do it (or my daughter does it!), it works. Well, to be fair, it works 90% of the time - the other 10% it doesn't work for me or my daughter either, and we also have to cut the threads and start again (again...)

      It's got to the point that we're seriously considering upgrading to a self-threading machine...

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: To be fair...

        Overlockers are the best fun you can have with your trousers still a work in progress.

        1. EVP

          Re: To be fair...

          Hahaa, have a —>

      2. Chris J

        Re: To be fair...

        Most important question for an IT forum: can you overclock an overlocker?

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: To be fair...

          You wouldn't want to. Even the most basic home one can run so fast it's scary. You can't even see the parts moving, it's just a blur. Including the trimming blade. God alone knows what an industrial one is like to operate - if they're anything like a straight stitcher...

          1. Sudosu Bronze badge

            Re: To be fair...

            There is something very satisfying about watching all of those mechanisms meshing together and whirring away to do their job.

            Had to pull my other half's lock apart and sand down a bearing slightly as it was binding up after a few minutes of use due to heat expansion and stalling out the machine.

            I was able to have a good view of all the little parts doing their magic, it is really quite impressive.

            My hat goes off to whomever designed theses things.

    2. Antonius_Prime

      Re: To be fair...

      I see this with some work machines from time to time.

      Given I'm the one that imaged / built them they seem to work if they know I'm coming.

      I put it (indelicately as some once said) as they know the hand that first beat them... :D

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To be fair...

      Nope! You just do it with Style!!!

  9. El blissett

    Not the most stimulating work day, but there are certainly harder ways to earn a wage (and a tip, and a bonus).

  10. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    TOTAL SPOILER in the article headline!


    we do like to guess you know!

    usually we guess the cleaning lady unpluged the server.

    I coulda got this one - having been in the same situation myself thanks to some appallingly bad communication by the victim user and the helpdesk.


    Right , im off to start reading the article now ...



    ok , i didnt see the total violent refusal / inabilty by the user to accept the situation. Thats new

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      " i didnt see the total violent refusal / inabilty by the user to accept the situation. Thats new"

      Believe me... it's not, nor is it unusual

  11. Joe80

    I worked at BT directory enquiries briefly in the 90s. They used green screen dumb terminals with bespoke software, keyboards etc.

    Our trainer told us of one support job he did to fix a broken monitor - wasn't displaying anything - which involved him driving a 200 mile round trip only to fix the problem by turning up the contrast up.

    1. DailyLlama

      I had a similar thing, had a 5 hour drive from Uxbridge to Newton Abbott to restart a server, and then a 5 hour drive back.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The lakes

        I had a 3 hour drive from Manchester tot he lakes to sort out a Mainframe which wouldnt checkpoint. Its a one line command, its in the manual and I read it out to them over the phone. They swore that they had been using the command correctly but the attempted checkpoint the previous night had failed.

        So having driven up the the lakes I get in the ops room and see that there is a large blob of tipped on the instructions on how to take a checkpoint. on top on the large blob is the right parameters. Its 8pm by now I point out its obvious someone had changed the instructions then changed them back and they were now correct again. Ops manager insists I stay until the scheduled maintenance window at 9pm and watch them take the checkpoint. Needless to say the batch window took longer than expected (as usual) and the maintenance slot didn't start until midnight. I finally got away at 2 am with another drive back to manchester. I was not a happy bunny

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: The lakes

          I sure hope you wrote it all as overtime, you started that three hour drive at about 5 PM, so already at the end of a workday. Twelve hours of overtime, three of them after 9 PM and another five after midnight do add up. And those idiots deserved to get billed for all of them plus transportation costs as you can't have been fit to drive back to Manchester after that long a working day.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            Re: The lakes

            I'd have booked into a hotel, not killing myself for the company.

            I think employment law in Alberta states you have to have a clean 8 hour break between finishing a shift/job & returning to work the following day.

            Many years ago at one place (Swindon) they sent the stores guy up to Scotland in a van at the end of the working day to take a gyroscope (Or something) to get to a ship as the one onboard had failed.

            He lost concentration\fell asleep, totalled the van, gyroscope & hospitalized himself for a few days & the ship still couldn't sail.

