back to article Protip: If Joe Public reports that your kit is broken, maybe check that it is actually broken

Welcome back to On Call where this week we peek behind the scenes and see what happens when public-facing kit is reported as borked. Our reader, Regomised as "Sean", had a varied brief at a company based in Northern England. "My responsibilities," he told us, "included software development, CAD design, electronics, and ' …

  1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
    Coat

    First question: Have you turned it off and on again?

    1. Dave K Silver badge

      Most likely response:

      "Never mind that, they're broken and I demand you come and fix them NOW".

      Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid".

      1. CustomCruiser

        "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

        Been there too many times to count...and yet if I was to plant an axe in their gormless faces after rocking up and power-cycling the kit in question I'd go to jail. How is that justice?

        1. IHateWearingATie

          Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

          Jail for an axe in the face, definitely.

          A 'tickle' with an electric cattle prod..... well that's a bit more understandable

        2. Imhotep Silver badge

          Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

          Just curious, as an American: Does 'gormless' have a 'gormful' counterpart for those full of gorm? And what exactly is a gorm?

          1. Fr. Ted Crilly

            Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

            Got a mirror handy? ( or is that mirrr?)

          2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
            Headmaster

            counterpart for those full of gorm?

            you could say the same about my gruntle levels

          3. sebacoustic

            Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

            It's friday afternoon and google time (while compiling...)

            https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,,-193509,00.html

            It's still a mystery but some amusing answers given.

            Wikipedia is predictabily boring:

            Gorm, or gaum, means "attentive or alert", and is the basis for the word gormless

          4. Bendacious

            Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

            A Gorm is a small amphibian creature native to the UK, which come from a marshy area outside London known as Codswallop. A Brit will place the Gorm in their mouth (known as the gorm's 'gaff'), after which the owner of the mouth can be said to have been gobsmacked. The gorm lives in the mouth (an action known as skiving) and passes sensory information to its host, known as waffle. A bad gorm may pass smarmy waffle. Accidentally swallowing a gorm makes you gutted, often giving you the lurgy and you will be skew-whiff until you can source another gorm through a professional minger or general monger. I hope that makes everything tickety-boo.

          5. yetanotheraoc

            Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

            Me too, as in I don't know what gormless means, either. But I upvoted him anyway.

          6. Claptrap314 Silver badge

            Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

            Obligatory User Friendly

          7. Shalghar

            Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorm

            Favourite options as follows:

            Gorm (computing), a rapid application development tool

            GORM, the "fantastic ORM library" for the Go language

            GORM, Grails Object-Relational Mapping

            Gorm, the Gaelic word for "blue" found in for example, Cairngorm

            Gorm, a range of storage furniture sold by Swedish outlet IKEA

            Gorm, or gaum, means "attentive or alert", and is the basis for the word gormless

            While the last entry of my preferred list might be the one you search for, there are astonishingly several IT related entries and the first suspiciously looks like "agile" development...

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: "Either that, or they fib and say "of course I have, I'm not stupid"."

              "Gorm, a range of storage furniture sold by Swedish outlet IKEA"

              Almost any collection of letters is the name of a range of some sort of product sold by IKEA.

      2. theOtherJT

        Last time I was involved in hardware design I put the serial number of the kit behind a door that couldn't be opened with the thing plugged in.

        "I need the serial number to log the job. Can you please unplug it, open the service door - yes sir, it's designed like that so no one can accidentally pull the fuses while it's on - and give me the serial number?"

        Did get defeated once by someone who in an astonishing feat of forward planning had written all the serial numbers down in their inventory management, but it helped several times.

        1. NXM

          That's very good - I'll steal that idea.

        2. pirxhh

          Genius!

          Next time, add a running hours counter behind that service door. *That*'ll show them!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Genius!

            ... and make it an LCD display. Which requires power... (evil grin)

        3. wjake

          Sorry, just good practice

          This is actually good practice. We used barcodes for the key field of our inventory and maintenance database, but recorded Serial #, Model # and similar identifying information as well.

