back to article To have one floppy failure is unlucky. To have 20 implies evil magic or a very silly user

Welcome back to On Call and a timely reminder that no matter how careful and clear you think your instructions are, a user will somehow always misunderstand. Our tale, from a reader Regomised as "Keith", takes us back to simpler times: the era of the 5.25-inch floppy disk and software updates mailed out to users rather than …

  1. mmonroe

    I've done the same thing

    The Pick Operating System that I worked on back in the early 1990s was mostly floppy based. A client had sent us some of their data so I could test a new report before sending it to them. I inserted the floppy disk, without really looking what I was doing and got a read error. No worries I thought, I'll eject the disk and try it on anther machine. Back then, you could often read a disk on a different machine - something to do with floppy drive head alignment. I was very mystified when no disk popped out.

    1. Halfmad

      Re: I've done the same thing

      I use to get called out to primary schools because slot loading imac had swallowed a CD etc. In reality the kids had managed to insert it between the drive and case in a tiny gap above the drive.

      Oddly enough I'd normally find lollypop sticks in the drive itself, at £130 a pop.

    2. Bruce Ordway

      Re: I've done the same thing

      >>Pick Operating System

      Pick! This brings back screens, HPUX, etc...

  2. ColinPa

    The last straw

    I had a neighbour who was involved in drugs trials on farms, and the company was very keen on collecting data, so they gave each farmer a computer, screen, and floppy disk drive. The farmers were a bit slow on this new technology stuff, but they persevered (as they were being paid for it). After a few weeks there were complaints that they could not get the floppy disks into the drives. My neighour went out to investigate and found the farmer in his barn, with his cows, and his computer in pride of place in the middle of the barn.

    What head office had not realised was that a farm is a dirty place. You get down bales of straw for bedding- and get covered in straw dust, the hay (for food) has lots of seeds and dust in it. (There is a disease called farmer's lung from breathing all the dust in) The back end of a cow is fluid, right next to a cow's tail which can flick it 6 feet away.

    The computer was there, caked in dung, straw and hay. You had to break off lumps of it to get to the floppy drive. The inside of the drive was solid with cow pats!

    All those computers had to be thrown away, and the farmers were told to put the new ones inside the house, in the office!

    1. OGShakes

      Re: The last straw

      I feel like I should defend farmers a little at this point, yes some old boys are slow on taking on new tech, but for the most part a farmer will use any tool that comes to hand to make their work easier/quicker. I worked for a 70 year old farmer back in 1998 who had a fully computerised feeding system for his dairy herd that used RFID tags on the cows necks to know who was who and feed them accordingly. He also had a dairy parlour (milking room) based on a very old design, that had been 'updated' from time to time so it worked fine, but after 40 years in use he did not see the point updating something that was fit for purpose. Farmers may appear behind the times, but more often its a case of if it works...

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: if it works...

        My philosophy as well. I will not hesitate to upgrade my desktop when I can see a clear performance benefit, but I'll be damned if I go buy a new phone simply because it's the new model.

        When we bought our house back in 2017 I replaced all the light bulbs with LEDs (or got the electrician to do it for the kitchen, where the stuff was not so easy because specific model of lamps). That was a clear benefit and an economy in the long run, so I did not hesitate. I'm not going to go buy some stupid IoT connected shite now to put a buggy app on my phone just so I can control the lamp from a screen. I have legs, I can get to the switch.

        1. Jiggity

          Re: if it works...

          "I'm not going to go buy some stupid IoT connected shite now to put a buggy app on my phone just so I can control the lamp from a screen. I have legs, I can get to the switch."

          This. A billion times this.

          (icon in Friday-afternoon-prompted solidarity)

          1. AnotherName

            Re: if it works...

            Like Karcher, who are now heavily advertising an app-controlled pressure washer on TV. Why reach for a phone in a wet environment to relay your instructions to the washer pump unit, only feet away, when that instruction has to do a round-trip of the internet to get there? I can see no use case for this idea at all.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: if it works...

              I actually thought the app-controlled pressure washer was a joke initially.

              I can't see a use case for it either - it's one of those cases of a solution looking for a problem.

              1. Yes Me Silver badge

                Re: if it works...

                "a solution looking for a problem"

                That would be a detergent solution, I assume.

                1. VBF

                  Re: if it works...

                  Get yer coat.......

              2. JimboSmith Silver badge

                Re: if it works...

                My folks bought Linksys velop mesh wifi earlier in the year because it was recommended by "Which?"*. I was obviously tasked with setting it up and discovered that Linksys are very keen on you using their app. Sadly to use this you need to sign up and get a Linksys cloud account. Now I balked at this because Linksys don't have a very good reputation in this area. linksys_wifi_password_reset_malware_app

                So I hunted around on the net and then spoke to their tech support live chat. I asked what you were supposed to do if you didn't have a smartphone or the wifi was going to be closed circuit. The first live chat person told me the app was easy to use so please just use that. I said okay but that it keeps trying to connect to the internet. Bloke asks why that's an issue so I said there's no internet where the routers are. He said the cloud account used by the app allows you to access your router away from home, change settings etc. I said I couldn't see the point of that and I'd rather manage things locally. The livechat then died when my mobile signal did.

                The second bloke i connected with was much more helpful and explained how to set it up if you don't have a smartphone or object to a cloud account. It isn't obvious though and is akin to finding a shortcut on a video game. I said they should do an app that doesn't require a cloud account or access to the internet. Specifically for closed circuit installations or those who don't want to use their cloud.

                Then just recently somebody I know was installing Velop mesh routers in their house. I said personally I don't/wouldn't use the app unless you're willing to give Linksys your wifi password etc. He said he didn't like that idea at all. He has an app.connected electric toothbrush though which I really couldn't understand.

                * To be fair to "Which?" they recommended the system before that hack but after you needed a cloud account.

                1. DryBones

                  Re: if it works...

                  Upsides / downsides, there.

                  I have used the Velop mesh both for my parents and for an even older couple that dad helps out as a thing to do with his retirement. For both there was a need to establish a wifi mesh chain to cover houses. With both installs, I have been able to check the networks and give them needed pokes, and determine when I was going to need to schedule time to go in person (an extended power-off evidently resulted in one node each forgetting how to talk to the network and so needed re-setup). So it has advantages in remote/distributed management point of view.

                  Very horses for courses, you might say.

              3. TRT Silver badge

                Re: if it works...

                The only use case I could think of was fucking with someone’s head whilst they try to use it.

                If ONLY they’d invent app controlled leaf blowers. I’d turn black hat for that. There’s no need for a 150dB machine to move leaves about when a broom does a better job quicker and quieter.

                1. Soruk

                  Re: if it works...

                  My leaf blower is reversible, so it can also be used to hoover them up and even comes with a bag that can be emptied into compost.

                  1. TRT Silver badge

                    Re: if it works...

                    Exactly. Leaf blowers suck.

                2. greenup

                  Re: if it works...

                  The way leaf blowers are generally used, I'd agree, they are not a great solution to the problem.

                  There ARE situations where they really are The Best Answer though; Our house has a decorative rock fields of varying sizes in three areas of the yard, and a leaf blower is PERFECT for blowing the light organic leaves out away from the dense, bigger-than-a-golfball rocks, over onto the grass where they can be raked up. A broom or a rake would be very ineffective at keeping the nasty things from deteriorating in the rock bed, looking lousy, and promoting weed growth.

                  1. TRT Silver badge

                    Re: if it works...

                    And the sort of low hedge and shrub borders that get leaf bound. But it’s not required once a fortnight all year round and as you say it’s the only use where it’s more effective than a broom or rake. The backyards of the houses when I’m trying to WFH do not have low hedges, rockeries, awkwardly shaped decorative borders or anything like it. They are large expanses of flat concrete. Use a fricking broom!

            2. StewieGriffin

              Re: if it works...

              Saw that as well. Told my 72 year mother (who has a couple of high spec power washers) about it and she was aghast. "Why would you want that?", I couldn't (and still can't) think of a good reason.

              1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

                Re: if it works...

                I can see a great use case for it, but only if you're using it as a CNC DIY waterjet cutter. Which is obviously really common, and that's why they've added it.

                Sarcasm existing in this response is left as an exercise for the reader.

            3. Andytug

              Re: if it works...