            Hotel Bar Pint - Expensed as food.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: The lakes

              "He lost concentration\fell asleep, totalled the van, gyroscope & hospitalized himself"

              We were tourtinely carrying $200k of test instruments in the back of £20k cars (stationwagons) and manglement wouldn't pay for cargo nets "because they were too expensive"

              Until a car got totaled and one of the staff seriously injured by flying equipment. I think the fine from labour inspectors ran into 7 figures when the paper trail of refusals was produced

    2. adam 40 Silver badge

      The Lakes (Louises)

      I had a 60 mile drive, an 9.5 hour plane ride (in business class) followed by another 50 mile drive, to Nortel Networks production facility in Calgary, to plug in one card in a backplane which took me 10 seconds to do.

      As I had 4 days booked for the trip, I went off to learn snowboarding at Lake Louise, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

      Nortel picked up the tab, of course (but not for the snowboarding lessons).

  12. The H-J Man

    When I worked on a helpdesk for a company that supplied robotics for a Dark Warehousing operation.

    Me: Hello, Company X helpdesk, How can I help

    Customer: Your ****ing robot has stopped working again

    Me: OK, Try removing the poster advertising the departmental football match off the wall again so that the robot can read the bar code and know where it is please.

    Customer: There is no poster on the wall, Staff are told not to put them up.

    Me: OK, Based on previous calls from your company, please remove the poster advertising the departmental football match off the wall again so that the robot can read the bar code and know where it is please.

    Customer: Your robots are ****ing cr** they are always breaking down.

    Me: Looking at the previous logs from your company, this is a common problem and the despatched engineer simply removes the poster.

    Customer: (lots of ***** and ****)

    Me: Well, I can dispatch a enginner and if it is found to be a user fault, you will be charged accorsding

    Customer: Lots more *****s and ****s

    Engineer duly dispatched and next day the first task was to issue an invoice for "Removal of user generated media preventing robot to operate in an efficient and effective way"- translation - The field maintenance guy walked into the warehouse, went straight to the wall and removed poster advertising football match of wall, to which the robot started up and carried on.

    1. 20TC

      If it was a dark warehouse, maybe the robots were putting up posters to get a rest...

      1. Kubla Cant

        If it was a dark warehouse, what was the point of putting up posters?

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          For light reading, duh!

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Probably the best way of dealing with that would be to have the engineer ask fro Mr **** on arrival and have him show him the ****ing robot. Then remove the poster.

      1. Antonius_Prime

        That's the most efficient way, yes.

        But not one that generates a constant revenue stream...

    3. Paul Kinsler

      so that the robot can read the bar code and know where it is

      Perhaps these days you could ask them to send you a photo of the bar code in place on the wall, so you can "check for its readability in the light conditions" or something. They can either refuse or have to remove the poster themselves, the latter of which might resolve the problem. And if they might be inclined to put the poster back asap, ask for three photos at ten minute intervals, or whatever time it might take for the robot to recover :-)

  13. Notmy Realname

    Back in my mainframe days I led a project developing an inventory planning system for a large aerospace company. After a few weeks of user acceptance testing it went live. Every day at the same time one user would ring up saying he couldn't access the system. No other users reported problems and everything looked good on the server end. Finally went to see what the user was doing. There was a Post-it note stuck to the terminal saying "Don't use between 12:00-13:00" that was left over from when we rolled out fixes during UAT. Removed the Post-it and all was well.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      It at least has the novelty of a user following instructions and correctly at that.

  14. Blackjack Silver badge

    The answer was "jelly"

    Never let any young kid near anything you don't want destroyed or covered in jelly...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The answer was "jelly"

      Jelly? Chocolate!

      1. uccsoundman

        Re: The answer was "jelly"

        If you have had kids, you'll add "drool". Actually that can be a problem with some pointy haired managers too.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: The answer was "jelly"

          or toast, in the days of VHS recorders....

          1. Aussie Doc

            Re: The answer was "jelly"

            And for fellow Aussies out there, I can confirm that ANZAC biccies fit very well into the CD drive of any PC.

            Need one of these to wash it down though. Don't worry, it's cordial -----------------^^

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The answer was "jelly"

      I've told the story before about how some guy called into tech support for his £2000-plus Sony laptop he'd purchased only a few hours previously.

