back to article Not too bright, are you? Your laptop, I mean... Not you

Friday has arrived, and the promise of the weekend stretches out before us. Spare a thought, then, for those cursed to keep users happy, whatever the time of day. Welcome to On Call. Our story this week comes from "John" (not his name), who was working in New York as the century drew to a close. John had a pager. Also known …

  1. Short Fat Bald Hairy Man

    Ah, a first time user

    At college, I once offered to type out an exam paper for a friend. First time I was using a wordprocessor (Wordstar, if you care abiout such things).

    After a while, my friend came up to see what was taking so much time, and then burst out laughing.

    Accustomed to typewriters, I was carefully formatting each line and pressing a hard return every time I thought one was required.

    Things did speed up after that and a year later managed to type out my thesis using Wordstar + 6 floppies (backups!) in no time at all.

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: Ah, a first time user

      Man, I can still remember (and prefer!) the Wordstar key bindings. I think Wordstar was originally developed for an Abacus and that Adam used it to compose love letters to Eve in the garden of Eden.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        There's a modern clone (WordTsar) if you miss it:

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          Wow, just took a look. Never thought I'd hear the words WordStar and Unicode in the same sentence...

      2. Marshalltown

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        There are still text editors for Linux and Unix that use the Wordstar key combinations. I use joe as a quick text editor, and it uses many of the combinations of Wordstar.

      3. Christoph

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        I didn't need to remember all the key bindings - I had a keyboard with a full line of Wordstar function keys.

      4. jake Silver badge

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        Probably the first customizations for both vi and EMACS were your choice of WordStar or WordPerfect key bindings. They still exist. DDG for more, if you're interested.

      5. Jakester

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        Back in the DOS days when I would use Microsoft's Macro Assembler to make some special drivers and applications, I quickly discovered my programs didn't always work. I carefully looked at my source code and compared it to the compiled code to discover that periodically a command would be missing. I verified my source code was correct, but when examining the text in the debugger, sometimes at the end of a line of code there would be cr-cr-lf instead of the expected cr-lf. I had to abandon Microsoft's text editors and purchase a special version of Wordstar from then Egghead, $29 as I recall., which was originally made for the short-lived IBM PC Jr. A couple changes had to be made to the .com file to correct the difference in screen resolutions, but that information was provided in an magazine article by a person who also wanted a solution to the bad end of line sequence Microsoft so generously produced. That simple solution made creating macro assembly tasks so much easier.

        1. hayzoos

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          Ah, bringing back the memories. When patching a program meant hexediting (or a dedicated patch editor). I remember adding some sort of print functionality to my Wordstar this way.

    2. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: Ah, a first time user

      At least you hadn't arrived from manual typewriters: you might have tried slapping the screen on left-hand side to accomplish the carriage return.

      1. newspuppy

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        Fortunately (or unfortunately) in the 70's I did take a typing class as a 13 year old.. Insisted on by my mother... Taunted by the boys outside of class.. surrounded by lovely girls inside the class....

        Had the old school typewriters, so to get the capital one must PUSH the carriage up with a STRONG hit on the Shift key....

        Got to be quite proficient.. could type faster then the manual typewriter and would often jam the keys from typing to fast...

        Loved the IBM selectric typewriters when they came out with the ball and n-key rollover..

        Typing of course helped with programming... But... I was the one that had to have keyboards replaced often, as my fingers were quite strong and would punch the keys mercilessly...

        Loved the old HP workstation keyboards, or the PDP-11 keyboards.. great kit.. The IBM PC keyboard was rock solid as well.. My co-workers hated the click clack emanating from my corner...

        Then the modern plastic crap passing for keyboards.. tragic mush that fails often.... no need to slap the right hand side of the screen (other then to degauss the old CRT's) but.. the typing skills of old have caused me to go through keyboards as fast as a a fast food operator pumps out fries at a drive through.....


        ahh the memories....

        1. Adelio Silver badge

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          I bet you canstill find second hand keyboards from the early days that are still going stong.

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

            Re: Ah, a first time user

            I have an IBM Model M from 1991 (eBay, before the prices got ridiculous) and a Dell AT101W (with Windows key, so much newer).

            Both are much nicer to type on than the newer, flatter keyboards. And don't get me started on laptop keyboards; I can't use those.

            1. NXM

              Re: Ah, a first time user

              I'm still bashing away on my Model M which I got when I was ordered by the PHB to swap it out with a new one on a Glasgow shipyard in 1992 as the boss thought it was too dirty.