    2. Martin-R

      To which I can add "have you turned it off and left it for four weeks?" Power shower stopped working after a couple of power cuts in quick succession. "The Internet" says yeah, can happen, turn it off for an hour, it'll reset. Nope. Left if off 24h. Nope. Decided to survive on feeble shower for a few weeks as bathroom needs completely refitting anyway. Chap comes out to do survey and estimates, turns it on, works... aargh!

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Sounds like my vintage toaster. It's a bit unhappy about working on the Euro version of 230v vs the UK version of 230v, and every now and then it needs the lever holding down until the little blue light comes on... one day when I'm sufficiently bored I'll take it to bits to (a) fix that and (b) increase the timing so that it doesn't have to live on full whap. It needs a know that goes to eleven to cope with these euro volts...

        1. _Charles_

          Originally the UK ran on 240v and the continent on 220v. This was harmonised by calling it 230v and widening the tolerances so that everything complied. I don't know what actually gets supplied these days, but it seems possible that your toaster is actually being fed nearly 10% less than it expects.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Indeed, so over 20% less power coming from the heater wires. Really it needs a knob that goes not to eleven, but twelve!

            The harmonisation was designed explicitly so that the UK could remain on 240v and Europe on 220v without need to change anything, by calling it 230v +/-. Not a problem for the majority of things these days, with switch mode power supplies that take in anything from 90v to 300v, but the odd bit of old school kit isn't really cross compatible.

            1. quxinot Silver badge

              Obligatory:

              https://i.redd.it/byjurblzhf6z.jpg

              (SFW)

    3. JeffB

      Up time

      Why did Microshaft get rid of the up time/logged-in time on the 'CTRL + ALT + DEL' screen? The number of fibs I've caught out with that in the past...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Up time

        They didn't? It's still there on the Performance tab of the Task Manager.

        Although it is a little less reliable thanks to "Fast Start-Up" being on by default, where it just puts the PC into sleep mode when the user hits Shut Down. They can be diligently "shutting down" the PC every day and in reality have an uptime of weeks thanks to that 'feature'

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Up time

          its a bleedin fiddle!

          that Microsoft pulling the same shit as the irritable user and lying: " of course ive turned it on and off"

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Angel

            Re: Up time

            " of course ive turned it on and off"

            There's yer problem! You need to complete the cycle at the ON stage, not the OFF stage :-)

        2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Up time

          Yes fixed that with either registry key (Or was it a powershell command) at my last place, added into the build process to alleviate the slow running systems that had been running on Windows cached data for over a month.

          Prior to that we were telling users to reboot & wondering if they were capable of doing such that as running systeminfo on their machines remotely was still showing the last recorded bootup timestamp after they had done so.

        3. Jou (Mxyzptlk)

          Re: Up time

          Easyfix:

          powercfg.exe -h off

  2. DwarfPants

    Default response

    In the politest possible way assume the caller is

    - Misguided

    - Does not know what they are doing

    - Cannot be bothered or too overloaded to do their job / check

    - Lying

    Until you have proof to the contrary

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Default response

      Do you happen to be a dev at a certain Scotland-based video game company? Back when I was in QA that was how a lot of our bug reports seemed to be routinely treated, even WITH proof to the contrary.

      Not that I blamed them towards the end of my time there, mind. The introduction of minimum weekly bug report quotas resulted in some absolutely dire stuff getting sent in just to fulfil the management's desire for 'good metrics'.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Default response

        " The introduction of minimum weekly bug report quotas [...]"

        Our company introduced a weekly "bug factor" target for the number closed. No one at the techie level liked the system - as it could affect the service that customers received. Like many target measurements - it could become a mindless goal in itself.

        One technical manager came up with a solution whereby any bugs fixed above the weekly target would be held back from reporting. The excess could be used to smooth the following weeks'. Obviously the customer didn't suffer - their fault was fixed.

        One day some high-ups were doing a PR tour. One asked the manager - "What is your bug factor this week". To which the manager replied "What would you like it to be?".