      He'd given it to his 11-year old son to set up, and the son - for those reasons very common to, but also best known to children - had decided to set a BIOS password, then promptly forget what it was. The machine was effectively bricked.

      This was before any online databases or magic words. And the manufacturer's warranty sort of precluded the use of special screwdrivers, hammers, power sanders, or anything else that might be tried today (even if there'd been anything useful the non-technical user could gain access to inside on a laptop in those days to force a BIOS reset). It certainly precluded us trying to talk him through it over the phone.

      What always struck me as amusing was that with a new Sony laptop, all you had to do was turn it on and say 'yes' to a few things, and you were running. I can't understand why a non-technical user (or a pre-teen kid) would want to go straight into the BIOS. But they do.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: The answer was "jelly"

        I can't understand why a non-technical user (or a pre-teen kid) would want to go straight into the BIOS. But they do.

        Boot sequence. But setting/changing the BIOS password shouldn't be necessary.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: The answer was "jelly"

          11 year old. Unless the set-up went into BIOS set up and offered a "Do you want to set a password" option it'd be that someone almost certainly drilled computer security and passwords into him. A lesson well learned, but 11 year old kids tend not to be very focussed on things like writing the p/w down - because they sort of don't remember that they forget. Middle aged men do this too, but we don't have the excuse.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The answer was "jelly"

            Upvoted. But at the turn of the century, that wasn't it either would be my guess.

            It was just one of those things kids do because they can, but - as is also the case - they're not as good at it as they think. As this example showed.

            I know the retail stores we supported had a problem with display machines, and people deliberately messing them up or locking them. It was kids (and those with the minds of kids) doing it because they thought it was clever - even though it was just malicious. The product of an immature mind.

            I doubt very much the 11-year old in the example I gave did it on purpose. He just did it because he could, and screwed it up because he wasn't very good at it. It's why you don't let kids play with the bone china or loaded guns.

            Frankly, I'd put a £2.5k spend up there with the bone china. This father didn't.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    happy Sean

    Well, Sean should be happy the sucker and his manager recognized the screw-up from their side.

    My experience of the 90s is IT staff were highly despised and no user would ever even remotely

    regognize any mistake.

    It was all on IT staff, as helpful they could ever be.

  16. Cynic_999

    The other side of the coin

    Then there are the times when the tech support person on the other end of the phone is just wanting to kick the can down the road, and so asks you to do a load of time-wasting checks or tests so as to put the ball in your court and fob it off to someone else it the following day. At such times it is perhaps excusable to claim to have carried out such tests with negative result.

    1. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      Re: The other side of the coin

      Or sitting in the queue to long will mess up the KPI's

  17. Alan Brown Silver badge

    booting off floppies

    Asa soon as bioses supported it I routinely set them to boot order C: A:

    It saved people from virus-laden bootsector crap too

  18. imanidiot Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Take a different tack and consult the BOFHs excuse calender.

    Once the user refuses to check there is a disk in the drive (or claims there isn't), make some offhanded mumbled statement about "hmm, must be residuals in the drive from my repair disk." Then ask them to load a different disk, "anything you have at hand" in the drive, power it on, wait for the error message, then remove the disk, reboot and wait for it to start. "That should reset the drive head flux alignment".

    Magically they either find that "oh wait, there WAS a disk in there" or they sheepishly pretend they did what you ask and "oh hey, it works now".

    (This could however backfire spectacularly if they now claim the drive must be broken because they cannot insert a disk into it and go from 11 to 12 on the dial)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Take a different tack and consult the BOFHs excuse calender.

      In a similar vein: at an old job, we used to build whitebox PCs. One of our employees was notorious for losing installation CDs by forgetting to take them out of the CD drive. Mostly it was a minor annoyance, but it could hold up the next build of you had to hunt for CDs (this was long enough ago and we were small enough that installs were manual, no standard images to deploy).

      I implemented a pre-delivery "testing checklist" that reduced the quantity of lost CDs. One of the items was to take a designated test CD and verify the computer could access the files on said CD, then remove the CD. Because the assembler was focused on the CD drive during that step, the CD was actually removed. If a customer inquired about getting a free driver CD or Windows 9x CD, we knew the assembler didn't follow the "test procedure" and gave a reminder about following procedures.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Take a different tack and consult the BOFHs excuse calender.