              It'll still be used by the radioactive evolved cockroaches who'll replace us after the next war.

              1. AJ MacLeod

                Re: Ah, a first time user

                It was probably made in Scotland too, like mine which will be 35 years old on the second of October. It was rescued from an Edinburgh skip in the late 90s.

              2. Radio Wales
                Thumb Up

                Re: Ah, a first time user

                When replacing kit for aesthetic reasons, I have learned from experience, that it is a wise move to delay chucking the old stuff until you have determined whether the new kit is actually better or worse than the original it was meant to replace.

                I keep such old stuff in my garage for the frequent evaluations of the new and supposedly better stuff, when it shows that a return to the old is often a marked improvement.

                I have no idea what vintage the IBM 88 key-board that I favour is, beyond the fact that it does not know what a Windows key is, and is connected with a 'domino' 5 pin DIN plug.

            2. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

              Re: Ah, a first time user

              You can buy brand new ones if you like.


              I own 2 and they are fabulous!

        2. FloridaBee
          Thumb Up

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          I actually learned to touch-type on one of those blank key manual typewriters in the 5th grade in the early '70s, then aced an actual typing course in about 9th grade, again on a manual typewriter. I too loved the Selectrics when I moved into court reporter transcription work in the early '80s and because of early touch-type training, am still, all these years later, typing somewhere around 130 wpm when I decide to push for it.

        3. Hero Protagonist

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          I also took a typing class in probably 8th or 9th grade (early 70s), and learned to use both the left and right shift keys as appropriate. When faced with a keypunch machine in college, however, I had to unlearn the use of the right shift key since the keypunch only had left shift (I don’t recall what took the place of right shift), and to this day 40+ years later I still never use right shift.

        4. zapgadget

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          You need to dig into the mechanical keyboard crowd. I have a keyboard with hot-swappable mechanical keys, so I can choose travel, downforce, clickityness etc. I am but a debutante in this field but it gets seriously geeky. Try searching for "mechanical keyboard" on Aliexpress just to get a feel for the insanity.

        5. Christoph

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          And for those who don't remember, this is what a real typewriter sounds like.

        6. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          A great investment for the future, and surrounded by girls...what's not to like?

          Like so many in the early days of IT - or computing, as we used to call it - I was a very competent two finger typist. My girlfriend, who was a secretary at the time - remember those? - told my I really should learn to do it properly -typing, that is - and bought me a copy of Mavis Beacon. One Christmas break, I spent alternatively getting drunk and learning to touch type. Caroline, I salute you.

      2. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        I typed out my first year computing/electronics degree project on a typewriter at home.

        My mum (who was a professional secretary) wondered if I wanted her to do it, and was amazed when I started typing away, having learned where all the keys were of course on a computer terminal at college....

      3. Commswonk

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        @ disgruntled yank: you might have tried slapping the screen on left-hand side to accomplish the carriage return.

        You mean like this:

      4. John Sturdy

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        You can get modern retro keyboards with a return lever on the side (there's one called the Qwerkywriter, but I suspect there may be others)! It even has a scroll knob.

        1. Lilolefrostback

          Re: Ah, a first time user

          You can also get conversion kits to turn real manual typewriters into computer keyboards. I'm tempted to do so and bring it to work. I'm sure the sound would really encourage my co-workers.

    3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Ah, a first time user

      Nearly everybody knows not to use hard carriage returns, but it's surprising how often you see evidence of hard hyphens (unnecess-arily hyphen-ated words in the middle of a line - presumably the word was broken over two lines in the original). Other fossils of typewriter use that you see occasionally are lower-case L for numeral 1 and numeral zero for upper-case O.

      1. pklausner

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        Oh noes!

        Carriage return for paragraphs is an abomination!

        Go semantic newlines -

    4. CuChulainn

      Re: Ah, a first time user

      A story I've told before, but over a short period of time at the company I worked for, it went from being a disciplinary matter if you so much as tried to type your own stuff instead of getting a secretary to do it, to being a cardinal sin not to type your own documents and even so much as waste a secretary's time.

      This meant that when it came to updating SOPs, the masters on file had been typed by secretaries previously.

      I was having a major problem with the formatting on several of them one time. None of the formatting buttons on what was then either WordPerfect for Windows, or later, Word, did anything.

      I turned on the formatting codes display and discovered formatting for the entire document - tables, indents, everything - had been done with the space bar, and there was a linefeed at the end of every single visible line. Two for a paragraph. And several if it was to force a new page.