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Default response

      There's one you've missed (though some of the above will fit in with it). Caller has no interest in the computer part of the business, or indeed in computers, knows nothing about computers and only uses them under duress, but has had the problem dropped in their lap.

  3. GlenP Silver badge

    Abbreviated and paraphrased version of a support call over 30 years ago (I've probably recounted this before on here):

    User: "It's completely dead!"

    Me: "Have you checked the power lead?"

    User: "Yes!"

    Me: "Can you unplug the power lead and plug it back in, making sure it's properly in?"

    Pause

    User: "Yes, I've done that - it's still dead!"

    Me: "OK, I'll call an engineer but if they don't find a fault it will be chargeable."

    User: "Whatever!"

    Next Day

    Engineer: "I've plugged the power lead in properly."

    IBM Service (to User's boss): "Here's the call out invoice!"

    User's Boss: "*&())*&%$("

    1. Chloe Cresswell

      Had the son of MD at a client's site call us out due to not being able to email colleague sat opposite him.

      Walked up, looked at screen.. "You've spelt the company name wrong", walked out again. Invoiced for time. Son sends email to all on site about how we are ripping them off.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Had a similar one - furious call from a Partner (law firm), raging that she couldn't send mail from her Blackberry, and what had we done to stop it working. Sent me a screenshot of the problem.

        "You've missed out the @ sign"

        Click, brrr...

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Blackberry's could take screenshots ?

      2. pirxhh

        Sometimes, it baffles even techies

        Years ago, I had a call-out to fix a large Exchange installation.

        The Global address list was borked, as Exchange was known to do from time to time. No big deal, the admins had deleted and recreated it and also set the permissions correctly.

        I drove an hour to the site (security did not allow remote access), sat down and checked and re-checked everything. No dice.

        One hour into the job I finally spotted it. In German, address is Adresse, and when recreating the GAL, the client had dropped a d.

        Deleted the GAL, recreated it again with correct spelling, and everything was up and running again.

        I'll happily admit that it was a lucky find, we could easily have stared at the screen for many more hours.

        1. yetanotheraoc

          Re: Sometimes, it baffles even techies

          Where is spellcheck when you actually need it?

          1. Shalghar

            Re: Sometimes, it baffles even techies

            Auto incorrect is something i usually switch off on any multi language system i use. Much less hassle to apologize for the occasional or frequent typo than to switch the darn things to the language i actually need in every single program/editor/app/whatever input field i need.

            At least hackers keyboard for mobiles has a fast swipe and switch near the simulated spacebar, too bad there is no standardized way for every system.

    2. JeffB

      Sev 6

      Ahhh, good old IBM Sev 6, I've logged a few of those in my time when the (ab)user has let slip what really happened (e.g. biro on keyboard when shutting laptop lid...)

      (needs a dollar bill icon!!)

    3. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Pint

      Rural South Alberta

      Dead HP printer, two boards need to be replaced at same time to effect repair, fitting the one I have will self destruct if the one I don't have isn't installed at the same time.

      Thus came the order from on high.....go to site & do complimentary diagnostics to pacify screaming customer, who hasn't been able to print for 5 days. Thanks to an RTA, I decide I am not driving my nice new car on range roads & take the alternate 1.75 hour alternate route there & back on decent roads.

      Arrive on site & immediately verify the fault & prove it by plugging into a different power socket on a different breaker (Breaker had either failed or the plug but hadn't tripped, either way it became SEP).

    4. Shalghar

      Its the power cord

      And may i ask if you have some dilute mineral salts on you ?

      Apart from BOFH memories, i unfondly remember an incident where we changed the power supply of a PC, only to discover that the power cord looked OK from the outside but was electrically damaged somewhere near the plug after the second spare part change.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Civil service paying for excuses

    I’d seen several times in the civil service where someone had screwed up and instead of owning up and sorting the mess out they just carried on and paid for stuff that wasn’t needed.