              There's a very simple couple of reasons why companies are trying to push stuff that's Internet-connected.

              Monthly subsription

              Personal data that can be monetised.

              They sell the initial product cheap (e.g. doorbell camera) then rake in the money from subs. If you had to buy the storage etc for your home to keep the videos it would cost more initially, but cost little in the long run. Only benefit in this case is being able to view footage remotely on your phone.

          2. Anonymous Coward

            Re: if it works...

            > "I'm not going to go buy some stupid IoT connected shite now to put a buggy app on my phone just so I can control the lamp from a screen. I have legs, I can get to the switch."

            > This. A billion times this.

            > (icon in Friday-afternoon-prompted solidarity)

            Or the delivery company that put a note through the door with the package which implored me to "download our app so you can rate our delivery".

            Errm, no.

            icon: liquidarity :-)

          3. vincent himpe

            Re: if it works...

            a billion transistors and a million lines of code for a lightswitch...(those wifi thingies are almost all esp8266 based. that chip has several million transistors, add the ram and rom you hit the billion) and it could all have been done on an 8051 with 4k of rom and 128 bytes of ram...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: if it works...

              The things you can do with an 8051 .... my first job fresh out of college when it was new and shiny.

              Anyway thanks to Dr Dobbs I managed to get a whole Tiny BASIC interpreter in there with 2 bytes to spare Happy days.

            2. elaar

              Re: if it works...

              "and it could all have been done on an 8051 with 4k of rom and 128 bytes of ram"

              As soon as you add encryption/wifi modules (and no doubt more rom/ram for those libraries), that's assuming you can even fudge that with low clock speed and parallel communication. Then you've got the added power consumption from 5v CMOS.

              It would be difficult, more costly, larger pcb and higher power to do with an 8051, when you can just use a cheap all-in-one ESP module. It's a poor comparison.

              1. rototype

                Re: if it works...

                One word - Arduino

                1. doublelayer Silver badge

                  Re: if it works...

                  Connecting an Arduino to WiFi is a pain. It can control the light bulb or whatever other thing you want automated, but if you want to control that thing remotely, you need some communication mechanism. WiFi or Bluetooth are commonly available, but neither runs on an Arduino unless you attach something else to do it for you. That's another set of chips you have to buy, power, and maintain just so the original controller can be contacted. What's even more pathetic is that the controller for the communication is usually an order of magnitude more powerful than the controller the main task is running on. If you don't want remote access to the device, then an Arduino is probably fine. If you do, it makes sense to use the processor which does that communication to do the automation task as well. Unless you can't work out the low-power modes or you need custom control pins the comms chip doesn't have, that will be the simpler and more efficient solution.

        2. arachnoid2

          Re: if it works...Smart lights

          Some smart lights these days require an internet connection to work as the signal bounces back to the suppliers server and back again to the lamp.Thats a poor use of technology for you.

        3. Trygve Henriksen

          Re: if it works...

          I know of one good reason to invest in some IoT or at least some proper home automation...

          I read in a forum that one guy had set it up so that when he sat down in his favorite chair in the evening, his TV came on and the lights adjusted for best possible viewing comfort.

          1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

            Re: if it works...

            That is home automation, not IoT. The internet at large doesn't really need to know you just got home, or that you just went out for the day.

            1. Trygve Henriksen

              Re: if it works...

              It uses sensors, and they are definitely IoT. And if you use IFTTT scripts, thne it's all online. Yeah, there are people who do that.

              IoT is a tool(the same can be said about most of the designers of the devices) and automation of some sort is usually the goal.

              1. CRConrad

                Doesn't have to work that particular way.

                Trygve Henriksen writes:

                It uses sensors, and they are definitely IoT
                May well be that in this guy's case they are "IoT", but they don't have to be. (In fact, it's fucking stupid if/that they are.)

      2. juice

        Re: The last straw

        > Farmers may appear behind the times, but more often its a case of if it works...

        I think it's more the case that if you don't need it, why learn it?

        My mother used to be quite blase about her inability to use these newfangled computer things, long even before the interwebs were a thing. And then she discovered Ebay.

        These days, she has a higher Ebay rating than me, and has become pretty skilled at taking photos, editing and uploading them, etc. She also plays folk music; with lockdown, both my mother and her musical acquaintances (who are mostly in the same age demographics) have learned how to do video conferencing, etc.

        Similarly, my Dad had no real use for such things. But these days, it's all about his smartphone; he uses it for emails, prints receipts from it (once I'd set up the &£$*£*"*% printer, anyhow), uses Google Earth to review and price up jobs, takes photos to show that the work's been done, etc.

        So yeah: if it ain't broke, you ain't going to fix it until/unless there's significant benefit from doing so...

      3. Chris G

        Re: The last straw

        In the early nineties, the farmer I used to deal with for horse feed told me how his brother was writing his own software for precision farming, using GPS and satellite photos to improve fertiliser and pesticide use.

        Nearly all farmers are good engineers finding and making improvement to equipment and like any industry where margins can be low or affected by sudden unknowns like weather, they are quick to take up anything that may be of help.

        1. Muscleguy

          Re: The last straw

          Amen, back in NZ agri scientists working on things like sheep genetics get emails from interested farmers who have read all the papers and want to know when they can get their herds and rams tested so they can apply all that stuff.

          Back in the ‘80s NZ had 70million sheep, now it has merely 50million. What happened? Getting 99% of the ewes to give birth to twins happened. Means for the same productivity you need fewer breeding animals. Rolled out nationwide. Add in lots of stuff, ultrafine merino wool, leaner less fatty lamb. Science to the farm gate is possible.

          It helps that NZ sends it’s cockies to university. There’s three semi or really specialised in Agritech and Farming education so the cockies these days are graduates, many with Masters.

          All that NZ lamb on the supermarket shelves is there for reasons, competitive reasons.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The last straw

        Farmers around here are often "early adapters" if it means getting the most out of their resources. Combines, for example, started coming with PCMCIA memory card units that recorded everything from fuel use to driving patterns to yield per area of land - they might never learn how to code a program or build a pc, but they sure learned the software to manage this stuff, if only to see how much extra fuel the 16 year old kid at the wheel of this $250,000 machine was burning while focusing more on Radiohead through his headphones rather than on how tightly he was turning and maintaining a consistent harvest rate.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The last straw

          Our model flying club rents a patch in the middle of a farmer's field. The shape and location of the flying patch had to be designed to enable the GPS-controlled tractors to navigate around it...

        2. low_resolution_foxxes

          Re: The last straw

          I recently worked on a smart tractor fertiliser project. Farmers can spend £1m plus per year on fertiliser spreading on their fields using giant spreaders.

          Our project was GPS monitored crosswind measurement, fine controlling the spreader rotary motors, to maximise coverage and minimise excess waste. Shaving 5-10% off fertiliser cost was a massive benefit the farmer was happy to spend time and money on

      5. Teejay

        Re: The last straw

        The only reason I have been replacing technical things for the last 15 years is because the hardware breaks. My oldish diesel is absolutely fine feature wise. Same with my laptop that just can be updated to the latest operating system. And with my aged, but totally working music production Mac, any new system would mean huge investments in new software-versions and little gain otherwise. Or with my not totally new flatscreen TV. It's the principle of diminishing returns everywhere. Even mobile phones are basically good enough these days, which is probably why manufacturers use non-removable batteries and stop supporting them safety-wise. If PC-makers would use better capacitors, computers would probably run pretty much forever.

        1. ICL1900-G3

          Re: The last straw

          My 16 years old MB E class is worthless - and lovely.

        2. rototype

          Re: The last straw

          The only reason I've replaced my last 2 mobile phones (smart phones) is because the previous one finally died completely (or completely enough to not be useable). Last one lasted just over 5 years and the one before lasted 6 1/2 years - I still have my old Nokia 5130 but I can't find a SIM card** or working battery to fit it anymore.

          ** the previous SIM card was trimmed to fit the newer phone then trimmed gain th fit the next one - not pretty but it worked. I now have a new SIM because I complained about not being able to turn off expensive voicemail and got a new contract for 1/2 the price with 10X the features (pays to buy your own phone SIM free then get a SIM only contract).

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: The last straw

      The back end of a cow is fluid, right next to a cow's tail which can flick it 6 feet away.

      For Friesians it's up to eleven feet. You can take my word for this.