      1. PM from Hell

        Re: Ah, a first time user

        I have had so many problems with legacy documents I've needed to reference when replac ing very old systems. The classic though was working for a a subsidiary of a french company where I had terrible problems with spell check until I realized that any template or document would have a small sextion where the language was set to French

  2. Marshalltown

    Floppy solution

    In an office I worked at in the early '90s, the machines we used were DOS systems. As such, they employed an autoexec.bat file to configure things as the system finally reached usability. It was considered a good joke to set the text color to black or similar little pranks by editing the batch file. We kept a bootable floppy on hand with edlin on it to correct any "edits" to the file.

    1. Doctor Tarr

      Re: Floppy solution

      Takes me back to school where we’d programme the BBC micros to sound alarms in the middle of our lessons or the next one.

      A few of us would do a lot of pranks like this but I did get sent out ICT classes way too frequently :)

      1. Marshalltown

        Re: Floppy solution

        My favorite misdeed of all was to write a script called by the autoexec file that blanked the screen and then started a count down in very large numbers. I added it to the office manager's system. She screamed and ran out the door when it popped up. She was a firm believer that the world would be ending RSN at the time.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Oooh you naughty boy

      2. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: Floppy solution

        When I was at college, Win95 was the OS at the time. I remember you could cause Win95 to bluescreen simply by opening the "Run" dialog and typing in "null\null". As a Computing student, I wasn't the only one who knew this however and it was surprisingly common to sit down at a PC, switch on the monitor and see a nice BSOD left for you as a present by the previous user...

      3. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

        Re: Floppy solution

        I was supporting a school in the 90's who had just switched from Apple-IIs to IBM PCs. After a few months they put in an emergency request to IBM for keyboards where the key caps were not removable. You see, once those vile little critters realized they could remove the key caps and re-arrange them, teachers would come into class in the morning with keyboards full of vulgar words!

    2. Return To Sender

      Re: Floppy solution

      Our misdeed, if such it was, was using the Norton hex editor (this was when you could actually meet the guy and the utilities were genuinely useful) to change the internal commands in No checksums or anything awkward like that so you just overtyped the characters and wrote back to disk. Handy number of 4-letter commands to work with...

      One of our corporate customers' support guys (good drinking buddy) got wind of what we were up to and did a rather more SFW version to defend against some of their more curiosity-driven/careless end users.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Floppy solution

        Is this how fsck got it's name?

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Floppy solution

      The old PS/2s could remap the keyboard at boot. Fun times such as mapping everything one-to-the-left, or when people tired of that, you could move the physical keycaps to match the mapping.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Floppy solution

        Some of us have been using keyboard remapping as a force for good since time immemorial ... for example, getting rid of the useless <capslock> and replacing it with <ctrl>.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Floppy solution

          I've met a lot of people who use CAPS LOCK instead of Shift. It's painful to me to watch them type.

    4. Not Yb

      Re: Floppy solution

      One of the first things I did with Windows was to change the colors of the "Blue Screen of Death", so I could say "I haven't seen a BSoD in months" (it was green).

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Floppy solution

      "We kept a bootable floppy on hand with edlin on it to correct any "edits" to the file."

      Easier to mash F8 during startup...

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk)

        Re: Floppy solution

        Only on machines with the new DOS 6.x versions... You must be too young.

        1. ortunk

          Re: Floppy solution

          But you could always Ctrl-Break the autoexec.bat

  3. Mishak

    Windows 10 blank screen

    Was doing some maintenance on the kids laptop a few years ago as a Windows 10 update was required. Left it to do it's stuff and, some hours later, all was well. Or so I thought.

    "Dad, I can't see anything on the screen".

    I plugged it in to the PSU on the desk, opened the lid and all was well - so I handed it back.

    "Dad, I still can't see anything on the screen".

    I watched them starting it up. BIOS screen was ok, pre-boot screen was ok, but the screen went blank when Windows started the GUI.

    Turns out it worked perfectly when on power, but not when on battery. "Ah", I thought, "Power settings". Unfortunately, that was not the case - the screen was set to 100% for "on power" and "on battery".

    For some reason, I decided to reduce the brightness when on battery - which fixed the issue!

    Turns out that there was some strange interaction between the Windows update and the hardware (probably some driver issue) that meant "100% brightness" was interpreted as "100% darkness" when on battery - confirmed when minimum gave full brightness.