    We had a consultant in who advised on getting 3G pcmcia cards for laptops, at the start of the trial they ordered ~1000 of these cards from orange that arrived in our store rooms.

    At the time remote access was dial up, 12 months later an ssl vpn was trialled with connectivity across the internet which was great, months later it was rolled out to all. The 3G cards where then looked into and it was decided that because the corporation used Vodafone they needed new sims and then they realised the frequencies of the cards where incompatible so they all got junked, only a handful ever being used.

    3G modems, plus monthly sims sat in a room for ~3 years all paid for but never used.

    1. DailyLlama

      Re: Civil service paying for excuses

      I had a similar thing at a previous job. My tight-fisted manager ordered us all brand new shiny laptops, but decided to save £50 per laptop by not purchasing the built in WiFi cards, as none of our sites had wireless capability.

      Less than 6 months later, she's signed an order for £100 per laptop to buy Cisco PCMCIA WiFi cards for us all, as all our sites were getting WiFi installed.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Civil service paying for excuses

        Not civil service, but we experienced something similar.

        Our head IT drone was spec'ing our new corporate laptops, and decided (on his own, without consulting anyone) that Bluetooth wasn't something anyone ever used, and so *paid extra* to have the standard BT hardware in the laptops removed.

        Of course, said laptops arrived to we minions, who regularly used BT for phone sync'ing, connection to peripherals and various other misdemeanours. Cue many support calls and requests to IT, and a large batch of BT dongles being ordered and distributed to fill up one of the few USB ports that the laptops had.

        At least the lesson was learned, and subsequent replacements have all had full specs and we even get a say in what "options" we get or may not want/need (e.g. my laptop has no camera, as various customer sites ban laptops with them from cleanrooms and other sensitive areas).

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Civil service paying for excuses

          "my laptop has no camera, as various customer sites ban laptops with them from cleanrooms and other sensitive areas"

          On a visit along with one of my client's managers to their client's office. Cameras on phones were fairly new at that time.

          "Anyone with a camera on their phone, please leave it outside."

          Slight over-specification there: nothing about a camera per se so my companion said nothing about the camera in his pocket.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Civil service paying for excuses

            I had similar on an MoD site. "Please leave all phones, cameras, laptops in the lockers, this is a secure area, we don't want data being taken back out".

            It was only on leaving I remembered the small bag with about 200GB worth of pen drives in my pocket.

        2. yetanotheraoc

          Re: Civil service paying for excuses

          "At least the lesson was learned, and subsequent replacements have all had full specs ..."

          Please don't tell me that's why digital signage comes with Intel i7 and a GPU.

      2. Emir Al Weeq

        Re: Civil service paying for excuses

        I've been on the other side of that:-

        To the planning team: will you be using X in the next 5 years? If not I can save ££££ on my project.

        Planning team: no we won't.

        To the design team: will you be using X in the next 5 years? If not I can save ££££ on my project.

        Design team: no we won't.

        To the architect team: will you be using X in the next 5 years? If not I can save ££££ on my project.

        Architct team: no we won't.

        Six months later... We've just started a project to install X.

        1. J. Cook Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Civil service paying for excuses

          ... and probably paying £££££ or more for it?

      3. Wexford

        Re: My tight-fisted manager ordered us all brand new shiny laptops

        That one's almost excusable. Your manager was trying to spend efficiently given the present environment...was a wifi rollout being considered at that time, though?

    2. juice Silver badge

      Re: Civil service paying for excuses

      > I’d seen several times in the civil service where someone had screwed up and instead of owning up and sorting the mess out they just carried on and paid for stuff that wasn’t needed.

      It can go the other way. A decade or so ago, there was a council department in a Northern Town, the head of which was an old school chap who didn't understand all these newfangled computer things.

      So he basically just sat on the budget which had been allocated to maintenance and upgrades. For several years.

      Eventually, my relative joined this department, and having seen people struggling to share the same decrepit desktop PC, gently suggested that they'd be happy to take on the responsibility of sorting out the IT needs for the department. Despite the fact that said relative wasn't particularly tech-savvy!