      1. shedied

        Re: The last straw

        11 feet =1WTF

        (I am not a farmer, so measurements are not accurate in any way)

  3. b0llchit Silver badge

    The endless story

    This type of error will never ever come to an end. Users will be able to put square connectors into round holes. They will be able to bend, remove or alter to fit anything in an unsuitable hole or socket. Users try to wipe the screen with fingers to remove content ("modern" users do not know typpex anymore). Users use force where none is required. Users do not read. Users do not think. Need one go on?

    Lets just give it up. Murphy cannot be beat. Evolution is not to prefer the best but to preserve a balance. For any dumbed down system you will meet a user who is dumber than the system allows. It is inevitable. It is a force of nature. Any advance will be met with an equal and opposite increase in stupidity.

    1. Totally not a Cylon

      Re: The endless story

      Simplifies to:

      make something 'idiot-proof' and nature breeds a better idiot.

      Evolution in action.....

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        Re: The endless story

        The story of my life.

        We once built something we thought idiot proof, springs and clamps and all sorts so you could only get the part in one way.

        2 hrs later all the expensive tooling destroyed and 1 clamp bent in half.

        Yupp it was not idiot proof... especially when said idiot had access to a hammer to 'make it fit'

        1. Andrew Newstead

          Re: The endless story

          I had an instructor when I was an apprentice that had a saying for this, “You design anything to be idiot proof but you can’t design it to be twat proof”!

      2. G.Y.

        Re: The endless story

        Standard text: "If you make something foolproof, there's always a fool that is bigger than the proof"

      3. ROC

        Re: The endless story

        Seems more like devolution...

      4. Charles 9

        Re: The endless story

        So why not make something SO idiot-proof that defying it would result in a Darwin Award candidate?

      5. roytrubshaw

        Re: The endless story

        "make something 'idiot-proof' and nature breeds a better idiot.

        Evolution in action....."

        Kudos for the Darwin Awards reference :).

        What worries me is that (in my limited understanding of natural selection) any trait that one is not actively selecting for, is actively de-selected; so if intelligence is not a requirement to stay alive (at least long enough to have children) it must be the case that we are getting stupider.

        Mine's the one with the dog-eared copy of "Oath of Fealty" in the pocket!

        1. Conrad Longmore

          Re: The endless story

          Ah, a sadly under-rated book.

          "Just think of it as evolution in action".

        2. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          Re: The endless story

          Raise the speed limit!

          Think of it as "evolution in action"...

      6. low_resolution_foxxes

        Re: The endless story

        In the modern era, I'm finding IT/process instructions are getting as stupid as the users they deserve.

        I had an IT process instruction the other day that just said "step 5: press the appropriate button".

        For reference, there were 3 potential "hard" buttons on a test box, a keyboard and 4 clickable buttons in the UI window. I have an electronics degree and I was just staring at the damn thing in a rage.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The endless story

          I saw a recipe last week that had 'cook until done' as a step.

          1. RockBurner

            Re: The endless story

            "I saw a recipe last week that had 'cook until done' as a step."

            Which is why I don't cook.

            Any instruction set that assumes a distinct level of prior knowledge is not safe.

            1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

              Re: The endless story

              Cook it until it burns, then take it off 3 minutes before that.

            2. rototype

              Re: The endless story

              This is why I'm planning a 'Blues** cookbook' when I can finally find enough spare time to get it all into the computer and proof test it all.

              **Colourworks personality types, a large proportion of us on this forum will be in the blue corner.

        2. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

          Re: The endless story

          What can you say when for changing a password on a remote session the OS helpfully says to use "Ctrl+Alt+End" and the user keeps hitting "Ctrl+Alt+Sup"?

      7. Kispin

        Re: The endless story

        there is a race between Engineers making something Idiot proof and the Universe generating bigger idiots.... so far the Universe is winning!

    2. FloridaBee

      Re: The endless story

      Which is why the U.S. Marines settle for "Marine resistant", knowing that there is no such thing as "Marine-proof" equipment.

      1. Coastal cutie

        Re: The endless story

        I learnt from my policing gigs that it's much the same for the Constabulary's finest.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The endless story

      "Users do not read. Users do not think."

      Not just users. I had to call our corporate IT yesterday for a software issue. The Tier -1 support tech proceeded to uninstall and reinstall, selecting a version that quite clearly stated "For (xxx) site only, contains custom settings". I had to ask TWICE to cancel that one and install the rest-of-the-company version, as I'm not at that site.

      Unsurprisingly, the issue still remains. So it was transferred to the Tier -0.5 tech, who wants me to find a colleague with a working setup so they can copy the settings from them...

      1. onemark03

        "Users do not read. Users do not think."

        Not quite. It's more a question of "Users are clueless.", i.e. not as clued up as techies.

      2. Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

        Re: The endless story

        "Users do not read. Users do not think."

        Wrong!. Users have been taught to be unable to think.

        Furthermore George Carlin was eerily prescient: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

        1. Diogenes

          Re: The endless story

          "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

          Or as my wise old dad said... "remember OTHER people are stupid. When you do that, the world makes sense".

      3. TomPhan

        Re: The endless story

        Unfortunately so much of the outsourced Tier-1 is rated based on how quickly they can move an incident from New to Resolved, and if that means installing the first thing they find then that's OK. Particularly if it means another incident gets opened because they're also rated on how many incidents the deal with.

    4. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: The endless story

      Once upon a time, I was a System Administrator.

      I found out quickly that users are able to think in myriad ways. They are able to understand complicated and simple instructions, and interpret them differently to what was obviously intended. For example:

      (to my boss, Ed.) "Ed, I'll tell you first when I've re-booted the printer daemon, so you can get your print out next. Please don't print anything until I tell you as that will cause the actions I am taking to sort out the current problem (too many printer daemons active) to get worse."

      EVERY time I told him that, he would send another print job to the printer while I was killing errant printer daemons, before I told him it was ok to print, and I really mean EVERY time (every week). I was System Administrator for a year.

      Anyway, one of the little ways users have is telepathy, they invariably conspire to create problems without actually talking to each other or communicating in any way known to science. Hence the collective noun:

      "a CONSPIRACY of users".

      1. MrReynolds2U

        Re: The endless story

        I often get "the phones are down" or "we're all having problems".

        When in actual fact, one person can't dial properly or understand that a number might be out-of-service.

        - Me: "Have you tried calling the number from your mobile?"

        - User: "It's not working when I call them from my mobile either."

        I wait for the penny to drop... it never does.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: The endless story

          That happens to me too. Must be problem at the exchange...

        2. Giles C Silver badge

          Re: The endless story

          Especially good when someone has just rung in with the problem.

          The conversation then goes

          User: The phone system is down

          Helpdesk: so how are you calling me on an internal number

          It goes quiet after that.

          Almost as bad as someone wanting to send an email saying that the mail server was down.....

      2. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: The endless story

        idiot: I need this thing urgently, when can It be done by

        me: it should be in by next week, but can you test it now and let me know how you get on.

        I managed to do the work while they where moaning at me so I had more time in subsequent days for other stuff but didn't want to let them now that as they would expect that every time!

        me 2 days later: how did you get on with the testing

        idiot: you said it won't be in till next week so I've not tested it.

        1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

          Re: The endless story

          Making the other party have to do even a tiny level of work to get what they want often gives you months of time to play with!

    5. davenewman

      Re: The endless story

      Remember Murphy's second law.

      A piece of equipment works in inverse proportion to the number and status of people watching.

    6. Snapper

      Re: The endless story

      I saw a computer salesman, when asked how a paper letter could be transferred to a computer, fold it up and try to feed it through the floppy drive port.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The endless story

        A story I've told before, but along the same lines, was the close-to-retirement lab technician who I taught to use the scanner to copy user-manuals for incorporation into departmental SOPs instead of her usual way of butchering them with scissors and sticking them into the masters with sticky tape.

        Once she'd finally grasped it, I walked into the office one day only to find her butchering a printout of a scanned copy of a user manual with scissors, and sticking the bits into the masters using sticky tape!

  4. JerseyDaveC

    Back in the 1990s the Macintosh II range was great for floppy disk loss. They came with one floppy drive, but there was a little blanking plate over a slot where you could install a second. This blanking plate was really easy to push out, so students at the uni where I was the Mac support guy would do so ... and the next person would insert their floppy disk and hear it drop into the guts of the Mac.