    1. oiseau Silver badge

      Re: Windows 10 blank screen

      ... that meant "100% brightness" was interpreted as "100% darkness" when on battery ...


      Well ...

      It was Windows, no?


    2. Captain Scarlet

      Re: Windows 10 blank screen

      I must admit I haven't seen that before, I always tend to set brightness to 100% as enterprise spec machines always come with Matt screens which are hard to view in brightly lit offices.

    3. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Windows 10 blank screen

      Like my wife's brand new Garmin GPS that insisted it needed to be connected to a computer right out of the box, but blanked the screen as soon as it booted so I couldn't say "Yes please trust the computer you are connecting me to".

      Had to charge the battery using a phone charger.

      Once the battery was charged I was able to wade through the menus and tell it not to do the blankety-blank thing, but it took about an hour to figure out *after* a five hour battery charge.

  4. Wanting more

    me too

    I once spent at least an hour trying to get the wifi on my laptop to work. Turns out there was a physical switch (black, labelled in black on a black background) that turns off the wifi somehow, but doesn't report the fact back to Windows (The adapter was still enabled, just didn't get any signal). I must of bumped the switch off without noticing as it was working fine previously.

    Dammed annoying.

    1. DailyLlama

      Re: me too

      Was that in Disaster Area's stunt ship?

      1. TimMaher Silver badge

        Re: Disaster Area

        Do not push this button again.

        Have a beer.

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: me too

      I've dealt with laptops that had hard WiFi switches, on one it was a "slide" switch just in front of the power switch on the side, very easy for the user to catch as they turned the laptop on.

      1. Chloe Cresswell

        Re: me too

        We had machines like that with a client. And the client's staff liked the "new" slip cases that had come out for laptops.

        So every time they pulled their laptop out it's case, it snagged the wifi switch into the off position.

      2. NXM

        Re: me too

        The company I worked for in about 1989 had a luggable PC with an LCD screen and a VGA socket, but you couldn't just plug a screen in. Oh no.

        You had to flick a set of tiny dip switches hidden on the side to a particular state with the machine off, then plug the screen in and boot it. If you didn't set the switches back to LCD mode afterwards, it killed the LCD.

        That didn't last very long.

      3. Rob Daglish

        Re: me too

        Yes, I remember these things being ridiculously popular for a while… didn’t some of them just disconnect the aerial as opposed to others which disabled the card?

    3. David Robinson 1

      Re: me too

      Been there, done that. A friend's daughters had received identical laptops for Christmas, could I call around and configure them for wi-fi access? First laptop, I got it onto their wi-fi no problem. Second one, just wouldn't. Went through a few cycles of driver installs and other diagnostic steps until I noticed a little slide switch on the front edge of the laptop. *Click* and the laptop could see the wi-fi.

      1. Snapper

        Re: me too

        One wonders why they were there?

        Microsoft's attempt at security?

        Less use of battery?

        Making sure no-one out there would know you were installing shonky software?

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: me too

          Battery saving I assume, or maybe aeroplane mode. Even my relatively new work HP laptop has a button for it just under the screen.

          (And it's put there by the laptop manufacturer, nothing to do with microsoft.)

          1. Rob Daglish

            Re: me too

            Yes… but HP also have a feature where you can double tap on the touchpad to turn it off…

            Our help desk were never very good at figuring that one out, and it ended up with loads of call outs to replace machines that should never have been sent to us field engineers.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: me too

          >One wonders why they were there?

          Airplane mode.

          We also had a no-radios safety rule near some potentially 'exciting' packages of physics and chemistry

        3. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: me too

          The early ones were for saving battery, although airplane mode was probably another factor. Now, if they're still there, it's more for security. I like having them as long as I know they're on it.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: me too

      The WiFi trap is one that designers have worked on to improve over the years.

      Removing the LED to indicate whether it's on or off has been one improvement. The move onto a function key was a master stroke. They could label the key with some nonsensical icon or go a step further and label it with something apparently irrelevant - of course an icon of an aeroplane means WiFi. And does the Fn key enable the actual Fn or the hardware functions.

      Industrial design has contributed a lot to laptop ease of use over the years.

      1. nintendoeats Bronze badge

        Re: me too

        And obviously adjusting the volume with a single knob was far to easy to do by accident. The solution of having this function require a modifier key and an F-key that you will need to hunt and peck for every single time it is needed...that is pure genius.

        Never again will somebody accidentally quickly reduce the volume when some jackass has decided that their youtube video about how to fix a door handle needs to have maxxed-out raging death metal played over it.