      One set of orders later, and every individual in the department had their own laptop, and my relative was very popular indeed. Except with some of the other local departments, who were a bit cheesed at losing access to this "free" money that they'd been able to tap into for years.

      And in the end, it was this sort of internal politiks which lead my relative to decide to move on. Gotta love local government...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Civil service paying for excuses

      > 3G modems, plus monthly sims sat in a room for ~3 years all paid for but never used

      A private company I once worked for decided to buy a load of v1 iPads at one point, for some reason - I can't remember why exactly, but I suspect someone got excited about the idea of being able to replace laptops with them, only to discover that the iPad was definitely not a replacement for the sort of things a laptop can do.

      And so these iPads sat in storage for a while. A long while, in fact.

      Eventually, they began to offer them as prizes for internal competitions, but by this point, Apple was up to to third (or maybe even fourth!) generation of iPads, and the original single-core model was starting to suffer from performance issues, so this prize was rarely met with any significant enthusiasm...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Civil service paying for excuses

      I had something similar, the architecture leadership team regularly went on "tech tours" to California with a blank checkbook, and we would have to use whatever unnecessary software they bought (without competitive tender or any requirements gathering exercises. One time they bought "network checker" software. The idea was that when you build a new machine, it would run as part of the build process and ping various network addresses to check the networking was configured correctly. However, the servers were already being built remotely over the network (the data center was in a completely different campus) so we know the servers were connected to the network, any that didn't wouldn't build. Excellent value for $20k of taxpayer money.

    5. Sequin

      Re: Civil service paying for excuses

      The Home Office had a department that was responsible for the installation and maintenance of radio equipment for the emergency services. A new big-wig came up with a "wonderful" idea for coping with the occasions when a force's main transmitters had to be taken offline for maintenance. He specified a complete comms system in a lorry container that could be driven to the site, dropped off and plugged in to keep the service running while the maintenance work was done. The only problem was that he ordered dozens of the units when there had never been an occasion when more that two or three transmitters were offline at any one time!

      Most of them were stashed in a field near their HQ just outside Cheltenham and it was all hushed up.

      I believe that they ended up selling them at a cut price to many third-world countries as prepackaged systems for their Police an armed forces.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Civil service paying for excuses

      A MoD warehouse site decided to do a comprehensive stock update of what there was physically. One surprise was a large quantity of horseshoes from the long ago days when mules were used in some terrains.

  5. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    too many times

    I've spotted the issue the minute I walk into the room. Latest one was just a power cable not seated properly. The user had received a second monitor and loved to pivot it to show examples... Can I get a D'oh?!

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: too many times

      D'oh!

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: too many times

      On the "flip side", the vast majority of installers don't install monitors on movable, rotatable arms properly. There needs to be enough slack on the power and signal cables where they come out of the trunking to allow the monitor to be rotated, tilted and moved with the full range of the arm, otherwise connectors and cables pop out, get frayed etc. Virtually every desk in our office, the installer ran the cables so snug that they only reached in one position, so you always wanted to "hot desk" in a seat that you'd already fixed.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: too many times

        You don't work in Eduamacation do you... Try telling a teacher they are doing it wrong! Then try telling a physically challenged teacher that. Is this really the time to change jobs?

      2. J. Cook Silver badge
        Go

        Re: too many times

        And that is why I started ordering Velcro wrap by the roll along with flex tubing or wire wrap; make the cable bundle to the monitor all nice and tidy in a single harness, and velro wrap the thing to the wire management points on the arms (or where it wouldn't restrict the arm's movements), and then move the arm around it's full range to make sure it all works nicely.

        It's a pain in the arse, adds a good 20 - 30 minutes to the install time, but it looks SUPER professional when it's done right.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: too many times

          "adds a good 20 - 30 minutes to the install time"

          That works is, on buying the new kit, you are doing your own install. But if you are buying the kit INCLUDING install-to-desk, the installers are usually being paid a small, fixed price and have to install a certain number per hour. Niceties will be skipped simply because there isn't time because the buyer didn't pay enough to have to job talk even 10 minutes longer per unit.