    1. MrPlow

      Yep, same at the college I started at 30 years ago as IT technician. One student actually tried to open up the case to retrieve the disk

    2. DJV Silver badge

      That sounds exactly like the UEA (University of Easy Access, um, East Anglia) who also had the same issue in the 1990s when I was there.

    3. rototype


      Similar to this is the fact that students (be it school or college)can quite easily push a 3.5 floppy with a damaged cover into the drive but it often doesn't want to come out, not without leaving the little metal cover in the drive.

      Back in the day I worked as IT support in a private girls school (no, it's nowhere near as glamourous as it seems, in fact a total pain in the a** most of the time)and they were all suppose to keep their floppies in a disk holder, available from the school shop for a few pennies (actually sold at cost price to rey and save money on support calls - it didn't work), we still managed to find the metal shields blocking the drives of a fairly frequent basis.

      I wouldn't have minded if the little dears had reported it straight away (ie whilst it was still connected to the disk) - I had a method of gettin ghtem out quickly and easily with little or no damage - but no, they'd insist on ripping the disk out and leaving the shield in the drive.

      As I mentioned I could get these out easily**, but I was told under no circumstances to do so until the culprit had been identified, and heir parents billed for a new drive, even if it meant 1/4 of the computer lab out of action with no floppies.

      ** 2 expansion blanking plates, inserted through the slot to squeeze the sides in and slide it out gently - worked about 98% the time.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. CRConrad

        Counterproductive incentives.

        rototype writes:

        I wouldn't have minded if the little dears had reported it straight away (ie whilst it was still connected to the disk) [ . . . ] As I mentioned I could get these out easily**, but I was told under no circumstances to do so until the culprit had been identified, and heir parents billed
        So guess why they ripped them out in stead of calling you.

  5. BD 1

    Once I actually had the real problem of real 3.5" floppies failing in short order. In the mid 2000's I was working at a well site in tropical Uganda. My "office" was 500m from the well site itself and I had to transfer data between the two locations twice a day.

    In the time it took to walk the distance between the 2 air conditioned locations, the disks would fail about half the time. I ended up making several disk copies in the hopes that one might survive the journey. I guess, heat & humidity were the culprits.

    1. Tom 7

      Air conditioning is a nightmare. Take a computer from an air conditioned room and plug it in somewhere warm and kaboom - condensation all over the inside. I had a friend who worked as a fork lift driver in a massive cold store -40 in there. Met him in the pub after work one muggy summers evening and I asked him if he's run cos his face was sweaty. Turned out to be condensation!

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Many moons gone...

        Got into my company car on a hot summer's day at around 40 degrees. Fished out my HP PDA to check something while operating the starter. I needed the car running to cool off as it was bloody hot in there.

        The climate control agreed that it was indeed "bloody hot" and went into "everything and the kitchen sink" mode. The freezing cold gale hit the screen of the PDA in my hand and the LCD matrix disintegrated like a shattered mirror.

        I tried that "eBay" thing I'd heard about and was delighted to find that I could get a whole new screen assembly from Hong Kong for about a tenner.

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Car Windscreens In The Winter

          Have been known to do that here, with +2X heated garages & -4X exteriors in the far north (I think one extreme year Edmonton hit -55C with windchill), the moment the car gets outside.

      2. Oh Matron!

        To be fair, this plagues other things too. Whenever I was on my jollies, I'd leave my camera outside on the balcony, as, if you left it in the AC'd room and then took it outside, hilarity would ensue

        As an aside, I also learnt about condensation the hard way whilst contracting in Malaysia. Sitting outside and drinking an iced beverage would often result in condensation dropping into one's lap. Not great when wearing khaki slacks :-)

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          To be fair, this plagues other things too.

          Like VCRs (remember them?). A mechanism damp with condensation was pretty much a guarantee that the tape would get stuck to the spinning head and mangle everything. Later systems had detectors which wouldn't load a cassette if condensation was detected.

      3. GlenP Silver badge

        Take a computer from an air conditioned room and plug it in somewhere warm and kaboom - condensation all over the inside.

        Back in the day, as they say, before setting up a newly delivered PC it would be left in the office for 24 hours to acclimatise, especially in winter as they'd often been stored in cold conditions.

        Condensation was part of the problem but you needed the HD to be at room temp before low level formatting otherwise it may not be usable the next day.

        1. wyatt

          Back in the day where I use to have to keep parts at home, I use to have to bring them in from the garage the night before so they'd dry out. Never good turning up to a customers site with them dripping.

        2. Andy A

          In the days of the ACT Sirius 1 (the Victor 9000 with a fresh badge), we had terrible trouble with HDDs.

          It turns out they had been low-level formatted in California - in the summer.

          We had to re-do them to cope with UK temperatures.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I've done some amateur astronomy, and one of the tricks I rapidly learned was to set the telescope up a good half an hour before wanting to use it. That gives the condensation formed on the lenses when taking it outside time to evaporate.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          ...and for any thermal expansion/contraction to occur which might affect lens shape, position and focus changing while in use if you don't wait.

      5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        I'll never forget the day I was called in to a dairy storage unit. The vast building was cooled to -30C.

        It was winter, 0°C outside, but the sun was shining bright. I wore my coat to go there, obviously. I spent about fifteen minutes in there to do an upgrade and chat a bit with the floor manager, show him what was new. I thought the cold wouldn't get to me. Boy was I wrong !

        When I left the building, it felt like I was on a beach. I took off my coat and reveled in the fact that it felt fine.

        Well, for about sixty seconds. Then I put my coat back on.

        That was an experience in nature.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          In Hokkaido there is an Ice Pavilion, which celebrates ice, winter and everything cold. The main part is kept at -20C, the mean winter temperature for the area, and you get given a parka when you go in. One room is chilled down to -40, the lowest recorded winter temperature, and has a slight "wind". When you walk into the room you think "yes, cold, but tolerable". 10 seconds later you're considering leaving the room fairly quickly, and when you do leave the previously cold museum is remarkably balmy for a minute or two.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Used to work for a freeze-dry company - worked in rooms kept at -55C with huge fans blowing air onto the product to chill it as quickly as possible before being put in the vacuum chambers to sublimate all the moisture out of them. We wore US Air Force Arctic survival gear to work in the rooms, and the rule was 10 minutes outside for every 50 minutes inside. When I first started, I thought the breaks were to warm up, but really when you are working hard inside that survival kit, even at -55C, you need to stop and cool down.

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            The worst journey in the World

            In his autobiographical book of a journey in the Antarctic winter, Apsley Cherry-Garrard calms that sledging at -70 is vastly better than sledging at -90.

            The trek was to collect the eggs of Emperor Penguins at a particular stage of development and does indeed sound truly awful.

            "There Worst Journey in the World" by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, ISBN 0-330-48135-5, Picador.

            1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

              Re: The worst journey in the World

              That would be because once super-cold, the ice doesn't melt under the pressure from the runners, and so your sledge doesn't slide any more.

      6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Take a computer from an air conditioned room and plug it in somewhere warm and kaboom - condensation all over the inside."

        Winter. Field engineer. Parts in the car boot. Alway, always take the parts you are expecting to need that day and put them in main body of the car. Passenger footwell is best as it gets lots of nice warm air.

        And didn't older video tape recorders have dew sensors so they'd not start up in there was any condensation likely inside?

    2. SleepGuy

      This was my experiences with 3.5" floppies back in the day as well. Never had an issue prior with the 5.25" inchers though. Never could figure out why so many failed on me but I ended up doing the same, multiple copies of everything before moving them!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "This was my experiences with 3.5" floppies back in the day as well. Never had an issue prior with the 5.25" inchers though. "

        I wonder if there might have been a slight warping of the disc surface caused by thermal expansion or contraction of the metal inner part of the disc? 8* and 5.25" had no metal components (I'm discounting the rust on the disc substrate :-))

  6. The curmudgeonly one

    Back in the 80's I had to support an academic library. No networking or anything like that.

    A medical literature database was distributed on CDROMs, Doctors loaded CD after CD until they got what they wanted, which was stored on 5" floppies.

    You guessed it. And the CDs were very expensive - thousands of dollars a set.. In a floppy drive they dropped into the drive, and more than once had to sacrifice a floppy drive to get the CD out.