        1. ChrisC Silver badge

          Re: me too

          And then there's the dearth of things like caps/num/scroll lock telltales on the average modern laptop keyboard/casing. Was bad enough when they started moving them away from the keyboard itself and into one of the clusters of other status LEDs adorning some random part of the case, but now you're lucky if you get even that... Call me old fashioned, but there are times when I'd quite like to know what effect pressing a key will have before it gets pressed, not after.

    5. Howard Sway Silver badge

      Re: me too

      Airplane Mode.

      Happened to me with my Thinkpad, it's a very tiny slider switch on the side, coloured black with a black slider, just recessed into the black case. When it must have got switched, wifi couldn't be enabled no matter what commands I issued on the command line. And I obviously couldn't search for the answer online, and had no other device that I could use at the time. So, went down to the library, sat at a computer and wrote down lots more commands to try, but then fortunately found a page showing where the switch was and explaining what it did. Came home, moved the miniscule switch from green to black again and it was all sorted. The laptop of course has never been on a flight and will never be taken on one.

    6. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: me too

      Wanting more,

      I was planning to post the very same thing. Those WiFi switches can be incredibly annoying. Especially as they seem to etch or engrave a tiny WiFi symbol on them - in black naturally... So you get massive ugly Intel / WiFi / graphics card stickers plastered all over the visible front of the laptop, and the invisible underside has important stuff like the serial number in the lightest grey script in 6 point type - and hidden switches with equally hidden hieroglyphics.

      It's now the first thing I check for when someone hands me a laptop where the WiFi won't work.

      My old HP convertible tablet laptop thingy was great. Had a nice blue lit button next to the touch pad and the WiFi symbol lit up next to the on/off slider. LEDs went red if you switched either off. So you could see that you'd done it. Being able to switch off the touchpad when typing is an absolute Godsend. I admit I do have big, clumsy hands.

    7. JeffB

      Re: me too - Push off!!

      We had a batch of laptops (can't remember the make) which had a push on/push off switch on the front edge for the WiFi, user pushes the laptop back to create some space to do their paperwork, pulls laptop forward later to find they have no network...

    8. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I guess I should count myself lucky.

      My work laptop is an HP Elitebook 8560w, and it doesn't have a WiFi switch, it has four buttons with a LED that shines either orange or white (when the laptop is on, of course), one of which has the WiFi icon.

      If I want to connect to WiFi, I press the button, the LED goes from orange to white, then I can connect.

      A rare case when HP did something right, I guess.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        HP usually gets hardware right, it's the software that goes with it that's crap.

    9. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: me too

      I'm typing this reply on an oldish Toshiba which also has a physical WiFi on/off switch. There is no indication as to whether it is on or off other than to look very closely with a magnifying glass to identify whether left or or right is "on". (It's left, I checked when I found it, confirmed what it did, and have never turned it off since.) I suspect it's a hangover from when turning off the WiFi saved some battery power when not needed and the hardware could not be turned on/off with software settings and, for that matter, WiFi was a lot less ubiquitous.

    10. CuChulainn

      Re: me too

      In the early noughties, we used to get lots of calls on the support line for the large retailer I was working for about Wi-Fi not working.

      The vast majority involved turning the tiny physical Wi-Fi switch on. The hardest part was finding where it was located on the particular model the customer had.

    11. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: me too

      My ex- had a lot of issues with those black-on-black-on-black buttons. She only used her laptop at night sitting in bed or on a road trip. I found that a very small drop of CA (super glue) "thin" applied with a pointed toothpick to the button worked a charm. After than, never had an problem with her turning off wi-fi.

    12. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: me too

      "turns off the wifi somehow, but doesn't report the fact back to Windows"

      Hmm. My Lenovo has such a switch. But Linux has no problem detecting it and announcing it with a "wireless is disabled by a hardware switch" message. Stranger yet, it uses a "Windows" RF driver through a special kernel module. So the information is there. Windows could have known, should have known, but chose not to check.

  5. chivo243 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    The worst is...

    When you have to fix the exact problem multiple times for the same C or D level... I finally mentioned that when you have to do X call me before you get up in front of the whole effin company with a presentation. I don't mind being the roadie hero who flies on stage tinkers and runs away, but it's gotta to look bad for the C or D level!

  6. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Everybody get's caught by this once.