          On the other hand, I've been in schools in the past where the screen had both VGA and DMI leads installed because, well, that's what came in the box. I've seen others where, a year down the line, the plastic protective film was still on the screen (both self-installs, not done by suppliers)

  6. trevorde Silver badge

    PC Upgrade

    Told to me as a true story:

    User: What do I have to do to get a new PC?

    IT: We don't have the budget. It has to be broken before we can replace it.

    User: [pours cup of sugary coffee over PC]

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: PC Upgrade

      I used to work with a very effective project manager who simply parked her BMW on top of her laptop when she wanted an upgrade.

      1. Already?

        Re: PC Upgrade

        A manager of my acquaintance managed to have laptops stolen 3 times from restaurants when entertaining clients. Odd how each coincided with when we techie chaps were going through the upgrade cycle.

        For one of them I discovered by chance that she'd requested the laptop assigned to me as it was a better spec than her replacement, and her needs for a higher spec unit were greater than mine. At times like that having a boss fully onside is a big help.

        1. Korev Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: PC Upgrade

          We had a senior manager "lose" his iPhone round about the time that Apple released a new model. My then boss just asked him for the Police report number for the paper work at which point PHB said he'd "Have another look at home" which miraculously resulted in him finding it...

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: PC Upgrade

          "A manager of my acquaintance managed to have laptops stolen 3 times from restaurants when entertaining clients."

          In that case I think we can only let you have an old, used one as a replacement. It'll be much less attractive to thieves.

      2. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: PC Upgrade

        .. around my place? you get to do that ONCE, if that. Second time, it's all on your paycheck. (Hell, I got a new phone last week and had to sign a thing saying that if I didn't return it if I left the company, the cost of it would be taken out of my last check...)

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: PC Upgrade

      We have a two strikes and your out policy.

      If they lose or damage equipment we'll let it go first time and give them a verbal warning that subsequent damage or loss will be chargeable. So far we've never actually had to charge anyone (and to be honest I'm not sure we would).

      1. Outski Bronze badge
        Pint

        Re: PC Upgrade

        Have to confess to breaking the screen on my work phone recently, it was charging on the TV stand, fell off a foot onto the round, smooth, but very hard corner of a guitar pedal board.

        The woman responsible for all kit distributed for EMEA in our firm, who is also a good mate, said, we'll pay for this one, but get a screen protector* and you're paying for the next one.

        *We do fit the as standard for GenPop, but my phone's a special, since I need a big screen to cope with fat fingers occasional by a hereditary tremor.**

        **Three treatments***, booze, beta-blockers, brain surgery ---->

        ***Or a complete lack of stress and anxiety. Right.

    3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: PC Upgrade

      IT: We don't have the budget. It has to be broken before we can replace it.

      User: [pours cup of sugary coffee over PC]

      I had a non-IT version of that about 10 years ago. For various reasons my builders needed to install a new manhole in the drains but they found a neighbour's gas supply went straight over the location. They phoned up Centrica to get it moved:

      Centrica: We need at least 30 days notice unless it's an emergency.

      Builder: What if the supply was accidentally cut?

      Centrica: Then it would be an emergency and we'd have to come out immediately.

      Builder: Oops, one of the lads has just put the JCB through the pipe.

      Centrica: OK, our team should be there within an hour or two.

      We all reckoned the chap on the phone was trying to help and save on paperwork.

  7. Boothy Silver badge
    Pint

    Local council wasting money by not spending it

    Many years ago (early 90s), I worked for a local engineering firm, long since gone the way of the dodo.

    We did a lot of work for local councils all across the UK, door entry systems, security cameras, TV distribution etc etc.

    Typically any control gear would be put in a plant room somewhere, and wherever possible would have power hard wired into the nearest fuse box, on it's own fuse of course.

    We had some door entry systems going in for this council, small blocks of flats, four per block, two down, two up.