    I stopped it by labelling the drives "Round Shiny Things" and "Square Black Things". Until a senior academic tore the labels off, ranting about "treating academic staff as morons". Five mins later he had a CDROM in the floppy drive.

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Dr Father Ted.

      1. Red Ted

        ... rather more "Dr Father Jack Hackett", perhaps? :-)

        1. Paul Herber Silver badge

          Ted, is that you?

        2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

          That would be an ecumenical matter.

      2. Paul Herber Silver badge

        I actually meant Dr Father Dougal!

    2. G.Y.

      IBM PC

      When IBM tested the PC user manual on newbies, it said "take the diskette out of the envelope. Some of then took the round thing out of the square thing.

      IBM rewrote the text to make it unambiguous.

      1. Snapper

        Re: IBM PC

        Did all the writing staff then move to Microsoft, because if they did they are still there and training a new generation!

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I still have boxes of original Amiga software that came on floppy in my spare room, surprisingly quite a lot of it still worked when i last fired up my A1200 a few years ago. As even back when they were new floppies could work fine one day and then bork the next.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I have a 5.25" floppy drive in my current desktop. Has to be connected through a FC5025 adapter, and is read-only, but works. I really need to get back to copying the rest of my old disks, but the last batch I did (maybe 2 years ago) were about as good as they were over 25 years ago, when they were last used - successful full disk image created in over 80% of the disks, with the problematic ones being the ones that were heavily used back then.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      On the other hand, I used to back stuff up on CDROM.

      I used to use decent quality ones at first (though that distinction is only in hindsight). To this day, those are still readable.

      One day I was in Maplin, and they had huge bundles of 50, 100, 200 blank CDs. Even the 200 bundles were not much more expensive than maybe ten Verbatims, and I put the difference down to them not having jewel cases supplied, and not carrying a brand name.

      How wrong I was.

      First of all, they were semi-transparent (Verbatim et al are completely opaque). I still didn't make the connection at the time. And they were much thinner.

      Then, after a few months, I noticed that some of the ones I'd written to had started to develop a form of acne. Little spots were appearing where and they were more transparent still at those spots. Suffice to say, many became unreadable. Since then, virtually all of them have.

      I'm currently going through the laborious process of cutting them up for disposal. Not a single one is still easily readable (some not at all), though I've recovered a fair bit using recovery software.

      I went back to the proper ones, but not before using up an entire roll of the naffer type.

  8. muddysteve


    A common problem with the 5.25 discs was users attaching labels to them with a stapler.

    1. Anonymous Custard

      Re: Labels

      And then storing them on the side of the filing cabinet, held there by a magnet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Labels

        And then storing them on the side of the filing cabinet, held there by a magnet.

        a story ive heard a hundred times . Not sure it happened.

        mostly because "pinned to a filing cabinet with a magnet"

        is not a well recognised storage method for anything.

        never seen it happen.

        magneticly sensitive or not.

        "Hole punched and in a binder" i can believe - cos that *is* a storage method.

        folded up in a wallet maybe too

        1. Anonymous Custard

          Re: Labels

          Exhibit A from lower down in this very section :-)

          OK swap the filing cabinet for a fridge, but then what's a fridge but filing space for food...?

          I've seen it done many times back when I was young(er) and perhaps slightly more innocent, or at least slightly less world-weary and jaded.

          But I have to admit, when I was at Uni in the Physics Dept doing my PhD, I did purposefully put a (previously knackered and corrupted) floppy labelled "Secrets of the Universe" onto the wall of the Faraday cage I used to work in using a sodding great magnet from a hifi speaker cone. Started a few fun conversations with my fellow peers wandering around trying to avoid doing any work.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Labels

          Hole punched and in a binder

          Not in a binder, but do you remember the old trick of turning single-sided 5.25" disks into double-sided writeable ones?

          It was OK if you knew what you were doing (I used to use a scalpel and measure carefully), but I remember a few who punched through the media itself.

        3. Rob Daglish

          Re: Labels

          I’ve certainly had to reinstall windows quite a few times because a certain betting shop manager would stack the magnets they used for pinning papers up on top of her Lenovo tiny pc...

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Labels

          mostly because "pinned to a filing cabinet with a magnet"

          I've seen it.

          I've also seen disks with data loss because someone moved their old style desk telephone such that it ended up partly over the disk. The coils operating the bell ringer are not conducive to the safety of magnetic storage.

          I've also seen disk destroyed by leaving then on the flat top of a CRT monitor which has a degaussing function at power on.

        5. irrelevant

          Re: Labels

          Posted to us by putting it into a Jiffy Bag (padded envelope) because "fragile and valuable"... Then stapled closed...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Labels

            More than once I received a 5.25" floppy with a note stapled to it in an envelope. Fortunately, not through the media itself in any instance - not sure if it was by luck or by knowledge.

        6. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

          Re: Labels

          My first line manager, many years ago, did IT for a certain very large company that outsourced all their IT. Because he knew what he was doing, and I knew what a computer did, we got on well. Bill, his name was. Hopefully he's still retired and on his dream canal boat...

          Anyway, point is, he stored the department floppy disc for transferring stuff between networks (as only he had permissions) on his computer case side, pinned in place with quite a powerful magnet. And the disc always seemed to work just fine!

      2. swm

        Re: Labels

        I was talking with someone doing MRI research. Many time someone would walk in to the room of the 3T MRI machine and discover that none of their credit cards or university swipe cards would work thereafter. There was a fee for replacing university swipe cards but it was waved for MRI workers - it was too easy to forget the ID pinned to you.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. spireite Silver badge

    Please remove transit sleeve carefully

    Early in my career, I had one new user who ,when given a 5.25 floppy, assumed the cover was removable, given it had a sticker on it. A pair of heavy duty scissors to snip across one corner, to allow a good finger in, and tear it apart - literally.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: Please remove transit sleeve carefully

      Sometimes people do utterly stupid things... I remember a co-worker who got some simple instructions: take the disk out of its envelope, insert in in the drive and then run the program.

      He managed to pry the magnetic disk out of its casing (with great effort, I imagine) and wondered why it didn't work as intended...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: pry [...] out of its casing (with great effort, I imagine)


        Am I doing something wrong with these SD cards I just bought, then? They are supposed to stay in the large, clear, and tamper resistant sheath??


        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Anonymous Coward

          Re: pry [...] out of its casing (with great effort, I imagine)

          It's a sod getting them out, so you'd think so, wouldn't you?

    2. Kubla Cant

      Re: Please remove transit sleeve carefully

      Like ready meals that tell you to "remove all packaging" before heating. Can create an awful mess.

      1. Rob Daglish

        Re: Please remove transit sleeve carefully

        Yeah, but not nearly as bad as those toilets you’re only allowed to flush loo paper down. Liquid wastes can, for gents at least, disappear down the sink quite easily, but I’ve never figured out what you’re supposed to do with solid waste!

  10. Tom 7

    I did spend a day trying to read a floppy once.

    It worked on the machine it came from. But not a tweet on mine. Back and forth between the two machines. Mine could read and write stuff fine. Eventually someone pointed out the floppy had a little hole in it near the centre hole - turned out there was such a thing as hard-sectored floppies indexed by the hole and an LED.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I did spend a day trying to read a floppy once.

      They all had that small hole in the outer casing. Soft sectored disks had a single hole in the actual disk to indicate the start of sector 0 on the track. Hard sectored disks had multiple holes, one to mark the start of each sector (and also, if IIRC, two holes close together to indicate sector 0).

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had the same with a CDROM. The user called me to say the CDROM wasn't 'going in'.

    I was a bit confused - the machine the user was talking about didn't have a CDROM drive. So I went to have a look and saw he was trying to push it in between the front blanking plates! This was in the days when some systems had CDROM drives behind a small opening as opposed to a tray, and he'd assumed the gap was where the drive was.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had a similar experience with 5.25" floppies. In this case we were sending software from our London head office to a branch office in Scotland.

    Many discs were sent, all of which were reported as failing.

    Somebody was eventually flown up to Scotland with a new disc. It was handed over to the user, who promptly grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off the square surround - leaving them with something that was indeed floppy and disc shaped, but completely useless.

    1. Test Man


      NO WAY!