    But only once if you've got anything upstairs. It also long predates Laptops... all the way back to monochrome TVs of the 1950s.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Everybody get's caught by this once.

      Used to see full-grown engineers befuddled by this one when some lout turned down their oscilloscope screen(s) when nobody was looking.

      Daft thing is they KNEW they could dim the silly thing (duh!), but it never clicked that somebody would do it on a lark. One guy I knew at SLAC still buys me a beer whenever we see each other because I "fixed" the problem about 15 minutes before some big-shot arrived for a demo ... and that was back in the early 1970s!

      It usually only worked once, as you noted.

  7. ColinPa

    Ohh that screen

    In the early days before dual screens were common, I remember helping someone one who had a problem.

    The screen on the laptop showed the desk top, but there was no mouse visible, etc.

    Eventually we twigged that it was plugged into an external monitor - which had the brightness turned down!

    It had been turned down because a previous person "didn't want to waste electricity by having a bright screen", and thought dark was better.

  8. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    It always amazed me...

    Why laptops with grayscale LCD had a dimming slider. Always felt like a pointless thing since no-one in their right mind would turn it down unless they were some kind of psychopath who liked ghostly text on the screen.

    Though I do miss the old early 90's laptop keyboards. They always felt so solid to work on.

    1. adam 40 Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: It always amazed me...

      My first laptop (which was grey, not black) with a 40MB hard drive just big enough to fit on some pr0n, but was so slow it would only play in slow-mo, the slider adjusted the brightness just so. So the slider is for pr0n methinks.

  9. clyal

    Deliberate screen darkening takes the cake

    After several days in a dull training course in the 1990's that required students to handwrite their notes, verbatim, from a pair of CRT screens, I needed some light relief - even the coffee was dreadful.

    During one morning's refreshment break, I 'accidentally' turned down the display brightness.

    End result was strained face muscles from not even a twitch of a smile, an extra 20 minutes of break while the instructors + tech support work out what the problem was, followed by dire threats of serious, life altering punishments.

    Alas - no financial reward in this case.

  10. clyal

    After several days in a dull training course in the 1990's that required students to handwrite their notes, verbatim, from a pair of CRT screens, I needed some light relief - even the coffee was dreadful.

    During one morning's refreshment break, I 'accidentally' turned down the display brightness.

    End result was strained face muscles from not even a twitch of a smile, an extra 20 minutes of break while the instructors + tech support work out what the problem was, followed by dire threats of serious, life altering punishments.

    Alas - no financial reward in this case.

    1. DJV Silver badge


      There appears to be an echo around here!

      1. Wally Dug

        Re: @clyal


        There appears to be an echo around here!

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Re: @Wally Wally Dug Dug

          Yes, yes, there there is! is!

          1. Fading

            Re: @Wally Wally Dug Dug


  11. Snapper

    We've all been there.

    At the end of a first meeting with a potential new client, they said "Perhaps you could help us with a problem we are having with our NAS drive. We use it for backing up the workstations in the studio overnight, but they have notifications every morning that the backup hasn't taken place".

    I pointed to the only NAS drive I could see and said "Have you tried plugging it in?"

  12. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "he spared the CEO's blushes by not itemising what exactly the issue was."

    Fixing problem $1

    Diagnosing problem $$$$$


    1. jake Silver badge

      Giving telly a thump, 6d ... Knowing where to thump it, 9/6 ... knowing how hard, "That'll be a guinea, guv."

      The rest is for the service call.

      1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

        Reminds me of the late 80's Leading Edge computer. We sold many of these. Invariably, after 2 or 3 months the customer would return with the computer saying it would not start. Which was correct, as you see they were sold with defective hard drives by Seagate that did not have enough power in the chips to push the heads out of park. Turn them on and a good solid "whack" in the right place would bump the head out of park and the drive would spin right up. The drive would function just fine as long as you did not shut down. So, transfer to data to a new Western Digital drive and send them home!

        1. jtaylor Bronze badge

          Were those the Model D or D2?

          I briefly worked at Leading Edge in the mid-90's. There were still quite a few D2s (286 based) in use. Some were still used for LEWP (Leading Edge Word Processor) too!

          Sadly, people bought their 486 computers expecting similar quality.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. jnievele

    I had almost the same thing happening to me when working as helldesk... except it was not a CEO, but an SAP consultant (so probably even more expensive), the laptop wasn't black but the usual off-white Compaq used in the late 90s, and it was the lack of sound.