    This particular council wouldn't allow us to wire into the fuse box (we had our own qualified electricians), and wouldn't use their own sparkies to do this either (some places insisted on using their own people). Instead insisting that we simply mount the gear with a standard 240v plug, and use the single available socket, next to the fuse box, which was basically there for trades people to use when working in the blocks. We warned them what was going to happen, and suggested they at least buy the battery backup option. But nope. No battery, and use the socket!

    I'm sure everyone knows where this is going now!

    Also bear in mind, this is the early 90s, so no plethora of battery powered tools at this point (and those early ones didn't last long on a single charge), so just about every trades person had mains powered gear, drills etc, and so needed power at some point (even if it's just for their kettle!).

    Sure enough the council had some work done some time later, who unplugged our gear to use the socket (not their fault, it was the only socket in the blocks), and the council started to get calls about the failing door entry systems, who in turn called us out.

    We'd turn up, typically the next day, and everything was working fine. The trades person had plugged the gear in at the end of the day before, and wasn't around when we turned up. So we weren't even aware that anything else was going on at this point.

    Several false calls later, and we managed to turn up on the same day, trades person still there, our equipment unplugged, theirs's plugged in.

    Reported back to the council what was going on. They also got a bill, as per the article, false callouts were not covered. No more false calls after this point.

    I turned up to the same site some months later for a real issue, and noticed all the blocks had had a new fuse fitted in the fuse box, and our gear was now all hard wired in!

    Icon --> It's Friday, cheers all.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

      Thing is ( and I'm pretty sure that it's not just councils,) no one ever got into trouble for deciding to not spend money today. That's not how bean counters think.

      1. yetanotheraoc

        Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

        "That's not how bean counters think."

        Bean counters count. 1 > 2, 2 > 3, 3 > 4, etc.

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

          And %diety% help you if they ran the company.

          One place I worked at paid mileage for field techs to use their own vehicles (as opposed to the 'deathtraps on wheels' that were barely maintained by the company) at the super expensive federal reimbursement rate from when the company was founded... 20 years previous. we were told we could take the rest off on our taxes, which still wasn't enough to warrant the considerable hassle of itemizing things.

          I still maintain that I was fired because I nearly led a revolt when I got the entire field service team to ask for an increase in the mileage rate to federal levels, which would have at least allowed us to break even on the maintenance and fuel for our cars. (and if you owned a truck? Guess what, you got to help with moving Big Stuff around, even if you were already booked for the day on urgent calls...)

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

        "no one ever got into trouble for deciding to not spend money today"

        Back in days of yore if you didn't spend your budget it was likely to be cut next year. The result in NI was known as the Spring Sales. DoE would have had contingency for road clearance to cover a bad winter. This was inevitably more than needed so that in the run-up to the end of the financial year there was money going spare for other departments. Given that lab consumables were fairly predictable it was possible to stock up on a few things for the coming year to help them out.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

          Yes, but it's a tad more complex than that. As we all know there's capital expenditures which have to be approved from some big overarching/departmental budget by the higher-ups and then there's normal working team or service budgets for normal, routine expenditures.

          The latter has to be got rid of well before the end of the financial year or else it would be clawed back to cover the overspend of some more favoured department or to pay for a pet project of the higher-ups that had to be funded come-what-may. This idiocy leads to over-purchasing of all sorts of ridiculous stuff. A lifetime's worth of ( "we use lots of those") sticky labels when they have a shelf life of about three years, that sort of thing.*

          But with capital expenditure the opposite holds true. Budget holders would rather spend £5000 p/a over each of the next 10 years than show an upfront payment of £25000 to cover the same period. Because some beancounter will point to that £25000 and query said budget holder's financial probity, management and probably parenthood. While some politician will use it as a vector for attacking that department. Because short-term savings, even illusory ones, are better than long term savings to those types. While one large spending item is much more scary for them than several years mediums/small sized commitments. That's out of next year's budget and beyond.

          ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

          *In my first education team managers' role I carefully prepared and stuck to my first budget to cover the next 12 months requirements. At the end of month 9 it was clawed back, to cover some other team's overspend. My bosses' response when I challenged this was "If you needed that money you'd have spent it by now". Next year onwards I bought loads of unneeded stuff. The same as everyone else. I also realised that this was why I'd inherited a large cupboard full of a decades' supply of ageing, dried out envelopes.

        2. Andy A
          Thumb Up

          Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

          Back in the Olden Days I was part of a small computer retailer. We made a lot of our turnover supplying to national and local government departments. The manufacturer made us their preferred installer, and we were the biggest delivery when the van came to town.

          In the first quarter of the year the orders rolled in, A Health Authority even had an Official Stamp on the form - "ORDER DEPENDANT UPON DELIVERY BY 31ST MARCH".

          Being snowed under with orders, we rang our contact there. "Oh, no problem. We haven't anywhere to store them anyway. As long as we've had the invoice by then."

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Local council wasting money by not spending it

            Oh yes. We (as an education dept.) did that, often. And even ordered stuff we didn't want which we returned for a credit note. Because a credit note couldn't get clawed back etc. But then we could buy stuff we actually needed to do our job- at the time when we actually needed it. And we didn't invent these ideas. Everyone did (and I assume still does) it.

  8. technos

    Three broken laptops.

    I installed fifteen laptops into a training room. Easy peasy, they'd already had an electrician do the ethernet and power runs. All I needed to do was plug them in and make sure they booted.

    Except that on the first day they used the room, three laptops were dead. They'd come to life for a moment with a press of the power button, but that was it.

    Went back in, flipped on the lights, and sat down at the first laptop. Hmm, works fine, but the battery is dead. Same for the other two. So that's what I reported.

    A week passes and I get called again. The same three laptops are dead, and they're out out of patience with me. I come down immediately, and what do I find? They power on.

    "We must've been doing something wrong, I'm sorry."

    As I'm leaving the room, the lights go back out so that the trainer can use the projector and I hear it.

    "<BEEEP> <beep> <beep>". The telltale plug me in now, I'm dying this particular line of laptops had.

    Had the trainer leave half the lights on for training and demanded the electrician come back in the next morning to fix his fuck-up.

    Electrician swore he wasn't at fault and charged a huge call out fee. When I went to show management the issue.. Wouldn't you know it? The light switch no longer cut power to the laptops.

    Despite the trainer and several of the students backing me up, I had to replace them.

    But I charged them for the new hardware, so it was all good.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Three broken laptops.

      "Electrician swore he wasn't at fault and charged a huge call out fee"

      How the fuck did he get away with that?

      What could he possibly say that would move the blame anywhere else?

      Also they needlessy bought three more laptops off you?

      where is this gravy train?

      civil service?

  9. keithpeter Silver badge
    Windows

    Dome?

    Original article has a smell of the Millennium Dome to me.

    (Iain Sinclair's Sorry Meniscus sprung immediately to mind)

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Dome?

      I was thinking either the Science or Natural museum in London...

      The the interactive exhibits at those used to have a habit of never working.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dome?

        "The the interactive exhibits at those used to have a habit of never working."

        A visit to the London Science Museum coincided with groups of schoolchildren The way they hammered the interactive exhibits explained why so many were no longer working.

        I have a model train display that started as a temporary Xmas decoration for passers-by - but has become something of a fixture. Occasionally I have a WIBNI** moment for some public interactive feature. Then I remember the Science Museum.

        The polycarbonate window already takes some hand hammering - glass would have cracked long ago. Some little sod enjoys peeling pieces off the mock brick wall fascia too.

        **Wouldn't It Be Nice If...

  10. aregross
    Thumb Up

    What I've learned in my almost 40 years of IT support...ALWAYS break things down to the smallest equation, ergo...

    "What is the First Rule of IT"

    Assume Nothing!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Believe nothing anyone else says they've seen. Only half believe what you think you have seen.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021