      It didn't worry you that the "any disk at hand" might have a boot sector virus?

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Take a different tack and consult the BOFHs excuse calender.

        If they have that disk at hand that boot-sector virus is going to infect the system under discussion in short order anyway.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Take a different tack and consult the BOFHs excuse calender.

      "claim the drive must be broken because they cannot insert a disk into it and go from 11 to 12 on the dial"

      I've seen callouts caused by someone inserting several (as in MORE THAN 2) 5.25" floppy disks into a drive that already had a disk in it

      "Nobody said anything about removing a disk first"

      It's much harder on 3.5" drives but it's been attempted and I've had to deal with the repairs

      Back in BBC micro days someone posted a story about going out to a school to deal with a "doesn't work properly" call to find a teacher HAMMERING a cassette tape into a flipfront 5.25 inch floppy drive (remember those?) with a 7yo standing nearby saying "I told her not to do it"

  19. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Support case notes!

    "NSDE" was all you needed to type. Here's a pint to anyone who got paid to troubleshoot that!

  20. DS999 Silver badge

    Too bad smartphones didn't exist then

    He could ask for them to send a quick video of them pushing the floppy eject button before setting off on the road. If they get offended at the suggestion, you could just say "Sorry I'm required to do some minimal troubleshooting first because some of our other customers have complained about paying for hours of time for a one second fix".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Too bad smartphones didn't exist then

      "He could ask for them to send a quick video of them pushing the floppy eject button"

      Haha. In the era where this failure mode was the most common, "making a video" involved a camcorder. "Sending a video" meant taking the VHS tape out of said camcorder, putting it in a box, and shipping said box to someone.

  21. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Complaining does nothing

    It's best to just fix the problem, show the user how to avoid it next time and just move on. After all, when it come down to things we're all users somewhere. I can fix computers but when it comes to cooking I'm just a "user" and will make an occasional error ... sorry, I thought I put sugar in the cookies, turns out it was salt.

  22. frankyunderwood123

    Something similar happened to me...

    I was on the M5, back in the day when I was a Russian spy, masquerading as a British Telecom engineer.

    A call came in to say that someone had got their bottom stuck in a telephone booth, or a telephone, or something.

    I raced down the M5 at 100mph to try and get there, to be the hero, and extract the buttocks from the booth, but unfortunately, got arrested for speeding.

    I was let out on bail and immediately phoned the client to find out whether the bottom had been extracted from the telephone booth.

    It turned out that there was no telephone booth, or bottom and nothing untoward had happened at all.

    I got no bonus that month, sad times.

  23. macjules

    nothing quite like braving the M4 into London

    Those heady days when you could do more than 50mph on the M4.

  24. TSM

    Makes me feel old

    ... that it's now considered necessary to carefully explain the circumstances and consequences of leaving a non-bootable floppy in the drive.

    Not that I disagree. There are adults now who have never even seen a computer with a floppy drive.

    Like Alan Brown, I too used to set the boot order to C: first as soon as I got a new system (though more usually C: D: A: rather than C: A:, as most of my computers had optical drives by then). The 0.05% of boots that you specifically want to boot from a floppy or CD, you can adjust the settings for that boot, otherwise just boot from your primary system disk - if nothing else, it saves you some boot time.

  25. Big Softie

    One of my favourite lines has always been "Ignorance and arrogance is a powerful combination that is challenging to deal with, increasingly so the higher up the greasy pole the source is..." It can be a career limiting statement if voiced...

  26. Mark@Excelledia

    Back in the days of yore...

    Most of the readers here will be too young to recall cassette tapes were used to IPL mainframe kit years ago.

    However, in the days before floppy disks became common on CP/M machines and latterly the IBM PC a simple cassette tape was popped into a slot and a button pressed to Initiate Program Load.

    The tape rewound and then streamed its contents into a machine made of discrete ECL and TTL chips, no microprocessors in those days. Very elegant and a bugger to fault find, but, that was the job back then.

    Sunday afternoon and my pager went off.

    I called the service number and wrote the message, then duly called the customer who said he had a controller down.

    I talked him through the process,

    Is there a tape in the drive - ​'Yes'

    press the IPL button- -'OK'

    Does the tape rewind? ​- 'Yes and it's now playing '

    At this point you think you're in the clear and in with a chance of Sunday lunch as planned.