    Since the caller was external, there was a lot of paperwork to sign before I could even go over to look at the machine, with a 3-digit figure being charged to the project team for this... only to discover that the volume wheel at the bottom of the laptop had been turned all the way down.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "only to discover that the volume wheel at the bottom of the laptop had been turned all the way down."

      I miss those. very useful :-(

  15. lostsomehwere

    On a recent laptop

    If you pressed the top left of the trackpad it disabled it completely and showed a miniscule, dim, red led to tell the user that it happened, but no one ever looks on the track pad for a warning light! I wasn't the only one got frustrated by it happening 'cause nearly everyone was walking around with their laptops like babe in arms to avoid upsetting it.

    Eventually was able to disable a setting in the track pad user settings, which when shared increased my popularity for nano-seconds.

  16. Dan 55 Silver badge


    It was also not producing video. Worse than that, the screen was simply blank. The lights came on, the disk could be heard spinning, but of the display, nothing. Even turning it off and on again could not coax the visuals into life.

    Macbooks start up with a completely black screen backlight from time to time. If you've set it up with a boot password, it waits for you to select your user with the mouse and input your password but as the backlight brightness media keys don't work on the boot screen it's pretty difficult to do.

    The solution, shine a mobile phone torch through the Apple logo on the back of a lid so you can see the screen.

    Must have been more than a decade with that problem yet they still haven't put (if brightness < MINIMUM_BRIGHTNESS) brightness = MINIMUM_BRIGHTNESS in the EFI.

  17. MisterHappy

    Toshiba Tecra A2

    I think I've mentioned this before but...

    The Toshiba Tecra A2 had a volume control dial on the side of the laptop, positioned just in the right place for it to catch as it was pulled out of the laptop bag.

    It was not an uncommon event for an exec to call in a panic because they had no sound and had a presentation coming up. Usually it was limited to once per person but not always.

    1. PRR

      Re: Toshiba Tecra A2

      > It was not an uncommon event for an exec to call in a panic because they had no sound and had a presentation coming up...

      I supported a guy, a music guy, his laptop would make sound, but would not take new sound files nor play all existing sound files. And it was the night before his flight overseas to talk about music.

      Took a few moments to see his hard drive was 99+% full.

      Took longer to see why. He had enough HD capacity for Windows and the usual email and cat-picture chokers. His music files were only 15% of the machine. No obvious folder seemed huge.

      He had created an obscurely named folder deep down under root. It alone was 66% of his drive.

      The subfolder names suggested a very specific interest in erotica. I looked at one and deemed it obscene. {Etched on my retina.}

      Porno like I saw was not really illegal and was not actually against the organization policy. But this guy flew to conferences several times a year, and I could not be sure there was no child-porn in that massive collection; IAC if such an impressive collection were confiscated at baggage-check it would be bad for everybody.

      I found enough temp and cat-pix to delete to un-stick his music. And storing so many personal files on an organizational computer that it jammed-up for organizational-related activity WAS against policy. So I felt required to report to my boss. Who apparently suggested the laptop owner could look for a new job. And take his laptop with him (an odd going-away gift).

  18. DS999 Silver badge

    This would be simple to fix

    1) the user's configured brightness settings should be ignored in the BIOS/EFI so boot messages can be seen, when the OS takes over the user's brightness config will be applied

    2) if brightness is turned all the way down when the OS is woken up from sleep by a keystrike or mouse move, put up a message on the screen at normal brightness giving instructions how to increase brightness (if there's a key combo) or something like "hit ctrl-shift-F5 to reset brightness to default"

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: This would be simple to fix

      Too much common sense.

  19. Kev99

    You meaqn that's not a cup holder? And that's not a paper shredder?

  20. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

    More THan Once.

    "Sir, are you entirely sure that the monitor is switched on?"


    Hang up.

    1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

      Re: More THan Once.

      HD: Can you please restart your computer.

      User: I just did

      HD: Can you please do it again?

      User: Yes... No difference

      HD tech leaves desk and go up 2 floors to user desk.

      HD: Lets reboot one more time.

      User: "Reaches over and turns monitor off and back on!"

      HD tech swears quietly under his breath.

  21. Shred

    Supporting Apple gear in the late 80s and early 90s… the all in one Macs of that era had a brightness knob concealed under a little edge on the front panel. A very common cause of “black screen” was that the knob had been messed with.