      1. Coastal cutie

        I take it you haven't spent much time with end users...……...

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Yes way.

        That almost happened right in front of me. I was working in the same office as an old lady who was the secretary of the manager. One fine she got a package, there floppies in it. It was obviously the first time she'd ever seen any.

        She promptly opened one of her drawers and took a pair of scissors. I watched, confused, as she brought the scissors to the corner of one of the floppies.

        I just had the time to snap out of it and jump up, saying "No No No !" rather loudly, my hand up and arm outstretched to enforce my point.

        Initially she was a bit miffed, but she let me explain and the floppies were saved.

        At the end of that contract, she actually thanked me for "helping" her. She was a nice person.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      i dont think i could've remained professional in that circumstance

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Copy Protection Blues

    25 years ago, marketing decreed our software must be copy protected to prevent piracy.

    Never mind that the software controlled a microscope made by the company. A very expensive dongle.

    Anyway. Copy protection software was selected and used. And an update was sent to Australia.

    The software would not work. Backwards and forwards our rep went from one side of the country to the other. (4.5 hour flight)

    On the 3rd time, it became apparent that the client PC had a "floptical" drive, combination 3.5" mag floppy/ RW optical drive.

    The first time I saw the word, I just thought the rep meant "floppy", I'd never heard of a "floptical".

    It soon became apparent the floptical drive was incompatible with the copy protection magic.

    I think we ditched it soon after.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Copy Protection Blues

      I know of one company that used to put a small hole in their distribution copies using a hot needle. It was in the unused space so didn't affect normal operation but it prevented the use of diskcopy. Simple but effective!

      1. MatthewSt

        Re: Copy Protection Blues

        I think it was Tomb Raider or one of the other "early" PC games on CD that had an intentionally "corrupt" file system record. Basically the file table referenced the same parts of the CD multiple times so that the 650mb disk "appeared" to contain a couple of gb.

        You couldn't copy it using the standard software as they didn't do a "byte for byte" copy but tried re-creating the filesystem... and there wasn't enough space on the new CD!

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Re: Copy Protection Blues

          Yes, a lot of Commodore 64 protection was done in a similar way. Make a straight disk copy, run a program to corrupt a specific sector which the loader then checked for and would bomb out if it didn't encounter it.

          I once had some copy protection that used a bit psychological warfare on the user in that, at one point about 3 or 4 levels in, the entire program was ORed with a string of characters that read "THIS COPY PROTECTION IS 50 LEVELS DEEP" (or something similar). It wasn't actually that deep at all.

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: Copy Protection Blues

            saw a youtube video recently on copy protection "trolling"

            apparently some games , when detecting they were not a genuine copy would subtly alter the game and make impossible / frustrating ,

            like a key never appearing or something :D

          2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

            Re: Copy Protection Blues

            That sounds like "speedlock" on the spectrum.... (I think that was the name.. It was the one that had "clicks" in the lead-in tone..)

            Every now and then, after XORing down a few levels, there would be a small sarcastic message!

            I remember the software for the "specdrum" drum hardware was XORed against the system ROM. Any slight change to the ROM (in my case, due to an upgrade to the +3) rendered it useless. I had to dig out an old Speccy just to decode it!

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Copy Protection Blues

      Never mind that the software controlled a microscope made by the company. A very expensive dongle.

      It's that kind of not being able to join the dots that make you wonder how some people manage to look after themselves , never mind get a job.

      And they are often above you throwing out equally pointless and moronic proclamations that arnt so easily spotted .

      ..Or they just throw in one of the 2 get out jail free cards to justify any action:

      "Health and safety"

      "data protection"


      "when you get to the customer site ask for the boss"


      "cant tell you - data protection"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Copy Protection Blues

      Our electron microscope was controlled by software on 8" floppies.

      It was left running for various reasons to keep it operational, but at Christmas it was formally shutdown. It was a dog booting everything up again - it booted from the floppies, and accessed software on them while in use.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Copy Protection Blues

        So, in that case, copy protection would a revenue stream for the supplier. Disk wore out? Buy a replacement :-)

    4. nintendoeats Silver badge

      Re: Copy Protection Blues

      It wasn't an SGI Indy was it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Copy Protection Blues

        No, just MS-DOS on a PC

  14. RobinCM


    Which is why a small amount of basic training is often a good idea!

    "Please do this, for these reasons" is all it takes to avert problems, but it's so frequently left out. You know what they say about assumption...

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      "You know what they say about assumption"

      oblig. XKCD

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Training!

      You know what they say about assumption.

      Yeah - whenever you use the word , some smartarse , regardless of context will quip

      You know what they say about assumption. hur hur

      (present company excepted , that was a valid context)

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Training!

        Makes an ass out of you and ...umption?

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Assume makes an Ass ...


          I once had to write a Business Continuity Plan for, wait for it, if the UK was hit by a highly contagious virus causing lots of people to be off work, and some to die, rather like the H5N1 bird 'flu pandemic (remember that). Well, apart from the company's chief medical officer going on record saying that it would never happen, I got assigned and met my 'boss' for the task.

          He started out in our first meeting by complaining: "You realise that you are paid more than me? And that I should have had a promotion and a better company car for taking this role?"

          I sort of responded some way and then said I saw he was a fellow of some Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery organisation (rather like their equivalent of the IISP* at the time). To which he replied:

          "Yes, that's my ticket out of " (the company).

          Well, after that less than auspicious start I dutifully wrote the first draft of the document, and sent it to him for review.

          The first thing he strongly objected to was the standard company copyright statement (which was part of the standard document format we had been using for several years). It literally took 5 minutes on the phone to persuade him that it was ok to include a copyright statement as 1 the company mandated it, and 2 it did not affect the details of the plan.

          Then he said we couldn't have a section marked "Assumptions" because, and here I quote him verbatim "Assume makes an ass of u and me." Yes he really said that to my face. I explained that the 'Assumptions' were those features, facilities and other preparations which we needed in order for the plan to work, but which we did not have the authority or resources to supply. He would have none of it, so eventually I relented and I think used the wording "External Requirements".

          Eventually he grudgingly accepted my plan, as a first draft, but was not totally happy and wanted me to make the report "more professional". By which he meant that I was to use thicker lines and orange colouring in the diagram showing where the plan fitted in the documentation structure.

          I confess that I did not have the best working relationship with him (although I strongly believe the feeling was mutual). I am not the best person to deal with direct antagonism and conflict from a manager, and he was thick too. I mean, if he's such a whizz at DR / BCP why couldn't he have written the blasted thing in the first place? Anyway, either the company is using my plan or something derived from it because they seem to be functioning pretty much as I suggested and it would be all over the news if they had collapsed. (I basically suggested working form home wherever possible, isolation of everyone essential to the business etc etc. Nothing Register commentards would not have thought of.)

          END WARNING

          *IISP = Institute for Information Security Practitioners.

  15. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    A common enough fault back in the day. But most users managed to solve the problem after one or two iterations.

    Floppy disks often lead to other problems however. Back in the eighties I used to support an accounts platform when many users didn't have an HDD in their machines. Two floppy drives were common. One for the "system" disk and one for the data disk. Often there would be a problem where we would ask the customer to mail us a copy of the data disk when they weren't willing to pay for us to visit site.

    You've probably already guessed that we would often receive a photocopy of a floppy disk.

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      "a photocopy of a floppy disk."

      or, sometimes, a FAX rather than a photocopy.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Ahhhh. You had the more technically literate customers!

      2. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

        And now the deformed disc at the other end is definitely not going to work!

  16. knottedhandkerchief

    Square disks

    Back in the late 70s, my CS teacher told the class there was a square of magnetic material in the 8" floppy disk he held up.

    Had a quiet word with him outside, advised him to open up an old disk.

    1. spuck

      Re: Square disks

      Well to be fair, there was a square of magnetic material in there... circumscribed by an 8" circle of that same material.

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

        Re: Square disks

        The clue is definitely in the name! "Disc"

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Square disks

          I think for these magnetic storage doodads we are supposed to use the american spelling

  17. Pascal

    In my youth (1991-92) I worked a couple years as a technician in a local computer shop, so of course Ihave a lot of funny stories in that day and age of people being completely clueless about computers.

    The one regarding floppies:

    The DOS format command had a message stating "you can format multiple disk" when you started it (the exact form it took is lost to my memory).