    'Oh, another machine has gone off and that one still hasn't come up'

    Did you IPL the correct machine?

    'Yes, I'm not stupid' etc etc....

    So a nice Sunday drive from Leeds to Glasgow (!) in the rain and cold ensues, four hours then trying to find the customer in the city centre (before satnav and mobile phones), parking and walking back to the door that sounds like the one described and I'm in.

    8 controllers all sat on tables, each catering for 16 users...

    'This is the one'

    No tape in the drive.

    Quick tape insertion and IPL and we're in business.

    The one that had gone off had mysteriously stated to work 10 minutes after I put the key in the ignition and the guy who I'd spoken to had disappeared.

    Now back then pub closed early on a Sunday, at least to those who didn't know the secret knock and I was treated to a coke (driving!) in a local pub rammed with friendly Scotsmen partaking of an illicit pint or five.

    The call report was duly handed in on Monday morning and I know questions were asked on high because I had several angry phone calls from someone about to foot a large bill for a weekend call out and the mileage was a pretty penny...!

  27. DwarfPants

    Just got myself a second hand industrial lock stich, 4000 stiches per min. Good job I am making new trousers.

    And anything a user says should be considered a lie until proven otherwise. Best treated as a general hint. Which is about all they appear to be recently "There has been a error", oh dear that is sad, you have my condolences.

  28. Sequin

    I had to jump into a taxi and head for our data centre after a call from the operators saying that a system had gone wonky and all of the menus had disappered - if it wasn't fixed soon there would be riots in prisons as the officers would walk out, not having been paid their overtime.

    I grabbed all of my support and OS Disks, stuffed them into a bag and called a taxi to take me the 5 miles to the datacentre, spent 30 minutes trying to get somebody to let me in to the secure area and finally got to see the system. I switched up the brightness on the monitor, then walked out again.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Borked firewall? Just reboot it...remotely!

    Back around 1998, when firewalls were software running on hosts, I once disabled the boot script on a firewall box remotely and then rebooted 1am.....ah shit!!!!

    That instantly borked all the overnight transfers for the company and locked everyone out obviously. I had to phone my manager and we had to call a senior partner in the company to go to the office, just a mile from his house and talk him through reenabling it. He was not happy but realised that it had to be done or we'd be losing money by the second if it was done ASAP.

    Me and my manager got our arses chewed for it but survived simply for acting promptly.

    1. Down not across

      Re: Borked firewall? Just reboot it...remotely!

      Back around 1998, when firewalls were software running on hosts

      Ah, joys of firewalls on remote locations. I recall back in mid/late 90s changing configuration of a Gauntlet firewall (running on a Sun box) remotely and yes of coursed ended up locking myself out.

      At least it wasn't (IIRC) live yet or at least didn't bork production. Still, it meant drive down M11 to Docklands to fix it. You learn to be more careful after that.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    JWs - when they last arrived at my door I told them that we weren't interested as we loved eveyone.

    Call centre selling droids - one rang me up in the evening. Once she told me who she was and what she was trying to flog, I pointed out that if she stayed on the phone it was my intention to waste her time, as she was currently wasting mine. She asked me why I had bothered to pick up the phone if I wasn't interested in engaging with her. (Obviously one of the brighter ones - cough cough). I told her that I had the phone installed for my benefit, and not hers.

    I have had calls about winning millions on occasion. I always played with them by telling them that I am a really wealthy man, and ask them to keep the money.

    I think the worst time was constant calls for a 'Miss X'. Every time someone rang I would feed them another story, but one day I had a call from an Indian woman so I gave her the spiel about how Miss X was my daughter, this was her phone, and she had died in a horrific car accident a week ago. The caller told me that she was sorry, but still insisted on trying to go on with the scam. No maroals at all.

  31. irrelevant

    Colour coding

    Not quite in the same league as other comments, but an 80 mile round trip to a "faulty pc" which was fixed by unplugging the cable to the speakers and reinserting them into the correctly matching coloured socket still sticks in my mind..

    I hadn't taken the original call.. I think it was the MD, who was not known for his technical prowess. Had it been me, I might have actually done some basic fault finding before sending out an engineer.

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