    Apple’s printers of that time tended to not have many user accessible things to go wrong. If the printer would power on, but the computer wouldn’t print and didn’t throw a “printer has a fault” kind of error, you could be sure that the printer wasn’t plugged in to the computer. I learned quickly to never ask “is it plugged in?”, since the user would ALWAYS respond with “of course” and not even check, because they had not unplugged it.

    The usual technique to get the user to actually check that it was plugged in was to talk them through unplugging the printer from the back of the computer, inspecting the pins (are they all straight? are they shiny?), then plugging it in again, Repeat for the printer end of the cable. Invariably, I’d hear a “whirr… clack clack clack” as the printer sprang to life. The user would always say “oh, it seems to be working now”. On only one occasion did someone admit that the printer hadn’t been plugged in.

    1. Andy A

      Let them blame the (non-existent) cleaners

      For those all too common cases where you are SURE that the cable is adrift, my solution is to ask them to check that everything is secure with "Perhaps the cleaners have dislodged something".

      The chance to push the blame onto someone else, even when you are certain that their office never gets leaned, usually results in "It's working again now".

    2. Rob Daglish

      An ex-colleague used to do a similar trick -he would ask users to take the cable out, blow the dust off the connector and then reconnect it. He figured if you asked people to unplug it and pop it back, most people would claim to have done it whether they had or not, but most people didn’t have to sense to just make a blowing noise so they actually did get the cable and blow over it then reconnect it. He had quite a high success rate with that trick!

  22. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

    When I was a younger man, in a more simpler time, I would climb into the back of a Lockeed S-3 Viking ( to start my day hunting Soviet submarines! One fine day, the "college educated" Lt. Junior Grade who occupied the seat next to me was shaving a bad morning. His sonar screen was completely blank! No amount of foul language would bring it to life! So he screamed for a tweak (what we called Electronics Technicians) to come into the cockpit and fix it. The tweak, climes up into the cockpit, reaches past the LTJG, and turns the brightness knob up. Then quietly climbs out of the cockpit with out a word.

    There was much laughter in the enlisted quarters that night for sure!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Remember the first IBM PC Clones?

    The IT director of a global corporation rather a long time ago was going to proudly demonstrate his new desktop PC to the board (one of the first: Victor 9000 aka ACT Sirius, they became available in UK before IBM had got its act together here). I had the pleasure of showing him how to use it in the morning. I offered to hang around in case anything went awry but he was quite insistent that it would not be necessary and I had a long train journey. When the time came he found the password was being rejected and I was on the train (either before mobile phones or not for my pay-grade). I expect you're ahead of me, yes, correct, he'd managed to hit caps lock and the password was all lower case.

    Which reminds me, we did have pagers with an LCD screen so you could receive a short message. I had an assignation with a young lovely in the department. As we were both married to other people, and in any case didn't want to be the subject of gossip we were keeping it very low profile. The problem arose when I sent her pager a "ready for action" message one Friday afternoon (her husband was on maneuvers with the territorials for the weekend so we had scheduled our own maneuvers). Unfortunately she'd already left for the day and had left her pager on her desk with its glowing green incriminating message. She was unusually early into work first thing Monday.

  24. Peter Christy

    Not only high end systems...

    I must confess to a similar "lapse of memory"! Hark back to the days of the BBC Micro, which adorned a desk at my home, topped by a colour monitor!

    One day, upon switching on, I was presented with a very monochrome display! The colour had simply disappeared, and I was looking at a screen of various "Shades of Grey" - to coin a phrase!

    I checked the video cables, all OK. Checked the output of the BBC Micro on a "portable" colour TV. All OK! Concluding that it was a monitor fault, I dug out the circuit diagram and discovered that all the colour processing was done by a single, rather large, chip. It took a few days to locate a supplier of said chip, but I finally had one in my hands, and took the monitor in to work at the week-end to avail myself of the very well-equipped workshop.

    After a lot of cursing and swearing while extracting the main board from the monitor, I finally managed to replace the thousand legged chip (well, it seemed like a thousand!), re-assembled everything and switched it on. Everything was still a glorious monochrome!

    At this point, one of my colleagues strolled over, having heard my cry of anguish. He leaned forward and turned up the knob marked "colour" on the front panel! Needless to say, normal service was immediately restored!

    In my defence, I can only say that I had not touched any of the front panel controls between the thing working and not working. However, I did have two small and mischievous children. I do not know for sure that it was them, but the way they giggled when I finally announced that I had found the problem made me watch them much more closely thereafter!



    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Not only high end systems...

      Hopefully they grew into equally mischievous adults :-)

      This round's on me.

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