    What that meant of course is that after formatting a floppy it showed a prompt asking "Do you want to format another disk (Y/N)?".

    One of the calls I got went: "No matter what I do, I can't put more than 2 in at the same time".

  18. Knewbie

    I had to deal with the next generation upgrade

    Lo and behold, I was the PFY...

    And the shiny new tech at the time was the IBM PS/2 (this story is lost in the veil of times, reminiscences from another millenium)

    Nevertheless, the IT Director secretary was the first one to get one on our floor, and I was called because she couldn't use the floppy.

    Like, it was impossible to insert a new one.

    So I get there (with pliers, not my first rodeo) and see to the side a box of 5"1/4.

    She was in the process of transferring her files to the new system. And that's good.

    She was using the 5"1/4 floppy and put them into the 3"1/2 BY FOLDING THE DISKS IN 4 AND CRAMMING THEM IN THE READER.

    Also she complained that, for some reason, it didn't seem to work....

    And this is how I first learned to explain PEBKAC to a very understanding IT Manager and his (close to retirement) secretary...

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: I had to deal with the next generation upgrade

      When you were asked to compress the files for storage, that's not quite what we had in mind...

  19. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Had a couple of similar experiences..

    Both happened in an old computer lab I worked in.

    One day, a student came up to the technician's desk saying the CD we'd just sold him didn't work. As he wouldn't elaborate, the technician went to help him.

    She came back reporting that the disk had just vanished. Confused, I went to the lab. The problem? We had slot loading DVD drives in those computers, and both the User and Technician had stuck the CDs they used in the slight gap between the drive, and blanking plate below it. Now, I can understand, to some extent, the User doing this. I say "some extent" because, IIRC, he was on his final year in a BSc in Computing, so I'd hope he knew something about computers. The technician, however, used the computers every day, so she really should have known the layout.

    A few years later, we had refurbished that lab, and the old computers were replaced with shiny new iMacs. These iMacs had SD Card readers, with the SD Card slot about a centimeter beneath the DVD drive.

    A student complained his Mini SD card had vanished when he stuck it in the machine. I went to investigate (after all, the card wouldn't have just vanished). Sure enough, I couldn't find the card, so I asked the student exactly what he'd done. He pointed at the larger of the two slots. So, I told him he'd stuck it in the DVD drive. Sure enough, the machine rattled. I went to get a long set of tweezers, but couldn't get the card, no matter how much I tipped and shook the machine. As the student claimed he had important work on it, we had to call an engineer to retrieve the card. Something which cost a fair amount of money. The student got his card, which was buried in the DVD drive..

    A few weeks later, the same student lost his card again. Same lab, same problem. Not surprisingly, the lab manager intervened, and called him into the office. Not sure exactly what was said, but we did not call the engineer, and the student walked out looking extremely unhappy.

    1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

      Well, the student was there to learn, and so he did!

  20. MikeNotFound

    Get in there!

    Once had a user who had managed to get two 3.5" floppies into one drive not realising there was already one inserted, and was requesting assistance to remove them from the PC.

    They did comment that it was quite hard to get two in there, and had to use some force to persuade the 2nd disk into the drive!

  21. James Dore

    eeee, when ah were a lad....

    I'm not saying I'm old, but this kind of tale was doing the rounds on the alt.bofh newsgroup in the early 90's.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: eeee, when ah were a lad....

      What's with these new-fangled newsgroup thingies? What's wrong with a Roneo'd newsletter?

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: eeee, when ah were a lad....

        Who is this Roneo chappie? Is he the new town crier?

  22. picturethis

    Reminds me of the "my PC's cup holder is broken"

    Users using the CD-ROM tray extended to hold their coffee cup. This was in the early days of CD-ROMs - when StarBucks and el Grande sizes didn't exist yet. The CD-ROM tray, when opened, would allow a stryrofoam cup of coffee to be suspended.

    Also ran into someone that kept having their 5-1/4" floppy disks fail after taking them home and then bringing them back to work. Turns out the spouse was putting them on the fridge door (with a magnet) so that they wouldn't forget to take them back to work the next morning....

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Reminds me of the "my PC's cup holder is broken"

      The setting: A rural elementary school. The library

      Six year old pushes cdrom button. Tray slides out. Six year old digs chocolate chip cookie out of lunch bag. Places it in tray. Pushes button again. Computer eats cookie while making odd noises. Six year old entertained. Librarian outraged.

      I thought the incident showed a certain amount of commendable initiative. Don't recall if I was able to salvage the cdrom drive. Probably not. Quite a few non-standardized fragile plastic parts in those things. The school went through a fair number of them every year even when used properly.

  23. Binraider Silver badge

    Its a bit like the old joke of asking a farmer how to make his farm more efficient. A faster horse.

    A motor vehicle would not be your first thought. And, unless your farm is large very large there's probably nothing in it for tech versus traditional.

  24. Sparkus

    There is always the near-apocryphal story of

    Users who insist that their cd-rom tray is a cup holder.

    Often told, never proven, still funny/horrifying.........

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There is always the near-apocryphal story of

      I've mentioned it before, but I can recall two times in tech support where someone borked a CD drive by putting two disks in, thinking it could read both.

      1. Rob Daglish

        Re: There is always the near-apocryphal story of

        I’ve had a client do something similar. Opened the DVDRW drive, not realised there was a disk in, added a second disk. Mashed one of the disks, and the drive was never the same again. The user in question was a shift manager responsible for the safe running of four nuclear reactors...

    2. DryBones

      Re: There is always the near-apocryphal story of

      I do not recall where it was and cannot find it, but I recall someone offering an actual cupholder you could install in a PC drive bay. I forget if it was motorized or just a pop-out, but it amused me immensely.

      Edit: Found it.

  25. Version 1.0 Silver badge


    I never had any problems when DEC sent out updates, you couldn't lose an RL02 under a rack-mount PDP-11/23 ... but the DEC updates were simply and easy, instead of sending out complete set of new program images they just sent out the diff files so the updates are fast and easy to install. But the weird thing was, I used RSX11M and installed it for all our customers for years and never saw a operating system bug cause any end-user problems - the icon refers to the OS, not me.

  26. onemark03

    ... a user will somehow always misunderstand

    All this proves to me that knowledge of and skill in IT and computing generally is still utter Greek to 99% of people.

    I also suspect that any improvement in this area will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: ... a user will somehow always misunderstand

      Upvoted, but I'm curious to know why you believe that as high a proportion as 1% of people actually understand some of IT?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ... a user will somehow always misunderstand

      > I also suspect that any improvement in this area will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

      My wife, as a primary teacher, is now seeing children who don't know how to use a keyboard because there are only tablet computers at home.

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

        Re: ... a user will somehow always misunderstand

        See, that's scary. How fast things move on...

  27. Andy A

    There's always something you never considered

    We had a report that a user of an Apricot PC (one of the first with 3.5" drives) was unable to insert a floppy into a drive. Our hearts sank, thinking we would lose one of our rare spare drives. The user had been carefully making backup copies of his data disks and labelling them - better than average practise.

    Unfortunately he had failed to remove the older labels, and the disk was now too fat to fit through the slot.

  28. lpcollier

    Deliberate floppy errors

    Back when I was in secondary school, the computer labs were set up with 4 PCs in the middle of each of several large square tables. CRT monitors sat on top of the desktop style cases. We (bored students) would swap all the monitor, keyboard and mouse connections between opposite PCs. The computers would boot up fine and appear to work fine, but users would get error messages when they inserted the floppy and tried to read something, or discover files that they didn't recognise if the person opposite happened to insert a disk at the same time. It caused hours of fun and frustration.

  29. matt38

    Who is General Failure

    and why is he reading my disk?

    1. the spectacularly refined chap

      Re: Who is General Failure

      To be fair I've fallen foul of something similar, it was something asking you to dial a premium rate number on TV and the terms scrolling by the bottom read

      Remember to ask Bill Payer before ringing.

      Of course my first thought was "Who is this Mr Payer and why do I need his clearance to dial a particular phone number?” Took longer than I would care to admit to interpret correctly, but to be fair, it was capitalised like that.

      1. gotes

        Re: Who is General Failure

        Bill Posters will be prosecuted!

        I wonder what for...

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Who is General Failure

      "and why is he reading my disk?"

      Just be grateful it's not Sgt. Bash

      (He also had a disc saw, so even more on topic)

  30. albegadeep

    Seriously way off topic, but...

    It's (long past) time for me to get a new cell phone. I'd rather not have one from my carrier (due to all the preinstalled garbage). Where would be a good place to ask advice on which phone to get? If it was a computer, I'd say my local computer repair shop - when the guy behind the counter wants to show you pics of his home machine, and discuss watercooling and overclocking, you're in the right place for getting advice. But who to go to for a phone?

    1. redpawn

      Re: Seriously way off topic, but...

      Prison, where you will find experts in cell service.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seriously way off topic, but...

      Samsung. Direct from Samsung. Xcover pro model.

      Removable battery, 1/8" headphone jack, USB-C, not insanely large, keeps up with updates.

      Not the phone for you if you want the mobile equivalent of an overclocked, water cooled, pc with LEDs lighting up the inside of the case.

    3. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: Seriously way off topic, but...

      @albegadeep: all I can offer is a way to start narrowing down your options:

      1. How much do you want to spend?

      2. What size of screen?

      3. What features are absolute necessities (e.g. long update support, removable battery, water-resistant, 3.5mm jack, good camera, SD card, dual SIM, USB C, <insert own need here>)?

      4. Based on the above, Android or Apple (or, maybe, SailfishOS (your needs will help with this - Apple don't let you have some of the things in the list, and never have).

      5. Does it have to be new or will second-hand do?

      No doubt other people will have other things to add (I probably will after I've had breakfast!), but it is a good place to start. Then start doing your research...

      1. albegadeep

        Re: Seriously way off topic, but...

        Android, conventional phone size (nothing tiny or huge), needs headphone jack, decent camera, SD card or other expandable storage. Would prefer removable battery, Qi charging, and USB connection (micro or C, not picky) for data transfer and charging. Something that's going to last quite a while, including getting updates. Used in good condition is ok. Something fairly recent (2020? 2019?), but definitely not latest-and-greatest.

        For comparison, my current phone is a Samsung Galaxy J3V, 2016 version. (Manufacturers should be punished for reusing model numbers!) Pretty sure the slowness I'm experiencing is a lack of RAM.

  31. Gavin Burnett

    5 inch floppies

    Our IT teacher back in my school days of the BBC micro decided to give each of us a 5 inch floppy to put all our work on. So we did, and at the end of the lesson we all put our floppies in our school bags. Bags which then got piled up against radiators, thrown around on the bus home, carried home in the rain, and so on. Next weeks lesson came around - oh look - all the disks are corrupt.

    It took our IT teacher a couple of weeks to work out why we all kept losing our work.

    The soloution was we all had to write our names on labels so the disks could be stored in a cupboard in the computer room.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: 5 inch floppies

      But being fair, that IS a good solution.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: 5 inch floppies

      Clearly the teacher failed to teach his pupils about how to store and look after floppy disks. And since you were in an IT class still using BBC computers, it was likely an option subject rather than something everyone did so the pupils were likely more motivated than those doing the tradition subject that everyone does.

  32. TrumpSlurp the Troll

    Rubber band

    My first exposure to a PC was an RML something or other.

    Back before the first IBM PCs were common.

    I did something you weren't supposed to (no idea what) and the 8" floppy drive stopped working.

    After a certain amount of "oh shit, what now?" I took the lid off.

    It turned out that the floppy drive was driven by a rubber band (much like many older record decks) which had fallen off.

    Refitted it, all good.

    Still a little bemused at that particular design decision.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rubber band

      > Still a little bemused at that particular design decision.

      Sometimes tape recorders and the like would be fitted with different sized pulley wheels to compensate for the different motor speeds caused by 50 v 60 Hz electricity between the US and Europe.

    2. Bogbody

      Re: Rubber band

      I worked for the company that made them .....

      The introduction of 3.5" floppies did not help their business model.

      That coupled with the new Japanese 80 and 132 columb printers blew a big hole in their profits.

      The final blow was hard drives that were no longer the size of a washing machine.

    3. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

      Re: Rubber band

      It completely stops any transfer of vibration from the motor to the drive, in case you're still wondering why they did that.

  33. Quinch

    "To have one floppy failure is unlucky. To have 20 implies evil magic or a very silly user "

    Or, in my PTSD-inducing experience, using floppy disks.

  34. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Floppy Corruption 101

    (1) Sometimes a system would show a directory listing of the previous floppy that was in the drive. This was due to the disk detection mechanism failing. Under no circumstances write to a drive with this failure as it will almost certainly corrupt the disk.

    (2) I always insisted that once a floppy had been formatted and written to on one drive, it must never be written to when in any other drive. This is because of sloppy alignment tolerances between drives. If you can't remember which pc a floppy was formatted on then its contents should be copied to the pc, the floppy reformatted, then data copied back to it.

    For those not following these rules, Steve Gibson's SpinRite was an essential tool for all IT people in those days. Quite entertaining to watch how it goes about its business, and Gibson is very open about the methods used to do the recovery. SpinRite would typically completely recover floppies that were totally unreadable.

  35. Chairman of the Bored

    Three ball bearings

    I understand making products that are Marine resistant. I was told that "Sailor proof is different!"


    "If you give a sailor three ball bearings and check on them the next day, one will be missing. One will be broken. One will be pregnant.

    1. ricardian

      Re: Three ball bearings

      Many years ago a friend worked for a Government Department and produced a small computer device to be used by the Armed Forces. It had to be very robust - water-proof, accept input voltages of almost anything under 50v DC and of any polarity. His final task was to find a simple way of destroying it in an emergency. I think he opted for something thermite-related which caused all sorts of Health & Safety problems.

  36. Brad16800

    got to feel for non IT people

    Back early 2000's I was at a law firm (doing IT). Had a paralegal who was still at uni and her PC died. She said she had important emails for her studies and if I could recover them as she backed them up daily. Was her personal PC.

    Floppy disk arrived in internal mail and my first thoughts are how many emails could you be backing up on that. Turns out she'd been backing up the Outlook shortcut diligently every day to the floppy drive.

    Had a happy ending, after i explained i'd need the hard drive, was all recovered. Case of beer arrived a week later :)

  37. Bitbeisser

    Not every programmer understands basic computer technology

    Yup, had something like this happen too. Though not at a client but with a co-worker in a programming shop, where she was entrusted to insert/switch the daily backup floppy disc (8", 1MB nonetheless, was about 1985) because the supervisor/sub-boss who usually did this himself was no in that day.

    We other programmers were just wrapping up the day, making last minute printouts of what we had been working on all day (BusinessBASIC on an Altos Unix/Xenix multi-user machine).

    As one of us had the key to the office to lock up, we were waiting for her to come back up from the basement, where the actual machine was being housed. And waiting. And waiting. After 30 minutes, she still hasn't come back up, so we went downstairs to see what was going on. She was almost in tears, muttering that she couldn't find the previous backup disc in the drive and insert the new one. So she inserted the new one but kept getting an error message from the backup script that no disc was in the drive. Thinking that the disc was maybe bad, she had repeatedly taken a fresh disc out of a new box, carefully labeled it as today's backup as instructed, inserted that one too but just kept getting the error message. The three of us watching her doing this again just couldn't hold back but to fall to the ground and having laughing attacks. Literally.

    Turned out she had turned the lever of an empty 5 1/4" floppy drive in the machine the usual 90deg back and forth and inserted the 8" floppy in a thin gap below the actual 8" drive and the casing (custom case, where the opening for the 8" drive was about 4mm to big for the drives front bezel, thus depositing all the 8" floppies within the hollows of that computer case. She turned as red as a raspberry when we showed her that the 8" drive had push/pull lever across the whole width of the drive that would release the disc with a loud clonk and that she had put all the discs instead inside the cabinet. Luckily, we quickly were able to open the cabinet, remove deposited discs, insert one correctly into the drive and start the backup for the day. Didn't told anyone about this, though three days later she gave herself two weeks notice that she wanted to leave the company...

  38. garethm

    What have I found inside PC cases? Let's just say I used to work in a secondary school. I'm just surprised nothing alive was in one...

    There were times my colleague and I got a PC into the office, opened it up and genuinely wanted to find the child that had done it and ask them physically how they had managed to get an entire pen into the case... or god knows whatever else!

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